June 28, 2001
The Way We Live Now
My wife Susan and I moved to Israel in 1983, a time when, for all intents and purposes, it was considered a pariah nation. In fact, not long before we arrived, the United Nations had declared Zionism to be a form of racism.
Keren, my daughter, was born in 1985 and my son, Michael, in 1987. Both were small children when the Oslo agreements were signed on the White House lawn in September 1993. Both have grown up with the peace process and are part of the first generation of Israeli children raised believing that peace with the Palestinians is achievable.
I, like many Israelis, was hopeful that my children would become young adults in a period of transition to real peace and that their generation would be the one able to concentrate on other key issues facing Israel, including the tensions between religion and state, economic disparities and the massive ecological issues that engulf us.
The Al-Aksa Intifada has changed the way a lot of Israelis look at the peace process, myself included. I never believed that Yasser Arafat was Nelson Mandela or someone who could readily shed his history of armed terrorist struggle, broken commitments with Arab allies and an ideology that denied the Jewish claim to sovereignty in any part of historic Palestine. The idea of a Palestinian police force, armed with automatic rifles, also never seemed sound to me. Yet I supported Oslo, as well as every concession and withdrawal that was offered in its wake. Even though I felt that Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David seemed too generous, I would have voted for it had it been offered as a referendum to the Israeli electorate.
In 1991, I participated in a three-week course, offered by the Israeli Army, to be an escort officer and spokesman. One day in Gaza, a number of us stopped for a coffee break and bemusedly wondered, if Gaza were under PLO control, what would stop the Palestinians from shelling Ashkelon or Sderot, about four miles away? The recent Palestinian mortar shelling of Sderot and other communities, both inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza remind me of that conversation. These new attacks are serving to widen an escalating conflict that has already changed our lives markedly since September.
The Palestinian mortars are unsophisticated and inaccurate. Fortunately no one has been killed or even wounded by them. But the implications for the future are dangerously clear. The Palestinians have embarked on an effort to use heavy weapons, in violation of the Oslo agreements.
My secretary, a resident of Gilo, has been suffering for months with the on-again, off-again Palestinian shootings into her neighborhood. No one has been killed in Gilo, but the situation is not one that a sovereign democracy will continuously tolerate.
The conflict is beginning to look like a return to the existential survival issues of the 1970s, but worse. Where in the past the PLO operated from Jordan, Lebanon and Tunis, now they are attacking us from Gaza, Bethlehem and other parts of the West Bank. As Arafat attempts to internationalize or balkanize the conflict, we are facing a strange low-intensity war of attrition.
Our lives have been changed since last Rosh Hashana. There are roads that we now hesitate to use, certain times that the children are reluctant to take buses, and we sometimes have an inclination to avoid crowds. Interestingly enough, my daughter is totally comfortable taking two buses home from school every day. Ever since a girl from her school was raped by a taxi driver late one Friday night, she refuses to take taxis alone in Jerusalem.
At times, my son develops some anxiety over the two bus trips home through the middle of Jerusalem. As a result, my wife or I will pick him up in the middle of the day. But generally, the children take the buses without fear, knowing that one has to be incredibly unlucky to be attacked.
But perhaps the most consequential change is the realization that the peace process really might be dead. It is quite shocking that after years of dialogue with the Palestinians, Arafat can state before the world that the Temple Mount is of no real religious consequence to the Jewish people, and his rhetoric in Arabic is reminiscent of the pre-Oslo terrorist leader.
The effects of the intifada are more serious to some Israelis than to others. For those who live within the 1967 green line, it touches less upon the day-to-day reality of our lives. For example, just before Pesach, I drove to Kibbutz Afikim to pick up Michael, an animal-lover who participated in a five-day dog training camp. The return to Jerusalem the next morning left me the choice of a two-hour trip, without traffic, via the Jordan Valley, or a minimum two-and-a-half-hour journey through Wadi Arah and up the Coastal Highway. Since the bypass road has been subjected to occasional gun shots from Palestinians, the decision as to which road to take becomes part of your life. Cutting a few moments off the journey is no longer the primary objective. Safety is the main concern now.
Statistically, all of these routes are safer than the possibility of being totaled by an impatient Israeli motorist anywhere within Israel, but no doubt, the intifada has made life much more aggravating and anxiety-ridden. On a more profound level, the current situation has caused us all to dwell upon the fear that we seem to be slipping into a pre-Oslo period of political and physical isolation devoid of tourism, normal people-to-people exchanges and international appreciation for our ambitious effort to build a modern Jewish state.
It seems that we are moving backwards in time. We are once again heavily dependent onagressive American Jewish support to help interpret our security situation. More than anyone, American Jews are familiar with the smallness of Israel and the risks that we have taken for peace.
Despite it all, Israel remains a relatively safe place. It's a child-oriented country; there is no better place for a Jew to live. My children share the feeling, and they, like people everywhere, do not want something good to be taken away from them. Including the hope for peace.