Thousands of Gaza civilians flee after Israeli warning


Thousands fled their homes in a Gaza town on Sunday after Israel warned them to leave ahead of threatened attacks on rocket-launching sites, on the sixth day of an offensive that Palestinian officials said has killed at least 160 people.

Militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip kept up rockets salvoes deep into the Jewish state and the worst bout of Israel-Palestinian bloodshed in two years showed no signs of abating, and Western foreign ministers meeting on Sunday said a ceasefire was an urgent priority.

Israeli forces dropped leaflets into the town of Beit Lahiya near Gaza's northern border with Israel. They read: “Those who fail to comply with the instructions to leave immediately will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware.”

The Israeli military told the residents of three of Beit Lahiya's 10 neighborhoods to get out of the town of 70,000 by midday on Sunday. U.N. officials said some 4,000 people had fled south to eight schools run by the world body in Gaza City.

A senior Israeli military officer, in a telephone briefing with foreign reporters, said Israel would “strike with might” in the Beit Lahiya area from the late evening hours on Sunday.

He did not say if this would include an expansion of an air and naval offensive into a ground operation in the north of the narrow, densely populated Mediterranean enclave.

“The enemy has built rocket infrastructure in-between the houses (in Beit Lahiya),” the officer said. “He wants to trap me into an attack and into hurting civilians.”

At schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City, Beit Lahiya residents arrived in donkey carts filled with children, luggage and mattresses, while others came by car or taxi. One man, still in his pajamas, said some inhabitants had received phone calls warning them to clear out.

“What could we do? We had to run in order to save the lives of our children,” said Salem Abu Halima, 25, a father of two.

The Gaza Interior Ministry, in a statement on Hamas radio, dismissed the Israeli warnings as “psychological warfare” and instructed those who left their homes to return and others to stay put.

Dozens of houses in parts of Beit Lahiya were leveled by Israeli bulldozers during a month-long Gaza war in late 2008 and early 2009. Israel says such structures provide cover for militants and rocket launchers.

The leaflets marked the first time Israel had warned Palestinians to vacate dwellings in such a wide area. Previous warnings, by telephone or so-called “knock-on-the-door” missiles without explosive warheads, had been directed at individual homes slated for attack.

 

135 PALESTINIAN CIVILIAN DEATHS

A Palestinian woman and a girl aged 3 were killed in Israeli air strikes early on Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Hours before, 17 people were killed when the house of Gaza's police chief was bombed from the air – the single deadliest attack of Israel's offensive. Palestinian officials originally said 18 were dead, but doctors later revised the figure.

The Health Ministry said at least 160 Palestinians, including about 135 civilians – among them some 30 children, have been killed six days of warfare, and more than 1,000 have been wounded.

Hostilities along the Israel-Gaza frontier first intensified last month after Israeli forces arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in the West Bank following the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was then killed in Jerusalem in a suspected revenge attack by Israelis. Despite intensified Israeli military action – which included a commando raid overnight in what was Israel's first reported ground action in Gaza during the current fighting – militants continued to launch rocket after rocket across the border.

A long-range burst on Sunday morning triggered air raid sirens at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion international airport, which has not been struck in the hostilities and where flights have been operating normally, and some city suburbs.

On Saturday night, Hamas – the Islamist movement that rules Gaza – made good on a threat to send rockets streaking toward Tel Aviv at 9 p.m. (2.00 p.m. EDT) and other areas in heavily populated central Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis sought shelter as Palestinians in the streets of Gaza City cheered the launchings, the biggest strike yet on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

Those rockets and the ones unleashed on Sunday were intercepted by the Israeli-built, and partly U.S.-funded, Iron Dome missile defense system that has proved effective against Hamas's most powerful weaponry.

 

ISRAELI BEACHGOERS WATCH AS ROCKETS SHOT DOWN

No one has been killed by the more than 800 rockets the Israeli military said has been fired by Palestinians since the offensive began. During Saturday night's barrage, customers in Tel Aviv beachfront cafes shouted their approval as they watched the projectiles being shot out of the sky.

“We will continue to act with patience, forbearance, with determination, responsibility and aggression to achieve the goal of the campaign – restoring calm for a long period by dealing a significant blow to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks after meeting his cabinet.

