Tuesday, October 31, 2000

It really doesn't look too good

Monday, October 30, 2000


The events of today bring home once again what surreal times we're living in. This morning Jason and I went to the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture exhibit in Jerusalem's Old City. There, near the Jaffa Gate, life goes on as usual. Tourists and students mingle with Arabs, Israelis and security personnel. Arab taxi drivers wait for passengers, Christian information centres distribute guidebooks and Orthodox Jews walk past on their way to and from the Western Wall. There were not as many foreign tourists as usual, though there were some Scandinavian and German Christian groups, and many Israeli visitors. It was a beautiful autumn day, and the colourful glass creations glistened spectacularly against the backdrop of the stone fortress. The exhibit closes tomorrow after an 18-month run, having set a record for the most visitors to a temporary museum exhibit.
As we were leaving the museum we noticed a group of police on horseback galloping away in the direction of an Arab neighbourhood. Returning to the car, we turned on the radio to terrible news. Unidentified Palestinian gunmen had opened fire from close range on two Israeli security guards at the Israeli National Insurance (Social Security) office in an Arab area of Jerusalem. Both were in critical condition; one died later in the day. The murdered guard was Eish-Kodesh Gilmour, 25 and married, from the village of Mevo Modi'in, about 10 minutes down the highway from us (for those who have visited us, it's the Carlebach village with the Italian restaurant). Gilmour was working as a security guard while studying computer programming, and looked forward to leaving his job soon. His 22-year-old colleague, Itai Suissa of Jerusalem, is still undergoing surgery and fighting for his life following severe wounds to the head and chest. On this evening's news we saw that among the first officers to reach the scene were the mounted police we had seen in the morning.
This is the most recent, though not the most brutal, murder of Israeli civilians by Palestinians over the last few days. The body of an Israeli was found in the valley between the Palestinian village of Beit Jalla and the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo this morning, not far from the Gush Etzion tunnel road. The victim was identified as Amos Machluf, 30, who was last seen on Shabbat. Machluf had been bound hand and foot and then stabbed repeatedly. Police believe he was kidnapped from Gilo.
Earlier, on Saturday morning, the body of an Israeli civilian was discovered near Ramallah. He was riddled with bullets and then he and his car were set alight. It was difficult to identify the body, but the victim was eventually determined to be Maryk Gavrielov from the village of Bnei Ayish near Ashdod. Apparently Gavrielov had gone to Ramallah to meet Palestinian acquaintances at a cafe. The details are unclear since the Palestinian Authority won't cooperate with the investigation. Jerusalem police chief Yair Yitzhaki warned Israelis not to enter any Palestinian Authority controlled areas, even for social or business reasons, because it has become too dangerous.
In response to this series of brutal murders of Israeli civilians, Israel decided today to send a message to the Palestinian Authority that such attacks will not be tolerated. Israeli helicopter gunships attacked a number of buildings which served as Palestinian militia headquarters. Targets included the headquarters of the Fatah Tanzim militia in Nablus/Shekhem and El-Bireh, including the offices of Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, and the headquarters of Force 17, Arafat's personal guard unit, in Khan Yunis, Gaza, which also houses Tanzim offices. Warning shots were fired at nearby wasteland to allow occupants to evacuate the buildings in advance. Five Palestinians in a neighbouring building were lightly injured.
Aside from the coldblooded murders, there are other signs of a marked escalation in recent days. The Palestinians have shifted away from mass violent demonstrations and are concentrating instead on targeted, more "professional" attacks such as shootings and Lebanon-style roadside bombings. Several times over the last few days, bombs have been set off near schoolbuses carrying children from Jewish communities in Gaza. A soldier escorting one of the buses was injured, though miraculously no one else was hurt.
Meanwhile, the list of Jewish towns targeted by Palestinian gunfire continues to grow. Palestinian snipers are still shooting at Jerusalem's Gilo neighbourhood, at the village of Psagot near Ramallah, at Vered Yeriho near Jericho and at the Jewish quarter of Hebron. The Oasis Casino in Jericho, built and managed by an Austrian entertainment company, has been taken over by Palestinian snipers who have stationed themselves on its roof. Palestinian gunmen have also taken up positions in the village of El-Khadr, near Bethlehem, and have been targeting the Giv'at HaDaggan neighbourhood at the edge of the Jewish town of Efrat. Today shots were also fired at homes in the villages of Har Bracha near Shechem and Sussia in the southern Hebron mountains, and at an Israeli bus near the Jewish town of Alfei Menashe. These are all civilian targets, not military positions.
