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Week of Music, Scuds, Groceries and Prayers

February 12, 1991| From Times staff writers in the Middle East

MONDAY, FEB. 4

Israeli army spokesman Nachman Shai, the soft-spoken, bespectacled brigadier general whose name has become a household word in his country since the war in the Persian Gulf began, is wrapping up a routine briefing when another famous name steps to the microphone--Abie Nathan, the Israeli broadcaster and controversial activist who operates a shipboard radio station called The Voice of Peace from "somewhere in the Mediterranean."

Why, asks Nathan, must Israel Radio depress people even more during Iraqi Scud alerts by broadcasting such downbeat music while everyone is waiting in their sealed rooms for the all-clear? "I think they should sing in the bunkers," Nathan says, "even as a sign of defiance."

Shai, ever accommodating, promises to take the matter up with broadcast authorities, and himself proposes a call-in format so that listeners in gas masks can request their favorites records.

TUESDAY, FEB. 5

At 3 a.m., squadrons of fighter jets sweep across the desert at low altitude, awakening Marines at their base in northern Saudi Arabia. An hour later, flashes of fire light up the horizon from the direction of Kuwait.

The unit's first sergeant barks commands to his men at the morning formation: "Continue filling your sandbags, continue working on your fighting positions . . . work on your rifles and pistols so when you have to use them they will be ready to go.

"Just because they knocked some Scud missile sites doesn't mean they don't have some more somewhere else. This war isn't over yet, and it won't be for some time. Marines have still got a lot of work to do, so don't relax."

It's a cold, windy day in the Jewish town of Ariel on the occupied West Bank, and Scud missiles had fallen near the settlement in both of the latest Iraqi attacks. But Efraim Gouetah, proprietor of Effi's Fruits & Vegetables, is in a fine mood.

"When the missiles come, we all still go onto the roofs to watch," he says, adding that the Scud attacks have mostly been wonderful for business. With most missiles falling on Tel Aviv, small groups of residents of the seaside city have come to Ariel because it may be out of Iraq's target area.

Dina Shalit, an assistant to Ariel's mayor, says so many have come that there are shortages of newspapers and new lines in the medical clinics. Referring to the tensions of the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which began in late 1987, Shalit adds: "For three years they wouldn't accept a dinner invitation. And now they're coming to live here."

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 6

In Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest shrines--the cities of Mecca and Medina--it is a Roman Catholic chaplain who is called on to dedicate a new dining hall on an air base that is home to American, Saudi, Kuwaiti and British forces.

"O God, Allah," he begins the prayer, and then concludes with a phrase in Arabic: "May the God of all of us bless us all."

"You can pray ecumenically," Father Vincent Inghilterra explains later. "We all pray to the same God."

It's grocery-shopping day on the aircraft carrier Midway, a delicate rendezvous at sea with a Navy supply ship and a hand-over of food supplies for 6,400 hungry sailors: 13,000 pounds of hamburger, 600 cans of cheese balls, 2,500 tins of potato chips, 1,800 gallons of ice cream, fresh vegetables--and mail.

For three hours the supply ship Spice nestles alongside the huge carrier in one of the heavily protected safe havens of the Persian Gulf dubbed "parking lots" by the Navy.

"We've got all the players in the world out here," says signalman Kevin Menshouse, surveying the field of destroyers and frigates gathered as far as the blue horizon for supplies. "It's like Grand Central Station."

Menshouse's counterpart on the Midway is Mike Davinport. The two men communicate from their respective ships via the hand-and-arm signals that are the universal language of the sea. Davinport has a lot of information to relay: He hasn't been in port for so long he's forgotten the last time he saw land; life on the Midway means 130 hour work weeks; combat pay isn't due until April. Enough said. The Spice finishes its deliveries and pulls away as the two ships sail off into the Persian Gulf.

Michael McKinnon, a filmmaker, is in Jubayl working on a piece about the huge Gulf oil spill for National Geographic.

"Don't think of it as an oil slick," he says. "Think of it as an ice flow." He describes the slick as a two-inch-thick "skin of oil," more like grease because the lighter elements have evaporated. "It's the breakdown of the ecosystem," he laments. "This is the hatchery for the Gulf."

THURSDAY, FEB. 7

There aren't many laughs or diversions in this war, but leave it to the Marines. They've put together a disco of sorts in a recreation tent near the front lines in Saudi Arabia, complete with plywood dance floor.

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