“We don't know when this operation will be over, it may take a long time and we need your support and also your discipline,” he said in a message to the Israeli public.

International pressure on both sides for a return to calm has increased, with the U.N. Security Council calling for a cessation of hostilities and Western foreign ministers meeting on Sunday to weigh strategy.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel to the Middle East on Monday and meet Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, German media reported.

Germany mediated a prisoner swap in 2011 in which an Israeli soldier held by Hamas was freed in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinians jailed by Israel.

Israel says a ground invasion of Gaza remains an option, and it has already mobilized more than 30,000 reservists to do so, but most attacks have so far been from the air, hitting some 1,200 targets in the territory.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of “a dangerous escalation” between Israel and Hamas and told reporters before talks in Vienna with his U.S., German and British counterparts that securing a ceasefire was “an absolute priority”.

He and British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was an urgent need to reinstate the truce struck in 2012.

Giving details of the naval commando operation early on Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said four members of the force were wounded in exchanges of fire with militants but the long-range rocket launching site they attacked was hit.

Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing. Lerner said the forces had “completed their mission”.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funerals on Sunday of the 17 Palestinians killed in the bombing of Gaza police chief Taysee Al-Basth's home. “With our souls and blood we will redeem the martyrs!” the crowd chanted as armed men fired in the air.

A Hamas source said Batsh was in critical condition and that all the dead were members of his family.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said 45 people were wounded in the bombing. An Israeli teenager was wounded on Sunday by a rocket that struck the southern town of Ashkelon, emergency services said.

U.S. ramps up warnings on Iran strike risks


The United States has pointedly ramped up its public warnings over the last few weeks about the risks of military action against Iran, accompanied by private words of caution to Israel, which sees Tehran’s nuclear push as a direct threat.

But so far, at least, comments by U.S. and Israeli officials suggest that Washington’s private lobbying has yet to convince Israeli hard-liners and even some moderates that alternatives, like sanctions and diplomatic pressure, will ultimately succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

It is unclear whether the differing views are any indication about whether Israel might be moving closer to a go-it-alone military strike, an option Tel Aviv has ruled out for the moment. Indeed, that may ultimately not be the case.

Rhetoric has periodically escalated over the years, often bolstering pushes – like the present one – for tougher sanctions against Iran.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a speech on Sunday widely seen within Israel as hinting about policy on Iran, spoke about making “the right decision at the right moment,” even when allies object.

A nuclear-armed Iran, Netanyahu has said, is an existential threat to Israel.

Netanyahu’s comments came on the heels of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s strongest comments yet explaining America’s concerns about a military strike on Iran.

Panetta said it risked “an escalation” that could “consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret.” It could also hobble the fragile U.S. and European economies and might do little to actually stop Iran from getting an atomic weapon – a goal Tehran denies having.

Iran says its uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes.

Panetta, citing conversations with his “Israeli friends,” said an attack would only set back Iran’s nuclear program by one to two years at best. He also warned about blowback to U.S. forces in the region.

“The United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases,” Panetta told a forum in Washington on Friday.

Panetta privately outlined U.S. concerns in talks with Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Canada last month, including the impact a strike would have on the world economy.

Analysts say Tehran could retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway where about 40 percent of all traded oil passes.

GLOBAL MELTDOWN

President Barack Obama, who is gearing up for a re-election battle next year, has had more trouble than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, in winning Israeli trust.

Bruce Riedel, a former adviser to the Obama administration and former senior CIA expert on the Middle East, said Washington was deeply wary of being dragged into a conflict that, from its perspective, might be unnecessary.

“Obama knows a strike on Iran by Israel will create a regional war and a global economic meltdown that America will have to clean up,” Riedel said.

“And he knows Israel – with its own considerable nuclear arsenal – does not face an existential threat from a nuclear Iran.”

But, even considering likely retaliation on U.S. forces, the top U.S. military officer told Reuters in an interview this week he did not know whether the Jewish state would even give the United States notice ahead of time if it decided to act.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also suggested there was a gap in perspective between Israel and the United States, which sees sanctions and diplomatic pressure as the right path to take on Iran.

“I’m not sure the Israelis share our assessment of that. And because they don’t and because to them this is an existential threat, I think probably that it’s fair to say that our expectations are different right now,” Dempsey said.

Iran is facing another wave of sanctions following a report last month by the U.N. nuclear watchdog which said Tehran appeared to have worked on designing an atom bomb and may still be pursuing secret research to that end.

Barak said on Thursday an Israeli attack on Iran was not imminent. But, asked about Dempsey’s comments to Reuters, Barak said Israel “greatly respects” the United States.

“But one must remember that ultimately, Israel is a sovereign nation and the Israeli government, defense forces and security services – not others – are responsible for Israel’s security, future and existence,” Barak said.

Barak, in a radio interview, said Israel would be very glad if sanctions and diplomacy brought the Iranian leadership to a clear decision to abandon its nuclear military program.

But, “unfortunately, I think that is not going to happen,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and; David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Warren Strobel and; Philip Barbara

US defense chief warns on Iran strike consequences


Military action against Iran could have “unintended consequences” in the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday, hours after Tehran warned that an attack against its nuclear sites would be met by “iron fists.”

Panetta, who took over the Pentagon’s top job in July, said he agreed with an assessment of his predecessor, Robert Gates, that a strike on Iran would only delay its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at making an atomic bomb.

Gates also warned it could unite the country and deepen its resolve toward pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is enriching uranium to power reactors for electricity generation.

“You’ve got to be careful of unintended consequences here,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon, when asked about his concerns about a military strike.

He acknowledged military action might fail to deter Iran “from what they want to do.”

“But more importantly, it could have a serious impact in the region, and it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces in the region,” he said. “And I think all of those things, you know, need to be carefully considered.”

Tension over Iran’s nuclear program has increased since Tuesday when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a bomb and may still be conducting secret research to that end.

Speculation has heightened in the Israeli media that Israel may strike Iran’s nuclear sites and there is speculation in the Western press about a possible U.S. attack.

Iran has warned that it will respond to any attacks by hitting Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf. Analysts say Tehran could retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway where about 40 percent of all traded oil passes.

“Our enemies, particularly the Zionist regime (Israel), America and its allies, should know that any kind of threat and attack or even thinking about any (military) action will be firmly responded to,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on state television.

TOP THREAT

Last week, a U.S. military official told a forum in Washington that he saw Iran as the top threat to the United States and its allies in the Middle East, surpassing al Qaeda.

He pointed to concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and also to accusations by the United States that Iran plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, an allegation Tehran denied.

Still, Panetta said military action remained a last resort in the U.S. and Israeli view and stressed U.S. efforts to win tougher sanctions against Tehran.

“It is important for us to make sure we apply the toughest sanctions—economic, diplomatic pressures—on Iran to change their behavior,” Panetta said.

“And we are in discussions with our allies with regards to additional sanctions that ought to be placed on Iran.”

The European Union may approve fresh sanctions against Iran within weeks, after a U.N. agency said Tehran had worked to design nuclear bombs, EU diplomats said on Thursday.

EU sanctions would be a significant part of Western efforts to ratchet up pressure on Tehran. Western governments would prefer U.N. Security Council measures against Tehran, but Russia and China, both permanent U.N. Security Council members with veto power, are opposed.

Asked whether the United States could live with a nuclear Iran, Panetta said Washington has made it very clear that “it’s unacceptable for Iran to develop a nuclear capability.”

“As to what happens down the road, you know, I think our hope is that we don’t reach that point and that Iran decides that it should join the international family,” he said.

Additional reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by Vicki Allen

Eight members of the Levi family adjust to rockets in Ashkelon


ASHKELON, Israel (JTA) — Another rocket warning siren wails and eight members of the Levi family, including a grandmother and a newborn baby, quickly cram into the small bedroom made of reinforced concrete that serves as the family’s bomb shelter.

“Come on, come on! Get in!” they shout. Just before the heavy metal door slams shut, the family dog, Pick, quickly is whisked inside.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, they listen as the sound of the siren’s wail trails off, replaced by the thud of the rocket landing. Returning to the television news a few minutes later, they see it has landed a few blocks away at a local soccer stadium.

Earlier in the day, another rocket landed much closer — just across the street.

The Grad-type missile hit a construction site, killing Hani el Mahdi, a 27-year old construction worker from a Bedouin town in the Negev, and injured several other workers at the scene, some of them seriously.