Aside from residential neighbourhoods, Palestinian snipers have targeted the checkpoint between the Palestinian-controlled town of Kalkilya and the Israeli town of Kfar Saba. Palestinian gunmen attacked the Israeli base of Mahane Ofer between the Palestinian-controlled city of Ramallah and the Israeli town of Givat Zeev; a gun battle ensued for several hours. Israeli positions have also been shot at by Palestinians near the Palestinian-controlled towns of Shechem/Nablus and Tulkarm, and an Israeli army patrol was attacked near the Jewish village of Yitzhar.
Throughout the Gaza region, Palestinian snipers have been attacking Israeli positions securing vital roads. According to a report last night, across the road from every Israeli position, the Palestinians have built office towers taller than the Israeli guard towers. When Israel raises the guard towers, the Palestinians add storeys to the office buildings. These buildings are now serving as sniper positions to attack Israeli bases and civilian traffic. The roads in question are under full Israeli control according to the Oslo agreements with the Palestinians, and Israel has been making every effort to keep them open and safe for civilian traffic. Yesterday, after access roads to some Jewish villages had become impassible due to Palestinian shootings and bombings, Israel sent tanks to clear the routes. The tanks never entered Palestinian-controlled areas, though some foreign news reports made it sound that way.
There has also been a renewed escalation of violence among Israeli Arabs. On Saturday night, firebombs were thrown at Jewish vehicles on the major Galilee road through Wadi Ara / Nahal Iyron. This afternoon the road was closed when Arab rioters threw rocks at passing Jewish vehicles.
Tensions remain high on the northern border as well. Following belligerent remarks by Syrian President Bashar Assad and recent shooting attacks on Israel's border with Lebanon, the Israeli army has ordered the closure of the Mt. Hermon ski site and nature reserve, fearing cross-border infiltrations. Violent demonstrations have taken place in recent days on the Lebanese side of the border, with rocks and bottles thrown over the border fence at Israeli positions.
Perhaps the strangest and most frustrating piece of news lately was an eyewitness account by a journalist covering a Palestinian riot yesterday near the Karni checkpoint between Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas of Gaza. As the rioters began to pose a threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers, the soldiers fired warning shots in the air to scare them back. No one was hit. Immediately, however, four Palestinian ambulances appeared on the scene with sirens blaring, and proceeded to collect rioters acting "wounded". The entire episode had been staged for foreign news cameras. There is more to add on the media aspects of this conflict, but that will have to wait for another letter.
Meanwhile the Israeli government continues to emphasise that it is ready to go back to the negotiating table the moment the violence stops. Israel's acting Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami is due to fly to Washington for talks with the Americans on how the state of the peace process. We hope for the best, but it really doesn't look too good.

Friday, October 27, 2000

Some flooding for a change

Friday, October 27, 2000


I can start with better news today: roads were closed on Wednesday in many parts of Israel - not due to rioting, but due to flooding. For the first time since the troubles began, something else grabbed the top headlines. Tragically, a four-year-old boy drowned in the floods Wednesday morning as the water reached the height of his mother's neck and she was unable to hold all of her children above the surface.
The middle of this week saw especially heavy rain, in many parts of the country continuing almost nonstop. The centre of the flooding was Tel Aviv, located on the flat coastal plain, which has many older neighbourhoods without adequate storm drains. Certain southern Tel Aviv neighbourhoods near Jaffa get flooded almost every time there is exceptionally heavy rain. The flooding was more widespread than expected, affecting other Tel Aviv neighbourhoods and other coastal cities such as Bat Yam, Netanya and Ashdod. In some places the Israeli navy was called in to help evacuate trapped residents. Several major interchanges were closed on the Ayalon Highway, one of the country's most important arteries.
While flooding has caused damage to buildings and property, at least we're finally getting rain after two dry years, though there is no guarantee that we'll continue to have a wet winter. Despite the trauma suffered by those in flooded areas, at least it's been caused by a force of nature, not by our supposed peace partners. It was great to open the morning paper and see photos of flooded desert canyons. One photo featured an Israeli Bedouin from the southern Negev desert with his trouser legs rolled up to his knees, leading a camel through a seasonal 'lake' in the desert. Gives the term 'ship of the desert' a whole new meaning.
Unfortunately, the more 'normal' news continued as well. Over the last few days there has been a decrease in the number of attacks, but an increase in their severity. Wednesday morning a bomb was set off near the Jewish community of Morag in the Gaza strip, apparently a Lebanon-style ambush aimed at a passing Israeli army patrol. Yesterday (Thursday), a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up at the edge of Gush Katif. Last night another remote control roadside bomb was set off near the Jewish community of Karmei Tzur. The target was passing Israeli civilian vehicles. Fortunately only one Israeli was injured in all of these incidents, but any could easily have ended in multiple casualties.
Yesterday saw another escalation at the Lebanese border, when shots were fired from the Lebanese side towards the Israeli villages of Zra'it and Shtula. Israeli soldiers returned fire. This was the first shooting attack near Israeli border towns since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in June.
Shooting attacks also continue elsewhere, but at a much lower rate. There have been an average of about 30 shooting incidents a day over recent weeks, but over the last few days it has been down to 4-6 attacks a day. Most of the gunfire has been in Gaza, where Palestinians have opened fire on Israeli positions and at the Israeli side of the Karni border crossing. Palestinians have also opened fire on Israeli vehicles in Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem.
On Wednesday evening Palestinian snipers in the village of Beit Sahur near Bethlehem opened fire at Israeli soldiers guarding the Jewish holy site of Rachel's Tomb. Rachel's Tomb is an Israeli enclave at the edge of Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, close to the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. Stray bullets struck Gilo, though residents are apparently expected to take comfort from the fact that the Palestinians were really shooting not at Gilo but at Rachel's Tomb. Later that night shooting at Gilo resumed from the direction of Beit Jalla.
Palestinian snipers have also been shooting at the moshav (agricultural village) of Nitzanei Oz, close to the Palestinian town of Tulkarm, 12 km (about 8 miles) east of the coastal city of Netanya. Several houses and vehicles in the village have been hit. As in Gilo, tanks have now been stationed at the entrance to Nitzanei Oz, and so far they have responded to Palestinian attacks with machine gun fire. Before the troubles began the moshav employed about 300 Palestinians, but lately they have stopped coming to work, creating a severe labour shortage. Similar problems are common in the agricultural sector all over Israel. The olive harvest is currently at its peak, and harvest season is in progress for many other vegetables and fruits, but produce is starting to rot in the fields due to the shortage of workers.
Friends and relatives in the town of Ramat Bet Shemesh southwest of Jerusalem tell me that although they do not border any Arab areas, their main access route to Jerusalem is via the Gush Etzion tunnel road, which reaches Jerusalem near Gilo. Between attacks on this road and the shooting at Gilo this route has frequently been closed and they have been taking other routes. Unfortunately one alternate route, which goes via the Jewish town of Tzur Hadassah, has also been problematic due to rock throwing attacks by Palestinians, as it is not far from Palestinian-controlled areas. My cousin says he has been taking a third route, the longest route to Jerusalem, for a while now, because even before the current troubles began there had been sporadic rock-throwing incidents on the other two roads. A friend confirms this, saying rocks were thrown at her a few months ago while driving on the Tzur Hadassah road, though there has been a marked escalation over recent weeks. Ramat Beit Shemesh and Tzur Hadassah are not "settlements" in the "territories", and their residents would by no means consider themselves to be living in disputed lands. Yet they find themselves exposed to Palestinian attacks just the same.
