As Attack on Iraq Begins, Israelis Try to Go About Their Normal Lives

Hours after the American attack on Iraq began, Israeli schools and businesses opened as usual, but citizens were instructed to carry their gas mask protection kits at all times.

Israelis woke up Thursday morning and heard from early newscasts that the American military offensive on Iraq had begun overnight. The broadcasts reported that schools would open as usual, after a two-day Purim vacation, but emphasized that students should report for studies with their gas masks.

Some schools around the country announced that they would not open as planned, as they were not adequately prepared to deal with a possible Iraqi attack. Yesterday officials checked bomb shelters and sealed classrooms, but representatives of parents' associations complained that there was "mass confusion" in instructions issued to the public.

Education Minister Limor Livnat stressed this morning that only her ministry and the government were authorized to issue orders regarding schools around the country. "We must stick to (our) routine and send children to school," Livnat told Israel Radio.

Last night the IDF's Home Front Command instructed citizens to open their personal protection kit, attach the air filter to their gas masks and fit the mask, and then return it to the box. Citizens were told to carry their gas masks at all time, and were warned not to open or use the atropine syringe included in the kit. Citizens are not required to remain or sleep in sealed rooms at this time, the army said.

Israel Radio announced that as of Wednesday night, a "quiet radio" channel will begin broadcasting in the country. The station will broadcast a clear silence (so that it is possible to sleep with it on). In the event of an alert, the radio channel will broadcast a siren and instructions. The "quiet" radio channel was also utilized in the 1991 Gulf War.

According to public opinion polls conducted earlier this week, at least 25% of the Israeli population had made no effort to prepare bomb shelters or sealed rooms for the event of an Iraqi attack. 70% of the population said they were "not afraid," Yediot Aharonot reported yesterday. 16% of Tel Aviv residents said they planned to leave the area in fear of a possible Scud missile attack, the paper said.

In recent days, many Israelis have made hotel reservations in the north, the Jerusalem area, and in the southern city of Eilat, areas considered safe from an Iraqi attack. Even so, media reports indicated that only "hundreds" of Israelis had left the Tel Aviv area.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider