Sunday, December 31, 2000

Weeping at The Wall

Saturday night/Motz"ash, December 30, 2000

This Shabbat I was in central Jerusalem with a visiting relative and as I try to do as often as possible, I went to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall, one of the supporting walls which are all that remain of the ancient Temple complex destroyed almost 2000 years ago by the Romans. This wall is the closest Jews can come today to our holiest site, the Temple Mount itself, which is now the site of Muslim shrines built in the 7th century.
I am always awed by walking in ancient Jerusalem, and especially when standing and praying next to those ancient stones of the wall my ancestors built millennia ago. Of course it is a cliche to wonder at what those stones have only witnessed, but all the same, I cannot help but think of that whenever I am there. These stones which my forefathers walked past on their pilgrimages to the Temple - who knows, perhaps some of my ancestors were even priests in the Temple, or market vendors selling pottery and livestock to the pilgrims.
Even more so than the stones though, the mount which they support, the Temple Mount itself, is a physical symbol of the eternal Jewish people, the very soul of the Jewish nation. Three times a day I face the Temple Mount in prayer, just as my Jewish forebears have done for millennia. Thousands of years ago, this is the site on which the Temple stood, the centre and symbol of Jewish religious life, political sovereignty and freedom, the centre of the Jewish universe to which Jews made at least three pilgrimages a year. Centuries before Christianity or Islam even existed, my ancestors came to offer sacrifices at this site, recited Hebrew prayers at this site - the very same Psalms in the same language that I recited today by the remains of the Western Wall. And when invaders destroyed the Temple and forced the Jews into a millennia long exile, wherever they have wandered in the world, whether they were exiled to Babylon, Egypt, Spain, Russia, Britain, Iran, the USA or anywhere else, Jews have turned to face the Temple Mount and pray for a return to Zion and the redemption of the Jewish people.
Even more than the ancient stones, I am awed at the fact that I have been granted the privilege to stand right next to Judaism's holiest site, to look up upon the Mount itself, a site which for centuries millions of Jews have longed to see even just once in their lifetime, and which I can look upon with my own eyes whenever I choose to take the bus into Jerusalem.
No Jews are allowed to go up to the Mount itself, not since the intifada began in late September, sparked allegedly by a Jewish Israeli politician visiting the site. Following the 7th century Muslim Arab conquest of the Holy Land the Muslims built a mosque and shrine on the ruins of the Temple, claiming it as their own holy site and refusing to share the site with the Jews. For that matter, in modern times they refuse to even acknowledge that this is indeed a Jewish holy site at all, insisting that it is only holy for Muslims and that Jews have no history here. In order to avoid antagonising the Muslim world, Israel, since gaining control of the site from Jordan during the Six Day War, has granted the Muslim religious authorities control of the Temple Mount, forbidding Jews to pray at our holiest place in the world.
The Muslim authorities don't even really like Jews to visit the site, following around Jews who do so in case they try to mumble a prayer when no one is looking. It they catch you trying to pray they call the Israeli police and haul you off the site, or, if you're really unlikely they might beat you up. Muslim kids can play football on this holy site, non-Jewish visitors can picnic here, tourists can click their cameras and marvel at the beautiful Muslim shrines here, but Jews may not pray here.
Well, that's the way it is, the closest we can get is a building near the Mount which looks down onto it, or we can sneak up disguised as foreign tourists and whisper a prayer in our hearts while pretending to admire the view or photograph the golden Dome of the Rock, but it's better than nothing. At least we can freely get close and pray at the Western Wall below. Thirty-four years ago we couldn't even do this because the whole area was under Jordanian control and Jews were not allowed into Jerusalem's Old City at all. Today, except on the rare occasions when Palestinians riot on the Temple Mount and throw rocks down onto Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, Jews can freely visit at least the Western Wall.
Well, at least for now I can go and gaze up upon the Mount whenever I want to. At least for now. There is a reason that I'm writing all this, and it isn't because I suddenly feel like waxing romantic about Jewish history. It's because suddenly a Jewish Israeli government is on the verge of doing the unthinkable - signing away the Temple Mount and most of the surrounding Old City to the Palestinians. So you say, I've just written that we don't really control the Temple Mount anyway, and at least we'll still have the Western Wall, what's the big deal? Well, here is the big deal. The Temple Mount is the focus of Jewish prayers, at the core of the Jewish soul, it is the heart of the Jewish nation, the nexus of Jewish identity, the symbol of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem - it is in short big. A place like that is not something that you consider giving up even to a friendly neighbour who recognises your religious and historic rights to the site, let alone to a supposed "peace partner" who is right now acting more like an enemy and who denies that the site even has any connection to the Jewish people.
Right now Muslims are free to worship at the site, security permitting, Jews are in theory allowed to at least visit the site. If it comes under Palestinian control Jews won't even be able to visit, as was the case when it was under Jordanian rule. Aside from that, though today Jews may not be able to pray on the Temple Mount, the police guarding the area, protecting the Western Wall below from possible attacks from the Temple Mount above, are Israeli police. How would people feel about going to pray at the Western Wall knowing that instead there were Palestinian police up there, the ones who are currently taking potshots at Israeli homes and vehicles. Shall we say that Israelis don't really feel that comfortable with the idea?
And now you understand why it was that this morning I not only prayed at the Western Wall, I also wept at the Western Wall. Also known as the Wailing Wall, it is here that ever since the Temple was destroyed Jews have come and wept as they suffered the terrors and indignities of foreign rule and exile. Today for the first time in my life I joined the millions of Jews who have come to this wall and cried their hearts out. As I looked up at the Mount, looked at the Israeli police ensuring my safety, at the other Jews praying around me, I wondered sadly if this would be one of the last times I could come here freely and openly as an Israeli and as a Jew.
This week we celebrated Chanukah, commemorating the day some 2200 years ago when the Maccabees recaptured the Holy Temple from the pagan Syrian-Greek occupiers and rededicated it for Jewish worship. This Chanukah, for the first time, a government of the modern State of Israel voted to endorse a plan which would relinquish sovereignty over the site of the Temple to Israel's enemies.
If the Clinton agreement goes through the Western Wall and the adjacent Jewish Quarter of the Old City will become an isolated Israeli enclave surrounded by Palestinian-controlled areas. Israel will be allowed access to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall via a narrow corridor along one edge of the Old City. According to the agreement the Palestinians will be obligated to allow Israelis free access to these sites.
In theory it sounds good enough - if Israel were signing an agreement with Switzerland perhaps. Unfortunately Israel is negotiating with Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. They have already been granted control of other Jewish holy sites which under the Oslo agreements they were bound to protect and allow free Jewish access to. So far they have ransacked Joseph's Tomb in Nablus/Shechem and built a mosque in its place and set fire to the ancient Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho. The Palestinian minister in charge of religious affairs pledges that when they get control of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the burial place of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leiah, they will not allow Jews to visit. The Palestinian press crows about how they hope to wrest Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem from Jewish control and do to it as they did to Joseph's Tomb. Palestinian negotiators refuse even to acknowledge that the Jews have any ties, historical, religious or otherwise, to the Temple Mount. This doesn't sound like peace to me. It certainly doesn't sound like people I want to entrust any more Jewish holy sites to, guarantees or no guarantees.
We've been through this before though. In the 1948-49 War of Independence the Jordanians took the Old City and besieged the Jewish Quarter whose defenders were eventually forced to surrender, and the surviving Jews were expelled from the Old City. Under the armistice agreement which ended the war Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan, with the Jordanians granted control of the Old City, including all the Jewish holy sites. Officially Jordan was to grant Jews free access to the Western Wall. In practice Israelis were not allowed to enter Jordanian-held Jerusalem and during 19 years of Jordanian rule Jews could not pray at their holy sites, including the Western Wall. In addition the Jordanians systematically desecrated Jewish holy sites, destroying almost every synagogue in the Old City and using the tombstones from the ancient Jewish cemetery on the nearby Mount of Olives to pave roads and build homes and latrines. Last year I worked as an editor for a professor writing a book on the history of this period, of divided Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967. It does not make for comforting reading.
Usually I come to the Old City with a sense of wonder, My mind reels with verses about Jerusalem from the bible, Jewish prayers and modern Hebrew literature. King David, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi and Naomi Shemer's words resound in my ears. I look up at the Western Wall and the Temple Mount above and I think of my great-grandparents and their great-grandparents and all the pious and learned Jews in generations before me, far more righteous than I, who have not merited to stand before this most sacred of all places. My heart fills with gratitude that I can so easily and freely visit the place for which my people have yearned for millennia. Today I wondered whether my children will ever stand where I stood today. Whether, please God, when I am old and grey I will be able to come and pray here like the elderly lady by my side. I wondered whether even in a few months time, this Pesah, one of the three pilgrimage festivals on which Jews from all over flock to Jerusalem, I will be able to come here as I do every pilgrimage festival. How could I help but weep at the prospect of a millennia-old prayer, a realised millennia-old prayer, being dashed, not by an enemy, but by our own Jewish Israeli government under pressure from America and Europe.
At the end of minha prayers on Shabbat afternoon many have the custom to recite Psalms 120-134. I managed the first few clearly, and then the tears began to come, slowly at first, and then uncontrollably as I read on. "My soul has had its fill of dwelling with those who hate peace. I am peace, but they are for war... I rejoiced when they said to me we will go to the House of God. Our feet stood within your gates, oh Jerusalem... Pray for the peace of Jerusalem... Peace be within your precincts and your palaces. For the sake of my brothers and friends I will say peace be yours... May God bless you from Zion and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life."
How can I read that in today's Jerusalem and not weep?
As I sat and cried over my siddur (prayer book) a young mother who was asking worshippers to offer special prayers for a seriously ill relative came and sat by me. "Everyone has her own burden to bear" she said. "It is forbidden to weep on Shabbat, we must rejoice the best we can." I tried to find a way to rejoice on the Sabbath but I have never been more frightened for the future of Israel.
Shavu'a tov,

Friday, December 22, 2000

Shots on our highway

Thursday, December 21, 2000

I know that I haven't written for a while. In part this is because I was out of the country for a few days and it's taken me a few more days to catch up with events here. To a large extent though it's because I feel as though I'm writing the same letter over and over again. So little of the news here makes it overseas that it's hard to shake the feeling that I have a responsibility to document each incident, even if only in a letter to friends and family. This task is so overwhelming that it has lately paralysed my ability to write at all. Just know that even if I have neither the time nor strength to mention even all the incidents in which Israelis are killed or wounded, let alone those in which the victims escape injury, the Palestinian attacks go on relentlessly, not always in the same form, sometimes more, sometimes less, but an ever present feature of daily life in many parts of Israel.
Tonight our main road from Modi'in to Jerusalem, route 443, became another statistic on the long list of Israeli roads targetted by Palestinian gunfire. A few minutes ago we heard the news that an Israeli driver was shot in the chest and killed by Palestinian gunmen in a drive-by shooting near the Jewish village of Beit Horon, en route to Modi'in. The victim was Eliyahu Cohen, a 30-year-old driving instructor who moved from Jerusalem to Modi'in two weeks ago. The car he was driving was riddled with fifteen bullets on the driver's side.
This isn't an obscure rural side road, this is a main road, recently widened and well lit. This is the route the Modi'in-Jerusalem bus takes, the route I took every day when I worked in Jerusalem last year. We have travelled this road scores of times, maybe even hundreds of times. Those who have visited us in Modi'in will have travelled it, passing the picturesque Jewish and Palestinian villages which line the route, climbing from the Modi'in area foothills to the Jerusalem mountains, passing by the tomb of the Prophet Samuel and entering Jerusalem via the Ramot neighbourhood. Imagine driving this route cautiously, fearing Palestinian rock throwers, anxiously noting where there are piles of stones by the roadside, signs of previous rock throwing attacks. Now imagine from this night onwards driving this road in terror that every passing car with Palestinian licence plates is the car of a terrorist ready to kill you, as is already the case on many other roads north-east of Modi'in where only last week three Israeli drivers were shot and wounded by Palestinian gunmen near the Jewish villages of Nili and Neve Tzuf (Halamish). Tonight's victim could have been God forbid friends or relatives or neighbours of ours, ordinary Israelis driving to and from work, university or school, going into Jerusalem for Hannukah celebrations or shopping or just driving for any number of reasons.
This may seem strange, with all the attacks lately, with all the Israelis killed and wounded by Palestinian gunmen on the roads in recent weeks, but even though I don't know the victim, this attack on such a familiar stretch of road, so close to home, 10 minutes drive from my door, has hit me harder than I imagined possible. Since the intifada began we have avoided this road because there have been several serious stoning attacks. However every so often there have been lulls in attacks on that road for a week or so and we've thought, OK, it's been pretty quiet lately, let's try that road again. The route is so much easier than taking the detour via the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway.
Only last night we went into Jerusalem to buy some Hannukah supplies. It was raining hard, and we seriously considered using route 443, after all it's straighter, recently widened and until the recent intifada, safer, than the main highway which twists and turns on the stretch which climbs through the Jerusalem mountains. In the end we decided that we'd rather risk a tortuous road in heavy rain than Palestinian rocks and firebombs.
Intellectually I knew that if this road has been stoned, even firebombed occasionally, it might be shot at as well, but still it just seemed too major a route for a drive-by shooting. Buses on this road are not the bullet proof buses that run the Gaza and Hebron routes. Buses on 443 are regular Israeli buses that you'd find anywhere in the country. Perhaps I'm shaken even more than usual simply because in theory this could have been me. I can see the road so clearly in my mind's eye, I can visualise the spot where the shooting took place so vividly. This is the road where I could never concentrate on reading my book because I loved watching the countryside, the shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats, chukar partridges ambling over the slopes, the occasiona fox or even a jackal, the landscape changing with the seasons. Around now the rocky slopes are lush and green after the rains and there are occasional splashes of pink where the first cyclamen are in bloom - and now red stains marking the stretch of road where Eliahu Cohen was shot to death.
This road was proposed to be, indeed may yet be, divided between Israeli and Palestinian control, with the Modi'in and Giv'at Zeev sections under Israeli control, and the middle section, the part bordered by Palestinian villages, under Palestinian control. Somehow we don't feel so comfortable with this proposal right now.
In one of many other shooting attacks tonight Palestinian gunmen fired from the Palestinian-controlled town of Kalkilya into Israel hitting a car near kibbutz Ayal, close to the town of Kfar Saba. Another area, which like Modi'in, has gone from sleepy 'middle Israel' to jittery border town Israel.
Meanwhile Israeli leaders are sitting in Washington negotiating with Palestinian leaders such as Mohammed Dahlan, a senior commander of the Palestinian security forces in Gaza, and one of those responsible for the continued shooting attacks against Israelis. Even as the shooting continues unabated Israeli prime minister Barak is offering ever more concessions to the Palestinians, such as half of Jerusalem, including most of the Old City and control of the Temple Mount, Judaism's most sacred site, over 90% of the West Bank including many of Judaism's holiest sites, all of Gaza and chunks of pre-1967 Israel, and the absorption of 150,000 Palestinian refugees from Lebanon and elsewhere into Israel. The continuing bombardment of Gilo does not exactly make Israelis feel comfortable about the prospect of more areas in which the Palestinian security forces will have a free reign. When Arafat and his militias have control of all the Arab areas in and bordering Jerusalem he won't just be able to shoot at Gilo, he'll be able target the Kotel (Western Wall), Ramot, Talpiot, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the edge of Meah She'arim (Shivtei Yisrael), even parts of central Jerusalem. The Hebrew University and Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus and the ancient Jewish Mount of Olives cemetery will be surrounded by Palestinian territory, easy targets for Palestinian snipers. As it is, since the intifada funerals on the Mount of Olives have been carried out in bullet proof hearses.
Over seven years of the Oslo peace process Israeli leaders have convinced the nation that giving more authority and more territorial concessions to the Palestinians will bring Israel peace, but the recent months' experience have shown that they have only brought us closer to war and the fragile existence which was Israel's lot 33 years ago . Statements by the Palestinian leadership make it quite clear that they intend to continue the violence against Israelis. Yet our government sends negotiators to Washington to continue along the same plan, without even insisting on a ceasefire or demanding enhanced security guarantees. Since Barak declared elections recently, many Israelis fear that he is now just trying to force through a quick agreement with the Palestinians so that he can face the electorate with a treaty in hand, possibly the only way that he can expect to win. Few Israelis feel that rushing into a hasty agreement under the pressure of elections and continued Palestinian gunfire is going to bring the country the peace and security Israelis yearn for. I only wish that I could be more optimistic.
Wishing you happy Hanukah and merry Christmas to my Christian friends. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Shabbat Shalom,

Saturday, December 02, 2000

Sorry to bore you...

Friday, December 1, 2000

I got a message from a friend in Europe recently complaining that my recent letters are rather boring. You know what, she's right. I'm sorry for all the lists of attacks and casualties - I guess that after two months they do make rather boring reading - but that is what is happening here. I guess if you don't live here it's just a list, more random foreign news but for us, right now this is our lives. As most of them don't seem to make the foreign media I figured they might be worth mentioning.

I'd much rather be writing about the weather, the concert I went to last week, the movies, my students, the good book that I'm reading, the fun I'm having with the new camera my uncle gave me.... Life was certainly much less eventful when the traffic reports didn't include roads closed due to shooting or rioting, when we would phone some friends for a chat instead of anxiously checking up on people living 'on the front line', and when we went to sleep reading a good book or listening to music instead of hearing that evening's tally of attacks and casualties.

Late September, October and November are among the most pleasant months of the year. The weather cools down pleasantly after the summer heat, while the first rains of autumn turn the parched brown landscape green and bring the first wildflowers of the season. The trees are heavy with ripe fruit: olives, pomegranates, figs, dates, pears, mangos and more. Thousands of birds from northern latitudes make their way to Israel for the winter, and thousands more pass through on their way south to Africa. This is an ideal time for hikes, going to the beach, stargazing and enjoying nature. It's not for nothing that God gave the Jewish people some of our major festivals in the autumn, this most pleasant of Israeli seasons.

I should be writing letters about our activities over the religious holidays and the wonderful performances we've been to, about the music and theatre festivals this time of year, about the first flowers of the rainy season I've seen in the surrounding countryside, about the first wintering birds that I've spotted, about the nights growing cold, about trying to remember where we packed our winter clothes and the electric heaters.

This autumn though small everyday decisions have become far less mundane. Driving to Jerusalem Saturday night for a concert (yes, we still go to those, have to keep our spirits up...) we ruled out our usual route because there have been several attacks there lately. Actually we haven't taken it since the troubles began. Only last Friday an Israeli civilian was hurt on that road by a rock thrown at her car by local Palestinians. There were bad traffic jams on the main alternative route though, possibly worsened by so many motorists nervous about using the other highway. In the end we bypassed the traffic jam via a complicated back route on a tortuous rural mountain road running vaguely parallel with the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

At least there we have alternate routes to take. In other parts of the country there aren't safe alternatives. This will sound trivial, but we have a voucher for a discounted weekend away in various guesthouses across the country. We were saving it to use for our anniversary, planning to spend the weekend somewhere up north in the lovely Beit She'an valley area. Well, that area has been safe lately, but the problem is getting there. There are two routes. The most direct is via the Jordan Valley, on the Jericho bypass road. A short stretch of that road which goes through the Palestinian-controlled village of Ouja has frequently been targeted by Palestinian rock-throwers and even gunmen. Just a few days ago a roadside bomb was detonated there. In recent weeks concerned citizens from other parts of the country have formed a volunteer organisation with jeeps and other large vehicles which provide escorts for people who need to drive on the Jordan Valley road. The principle is safety in numbers, as single cars are more often targeted than convoys.

The alternative, longer, route is via the Galilee on the Wadi `Ara/Nahal `Iyron road, which passes several Israeli Arab villages. Lately, some of their residents have taken to throwing rocks and sometimes firebombs at passing vehicles, and occasionally blocking the highway with burning tires. The stoning of a bus by Israeli Arabs near the Israeli Arab village of Fureidis, near Zikhron Ya'akov, on Tuesday night in which a passenger was wounded is typical of the attacks taking place daily on roads which pass Arab villages in the Galilee. It's probably safer than the Jericho route, but who wants to take the risk for a weekend away? These two trouble spots have pretty much cut Israel in two from north to south.

Of course, with Israelis getting killed and injured almost every day, and many more living under siege or constant gunfire, our concern about a weekend away is trifling. The point is that even for many of us who aren't living right on the `front line', the intifada is still part of our daily lives, so that taking a weekend drive becomes a weighty decision.

In better times many of you commented that your favourite parts of my letters were my descriptions of our weekends away around Israel, or our Friday morning hiking trips to the Dead Sea and other scenic areas. One of our greatest delights is to just pick a spot on the map and spend a Friday morning or Thursday evening exploring our small, but wonderfully diverse country, learning every little country road, every hill, every flower, every bird, every biblical landmark, each archeological site. There is a reason my letters have turned from fun descriptions of hikes around the country to lists of attacks. This is, tragically, the new reality in which we live. If only it were otherwise. Despite it all, yes, we still take some trips, but we're very careful about where we go - we don't just wander freely anymore.

One of my pastimes lately, and not a pleasant one, is listening to the radio in time for almost every hourly newscast. After Israelis were killed almost every day last week, things `quietened' down a bit for a few days. That means Palestinian shooting and rock throwing continue, as does the detonating of roadside bombs, but that mercifully there have been far lower casualties. In fact there have actually been more attacks over the past few days, with a new intifada `record' set between noon yesterday and today: 57 shooting attacks. However we have now tragically grown so used to this terrible situation that even the Israeli news outlets have become bored of it, devoting a couple of sentences to the day's incidents and then going on with parliamentary politics or world AIDS day - unless of course, God forbid, someone is killed or very seriously injured in one of the day's dozens of attacks.

Continuing attempts to reach a ceasefire have failed. Over the last two weeks Barak and Arafat have spoken by phone, and Israeli cabinet minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak has been to Gaza to meet with Arafat and Palestinian Preventative Security chief Mohammed Dahlan, but to no avail.

On Sunday we buried Ariel Jarafeh and Major Sharon Arameh. Jarafeh, aged 42 and a father of three from Petah Tikva, is the civilian shot dead last Friday when Palestinian gunmen ambushed his car as he passed the Palestinian village of Usarin, near the Jewish village of Migdalim southeast of Shekhem/Nablus. Arameh, 25, from Ashkelon was killed when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli army post in Gaza. He leaves behind a 22-year-old widow and their baby son.

Another Israeli soldier, 27-year-old St.Sgt Khalil Taher of `Akko, was killed Sunday morning by a roadside bomb detonated by Lebanese Hizballah guerrillas on the Israeli patrol road, almost a kilometre within Israel's northern border with Lebanon. Two other Israeli soldiers were wounded in the explosion. Hizballah released a statement saying that "The attack is in support of the Palestinian intifada and to inaugurate the holy month of Ramadan, the month of Muslim victories". Taher, a tracker, was leading the patrol and so took the brunt of the blast. He leaves a pregnant wife, Inam, and an 18-month-old son.

Taher's family are Muslim Bedouin who live in the northern Israeli city of `Akko. Though Arabs are not conscripted into the Israeli army, like many other Bedouin the sons of the family volunteered, four serving as trackers and one in the air force. Taher served in the same unit as another Galilee Bedouin, Sgt Omar Suwaid, one of the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped from Israel's northern border by Hizbullah in October. Taher was buried in `Akko's Muslim cemetery. In an interview on the radio this morning Mohammed, Khalil's father, said that since Khalil was killed in action many Muslim neighbours of the Taher family have been boycotting the family, refusing to pay condolence calls and ignoring family members in the street. Mohammed said that he couldn't understand why his Muslim neighbours were friendly to him, knowing that he had six sons serving in the Israeli army, and yet now that Khalil has been killed they are giving him the cold shoulder. He said that the Taher family have also received threatening phone calls from Arabs in `Akko. In addition the imam of `Akko, the senior Muslim religious leader in the town, refused to officiate at the funeral of the soldier, even though as a state employee of the religious affairs ministry he is required to. The religious affairs ministry is investigating the case and considering taking disciplinery measures against the imam.

In response to the Hizballah attack Israel fired missiles at Hizballah bases along the border with Israel. UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force stationed in South Lebanon which is supposed to keep the peace, once again proved totally ineffective. It has been no more useful in preventing Lebanese citizens from standing by the border fence and throwing rocks, bottles and sometimes firebombs over the fence into Israel. Israeli cabinet minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak commented, "It is doubtful that UNIFIL can prevent such attacks." In past weeks Hizballah and Palestinian gunmen near the border have fired shots into Israel and thrown grenades over the border.

Last Friday night an attack came from yet another direction when an armed Palestinian terrorist infiltrated Israel from Jordan. He was discovered and caught near the Jordan Valley village of Argaman. There have also been several attempted infiltrations into Israel from Palestinian-controlled areas, especially from Palestinian-controlled Gaza into the nearby Israeli agricultural communities. Fortunately Israeli patrols have succeeded in preventing such infiltrations. Several Palestinian gunmen, including members of the Palestinian security forces, were killed and injured this week in battles along the Gaza perimeter fence while trying to infiltrate into Israel.

Israelis soldiers and civilians continue to be wounded on a regular basis by Palestinian ambushes on Israeli roads bordering Palestinian-controlled areas. On Wednesday, an Israeli civilian, Avraham Alon, 50, of Tapuah, was critically wounded by Palestinian sniper fire as his car passed the Palestinian village of Usarin, almost the exact same spot where Ariel Jarafe was killed in a similar attack last Friday. Palestinian sniper attacks have taken place in many other areas too. Fortunately in most cases the Israelis managed to escape with "only" bullet-damaged cars. In several places in Gaza and the West Bank roadside bombs have been set off by Palestinians as Israeli vehicles pass. In some areas the Israeli army has begun uprooting roadside orchards and plantations which are used by Palestinians as cover for attacks on Israeli vehicles.

Rock throwing continues in many places, both near Palestinian areas, and on roads close to Israeli Arab villages. Several Israelis were injured in the last few days as result. Buses, which are of course large and relatively slow moving, seem to be favourite targets. Israeli ambulances were stoned on Tuesday by Palestinians, this time in Gush Etzion and in northeastern Jerusalem near Atarot. Forty-two Israeli ambulances to be damaged by stone throwing since the intifada began. So far 7 ambulances have been so badly damaged that they are beyond repair; replacements cost $70,000 each.

Last night an Israeli ambulance was firebombed by local Arabs while driving through the Wadi Joz neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The ambulance was en route to the scene of a car accident in the mostly Arab neighbourhood of Ras el Amud, on the Mount of Olives. Palestinian gunfire continues at various Israeli residential areas, as well as at joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zones which are located in many areas bordering Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Amongst the neighbourhoods targeted in recent days is, once again, Gilo in southern Jerusalem, where several apartments were hit. In one case a bullet ripped into a fridge door just as 13-year-old Liat Eldad was opening it, whizzing over her head and embedding itself in the fridge. She fainted from fright, while her three sisters, also in the kitchen at the time, had hysterics, and her mother was taken to hospital to be treated for shock.

In a gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered neighbourhood, Israeli President Moshe Katzav and his wife spent Tuesday night staying over with a family on Anafa Street, which directly faces the Palestinian-controlled town of Beit Jalla and has been one of the main targets of Palestinian snipers. Likud party Knesset Members Ze'ev Boim and Uzi Landau have moved in to the neighbourhood permanently in a show of support for Gilo residents.

This week was the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and other physical pleasures during the daylight hours, and break their fasts after dark each day with feasts and celebrations. Many Muslims who are not especially devout during the rest of the year are more pious during Ramadan, for example taking more care to attend prayers, and on Fridays the mosques are more crowded than usual.