One phenomenon which hasn't been discussed much is the desecration of Jewish holy sites by Arabs. Across the Galilee at least 10 ancient Jewish holy sites close to Israeli Arab towns and villages have been vandalised. In Shfar'am the ancient synagogue and the gravesite of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava were burned, damaging the structures as well as prayer books. Shfar'am is today an exclusively Arab town, though it was originally an ancient Jewish town and it had a Jewish community until 1920. The tombs of Jewish sages from the time of the Mishna, located near the Israeli Arab villages of 'Araba and Kfar Kana, were desecrated as well. Kfar Kana is the site of an ancient Jewish village from biblical times. It is also mentioned in the Christian bible as the site of the miracle of the water turning to wine, making it a Christian pilgrimage site. Elsewhere in the Galilee ancient Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated.
Meanwhile in Efrat, south of Jerusalem, a synagogue was broken into and desecrated by local Palestinians. They turned on all the taps, flooding the synagogue, and destroyed religious books, daubing the walls with swastikas and slogans in Arabic and Hebrew praising Hizballah.
Palestinians continue to riot. Trouble spots included the Palestinian towns of Kalkilya, near the Israeli town of Kfar Saba, Bethlehem south of Jerusalem, Tulkarem east of Netanya, Hebron and Jenin. In one of several firebomb attacks Wednesday, two Israeli soldiers were wounded at the Ayosh junction near Ramallah when Palestinian youths threw a Molotov cocktail at their jeep. The newsreader mumbled through all this in a single sentence; after all, it has become run of the mill in the past few weeks.
One of the few bright spots in all this was another tragedy, a major crash on the Jerusalem-Jericho road involving a Palestinian taxi and an Israeli minibus. The first emergency vehicle on the scene was a Palestinian ambulance whose crew treated both the Israeli and Palestinian wounded. Sadly one Israeli soldier died, despite the attempts of a Palestinian medic to revive him. Several other Israelis and Palestinians were injured.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority leaders, apparently concerned that they may have gone too far in turning Israeli public opinion against them, have lately taken steps to persuade Israelis that they are peace lovers and look forward to renewing negotiations. In particular, they are eager to woo Israeli gamblers back to the casino in Jericho, which has been losing a million shekels ($250,000) a day in revenues. As part of this effort the PA has renovated Jericho's ancient Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue, which was vandalized and set on fire by Palestinian mobs two weeks ago. Though if the Palestinians want Israelis to feel safe gambling in Jericho, it might help if they stopped shooting at the nearby Jewish community of Vered Yeriho.
Despite this effort at public relations, incitement against Israel continues via official Palestinian channels. An Arab TV station recently broadcast a Palestinian Authority-appointed imam (Islamic preacher) invoking the medieval blood libel charges against the Jews. He explained that 'it is part of the Jewish religion to eat blood during the festivals of Pesah and Purim, when they need the blood of youths and children'. The funeral of the Islamic Jihad suicide bomber who killed himself in yesterday's bicycle bombing was televised live on official Palestinian Authority TV today, the first time an Islamic Jihad event has received any coverage on Palestinian television. At the funeral civilians fired shots in the air and there were calls for more attacks against Israel. Some participants marched carrying grenades and wearing belts laden with mock explosives.
On Wednesday the Fatah organisation, Arafat's faction of the PLO, issued a statement calling on Palestinians to restrict their fire. Not because Arafat wants to calm the violence, but because Palestinians shouldn't waste so much ammunition. Gunmen were called upon not to open fire spontaneously, but rather to choose their targets carefully. The statement also called for terror attacks within Israel.
At the same time, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader in the West Bank, said that attacks will continue. He said that Arafat is in charge and that he and his men are doing what Arafat wants them to. He also revealed that Fatah is working closely with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organisations, the ones who in recent years have blown up Israeli buses, shops, cafes and markets. Yesterday, however, he appeared on Israeli television to reassure Israelis that the Palestinians want to return to negotiations and do not wish to harm Israelis. It seems the Palestinian strategy is to negotiate with one hand while keeping the other on the trigger.