“After hearing the boom this morning I’m just not myself,” said Geula Levi, 50, whose house quickly filled up with family members. “I’ve been trying to make lunch but I simply can’t seem to get anything together.”

Since the fighting began over the weekend, two of Levi’s adult children have moved back in, one of them bringing his wife and their 2-month-old daughter. The baby never leaves the reinforced room. Her mother, Vered, ventures out only to get food from the kitchen.

About 60 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Monday. Many landed in Ashkelon, about 10 miles north of the Gaza Strip. Some reached as far as Ashdod, some 20 miles from Gaza, killing one woman as she bolted her car to take cover at a bus stop.

This week marks the first time these two major coastal cities have been subject to ongoing rocket barrages from Gaza. Ashkelon, home to some 120,000 people, had been targeted before, but hit only rarely. Ashdod had been considered out of range of Gaza’s rocket fire, but Hamas’ newly imported missiles — thought to be smuggled into the strip from Egypt during the six-month cease-fire that officially ended Dec. 19 — have increased the range of Gaza’s rockets.

Geula Levi said she was fully supportive of the army’s operation in Gaza, which by late Monday had killed 350 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them Hamas militiamen, according to reports.

“They learned their lessons from the Second Lebanon War so I think this time things will be conducted more intelligently,” she said of Israel’s military leaders.

“We’d rather suffer with the missiles now than become like Kiryat Shemona, which suffered for years,” said her eldest son, Avichai, 27.

Outside, the sound of Israeli artillery being fired into Gaza echoed in the streets, which were quiet and mostly empty. Staring out into the eerie emptiness were campaign posters for the upcoming election, including a billboard with a photograph of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni next to the words, “The courage to say the truth.”

Livni’s party, along with those of her main rivals, canceled campaign events scheduled for this week.

At the entrance to Ashkelon, one of those rivals, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the architect of the Israeli strike on Gaza, had his own image up on a billboard with the slogan “Looking truth in the face.”

For the people of Ashkelon, who are living their leaders’ “truths,” there was stoicism mixed with fear.

“It is miserable but it will go on for a while,” said Capt. David Biton, the police commander who oversees the southern district that includes half a million people and stretches from Ashdod to Sderot — all now within range of Gaza’s rockets.

Galit Ben-Asher Yonah, 37, said it was “the shock of my life” to discover that her home in Gan Yavne, a bedroom community near Ashdod, now has come under attack.

Gan Yavne was hit for the first time Sunday, and two more rockets fell Monday. It is the farthest point north that the rockets have reached to date.

Yonah, originally from Los Angeles, is the mother of two young daughters and a newborn son. She says she will be keeping all her children at home for the next few days.

“Never in my life did I think I would have to explain to my 5-year-old that we have to go to the basement because a bomb was falling,” she said. “And there she was guiding me, telling me to cover my head with my hands and stay away from the window as she was taught in nursery school.”

Tal, her 5-year-old, also brought down a snack of bananas and cookies for them after the first rocket fell, telling her in a serious but calm voice that they might be sitting in the basement, which is reinforced against rockets, for a while.

In nearby Nitzan, where many of the families who were evicted three years ago from the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza live in temporary homes, there are no protective rooms to which to flee.

“We left the Kasssam rockets to get Katyushas instead,” said Yuval Nefesh, 41, referring to the longer-range Katyusha rockets now striking Israel from Gaza. Before, Palestinians relied almost exclusively on the Kassam, a crude rocket with a range of 10 miles and poor accuracy.

He shrugs when asked how the people are coping. “We pray,” he said.

Nefesh is still in touch with some of the Palestinians from Gaza he met while living there, and he said he has been talking to them by phone since the Israeli air assault began.

Outside, the Elikum Shwarma and Kebab restaurant was one of the few bustling businesses in Ashkelon on Monday. Delivery people were busy ferrying orders to the thousands of people staying indoors.

Avi Zarad, working the cash register, tried to maintain a cheerful atmosphere.

“We can’t send out a message of being stressed out,” he said. A few minutes later a siren sounded and, with no shelter to run to, the customers continued eating calmly.

The soccer stadium where a rocket fell an hour earlier is just across the road.

“We are getting used to it, but it’s a horrible reality,” said Kinneret Cohen, a restaurant worker preparing salads in the kitchen. “We just breathe deeply knowing we have to give the army time to do its work.”

