Sep 2006 Journal

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Letter from Israel

Living in interesting times

The sense of déjà vu is almost unbearable. Again, at the time of writing, Israeli soldiers are fighting in Lebanon. Again, rockets are being fired at our northern towns and villages, with greater intensity than before. Israelis are forced to live in shelters or move elsewhere in the country. Both the Israeli and Lebanese populations are suffering. Israel's long war has erupted once again.

No Israeli is happy to see the destruction of Lebanese homes. Israel has endeavoured to ensure that the civilian population is not harmed, dropping leaflets to warn residents that an area is about to be bombed. Israel's intention is not to kill civilians but to strike at those who seek to harm it.

This time it is here in Jerusalem that life goes on pretty much as before. Luckily, it is the summer holiday - if the school year were in progress the disruption of daily life would be far worse. Families who have moved temporarily to the centre and south of the country are trying to regard this period as their summer break. Anyone from the north who has relatives in a safer part of the country is staying with them. Some Israelis have taken whole families of strangers into their homes. The shopping malls, parks and swimming pools are full of 'refugees' from the north. The museums are packed with visitors. Many shops and institutions are offering reduced prices, or even free entry, for people from the north, and in Eilat all the hotels are full.

A friend told me that both his son and his grandson are currently with the army in Lebanon. Twenty years ago both he and his son served in Lebanon simultaneously. For a family that immigrated originally from Manchester this can hardly be typical, but many Israeli soldiers are now experiencing what their fathers underwent.

Almost everyone in Israel feels that this time the military action is justified. Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip almost a year ago. What drove Palestinians to attack an Israeli outpost within Israel's internationally recognised border, killing two soldiers and kidnapping one? The IDF left Lebanon six years ago. Why should our soldiers be attacked and abducted when patrolling the border?

The only answer seems to be the punch line of the grim joke about the camel which takes a scorpion on his back across the Suez Canal and for his pains is stung so that they both drown. When the camel asks 'Why did you do it?', the scorpion replies 'Are you looking for logic in the Middle East?'

There are some encouraging signs, nevertheless. Some Arab countries have criticised the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah, while others have refrained from expressing support for them. Perhaps logic is beginning to penetrate into some parts of this region after all.

Israelis who sought to live in peace alongside Palestinians, within some kind of territorial arrangement, were convinced that most Palestinians had similar aims. This may still be the case, but there are forces at work which seem determined to prevent this happening. The events of the last few weeks raise some serious questions in many minds.

This may be the beginning of a paradigm shift, to borrow a phrase from the sociology of science. This occurs when a major discovery overthrows previously accepted theories, forcing scientists to rethink everything.

The question which many people are asking themselves is: What will happen if Israel leaves the West Bank? The idea of having Hamas or Hezbollah a couple of miles away from Israel's narrow 'waistline' near the Tel Aviv conurbation is intolerable. But earlier this year Palestinians voted in a Hamas government in democratic elections. If a more moderate government had been elected and an arrangement reached regarding the West Bank, what would have happened had a Hamas government been elected subsequently?

Life here is never boring. But sometimes we wish we weren't living out the Chinese curse 'May you live in interesting times.'
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

previous article:The AJR and the Wiener Library
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