August 22, 2002
Job or Genesis?
A few weeks into our annual summerlong stay at our home in Jerusalem, my wife, Andy, and I became honorary citizens of this extraordinary city -- the first North American Jews to be so honored. It was a tremendously humbling moment in a summer of emotional ups and downs. We have many close friends here, many philanthropic and business interests and we immerse ourselves in an intensity of Jewish spirit that we find nowhere else in the world. Nevertheless, as deeply as we are connected to this land and this people, we have no family living in the danger areas, we have no children or grandchildren serving in the army -- so we are here and yet, we are witnessing the "situation" through a window.
It's a window onto many Israelis. First: the one where we live, where we feel as safe as in any other place in the world, where we dine along with dozens of others in a first-class restaurant. One may think that people aren't going to public places. The truth is far from that. The other night, the Israel Philharmonic, under the baton of Zubin Mehta, performed a great "Concert in Jeans" to a packed house of over 3,000.
Then there is the Israel where the relentless suicide-murders leave a pall over everyone. The way the news is delivered reveals some of the tactics this society has adopted to cope. First comes the factual information, delivered as dispassionately as possible. Later in the day, some of the details: who was killed, details about the bomber, structural damages. The next morning, in the press and on television and radio, the names and ages of the dead, where they will be buried that day and at what times. The day after the June 5 Megiddo murders (17 men and women, all army kids returning to their base), I was attending a board meeting for Koor, an Israeli industrial holding company I have chaired for several years. I quietly asked whether I should ask for a moment of silence to pray for those who had been killed. I was advised that Israelis don't do that any more. I surmised that's because it's so important for everyone who can, to get on with things and do their mourning by themselves.
How intensely lonely that must be if, say, in a single flash of horror, you have lost your husband, your mother and one of your children ... and yet, all around you, life goes on: the annual book fair is held throughout the country; a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv is attended by some 40,000; the Moment cafe in Jerusalem, victimized by a suicide attack last fall, reopens, is filled with patrons and the very same bartender is serving drinks; a friend, perhaps an artist, continues to produce beautiful works.
There was a poll taken by one of the major newspapers about how people are feeling these days. The results: half the nation is feeling good and the other half is depressed. My assistant at our foundation put it this way: "In the crudest statistical calculation, 3 million people have smiles on their faces, and 3 million others don't understand why."
The fact that half the population remains optimistic, even under the constant siege of terror, speaks volumes about the Israeli spirit. The mutually inflicted, negative physical, economic and psychological pressures on both Israelis and Palestinians are intense, yet the wills of both peoples are stronger. Something, clearly, has to give. But so long as Israel feels threatened by homicidal bombers, that something will not be the Israel Defense Forces. Israel's recent takeover of Palestinian cities has been named Operation Path of Determination. Isn't it clearly possible that this path is another bend in the Road to Nowhere?
From afar, world leaders can demand that both sides make reforms. But does President Bush or anyone else seriously believe that the Palestinians will transform their society into a democratic, financially transparent state -- the marks of other democracies that we in the West know? That corruption will be a thing of the past? And if there is new Palestinian leadership, then what's in store for Israel and the region?
The strangest part of the tragedy through which Israelis and Palestinians are now agonizing is that, insofar as the "situation" is concerned, the last chapter has already been written -- partially at Camp David and partially at Taba -- give or take a little bit of sovereignty here and a few acres of land there. The question is: What chapter are we on now -- and how many more have to be written until we reach the last one? And what book are we really reading, Job or Genesis?
One thing is evident. The mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians is too deep for them to finish this book themselves. So, be it the so-called "Quartet" -- or some combination of the United States, selected European countries, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- a strong editor, on a temporary basis, is desperately needed. Soon. Given the cooling-off period, perhaps both sides will be able to return to that last chapter. If not, it well could be that the book will be consumed in the fire of hate.