Analysis: New Hamas Gaza rocket attacks pose dilemma for Israel


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The renewal of intense Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilian areas has put Israelis in a somber mood during the usually festive week of Chanukah.

The new fighting erupted Friday — the day a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel expired and the Islamist group declared it would not renew.

Since then, Hamas has allowed Islamic Jihad militants to bombard Israelis in the towns near the Gaza Strip, including Sderot. The barrages slowed down only on Monday, when Hamas announced that Palestinian factions in the strip were observing a 24-hour lull requested by Egyptian mediators.

Israeli officials are calling for sharp retaliation. The Israeli Cabinet already has voted to hit back, leaving the timing and scope of the nation’s response to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The rocket attacks are a reminder of the Israeli government’s inability to resolve the Gaza problem. Coming in the midst of an election campaign, the deterioration of the situation around Gaza has prompted many Israelis to ask why the government has not yet struck back in a serious way.

Cabinet ministers and leading members of the coalition have jumped into the fray, questioning Barak’s apparent restraint.

Barak, however, refuses to be hurried. He dismisses calls for immediate action as political grandstanding, saying that for the sake of its standing in the region, Israel must retaliate the right way. Barak insists he does not want to repeat the mistakes of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

Complicating matters, Hamas’ rockets have increased their range from six months ago, before the cease-fire.

Yuval Diskin, chief of the Shin Bet security agency, told the Cabinet on Sunday that Hamas now could target Israeli population centers within a radius of 25 miles from the Gaza Strip. That includes Beersheba, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat and a host of smaller cities and towns.

As the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot put it in a screaming headline, “One of every eight Israelis is in range of the rockets.”

Hamas used the truce to smuggle in tons of new weaponry, including upgraded Katyusha rocket launchers with a 25-mile range. Israeli military planners estimate that in the event of a showdown in Gaza, Hamas would be able to fire hundreds of rockets a day at Israeli civilian centers — much the same way Hezbollah did in 2006.

Hamas also has built Hezbollah-style fortifications and brought anti-tank weapons into the strip.

“For Israel, invading Gaza will not be a walk in the park,” warned Moussa Abu Marzuk, deputy head of Hamas’ Damascus-based leadership.

Israel has several military options in Gaza, all of them problematic. The Jewish state could strike at rocket-launching crews and military installations from the air, but that alone would not be enough to stop the rocket fire.

Israel’s army could target Hamas leaders, but most them already have gone underground. The army also could fire artillery shells at the sources of rocket fire, but since the Palestinian militiamen operate mainly from built-up civilian areas, this likely would cause many civilian casualties and invite international condemnation.

Israel could undertake limited ground operations against rocket launchers and capture the territory from where the rockets are being fired, but this would put Israeli troops at risk in the heart of Palestinian territory.

A large-scale ground operation likely would be more effective, but it would require an exit strategy Israel does not have — or leave Israel responsible for Gaza and the needs of its estimated 1.5 million Palestinians.

For its part, Hamas has much to lose from an all-out war. Its goal in the current crisis is to get Israel to ease its siege on Gaza and lessen the pressure on Hamas militants in the West Bank. But if Israel invades and overruns Gaza, it could lose everything — including its hold on power in Gaza.

On Monday, Hamas showed signs of stepping back from the brink. It ordered a 24-hour suspension of rocket fire to give Egyptian mediators another chance to negotiate a new cease-fire on terms more favorable to Hamas.

Israel, however, shows no sign of backing down.

The standoff with Hamas goes far beyond Gaza, and the outcome will reverberate across the region. It is part of the regional power struggle between Iran and its proxies and between fundamentalists and the moderate pro-Western camp, including countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

While Arab moderates in public have expressed alarm at the escalation, in private some reportedly have hinted to Israel that they would not be sorry to see Hamas and its leaders hit hard. The Egyptians even have hinted publicly that Iran has been fanning the flames from behind the scenes.

Indeed, the Gaza standoff is part of the showdown between Israel and Iran. A powerful Israeli response will send a strong message to Tehran and its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon. A failed action or a perceived retreat could encourage the Iran to step up its challenges of Israel.