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-'Ami has indicated that if suddenly the Palestinians do stop attacking us, Israel will be prepared to go back to the negotiating table, back to the concessions Israel offered at Camp David. He appeared on TV Wednesday looking stressed and anxious, pained by the thought that perhaps the Palestinians really aren't interested in negotiating any more, when they can pressure Israel much more painfully using stone throwers and snipers. It's a terrifying realisation for Israelis, the realisation that perhaps seven years of peace negotiations and territorial concessions and willingness to accept a Palestinian state have led not to the hoped-for peace and reconciliation, but instead to more attacks and a more lethal, more vicious intifada than the one that preceded the Oslo agreement.
I feel as though I'm living in the middle of a Kafkaesque nightmare where everything is turned on its head. The attackers want the world to protect them, the defenders are condemned for daring to defend themselves, the aggressors are upset that their people are getting killed and injured in the war that they themselves started and those who have been attacked are reprimanded for defending themselves too well and not letting enough of their people get killed and injured. The Palestinian rock thrower is innocent and his Israeli victim is guilty. Palestinians send out their children to attack us and we are guilty if we hurt any of them in self-defence. This is madness. Would Americans stand to have rocks thrown at their vehicles day after day? Would the British sit with their arms folded while snipers fired night after night at residential London suburbs? Would the French tolerate frenzied mobs throwing firebombs at their police? But Israel is supposed to suffer all of this, and more, and not to respond in any way, certainly not to open fire on people who attack us with fire.
I don't know how this will end. I simply cannot see a solution. We do not want war, we did not want war, that is why we were negotiating a peace agreement - until those we were negotiating with decided they preferred violence.
We still hope for better news.
Shabbat shalom,

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Trying to keep life normal

October 24, 2000


The Palestinian revolt continues here. In many areas bordering Palestinian-controlled zones attacks remain a daily occurrence. Not a day goes by without the Palestinians attacking Israeli vehicles, residential neighbourhoods or military posts.
These events have become so common that even the Israeli media no longer devote time to all of them. Daily traffic reports now include as a matter of course a list of roads closed due to Palestinian or Israeli Arab rock throwing, shooting or other attacks. When driving to work, Israelis in many parts of the country now have to factor in possible attacks, as well as traffic, when planning their route.
On Saturday night Israeli Arabs threw rocks at an Israeli bus en route to Tiberias as it passed the Arab town of Mosirifa, not far from the Meggido Junction in the southern Galilee. One passenger was injured and hospitalised in nearby Afula. Israeli Arabs from a village near Nazareth attacked a bus en route to the town of Migdal Ha'emek, smashing windows. Both buses were on major arteries - attacks on these roads are the Israeli equivalent of, say, rock throwing on the New Jersey Turnpike or the M4 in England.
The lynching of Israeli civlians also continues. In Jerusalem this week a Jewish family of six, including four small children, were set upon by a Palestinian mob while driving from the City of David, just south of the Western Wall, to Mount Scopus. The Palestinians, wielding axes, clubs and rocks, surrounded the car and set about attacking from all sides. Despite the odds the family managed to save themselves by accelerating rapidly, charging through the barriers of blocks and burning tires the mob had set up, escaping with their lives and light injuries.
On other roads Jewish vehicles have also been shot at. The tunnel road connecting Jerusalem with towns to the south of the city, such as Efrat, has become a regular site for Palestinian snipers who wait at the end of the tunnel and take potshots at Israeli cars, buses and even ambulances. In some cases, foreign television crews accompany the snipers, waiting for a good 'shot'. A few days ago Palestinian snipers opened fire on a bus near the Jewish town of Tekoa, at the edge of the Judean Desert, southeast of Jerusalem. The Jewish community of Psagot, north of Jerusalem, and the Jewish Quarter in Hebron are regular targets for Palestinian snipers night after night. In the last few weeks, families there have become used to sandbagging their windows and sleeping in rooms which face away from Palestinian controlled areas.
This is just a sample of the many attacks that take place each night (most attacks occur after dark or in the early morning).
Perhaps the most serious recent development has been the escalation of attacks on residential areas. The southern Jerusalem suburb of Gilo borders the Palestinian-controlled towns of Beit Jalla and Bethlehem, from which Palestinian snipers have been taking potshots at apartment buildings and houses in Gilo. The frequency of attacks has increased in recent days. On Friday night Palestinian gunmen opened fire just as many families were making kiddush and some synagogues were still in the middle of Simhat Torah hakafot festivities. In response, an Israeli army tank fired one warning shell into the valley between Gilo and Beit Jalla, while warning Beit Jalla residents to leave their homes. Beit Jalla residents began to flee in fear and the shooting stopped - at least for that night.
Meanwhile homes on the street facing Beit Jalla were reinforced with more concrete barriers. Sunday night, gunshots were fired from Bethlehem, which borders Gilo from another angle, allowing the snipers to target other parts of Gilo, areas which were sheltered from the Beit Jalla snipers. Twelve apartment buildings were hit, including several direct hits into bedrooms and living rooms. By a miracle no one was hurt, though there were several close calls. Bullets narrowly missed a nursing mother in her apartment. Another family saw a bullet whiz above their heads as they sat on the sofa watching TV. Another bullet hit a family's bedroom closet, going in one side and out the other, piercing holes through all the clothes hanging inside. To date 28 Gilo apartment buildings have been hit by Palestinian snipers. Some Gilo families have taken to sleeping in the kitchen, as all their bedrooms face Palestinian towns. One family has taken shelter in the windowless stairwell of their apartment building after bullets struck their living room.
Sunday night, the Israeli army stepped up its response, directing heavy fire at the sources of the gunfire in Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. Last night (Monday), firing on Gilo resumed. Israel shut off power to parts of Gilo, creating a deliberate blackout in the hopes that the Palestinian snipers won't shoot at something they can't see to target. Israeli intelligence has recently suggested that Arafat is encouraging attacks from Bethlehem, hoping to provoke Israel into attacking Bethlehem in response. Then he could appeal to sympathy from Christians around the world, and the Vatican in particular, to rally to the defence of their holy city.
I recently received a note from a friend worrying about me living here in the 'middle of a war zone'. From what little I've seen of CNN (we're not subscribed to cable) I can understand why she used those words. From CNN the whole of Israel does indeed look like a war zone.
Yet in most of the country it's life pretty much as normal. Go to any Israeli city, such as Herzliya, Beersheva, Ashkelon or Petah Tikva, and you'll see people going about their daily business as though there were no crisis and no intifada. Even in towns that now border trouble spots, like Kfar Saba, Jerusalem, Rosh Ha'ayin, Bat Yam and many others, people are living their lives. There may be extra police patrols and stepped-up security checks, people may be more attentive to the news than usual, and tourism has of course suffered badly, but by and large people are acting as though nothing is wrong.
Alongside this normalcy, though, there are areas where life has been severely disrupted, where people live under fear of attack or siege. The distance between these areas may not be large; some streets in Gilo have been targeted by automatic gunfire while others are beyond the range of snipers in Bethlehem. Palestinians have attacked Israeli vehicles on the road from Modiin to Jerusalem, but here in Modiin life continues as normal.
So no, the country isn't one large war zone - but it feels like it's scattered with small ones. And even many people living in peaceful areas have had to change their routines, at least in small ways.
Friends from overseas have also been asking why Israeli soldiers have been shooting at 'unarmed' demonstrators or rioters, as for the most part the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have 'only' been throwing rocks. How can the Israeli police and army claim they are firing in self-defence when they face only 'unarmed' civilians? The clearest answer was in the footage from the Ramallah lynching two weeks ago. A crowd armed only with sticks, stones, knives and bare hands is more than capable of killing policemen or soldiers. Across the country Israeli police and soldiers have faced Israeli Arab and Palestinian mobs in the same frenzy of hate and bloodlust as the lynch crowd in Ramallah. These Israelis knew that if they were caught by the crowd their fate would be a similar lynching, from which they might or might not escape with their lives. So they opened fire, with tear gas or rubber bullets if possible, with live fire if necessary. A crowd of people with murder in their eyes don't need guns to kill or maim.
Rocks are weapons too. They can wound and kill. Over the past few weeks of violence at least one Jewish Israeli motorist has died and many have been wounded, several seriously, when rocks were thrown at their cars by Israeli Arabs or Palestinians. 'Stone throwing' does not mean that kids are throwing pebbles. It means that large rocks the size of people's fists or heads are thrown with force, smashing car windows and shattering glass everywhere. It means that a shower of bricks rains down on a vehicle or person from all sides. It means breeze blocks (cinder blocks) are pushed off road bridges or roofs onto passing vehicles, crushing the car and passengers inside. This isn't nonviolent protest. It's lethal.
