harry diamond's memoir


Bad nights when I can't sleep are all too frequent in my life but one of them was worse than most. It was the night in January 1991 when Saddam Hussain attacked Israel with Scud missiles at the start of the war in the Persian Gulf. Apart from my interest in the survival of the State of Israel I was also worried about Michael and Yaffa in Dimona.

This is how he described in a despatch to the Glasgow Herald what it felt like to be under attack. I know it doesn't compare with what the people of Bosnia, Rwanda, and other places had to suffer, but the difference was that my younger son was involved and I had already lost my young sister Sheila and my wife and I didn't need any more misery.

Michael wrote: As a 32-year-old Glasgow lawyer I haven't had much experience of war, let alone gas masks, air raids, or Scud missiles. I haven't slept properly for five days. On the first night Yaffa and I were awakened at 2 a.m. by a sound I recognised from the Pathe newsreel I last saw when I was about seven at the Waverley Cinema in Shawlands. It was the sound of an air raid siren. It took a few moments to realise that the noise outside was real and that an air attack was expected.

We had been told to prepare a sealed room in each house with taped windows and doors, a flashlight, battery powered radio, heater, blankets, and of course our gas masks. Our instructions were to close ourselves in the room, switch on the radio, put on the gas masks, and wait for further instructions from the civil guard on the radio. We sat gulping for air through our gas masks for the next six hours. We were waiting to be bombed with chemical weapons. It's a most frightening thing sitting in a sealed room wearing a gas mask just waiting to hear something. People are obviously worried about the situation but the Isrelis are fairly resigned to this kind of thing.

In the morning after the all-clear I went out to the supermarket for some items of food and then went straight home. We were told to stay at home and go out only for essential provisions.

During daytime there is relative calm but with radios on continuously tuned to Army Radio which has been combined with all the other channels. We listen to developments in the war just a missile's throw from our border. Tensions are high.

On the second day my neighbours knocked on the door and asked for my help to prepare the bomb shelter at the foot of the stairs. Last month we were all issued with gas masks and since then we have been watching public service broadcasts on television on how to use them. We have been reminded again and again that the attacks may be chemical or conventional and we should be prepared for both.

On the second night I went to bed at 7 p.m. expecting to be wakened inb the middle of the night by the siren. Within an hour it sounded and I ran to my sealed room, grabbing my gas mask on the way. On went the radio. Within 20 minutes we were informed it was a false alarm and I went back to bed.

Instructions to Israelis are to listen to the radio all the time. Often a siren won't be heard in a peripheral area so it is played on the radio, too. Sleeping with the radio on, with the tensions of the moment is not easy. Despite the fatigue on the second night I manage to doze. At 2 a.m. I hear a reference to "staying in a sealed room." My heart leapt. Did a siren sound that I didn't hear? I jump out of bed into the sealed room. The radio announces it is for the citizens of Jerusalem alone. An explosion has been heard there.

Back to bed. At 6 a.m. another siren. I'm used to it now. Go to sealed room, gas mask on, radio tuned. I wait , heaving for breath with the windows of my mask steamed up. I look out of the window to see people running from the synagogue across the street, gas masks flying. After half an hour we are told our area can relax, but Tel Aviv should remain alert.

By now TV has started. Israel radio does not report misssile hits until much later than I hear about them on the BBC. Army radio does not broadcast "unconfirmed reports."

Press reports warn that we are still not free of missile strikes and that more are expected. As dusk approaches each day tension rises. We are waiting for the chemical weapons. School was supposed to start yesterday but was cancelled. Radio reports that the mess of Saturday's attacks has been cleared away and that the homeless are being put in hotels.

Last night the Scud attacks were on Saudi Arabia. On the radio we heard their siren and confused it with our own. For a moment my blood ran cold. To realise it was theirs was no relief; it will be our turn again soon.

As I lay awake listening to the progress of the war my mind went back 52 years to 1939 when I had the same sickening feeling of dread when the sirens announced waves of German bombers over Glasgow and my highly nervous mother and father hurried across the road to an air raid shelter in my school. Please keep Michael and Yaffa safe, I murmured.

All kinds of things went through my mind, like the day Michael was born. Jackie poked me in the ribs in the middle of the night and told me to call a taxi. We couldn't afford a car at that time. I helped Jackie gently into the cab holding three-year-old Harvie. The plan was to leave Harvie with my mother-in-law who lived nearby and then go on to Redlands Nursing Home in the West End of the City, but the taxi broke down near my house and I had to push it to a garage and get another taxi. Jackie sat mute in the cab. For some mysterious reason I developed a raging toothache. By the time the second taxi arrived I was in a panic and we went straight to the nursing home. I took Harvie to my mother-in-law on the way home again.

Then there was the Saturday morning I woke up feeling uncharacteristically energetic and said to Michael, who was 12, "I'll show you the kind of unarmed combat I learned in the army." We squared up to each other in the hallway and I said, "Right, you try to hit me." Some time later I woke up in the Victoria Infirmary staring at an x-ray machine hovering over me. A distraught Michael helped me home with a broken rib.

Michael has always been the most adventurous member of my family. After qualifying as a lawyer he spent two periods in Israel and one in Australia before finally going to Israel again in l987 to live. His first visit to Israel was in 1979 when he spent a year in a kibbutz, Kfar Hanassi (which means the President's Village) founded in the Upper Galilee in 1948 by a group of Glasgow people among them Michael and Rene Cohen, Joe and Pauline Rifkind (relatives of Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind) Joe Cina, Lawrence Marcusson, Noah Shine, Rhoda Goldman, Rose Karnovsky, and Ivan Levine.

Michael is still in Israel and is not likely ever to come back to Scotland. He married Yaffa Maimon, a deputy head teacher in a local school, in 1992. She was born in Beersheba but her family come from Tunis.

I flew to Israel with Harvie and his family for Michael's wedding. The ceremony was held at the poolside of a kibbutz near Beersheba at eight o'clock in the evening to avoid the burning heat of the day. I spent much of the time circulating among the guests, renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

I went to bed about two o'clock in the morning and was up again at seven o'clock to take a taxi to Jerusalem to attend the wedding of a couple of friends, Jane Moonman from London and Yoav Biran, Israeli ambassador to Britain.

My older son Harvie and I are not adventurous types although he did spend a few weeks in Israel in 1983 and came back to tell me he wanted to marry a girl from Brazil he met in Jerusalem. They were later married in Tel Aviv. Jackie and I flew out for the wedding which was also attended by a number of former Glaswegians.

Harvie was also born in Redlands Nursing Home. I took Jackie there about 4 a.m. and was told to phone at 10 a.m. I walked up and down the floor for four hours and couldn't take it any more so I phoned the nursing home at 8 a.m. A nurse told me I was the father of a beautiful baby boy weighing whatever. I tried to say thank you but nothing would come out I was so choked with emotion. The nurse finally hung up and went to tell Jackie I had phoned.

"What did he say?" Jackie asked.

"Nothing," said the nurse. "He fainted!"

"That's my Henry!" said Jackie.