Barak is keenly aware of what’s at stake and is insisting on detailed planning and thinking through all the strategic implications. This way, if Israel does launch a major operation, it will achieve an overwhelming victory and have a clear strategy for the political aftermath.

But there is still no agreement among Israel’s three major prime ministerial candidates on what to do about Hamas in the long term. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu say the Hamas government should be toppled. Barak advocates the more modest goal of restoring quiet after dealing a heavy blow to the organization’s military wing.

The way the goal is defined will determine the nature of the military operation and set the tone for the political aftermath.

The painful truth about teen mouth piercing


A pierced tongue may be the height of cool in some teen circles, but a new study by Israeli researchers suggests that skin piercings in the mouth may lead to an increased risk of oral health problems and even tooth loss.

The researchers from the School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University (TAU), found that about 15 percent to 20 percent of teens with oral piercings are at high risk of both tooth fractures and gum disease. The resulting tooth fractures, combined with periodontal problems, can lead to anterior (front) tooth loss later in life.

High rates of fractures due to piercings are not found in other age groups, and cases of severe periodontal damage in teens without oral piercings are also rare, says Dr. Liran Levin, a dentist from TAU’s Department of Oral Rehabilitation, who conducted the study with partners Israeli army dentists Dr. Yehuda Zadik and Dr. Tal Becker.

Today, 10 percent of all New York teenagers have some kind of oral piercings, compared to about 20 percent in Israel and 3.4 percent in Finland.

Levin and his team carried out their initial study on 400 young adults aged 18-19. A review by Levin and Zadik, published in the American Dental Journal late last year, is the first and largest of its kind to document the risks and complications of oral piercings, drawing on research from multiple centers in America and across the world.

“There are short-term complications to piercings in low percentages of teens, and in rare cases a piercing to the oral cavity can cause death,” Levin said. “Swelling and inflammation of the area can cause edema, which disturbs the respiratory tract.”

He also warns that the most common concerns — tooth fracture and periodontal complications — are long-term, and can even lead in rare cases to death.

“There is a repeated trauma to the area of the gum,” Levin said. “You can see these young men and women playing with the piercing on their tongue or lip. This act prolongs the trauma to the mouth and in many cases is a precursor to anterior tooth loss.”

The study was based in Israel, and researchers questioned teens with piercings and without, asking them about their oral health, knowledge of risk factors associated with piercings, and about their piercing history, before conducting the clinical oral exams.

Ironically, Levin noted, the youngsters who opted for oral piercing were very concerned about body image, but seemed to be unaware of the future risks such piercings can cause.

According to Zadik, the best advice a parent can give a teen who wants a mouth piercing is to tell them to avoid it altogether. If your teen is insistent, however, then he warns that it is essential that piercing tools are disposable, and that all other equipment is cleaned in an on-site autoclave to help reduce infection.

After the procedure, he says the area should be rinsed regularly with a chloroxidine-based mouthwash for two weeks. And don’t play with the piercing, he warns. It should be cleaned regularly, and dental check-ups performed regularly. — Israel21c Staff

How Do We Do It?


I was late getting home from mymeeting the other night. Too late to help my daughter prepare for herSpanish quiz. Too late to massage her shoulders after softballpractice. “Do Not Disturb,” read the sign on her door. Hernight-stand light was on, but Samantha was already asleep.

Disregarding her warning sign, I entered, andpulled the covers over her. “Sweet dreams,” I whispered, and I kissedher forehead. I knew from our car-phone talk that she had had a goodday. Still, until I saw Samantha myself, her hair neatly pulled backwith a barrette, I could not rest. At nearly 16, my daughter isaccustomed to making her own meals, putting herself to bed. Thebalance of power has shifted: I need the good-night kiss more thanshe does.

I’ve been a single parent a long time now. I knowa lot about it. When Jewish organizations need a speaker on singleparenting, they often ask me — and I’ll be at the Westside JewishCommunity Center this Sunday for the daylong conference, “CreatingFamily Life as a Single Parent,” sponsored by Jewish Family Service’snew Jewish Single Parent Network (818-762-8800.)

Fifteen percent of all Jewish households withchildren under 16 are single-parent, according to the soon-to-bereleased Los Angeles Jewish community population survey. That’s aboutone in six. We may have fewer teen pregnancies than the surroundingmainstream community, but lots of divorce, lots of widowhood, lots ofsingle parents by choice.