In many cases, in particular when a stone-throwing mob charges a military guard post, the stone throwers are defended by Palestinian police snipers armed with rifles or machine guns. The moment the Israeli soldiers, often just a few individuals facing a mob of hundreds, shoot in self defence in the air or at people's legs, the Palestinian snipers return fire - and shoot to kill. The stone throwers are just the first wave, intended to force a response and to provide an excuse for the Palestinian snipers to open fire. On television, of course, it looks like an 'unarmed' demonstration.
What's frustrating is that the constant barrage of attacks against Israelis rarely gets reported in the international media. I was shocked to find a British newspaper report on the events in Gilo as a "gunfight" between Israelis and Palestinians, as if it hadn't been preceded by a week of unprovoked sniping attacks at Israeli civilian homes. Meanwhile, the world media constantly report that almost all of those injured and killed have been Palestinians, as if that means that they are therefore innocent. Casualties are overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side because large Arab mobs attack small Israeli outposts and villages. But because Israelis have been successful at defending themselves against attack, or, in many cases, just lucky, the Israeli body count has been mercifully low. That doesn't make Israel the aggressor; nor does it make it any less legitimate to fight in self-defence.
I've been meaning to send out something for a few days now, so I'll finish here, though there is still much to be said. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may have told Israeli prime minister Barak to go to hell, but right now it feels as though Arafat is taking all of us, Israelis and Palestinians, down that road as he gleefully continues to encourage violence.
We pray for peace but Arafat seems to be quite clearly preparing for war.

Friday, October 20, 2000

October 19, 2000

Dear family and friends,
Tonight begins Hoshana Raba, the 'Great Hosanna', the last day of the Sukkot festival and the last of the annual Days of Awe. Hoshana Raba is something of a final appeal date after the Days of Judgement (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), the last date on which God seals our fates for the coming year. It is traditional among many Jews to stay up all night studying religious texts or praying and reciting Psalms in a final appeal to God's mercy. This year, the sense of trepidation seems more palpable than usual.
The news at this end is, I'm sorry to say, not so good. Remember that ceasefire announced Tuesday at Sharm-a-Sheikh, the one Clinton made such a big deal of? Well, we've been sitting here wondering whether we dreamed all that, because there has been no ceasefire.
That's not to say that nothing has changed on the ground. Israel has kept its side of the bargain, reopening Gaza airport and lifting the blockade between Palestinian towns, which was put in place after last week's lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. Prime Minister Barak also issued a statement the night after the summit calling for an end to violence and asking Israelis to continue exercising restraint.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, are continuing the violence. Shooting and rock throwing attacks against Israelis continue day and night in areas near Palestinian-ruled towns. Palestinian TV and radio, both under official Palestinian Authority control, continue to broadcast incitement to violence against Israel and Israelis. Arafat has yet to issue a public statement calling for his Fatah activists to stop attacking Israeli soldiers and civilians; the ceasefire declaration called upon him to make such a statement.
Last night there were two close calls in Gaza. In one incident, a bomb was detonated next to a civilian bus carrying about 40 Jewish women and children to their homes in the Gush Katif region of southern Gaza. Rounds of automatic fire were directed at the bus at the same time. The bus was severely damaged, but miraculously no one was injured. In the other incident, an explosion took place near the Israel/Egypt border post at Rafiah in southern Gaza. Apparently the bomb was being prepared for detonation near the Israeli side of the border post, but went off prematurely, injuring its Palestinian makers. (This sort of incident increases the reported Palestinian casualty toll, despite being self-inflicted.)
Also in Gaza, at the joint Palestinian-Israeli liaison offices at the Erez checkpoint, Palestinian police and civilians opened fire and threw stones at the Israeli section of the compound. Other Palestinian police present at the scene took no action to prevent the assault.