As a goodwill gesture the Israeli government eased restrictions on Palestinian controlled areas, re-opening border crossings between Israel and Palestinian-controlled Gaza, and restoring the flow of non-humanitarian goods, such as building supplies. Israel has also permitted the Dahaniya airport in Gaza to re-open, as in the last few days the Palestinians have not launched attacks from that area. If the attacks from Dahaniya resume Israel will close the airport once again. We hope that the relaxing of these restrictions will not be used by the Palestinian Authority to smuggle in more weapons and ammunition, the original reason for the blocking the transportation of all but humanitarian supplies into Palestinian-controlled Gaza.

Meanwhile as it became clear this week that the Israeli government has finally lost the confidence of parliament Israel will be holding new elections in a few months time. Polls indicate that prime minister Barak's only chance of reelection is to go into elections having reached a peace agreement. Otherwise the opposition, which has always been sceptical of the Palestinians readiness for real peace with Israel, seem to have the upper hand in the polls. Like many other Israelis, I fear Barak, under election pressures, may rush into a poorly thought out deal with Palestinians leader Yasser Arafat, a deal that could result in making the current situation even worse.

There is so much more to add, but it's already taken me a week to write this and I've had a mild fever this week which I'm sure hasn't eased the task.

As I write this there was just a news flash reporting that a bus was fired upon in northern Jerusalem, the first shooting attack on Israeli vehicles in Jerusalem itself. Palestinian gunmen apparently infiltrated from Palestinian-controlled Ramallah to the Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Beit Hanina and fired from there onto the major French Hill junction. The bus, number 178 to Shiloh, was fortunately a bullet proof bus, as there have been several attacks on the road to Shiloh recently. That is what saved the lives of those on board and none were injured, though the unprotected baggage compartment was riddled with bullet holes. Thank God that it wasn't an ordinary Jerusalem bus, which would not have had a reinforced passenger section and bullet proof windows.

We keep hoping and praying for better days.

Saturday, November 25, 2000

Ceasefire anyone?

Friday, November 24, 2000

As you probably all know by now, on Wednesday a large car bomb exploded in the centre of the Israeli coastal city of Hadera, north of Netanya. Two civilians, 20-year-old Shoshana Reiss and 34-year-old Meir Brami, were killed and 62 were injured, several seriously.
Wednesday afternoon at about 4:50pm I was on the verge of sending out another letter when I decided to wait until after the 5pm news, just to see if there were any new developments. By 5:25pm the news was winding down with reports on the US elections and the usual end-of-bulletin lighter items. Just then one of Channel 2's correspondents appeared in the studio, glued to his mobile phone, as the news anchor said something about preliminary reports of an explosion in Hadera.
Even from those initial reports it was clear that this was a big bomb, heard from miles away, rattling windows in every corner of the town. Here we go again, I thought. I didn't need to see the pictures from the scene. Sadly, like all Israelis and many Jews around the world, I know it by heart: the burnt-out cars and buses, the shattered windows, damaged shops with their smoke-blackened wares scattered over the bloodied pavement and, in the midst of it all, the wounded trapped by twisted metal or sitting dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk where only seconds earlier they had been going about their business. Once again Palestinian terrorists have brought death and destruction to the very heart of ordinary Israel, to a typical sleepy, middle of the road Israeli town.
This isn't the first time that Hadera has been bombed. Earlier this year a small bomb went off near the town's shuk (market) wounding 21. I remember clearly the bus bombing perpetrated by a Hamas suicide bomber in 1994. It was April, on Yom Hazikaron, Israel's Memorial Day for all those who have fallen in the many wars and terrorist attacks which have been our lot since even before the state was founded. Jason had proposed to me less than a week earlier and we were eagerly discussing wedding plans. All around Israel the bus terminals were crowded with people going to memorial ceremonies and students and soldiers going home for the next day's Independence Day holiday. I was in Jerusalem that morning, on a bus on the way to meet Jason. The driver usually has the radio on in Israeli buses, and I wasn't really listening that carefully, but suddenly the announcer's voice changed, reporting that a bomb had gone off in Hadera's central bus station. Five people were killed in that bombing, and dozens more were injured.
On Wednesday another Palestinian bomber returned those scenes to Hadera, with its drab concrete low rise buildings, sun-bleached pavements, small stores and sea breezes. Like almost every population centre in Israel, Hadera is within easy reach of Palestinian-controlled areas. Hadera also has many Israeli Arab neighbours, such as the village of Baka el Gharbiya, who have traditionally had friendly relations with the town. As with the Jewish villages in the area, residents of nearby Arab villages come to work in the town, shop there and rely on Hadera's services. Some own shops and businesses there too.
Among the Israelis injured by Wednesday's bomb were Husam abu Husain and his baby daughter Thara, who suffered burns over 15% of her body and is currently in critical condition at the special burns unit in Haifa's Rambam hospital. Her father has been moved from Hadera's hospital to Haifa to be near her. The two had gone to Hadera for pizza, and were in the pizzeria when it was destroyed by the blast. Seventeen year old Avihai Peretz, who was working in the family pizza shop, was also critically injured. He was airlifted to Haifa's hospital with severe head injuries. Tzafrira Levi, aged 72, who owns a household goods store on the same street, was also among the seriously wounded. Her shop, her life's work, was damaged beyond repair. In total thirty shops and businesses were damaged, along with 100 homes. Several buildings were so seriously damaged that they will have to be pulled down.
Each day's news brings new tragedies. On Thursday an Israeli soldier, Lt Edward Metchnik, 21, of Be'er Sheva, was killed and two of his comrades and a Palestinian police officer wounded when an explosion took place in the Israeli section of the joint Israeli-Palestinian liaison office (DCO) in Neveh Dekalim, Gaza. The DCOs are staffed by Israeli and Palestinian officers, whose role is to coordinate arrangements for humanitarian situations and the like. Despite the current troubles, these liaison offices have continued to operate, with relations between the Israeli and Palestinian staff remaining good, often friendly.
At about noon Thursday, the Palestinian officers suddenly started leaving their side of the DCO building, some complaining that they didn't feel well. One Palestinian officer, who was meeting with the Israelis at the time, saw his colleagues running away and suggested to the Israelis that something may be wrong. He and the Israeli officers started leaving the building when the bomb went off. It appears that the bomb was planted on the wall separating the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the office. Israel's regional commander Col. Shlomo Dagan called the attack "disgraceful", as the DCOs are the primary remaining channel for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, in particular on humanitarian matters. Israeli deputy defence minister Ephraim Sneh remarked that the DCOs are among the few places where Israeli and Palestinian flags fly side by side, with all that symbolises, and now the Palestinians have blown up the Israeli side. In response, Israel concluded it could no longer trust its counterparts in the DCOs and asked the Palestinians to leave the buildings, which they have refused to do. Israel has said it will not force the issue.
In another incident Thursday an Israeli soldier, Sgt Samer Hussein, 19, from the Galilee village of Hurfesh, was killed and his comrade critically wounded by Palestinian gunfire shot from Palestinian-controlled Gaza at an Israeli position on the Israeli side of the perimeter fence. Israel returned fire, killing a Palestinian policeman and wounding another. Earlier that day two bombs went off in the same area, near the fence of Kibbutz Erez. Israeli soldiers opened fire on the bombers, killing one and injuring another who was later captured.
On Tuesday an Israeli civilian was killed only a few dozen meters from the site of Monday's bus bombing near Kfar Darom. Itamar Yefet, 18, was hit in the head by a single shot from a Palestinian sniper hiding in roadside bushes as he drove from his home village of Netzer Hazani to Kfar Darom to pay a condolence call to the families of Monday's bombing victims.
Last night Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala resumed their assault on Gilo, hitting seven apartments. No one was wounded, though there were some close calls. Other Jewish residential areas which have come under Palestinian fire in the last few nights include Psagot, Beit El, Elon Moreh and the fishing village of Duggit in northern Gaza. The Jewish holy site of Rachel's Tomb, near Gilo, was fired upon from Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem.
Several Israelis were wounded over the last three nights when their vehicles were attacked by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Last night Palestinians threw firebombs at two Israeli buses travelling near Samuel's Tomb north of Jerusalem, injuring two yeshiva students. Two nights ago a firebomb was thrown at an Israeli bus as it passed the Israeli Arab village of Majd el Krum, en route to the Jewish town of Karmiel in the Galilee. Two passengers were wounded. Four passengers were hurt when a train was stoned by Arabs while passing through an Arab neighbourhood of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Ramle, west of Modi'in. Two Israeli civilians were wounded by Palestinian rock throwers when their car was hit on the road to Beitar Illit south of Jerusalem. On Wednesday night a resident of Psagot was lightly wounded when bullets hit his car as Palestinians in the Palestinian-controlled town of El-Bireh opened fire on the Psagot access road. Last night two roadside bombs were detonated as a bus drove past on the tunnel road, south of Jerusalem. Fortunately the bus was empty, though the driver was lightly wounded. These are only a selection of the dozens of attacks which take place every night on Israeli vehicles travelling near Palestinian and some Israeli Arab areas. Thankfully most attacks miss their targets, while many Israelis manage to escape with "only" a rock-smashed windshield or a bullet-riddled car or bomb-damaged bus, but that doesn't make the sheer volume of attacks any less serious.
Over the last few days the Israeli army has succeeded in preventing several attacks and in capturing their perpetrators. For example, on Tuesday soldiers of the Golani brigade discovered a Palestinian terror cell planting a roadside bomb near the Kisufim crossing in Gaza. The other night Israeli soldiers managed to capture the Palestinian gunmen who have been firing upon Jewish vehicles near Kalkilya and Alfei Menashe. Israeli police have also arrested several Palestinians responsible for rock throwing and firebombings in the Shomron area, west of Nablus/Shekhem. Among those caught were a Palestinian police officer and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the more radical factions of the PLO.
On Tuesday morning Israeli soldiers set up a roadblock near the Jewish village of Morag in southern Gaza, in the hope of catching other wanted militiamen responsible for attacks against Israelis over past weeks. When a car whose occupants were identified as Fatah Tanzim militiamen tried to charge the checkpoint the soldiers opened fire, killing the Tanzim men. I was shocked to see foreign news reports describe this as an unprovoked Israeli attack on unarmed Palestinian civilians, and portray the killing of these armed terrorists running a roadblock as morally equivalent to the killing of Israeli civilians on Hadera's main street.
In what is becoming a familiar pattern, Arafat last night hinted that he might be interested in a ceasefire. Deputy defence minister Ephraim Sneh met secretly with senior Palestinian officials, including Arafat's chief of staff, to discuss a possible ceasefire, possibly along the lines of the plan that US secretary of state Madeleine Albright presented to Yasser Arafat. One point of the Albright plan proposes buffer zones between Israeli and Palestinian-controlled areas. The Americans have yet to clarify what this means:who would maintain these buffer zones? Obviously the Palestinians would not accept an Israeli presence, and in recent days Israel has lost all faith in the Palestinian security forces. It seems Albright may be considering a multinational force under US auspices, akin to what Arafat has been demanding for the last two months, to "protect" the Palestinians from Israeli "aggression". Israel is vehemently opposed to such an arrangement. Previous experience with such forces, for example in Lebanon, has shown that they do nothing to prevent attacks on Israelis, while intervening when Israel tries to defend itself against attack. They are used by the other side as human shields from which to attack Israel, while Israel cannot respond for fear of hitting the international observers. If this is what Albright has in mind, it is the equivalent of rewarding the Palestinians for starting this campaign of violence. Why should aggressors get "protection" against the people they're attacking?!
Will there be a ceasefire? Who knows. A pattern seems to have developed whereby after a major Palestinian attack, which may be expected to draw an Israeli response, Arafat suddenly indicates interest in a ceasefire. Israel calls off its response and pulls back its forces, only to see the Palestinians take advantage of the lull to improve their positions and resume attacks with greater vehemence. Quite frankly we no longer trust Arafat nor have any faith in his ceasefires, and many Israelis doubt whether we'll ever be able to reach a peace agreement with him.
On a more positive note, on Wednesday morning the mukhtars (community leaders) of several Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem visited Gilo to express solidarity with the local residents who have come under Palestinian sniper fire for weeks now. The visit was organised by Ayoub Kara, a Knesset Member from the right-wing opposition Likud party. Kara, a member of the Israel's Arabic-speaking Druze religious minority, has been instrumental in developing cooperation between Jewish and Arab community leaders in Jerusalem. The delegation was led by Zuhair Hamdan, mukhtar of Sur Baher, an Arab village adjacent to the Jewish neighbourhood of Talpiot, with which Hamdan worked to foster good relations. Hamdan has also been a leading figure in resisting Prime Minister Barak's plans to hand over Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhoods to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, as proposed during July's Camp David talks. Hamdan has called for a referendum allowing Jerusalem Arabs to choose whether they want to be ruled by Arafat or remain under Israeli sovereignty. In general, Jerusalem's Arabs have not participated in the current violence against Israelis, with many of the incidents in Jerusalem perpetrated by Arabs from Palestinian-ruled areas.
Other mukhtars on the Gilo visit were from Beit Hanina, Anata and Bet Safafa. Bet Safafa adjoins Gilo and enjoys warm relations with the Jewish neighbourhood. The house of Bet Safafa's mukhtar was recently firebombed by Palestinians who resent his friendship with Israelis. The mukhtars called for an end to the suffering of the residents of Gilo and Beit Jala, neighbouring areas which traditionally have had peaceful relations, and called upon Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to return to negotiations. They hope to visit Palestinian-controlled Beit Jala as well. It's heartwarming to see community leaders work for peace in this way. Hamdan said he thinks it's important for local leaders to do their part in easing tensions.
As I finally conclude this letter, the radio just reported that an Israeli civilian was shot and killed by Palestinians who ambushed his car near the Jewish village of Migdalim southeast of Shekhem/Nablus. He was shot in the stomach. His name has yet to be released as his family have not yet been notified.
Shabbat Shalom,