And the questions I’m asked most often are: “Howdo you do it?” “How do you make choices about the child’s welfarewithout someone to bat the ideas around with?” “How do you play goodcop/bad cop by yourself?” “How do you get any time for yourself aftera long day’s work?” “How do you retain a social life that doesn’tleave the child feeling excluded?”

The single answer to all of these issues changeswith time. Raising a child alone is so overwhelming “There’s noschool for parenting,” my mother used to tell me, and single parentsare even more in the dark. Whipped about in the heady winds of achild’s emotions, I’ve had no one else to provide an anchor. Yet,somehow, homework gets done, new Adidas get bought. We get throughthe school semester. We get over our tantrums. We get our hugs. I getby, with a little help from my friends.

I’m not kidding. Some nights I can’t bear theweight of the worry. And some days I have to kvell out loud. Ineither case, I talk: to the pillow, or to Marika, Jane or Willie. Orto God. I hold back nothing. My advice to single parents is: Pickyour friends wisely. Forget the meaning of shame. And learn themeaning of pride.

It’s about pride that I want to make a specialpoint. A single parent’s life is generally deemed to be one of pity,sadness, handicap. The prevailing attitude of our synagogues andorganizations, and of married couples who belong to them, is that wesingle parents are “broken,” while they, of course, are “intact.” Ina series of focus groups sponsored by Jewish Family Service in LosAngeles, single parents reported that they felt “unwelcome” in Jewishlife. There’s a bias toward the nuclear family; anyone who doesn’tconform is a challenge and a threat to community norms.

Perhaps it goes back to the biblical commandmentof caring for the widow and orphan, but single parents carry, inaddition to extraordinary financial and emotional obligations, aweighty psychological burden to prove their wholeness. The Jewishsingle parent is regarded as a war veteran, like the one-legged guywho stands on the highway with a tin cup. Battle-scarred, needinghelp.

Wrong! The aura of handicap that hangs over singlefamilies not only hurts parents, who ache with a sense of their owninadequacy, but it destroys the burgeoning confidence of Jewishchildren.

There are plenty of stumbling blocks in a parent’slife; let’s get rid of the crazy ones. We have to see single parentsfor who they are: strong, tireless, persevering and role models ofselfless love.

The community, rather, could honor us not withpity but with support, including low-cost synagogue membership andb’nai mitzvah fees, and scholarships for summer camp. But the biggestboon to single parents would come when the Jewish world begins toredefine “family” according to the realities of today. After all, theLos Angeles community survey demonstrates that only 23 percent of allJewish households are in the traditional “Leave it to Beaver” mode:Mom, Dad, kids.

Well, my house is part of the new majority. Ididn’t exactly plan to raise my child alone, but, even so, it is arewarding life. I was lucky to do her bat mitzvah alone, without aspouse to argue with over “how Jewish” it would be. I have vacationswith my daughter each year that are the envy of many two-parentfamilies. We have closeness and intimacy and friendship. I love her,and she’s still talking to me, so I can’t be doing too bad ajob.

I’m a single parent, sure. Glad of it.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of TheJewish Journal. She hosts the Jewish community chat Thursday eveningsat 8 p.m. on American Online. Her e-mail address iswmnsvoice@aol.com.

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January 30, 1998One by One byOne

 

January 30, 1998TheDaughter

 

January 23, 1998Babysitters NoMore

 

January 16, 1998FalseAlarms

 

November 28, 1997As AmericanAs…

 

November 21, 1997The ThirteenWants

 

November 14, 1997Music to MyEars

 

November 7, 1997Four Takes on50

 

October 31, 1997ChallengingHernandez

 

October 24, 1997CommonGround

 

October 17, 1997Taking Off theMask

 

October 10, 1997Life’s a MixedBag

 

October 3, 1997And Now ForSomething Completely Different

 

September 26, 1997An OpenHeart

 

September 19, 1997My BronxTale

 

September 12, 1997 — Of Goddesses andSaints

 

August 22, 1997 — Who is Not a Jew

 

August 15, 1997 — A LegendaryFriendship

 

July 25, 1997 — A Perfect Orange

 

July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own

 

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

 

July 4, 1997 — Meet theSeekowitzes

 

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

 

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites