Is 2006 Lebanon war really over?
The land below our perch was green and fertile. Over the other side - in Lebanon - it was pale and sandy brown. I looked out at the village of Aita a-Sha'ab, where my oldest son, Shlomie, a medic and commander in an IDF paratroop unit, fought during the Second Lebanon War.
Shlomie's unit was caught by sniper fire. He didn't realise he'd been shot; all he knew was that his friend, Michael Levin, a volunteer soldier from Pennsylvania, had been mortally wounded. Shlomie tried to save Michael but he could not. On wounded legs, he carried Michael out of the combat zone.
Now, six years later, I recently found myself standing near the summit of Mount Adir, at the memorial site that was recently dedicated to the 119 Israeli soldiers killed during the war, their names engraved in metal. I stared at Michael's name for some time and then studied the scene before me. It was a brilliant, blue, scorched summer day, just like the 34 days during the war when Hizbollah fired Katyusha rockets all over the region.
I remembered the sleepless nights at my house in Shavei Zion, a small village in the Western Galilee, where I remained with my husband and children against all advice and logic, praying that my son - and that every son and daughter of every mother and father in Israel - would be safe, praying that the war would end and for some kind of miracle.
The miracle never came; only a ceasefire was put in place on August 14. Now the expanse seemed surprisingly beautiful. Quiet.
Hizbollah fired rockets all over the region
"Don't be fooled by the illusion," warned my friend Manny as we gazed across.
Standing next to us was Itzik, a man we'd just met, who was visiting the spot in memory of a friend's son who was also killed in the war. He pointed to his name. Rafanael Muskal. Too many names. Itzik's grandchildren peered out with binoculars. Of course, they could not see the underground bunkers and ammunition that Hizbollah has stockpiled over the past six years beneath the seemingly pastoral villages facing us.
"I fought in the First Lebanon War and my oldest son served in the Second," said Manny.
"What if there's a third Lebanon War, or a fourth or a fifth?" one of Itzik's grandchildren asked. Before we could answer, his seriousness turned to silliness. "Or a sixth, or a seventh… or a tenth?"
These days, that "what if" question still hangs in the air. I think about the "what if?" each time I go to my washing machine and pass our gas masks. They are lined up on the uppermost shelf, as innocent as shoeboxes, only appearing lethal when you read the label. "Forbidden to open." Until one day we are instructed to open them again.
"Let's dust the masks off," my husband, said to me the other day. "Just in case."
"I don't want to," I said. "I don't want to look at them. I don't want to think about them."
After the war ended, Shlomie recovered and his life has moved on. All our lives have gone on since that summer, while Israel seems to have lurched forward yet simultaneously slipped backwards into fatalistic indifference. In Israel, we bemoan the state of affairs but remain paralysed as to what to do. The country seems more fractionated and frazzled and frenzied; our politicians more corrupt, our rabbinical leaders more fanatic, our multicultural society more intolerant.
Whatever hope I had after the Oslo Accords has fizzled out. The threat of Islamic fundamentalism looms not only across the border - as far as I can see now from my perch - but around the globe. I'd like to pretend I'm on an ordinary hike gazing at the dazzling land without a care. But as Manny has warned me; don't be fooled by the illusion.
Diana Bletter is a writer based in northern Israel. She blogs at http://thebestchapter.com