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

School bus bombing

Monday, November 20, 2000

This morning we in Israel woke up to the terrible news that the Palestinians finally succeeded in blowing up an Israeli schoolbus in Gaza, killing two Israeli civilians and wounding 9 others, including 5 children. The Palestinians have been planting Lebanon-style remote controlled roadside bombs on the roads in Gaza for weeks now, but by a miracle no Israelis had been killed or seriously injured, though there were several very close calls. This morning, as Noga Cohen, the mother of three of the wounded children said, "the miracles ran out." The powerful bomb, which incorporated a large artillery shell and a gas canister, was detonated just after the bus had picked up schoolchildren and teachers in Kfar Darom en route to school in Gush Katif, a Jewish area of Gaza. The blast was so forceful that pieces of shrapnel ripped through one side wall of the reinforced bus and went straight out the other side of the bus. Most of the injuries were to people's legs and torsos.
The dead are Miriam Amitai, a 35-year-old mother of four from Kfar Darom who taught at the girls high school in Gush Katif, and Gavriel Biton, a 34-year-old father of six, also from Kfar Darom, a maintenance worker at the school. Only last week Biton narrowly escaped injury when Palestinians fired bullets into his bedroom and living room.
Among the seriously injured are three siblings: Tehilla Cohen aged 8, her brother Yisrael aged 7 and her sister Orrit aged 12. All of them had to undergo amputations. Orrit, who lost part of her leg, is due to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah next month. At the time of writing (11:30 pm), Tehilla is still undergoing surgery which began at 9:00 this morning, as doctors fight to save her legs. Two years ago, the three narrowly escaped injury in a similar attack when Palestinian gunmen attacked two Kfar Darom schoolbuses. Their older brother Avraham was late for the bus this morning, saving him from today's attack, after two weeks ago he had narrowly missed injury in a similar schoolbus bombing. Two other children and four adults were injured, including a pregnant woman and the bus driver.
The official Palestinian Authority reaction said they oppose "all forms of violence," but denied responsibility for the attack and declined to condemn it. Meanwhile, several Palestinian organisations rushed to claim 'credit' for the bombing. Israeli intelligence presented the government with clear evidence that members of the Fatah Tanzim militia, a group indirectly under Arafat's command, were in fact responsible. The Israeli cabinet met for three hours to discuss plans for what was called 'a strong response'. This evening, Israeli helicopters and patrol boats fired missiles at nine Palestinian Authority military targets across Gaza. Targets included the headquarters of the Palestinian Navy, of Arafat's Force 17 presidential guard, of the Tanzim militias and of Mohammed Dahlan's Preventive Security Forces, one of whose officers carried out a fatal attack on an Israeli guard post in Kfar Darom on Saturday.
On Saturday morning Baha Said, a senior officer in Mohammed Dahlan's Preventive Security Forces, infiltrated Kfar Darom by digging under the perimeter fence and making his way through the greenhouses to the guard post. There he opened fire from close range on the Israeli soldiers who were changing over shifts, killing 21 year old Sgt Barukh Snir Flum of Tel Aviv and seriously wounding his comrade Sharon Shitubi, also 21, of Ramle, who today died of his wounds. Other soldiers returned fire killing the assailant. Fatah leaders praised Said, who was a member of the Fatah Hawks militia, as a hero and a martyr'.
Just the day before Arafat, for the first time, made a public call on Palestinian radio and TV for his people to stop shooting - but just from areas under full Palestinian control, in particular from populated areas. Once again our hopes were raised that maybe, just maybe this time the Palestinians meant it. Israeli commentators were quick to pick up on what the statement didn't say. The implication was that it was OK to continue and even escalate attacks targeted against areas under Israeli jurisdiction, such as the main roads and the Jewish communities bordering Palestinian areas. Attacks such as last week's fatal drive-by shooting and today's bus bombing took place in areas under full Israeli control adjacent to Palestinian controlled zones. Other explanations for Arafat's statement may be that the Palestinians are running low on ammunition.
The Israeli media went on and on about the decline in attacks on Saturday and Sunday, and once again there were serious discussions about when and where negotiations might resume, with Israeli government leaders indicating that if the "decline" in attacks continued Israel would be prepared to return to negotiations at the point at which the Palestinians broke them off at Camp David this summer. In the wake of this decrease in attacks the Israeli army yesterday reopened the Kfar Darom junction to Palestiniann traffic, the same road on which this morning's fatal bus bombing took place.
In certain areas there was a decline in the number of attacks, but not in their ferocity. This is what counts as a "decline" in attacks: yesterday (Sunday) and last night Palestinian gunmen shot at Psagot, at various Israeli towns and army positions in Gaza, at a border guard base near Tulkarem east of Netanya and at a patrol near the Jewish village of Ofra north of Jerusalem. Jewish vehicles were attacked by Palestinian snipers near the Karni crossing and Netzarim in Gaza, between Kalkilya and Alfei Menashe and in a drive-by shooting near Na'aleh and Talmon, north-east of Modi'in. Israeli buses were firebombed by Palestinians near the Jewish village of Shiloh, north of Ramallah and in the Jordan Valley, near Jericho. Five Israeli civilians were injured in rock throwing attacks on Israeli vehicles. Palestinians rioted in various parts of Gaza and the West Bank. To cap it all off, yesterday morning the Israeli vice consul in Amman, Jordan, was shot and wounded in a drive by shooting near his home in the Jordanian capital.
Time and again reporters ask residents of places which have come under repeated attack, such as Kfar Darom and Gilo, why they don't just pick up and leave. 'Don't your children ask you why you stay in such a dangerous place?' they ask. There is something sickening about this ritual. It's not the first time Israeli towns have been attacked. For decades the Jewish villages along the border with Lebanon have suffered cross-border attacks. Before the 1967 Six Day War the Israeli towns bordering Gaza, Jordanian-held sectors of Jerusalem, and many areas of the West Bank suffered regular sniping and shelling, along with terrorist infiltrations. In the 1948 War many Jewish villages were besieged by enemy troops, but their residents held firm until either Israel triumphed, or, in places such as Kfar Darom and Kfar Etzion, they were overrun by Arab forces. Had Israelis run away every time their homes were attacked, there would be no state of Israel today. The determination to stand firm, to protect Jewish homes and the Jewish homeland, is what has enabled Israel to survive all these years. Residents of Kfar Darom, which was rebuilt after Israel retook Gaza in the 1967 war, are particularly determined to stay put, rather than once again be driven out by the enemy.
Yossi Hadad, whose greenhouses in Kfar Darom were the scene of Saturday's Palestinian attack, today suffered another tragedy, when his daughter Rahel was wounded in the schoollbus bombing. Sure enough, reporters asked him, "Aren't you afraid? Why don't you leave? Don't you children want to leave?" He responded, "I didn't hear about Tel Avivians running away when Dizengoff [a major shopping centre] was bombed.... My daugher Rahel knows why we live here. She knows about Zionism and Israel. She knows why her grandparents came from Tunis and the USA to live in this land."
On a positive note, last week the Israeli army arrested fifteen Tanzim gunmen who have been responsible for recent sniping attacks, including last week's fatal drive-by shooting of Israeli civilians near Neveh Tzuf. Over recent days the army has also successfully defused several roadside bombs similar to the one which went off this morning.

I feel that Israeli public is running out of patience. The government decided not to respond militarily after last Monday's Palestinian ambushes which killed four Israelis. The hope was that exercising restraint would encourage the Palestinians to do likewise. With Arafat's call for a reduction in gunfire, this strategy seemed to be paying off. Israeli leaders were even prepared to overlook Saturday's attack, treating it as an exception to the general decline in the number of attacks. All these hopes were dashed by this morning's bombing. There has been a sea change in Israeli public opinion, as well as the tone set by many of our leaders. More and more Israelis are saying that they have had enough of the strategy of restraint in the face of the continuing Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets, civilian and military alike. This afternoon there were spontaneous demonstrations at squares and junctions all over Israel in which the dominant slogans were "We want security" and "Let the army defend us". Many Israelis have come to feel that seven years of the Oslo peace process have only brought us more Palestinian attacks and more bloodshed. That isn't what Israelis expected from a "peace process".
As many Israelis are saying these days: Laila tov v'shaket. Good night, and may it be a quiet one.

Monday, November 20, 2000

Arab Israeli dilemma

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by some Israeli friends to join them on a visit to an Israeli Arab village not far from here, the first time since the troubles began that I've been to an Israeli Arab village. In more peaceful times I had visited this village on a few occasions to shop in local stores, just as I would visit a Israeli Jewish village. Strangely though, despite the recent violence I did not feel overly worried about visiting this village, even though it was the scene of rioting only a few weeks earlier. 

On that Sunday it was quiet. No other Jewish Israelis ventured into the village, and locals told us that business is suffering terribly, as customers from local Jewish towns and villages are the prime markets for local stores. What struck me most though was the 'Palestinianisation' of the town. I noticed a number of Palestinian flags and nationalist graffiti.

Some local women invited us to join them for coffee. In the course of our conversation I sensed confusion about their place in the region. On the one hand much of their leadership was encouraging them to identify as Palestinians and to support the Palestinian revolt. On the other hand they are citizens of Israel, paying taxes to and receive services from the state of Israel. They work with Jews and use medical and other facilities in nearby Jewish towns. They themselves seemed stunned by the ferocity with which Israeli Arab youths had rioted in sympathy with the Palestinians. That evening on the news I heard a speech by the mayor of the same village, supporting the intifada and Yasser Arafat in the name of the residents. It felt strange to think that I'd been sitting and chatting with people in that village only a few hours earlier.

Arab citizens of Israeli continue to undergo a public identity crisis, trapped in the middle of this conflict. Many of the Israeli Arab members of Knesset and other community leaders continue to express their support for the Palestinian revolt. Knesset Member Mohammed Barakeh actually called on the Arab citizens of Israel to join in the intifada. There continue to be sporadic rock throwing attacks against Jewish vehicles near certain Arab villages in the Galilee, especially in the Wadi 'Ara/Nahal 'Iyron area which is close to Palestinian-controlled areas.

Over recent nights, youths from the Arab village of Arabeh in the Galilee have ambushed Jewish vehicles driving near their village. Last Tuesday, several residents of Arabeh came to the aid of the Jewish victims. In return, their property was vandalised and some were beaten up. The Jewish head of the Misgav regional council was quick to assert that the youths causing trouble in Arabeh are a minority, that police and local residents know who they are, and that the troublemakers will be arrested. However, police say the local Arab leadership is not cooperating fully in efforts to calm the situation.

One of the few Israeli Arab leaders to publicly reject support for the Palestinian intifada is the Mayor of Shfar'am, Orsan Yassin. In an interview with Israeli radio, he condemned the rioting and attacks on Israeli Jews by Israeli Arabs and called upon the Arab citizens of Israel to respect the law. He also condemned Israeli Arab members of Knesset for encouraging the intifada, saying that he views the anti-Israel incitement of certain Israeli Arab Knesset members very gravely and blames them directly for the recent riots by Israeli Arab youths. He added that it is wrong for people who receive their salaries from the state of Israel, who have pledged allegiance to the state and who serve in Israel's parliament to turn against the state and applaud those who burn the Israeli flag. 'If we demonstrate, we should be carrying the Israeli flag, because this is also our flag, the flag of the country of which we are citizens,' he said. Yassin also noted that he knows many Arab mayors who agree with him but are nervous about voicing their opinions in public. Perhaps there should be an independent Palestinian state, but it is not for us, the Arab citizens of Israel, to be a part of it because our home is Israel and we are Israelis'.

As hard as it is to be a Jewish Israeli right now I think that perhaps it is even harder for many Arab citizens of Israel, caught as they are between so many conflicting loyalties and emotions in this conflict. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

And the terror goes on

Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Once again I have been trying to write something for several days, but each time I think that I'm ready to send a letter something worse happens. In the last few days, six Israelis - two civilians and four soldiers - have been killed by Palestinian gunfire. With the controversy over the American elections and the floods in Europe I gather that Israeli news doesn't make headlines overseas, but unfortunately the attacks continue here. Far from subsiding, every few days we are faced with new 'escalations' in Palestinian violence. In particular, the focus has shifted from mass riots to what Israeli leaders have begun to call a guerrilla war of attrition, characterised primarily by automatic gunfire at Israeli civilians and soldiers near areas under full or partial Palestinian rule.
Late yesterday afternoon, three Israelis were killed and seven injured when Palestinian terrorists opened fire with automatic weapons at two Israeli vehicles on the main road between Jerusalem and Nablus/Shechem, at the junction with the Neveh Tzuf road. The terrorists first overtook an Israeli car, killing a woman passenger, 42-year-old Sarah Lisha, and wounding two others. Lisha, a mother of 5 from Neveh Tzuf, was a high school physical education teacher returning from work. They then drove past a bus carrying soldiers on their way to guard duty at nearby Jewish villages. They sprayed it with over 50 bullets, killing 19-year-old Amit Zaneh of Netanya and 18-year-old El'ad Wallenstein of Ashkelon. Five other soldiers were injured. The gunmen are believed to have fled south towards Palestinian Authority-controlled Ramallah. Ziyad Abu 'Ein, a senior official of Fatah, Arafat's faction of the PLO, released a statement on behalf of the organisation saying the the shootings were legitimate actions in the intifada against Israel.
Later that evening, an Israeli truck was shot at near the Kissufim junction not far from Palestinian-controlled Gaza. The driver, 36-year-old Gaby Zaguri, a father of 3 from Netivot, was killed. A car travelling just ahead of the truck narrowly missed being hit by the gunfire.
I feel like our luck just ran out during the last few days. Over the past six weeks, so many Israelis have avoided death or serious injury by millimeters. Time and time again, we've seen bullet-riddled Israeli homes and cars, windshields smashed by rocks, and bomb-damaged busses, the occupants miraculously escaping with no more than minor injuries. Israel Television reporter Benny Liss remarked that for every roadside bomb which explodes, there are several which either fail to detonate or are defused by Israeli patrols, and therefore go unreported. The Palestinians have carried out over 1,400 shooting attacks against Israelis during this time, with scores of bullets fired in many of the attacks. It was only a matter of time before they hit their targets as accurately as they did yesterday.
Though drive-by shootings at Israeli vehicles have become increasingly common over recent weeks, there has been a further escalation in the last few days. Last night Israeli cars were fired upon near Shilo, just north of the afternoon's fatal shooting, and near Alfei Menasheh, close to Kalkilya. The night before, two Israelis were wounded when shots were fired at their car on the road near the Jewish town of Neveh Tzuf, west of yesterday's shooting. And last week, two Israelis were wounded near Ma'aleh Levona, just north of yesterday's attack. Israeli intelligence suspect the same terror cell may be behind all these attacks in the same area.
Saturday night, a civilian Israeli bus was fired upon north of Hebron; the vehicle was damaged but no one was hurt. Israeli vehicles have also come under Palestinian fire throughout Gaza - including the fatal shooting of an Israeli woman on Wednesday - as well as near Kalkilya, near Hebron, on the tunnel road south of Jerusalem, and near Jericho, among other places.
There has been little respite from Palestinian gunfire in the southern Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo. On Sunday, gunfire attacks on Gilo took place in midmorning, while schools were in session. Children were relocated to classrooms not facing the Palestinian-controlled cities of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, though this was difficult, as many classroom windows face the pastoral valley and picturesque villages from which the Palestinian gunmen launch their attacks.
Other Jewish communities targeted by Palestinian gunmen over the last few days include 'Utniel, Susia and Beit Haggai south of Hebron, the Hebron Jewish Quarter, Psagot and Beit El near Ramallah, Kadim and Ganim near Jenin, Itamar and Brakha near Nablus/Shekhem, Kokhav Hashahar and Vered Yeriho near Jericho and Neve Dekalim, Kfar Darom and other Jewish communities in Gaza.
When I last wrote about Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, the Israeli army had decided to open the site to Jewish worshipers for the traditional commemoration of the death of the biblical Rachel last Thursday, after it had been closed for the last six weeks. When the day arrived, though, the army reversed itself, explaining that there had been reliable warnings of terrorist attacks on Rachel's Tomb, making it too dangerous to allow visitors to the site. This ruling triggered two different reactions from Jewish religious authorities: many rabbis accepted it, saying that the risk to people's lives was more important than memorial prayers at Rachel's Tomb. Others disagreed, arguing that by announcing that the site would be closed if terrorist attacks were expected, Israel was effectively encouraging the terrorists, in the long run risking more lives. They feared that the Palestinians would be encouraged by their success last month in evicting the Jewish yeshiva (seminary) from Joseph's Tomb in Nablus/Shekhem, which they subsequently ransacked and rebuilt as a mosque. Statements in the Palestinian press have expressed the hope that Rachel's Tomb would be the next Jewish holy site to be claimed for Islam.
In place of the traditional prayer memorial event at Rachel's Tomb, a substitute ceremony was planned at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Not everyone was satisfied with this, though, and scores of worshipers gathered at the southern exit from Jerusalem towards Bethlehem in hopes of making their way to the tomb. The army enforced its decision to close the site and prevented people from approaching. As the day progressed, though, and the area around Rachel's Tomb remained quiet, the army agreed to allow a delegation of religious Knesset Members to enter the site. They were transported to and from the tomb on a bulletproof bus with army escorts. Only ten visitors were allowed, just enough for a minyan (prayer group). But at least the traditional memorial prayers were held. The Fatah faction of the PLO, which has been at the forefront of the current attacks, issued a statement congratulating itself on the successful attempt in frightening away Jewish worshipers from the site.
Before long it became clear why the army was so concerned about security at Rachel's Tomb: later that day not far from Bethlehem, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Hussein Ebayyat, an active terrorist in the Fatah Tanzim militias, killing him by firing on his car from a helicopter while he was en route to an attack in the Bethlehem area, according to Israeli intelligence. Ebayyat has been responsible for many attacks on Israelis in the Bethlehem area over the last six weeks, including the murder of Max Hazan on October 2, the killing of David Hen Cohen and Shlomo Adashina last week, and shooting attacks on the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, including the one in which border policeman Shimon Ohana was severely injured. (Ohana, who was checked into the hospital in a state of clinical death with a bullet in his heart, last week made a miraculous recovery and is doing well.) Today, Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz said he believes the most effective military response to the Palestinian attacks is to directly target the perpetrators.
On Friday morning Palestinian gunmen once again opened fire on Rachel's Tomb, killing an Israeli soldier, 20-year-old Shahar Vakrat from Lod. Saturday night, however, the situation had calmed down and Jewish worshipers were again allowed to visit the site, traveling on bulletproof buses. Sunday night, Palestinian gunfire on Rachel's Tomb resumed.
On Saturday, two Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli patrol jeep near Gush Katif, a Jewish area of Gaza, killing Avner Shalom, a 28-year-old reserve soldier from Eilat, and wounding one of his comrades. The Israeli soldiers returned fire on the gunmen's car, killing them. A four-hour gun battle ensued with Palestinian snipers, who tried to prevent the Israelis from investigating the incident. When they eventually reached the gunmen's vehicle, the Israeli soldiers discovered that the assailants bore badges of the Palestinian Police, though they were operating in civilian clothes. The road where the incident took place is a major access route for Jewish residents in the area. It had recently been reopened to Palestinian traffic as part of the Peres-Arafat ceasefire understandings. It didn't take the Palestinians long to take advantage of Israel's ceasefire compliance to attack Israeli traffic on the road.
The other night Jason spoke to a cousin in the town of Kfar Saba, a typical Israeli suburban town north of Tel Aviv, but just a few hundred metres (yards) from Palestinian-controlled Kalkilya. She was tense, describing how the sounds of gunfire from Kalkilya keep her awake at night, as Palestinian snipers attack Israeli checkpoints in the area. Israelis living in the nearby villages of Kokhav Yair (prime minister Barak's home town) and Tzur Yigal have been forced to take lengthy detours, as their main road to Kfar Saba passes by the edge of Kalkilya and is a frequent target of Palestinian attacks. The prime minister no longer uses the helicopter pad near his Kokhav Yair home because it has come under Palestinian fire. Furthermore, the only reasonable detour route for residents of Kokhav Yair and Tzur Yigal runs straight through the Israeli Arab town of Tira, which despite decades of peaceful relations has suddenly turned hostile to their Jewish neighbours, with residents occasionally stoning Jewish through traffic.
Israelis continue to be injured in Palestinian rock-throwing attacks. A baby required hospital treatment Sunday after she was hit in the head by a rock thrown at the car she was travelling in near Beitar, southwest of Jerusalem. The main road from Beitar to Jerusalem has been the frequent target of Palestinian rock-throwing attacks, in which several Israeli civilians have been hurt and many cars damaged. Also Sunday, an Israeli ambulance was hit by stones near Hizme, northeast of Jerusalem. That stretch of road has been closed several times due to similar attacks.
On Saturday night, along the Trans-Samaria Highway east of Petach Tikva, Israeli civilians were wounded in several rock-throwing attacks near Elkana, Oranit and Ariel. Among the injured were two children. A few nights ago an Israeli woman was wounded by rocks thrown by Palestinians on the tunnel road south of Jerusalem. Last night two Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rock throwing north of Jericho, while they were travelling on the Jordan Valley highway, one of Israel's chief north-south arteries which connects Jerusalem with northeastern Israel. This road has also become one of the main foci for Palestinian attacks over the last six weeks. On Sunday Knesset Member Yuli Edelstein suffered a smashed windshield east of Beit Shemesh, but emerged otherwise unharmed from the attack. These are just some of the rock-throwing attacks in recent days, most of which resulted, fortunately, in lucky escapes.
Basically, we have a guerrilla war going on down the road from us. Prime Minister Barak and his ministers continue to advocate restraint in response to the Palestinian onslaught. They want to avoid anything which might lead to a further escalation, giving Arafat an excuse to call for international intervention or bring other Arab states into the conflict. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in particular made belligerent comments about Israel in his recent speech at the conference of Islamic states in Qatar this week.
Absurdly, despite the intifada, Israel continues to transfer tens of millions of dollars to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in accordance with the economic agreements in the Oslo Accords. Much of this money is siphoned off into private bank accounts belonging to Arafat and other senior PA officials. Very little of it makes its way to the Palestinian Authority treasury, let alone to the Palestinian people. Arafat even has a slush fund account at the main Tel Aviv branch of Israel's Bank Leumi, but Israel has not even threatened to freeze this bank account. The same Palestinian leaders who orchestrate the campaign of attacks against Israelis continue to enjoy the use of their VIP passes, which allow some of them to travel freely throughout Israel and to avoid most security inspections. While many Palestinian civilians have been unable to enter Israel to go to work and have been suffering considerable economic hardship, their leaders live comfortably off their considerable slush funds. Many in Israel believe that freezing the assets of Palestinian leaders would help pressure them to return to negotiations, without harming the Palestinian civilians. The government disagrees, arguing that economic sanctions would be perceived as acts of siege and portrayed as harming civilians, whether or not that is actually true. Furthermore, Israel fears undermining Arafat, lest an even more hostile leader take his place.
In addition the PA owes millions of dollars in unpaid bills to the Israel Electric Company, but Israel has not threatened to disconnect the electric supply to Palestinian-controlled areas, for humanitarian reasons. Israel's Dor Energy corporation, which has the exclusive contract to supply the PA with fuel, continues to do so unhindered. This is the fuel which powers the cars used in drive-by shootings, the vehicles used by Palestinian militias and police to transport gunmen to and from attacks, the plane Arafat travels on to world capitals and in which, according to Israeli intelligence, he smuggles weapons and ammunition for his fighters. Residents of the southern Israeli village of Kfar Maimon protested today at the Dor Energy terminal which supplies Gaza, blocking the trucks from leaving the terminal. Israeli police dispersed the demonstrators and let the supplies through, in accordance with government policy.
I can't believe it's been almost seven weeks. All the attempts to negotiate an end to the attacks - the Paris talks, the Sharm el-Sheikh international conference, meetings with President Clinton and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Peres's trip to Gaza to meet Arafat - all the supposed ceasefire agreements have resulted in nothing but more Palestinian attacks and more Palestinian demands.
Meanwhile, on the news tonight we saw film which was broadcast on Palestinian Television, showing a group of eight-year-old boys training how to attack Israelis. While one of them dressed up as an Israeli soldier, the rest were shown how to assault him, how to throw rocks accurately and how to evacuate their wounded. It doesn't look like the Palestinians are preparing for peace any time soon. I wish I could be more optimistic, but the end doesn't seem to be in sight.

Thursday, November 09, 2000

Israeli civilians under fire - what else is new?

Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Dear Family and Friends,
The lead story in Israel today is overwhelmingly the American elections. The continuing Palestinian attacks have been pushed further down the news broadcasts over the last few days. This is less because things have quieted down, though they have somewhat, and more because shootings, stonings and firebombings have now become routine unless someone is killed, God forbid. Otherwise, the day's events are summarised in a brief update. For those whose communities continue to come under attack night after night, this waning attention must be very frustrating. But in Israel's main population centres, their troubles seem a world away.
Among the targets of Palestinian gunfire have been civilian cars and buses. This morning an Israeli woman was killed and her passenger, her nephew, wounded when their car was shot at on their way to work at the Rafiah border terminal between Israel and Egypt. The woman lost control of the car and it overturned into a ditch, trapping the occupants. The bullet-riddled car and its wounded occupants were discovered and the emergency services notified by a passing Israeli civilian who works at a bank at the border terminal. The ambush took place close to the Palestinian airport at Dahania, which Israel had yesterday allowed to reopen after closing it due to threats to Israeli personnel working there. Israel has reclosed the airport and the Rafiah border crossing in response to the killing.
Pinhas Levin and Omra Raven of Ma'aleh Levonah were injured Sunday night in a drive-by shooting not far from their home as they drove past a Palestinian village. Levin was seriously hurt in his legs and hip. Raven, a mother of 11, suffered minor wounds and was released from hospital Monday afternoon. Raven's husband is a paramedic and discovered that his wife had been injured when he and other emergency teams rushed to the scene. Raven said that she was amazed to be alive after intense gunfire ripped into the car, leaving 30 bullet holes. In an interview Monday evening the couple described how they do their best to live normally under the circumstances, going to work, sending the kids to school and not allowing the gunmen to succeed in intimidating them. They noted that they met in Lebanon, and that while Israel may have pulled out of Lebanon, events indicate that the Palestinians have brought Lebanon to Israel.
Among the Jewish communities to be targeted by Palestinian gunfire in the last few days: Hebron's Jewish Quarter, Psagot near Ramallah, Bet Haggai near Hebron, Nitzanei Oz near Tulkarm, Nahal Elisha near Jericho, Kadim and Ganim near Jenin, Jewish communities in Gaza including Kfar Darom and Neveh Dekalim. Military posts and checkpoints have come under Palestinian gunfire near Elon Moreh, Beit El, Susia, Tulkarm, Ariel and Kalkilya, and throughout Gaza. An attack on the Israeli checkpost on the road from Palestinian-controlled Kalkilya to Israel resulted in the closing of the road to the nearby Israeli village of Eyal, close to the town of Kokhav Yair where Prime Minister Barak lives.
Israeli civilians have also been injured in shootings near Jericho and Yitzhar. Yesterday there was another attack on an Israeli schoolbus in Gaza, this time near the Jewish village of Kfar Darom; fortunately no one was hurt. In addition, in Gaza and the Hebron area there have been several roadside bombs which have been detonated by remote control when Israeli vehicles drive past. Palestinian rock throwing continues in many areas. Just Monday night an Israeli civilian was hurt when a rock hit his car on the main Modi'in-Jerusalem road via Beit Horon.
There have also been more attacks on Israeli orchards and greenhouses in Jewish villages bordering Palestinian-controlled areas. The cherry orchards of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel in southern Jerusalem were vandalised with trees uprooted or slashed. In Ro'i, north of Jericho, there have been repeated assaults on the community's hothouses where they grow herbs. Yesterday Ro'i farmers said that their entire year's crop had been destroyed, with plants trampled or uprooted, irrigation systems cut and plastic sheeting on hothouses slashed. Arabic graffiti on one greenhouse read, 'Allah will win'. Farmers expressed shock that their Palestinian neighbours could do such things. They had previously enjoyed peaceful relations with local Palestinian villages, employing many of their residents in the farms of Ro'i.
Similar incidents have taken place in Vered Yeriho south of Jericho, with orchards uprooted, greenhouses smashed and irrigation hoses cut. In addition, some of the fields belonging to two Vered Yeriho farmers can be accessed only via areas handed over to the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords. The agreements guarantee Israeli farmers access to their crops, but during the current troubles it has become too dangerous. Local Palestinian authorities have made it clear that any Jew entering the Palestinian-controlled Jericho area will not leave alive. Gershon Richter, one of the farmers affected, says he has been left with no income and with his life's work in ruins. Not only were his fields sabotaged, but he has no access to them to repair the damage or to tend what remains.
In a new type of attack, possibly inspired by the bombing of the USS Cole near Yemen, a booby-trapped fishing boat exploded Monday night near an Israeli patrol ship off the Gaza coast. The bomb went off too far away to cause damage or injuries, but reports say the explosion was powerful and could have been devastating. The fishing boat was coming from across the Egyptian border, but it's not clear who was behind the attack.
A Syrian infiltrator armed with knives climbed over Israel's border fence Monday morning and was on the loose in the southern Golan Heights for about twelve hours. Jewish communities in the area were under curfew during the manhunt. Such infiltrations are very rare; the Golan is one of Israel's quietest borders. Army trackers traced the infiltrator to the area between the villages of Nov and Avnei Eitan. The man, who was finally captured near the kibbutz of Lahavot Habashan, said he had crossed the border in order to help the Palestinians with their intifada.
Rachel's Tomb, the Jewish holy site on the northern outskirts of Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem which has been a Jewish pilgrimage site for centuries, has been closed to worshipers since the Palestinian attacks began five weeks ago. The site is under Israeli control according to the agreements with the Palestinians, and has been the constant target of Palestinian riots and sniper attacks. Remarks in the Palestinian media have indicated that they aim to force Israel to abandon the site, as happened with Joseph's Tomb in Nablus / Shekhem.
As tomorrow (Thursday) is the anniversary of Rachel's death, calls have been heard to open the site at least for the day, a traditional occasion for special prayers there since the site was restored to Jewish control in 1967. Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has been among those calling for access to the tomb to be restored. On Monday, a group of thirty Jewish women and children from Hebron met in Gilo in southern Jerusalem and walked towards Rachel's Tomb, just 500 metres (yards) away. When they arrived, the befuddled Israeli soldiers guarding the site weren't sure how to respond, and let the group enter. Some of the women decided they would camp out there until Thursday to make sure it would be open to visitors for the memorial day. The Israeli police and army believed it would be unsafe to let civilians stay there overnight, and a few hours later sent troops to forcibly evacuate them, baby buggies and all. The act of protest had its desired effect, though, and it has been decided that Rachel's Tomb will be open on Thursday after all.
Heavy gunfire resumed last night at the southern Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo after several days of quiet. Palestinian gunmen directed machine gun fire at southern streets of Gilo from the nearby Palestinian-controlled towns of Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. The Israeli army returned fire with automatic weapons and anti-tank missiles targeted at the sources of the gunfire. The pause in attacks at Gilo over the last few days has been attributed to a secret Cairo meeting over the weekend between Avi Dichter, head of Israel's General Security Services, and Jibril Rajoub, head of preventive security for the Palestinian Authority, at which Rajoub pledged to stop the gunfire towards Gilo. It has been suggested that the renewed gunfire is a Palestinian attempt to reverse by violence the Israeli decision to reopen Rachel's Tomb to worshipers on Thursday.
While things have been slightly quieter lately, this is clearly not the ceasefire that we were promised at the beginning of last week. The Tanzim militias claim that they have not received orders from Arafat to halt their attacks, and indeed many of the shooting attacks have been carried out by uniformed Palestinian police and security forces. There is no indication that they have received orders to "lower the flames". Still, Israel is cooperating with the American efforts to set up an international "fact-finding commission" to investigate recent events, even though the commission was to begin operation only after the ceasefire was in effect.
Now that the American elections are over, the months from now until the January inauguration may be difficult for Israel diplomatically. President-elect Bush (assuming he survives the Florida recount) won't want to have to deal with messes overseas right away, while Clinton will no longer have electoral considerations to restrict his actions. Both might be satisfied for Clinton to take advantage of the interval to put pressure on Israel to compromise its positions. That way Bush will have certain decisions out of the way without having to take responsibility for the consequences. Something similar happened in 1988, when the Reagan administration, over the objections of the Israeli government, opened an unprecedented dialogue with the PLO after the November elections, having quietly consulted with the incoming Bush administration. The difficult situation Israel is now in could become even more difficult until January 20.