In Jerusalem, sporadic shooting continues to be directed at the Jewish suburban neighbourhood of Gilo from the nearby Palestinian-ruled village of Beit Jala. Over the last two days, concrete and earth defences have been erected at the edge of Gilo to protect houses which have been targeted by gunfire. Concrete barriers have been set up in front of homes, windows have been sandbagged, and residents have been encouraged to sleep in back rooms not facing the street, because several homes have been hit. Though Israel warned residents of Beit Jala to evacuate their homes pending a military operation to eliminate the Palestinian snipers, no such action has been carried out. This is the first time Israelis in Jerusalem have had to live under such conditions since the 1967 Six-Day War.
If yesterday people still hoped that Arafat might actually honour the ceasefire given a couple of days, today such hopes were dashed. This afternoon a group of about 40 Israeli Jews from villages in the Shekhem/Nablus area went as planned on a holiday outing to Mt Eval, which overlooks the Palestinian-ruled city of Nablus/Shekhem from the north but is in Israeli-controlled territory. It was on this mountain that the Israelites erected their first altar upon entering the Land of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt. There they held a ceremony of blessings and curses, with the curses read out from Mt Eval and the blessings from the facing mountain, Mt Grizim. After today's events, "mountain of the curses" seemed an all too appropriate nickname for this barren mountain.
The bus tour had been planned well in advance of the troubles and had been coordinated with the army, which supplied two jeep escorts. The tour bus stopped at Mount Eval and hikers followed their guide past the ancient altar and on to Joseph's Lookout, a spot from where you can see Joseph's Tomb. Traditionally, each day of Sukkot is associated with one of the Jewish people's founding fathers. Today was Joseph's day, and the group wanted to pay their respects to him, especially as, in the wake of the destruction of Joseph's Tomb by Palestinian mobs two weeks ago, Jews can no longer visit the tomb itself.
As the hikers proceeded along the trail, local Palestinians on the outskirts of Nablus/Shekhem opened fire on them from a distance. People scattered for cover behind boulders on the steep, exposed slope, while heavy gunfire continued. The army was alerted, and tried to come to their aid. Four Israeli hikers were injured by Palestinian gunfire. Over the course of hours, the Israeli army made every effort to evacuate the wounded for treatment and the rest of the party to safety. Heavy Palestinian gunfire kept the Israelis pinned down, while Palestinian anti-aircraft fire prevented the medical helicopters from reaching the wounded, and later from taking off.
Long after army doctors managed to reach the wounded and administer basic treatment, they were still unable to evacuate them to hospital. Meanwhile, soldiers tried to track down all of the hikers who had scattered for cover when the attack began. This task was made more difficult when night fell at about 5:30pm. The shooting started before 2pm Israel time; only at 8pm were the wounded finally evacuated, by which time one of them had died. Two of the injured are in a moderate to serious condition, one shot in the chest, the other in the legs. A third person was wounded lightly. As of 8:50pm Israel time all of the civilians were finally evacuated, though sporadic Palestinian gunfire continued.
We had been invited to celebrate the Simhat Torah festival, which begins tomorrow (Friday) night, with relatives in Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, their main access road to Jerusalem has been closed periodically over the recent weeks due to shootings, firebombs and rockthrowing. Just today shots were fired at Israeli vehicles on the Gush Etzion 'tunnel' road. We called the relatives, and they advised us to make other plans. The night before it had taken them several hours to get home from work in Jerusalem via tortuous detours, because the main road was closed again. On other nights they and other friends in the area have slept over in Jerusalem because the road home has been so unpredictable lately.
In stranger news, a massive explosion took place today at Arafat's security headquarters in Bethlehem, killing two members of his Force 17 elite guard unit and injuring 13. The Palestinians promptly issued a statement that the explosion was caused by gas cylinders in the building. Later, they issued a followup statement attributing the blast to explosives which were stored on the site after having been confiscated from Hamas terrorists. Israeli intelligence sources suspect that in fact the explosion may have occurred as a bomb was being prepared for use against Israeli targets. We'll probably never know. Israel offered emergency assistance in treating the wounded and extinguishing the fire, but the Palestinians flatly refused.
In what by now seems trivial, but which three weeks ago would have been shocking, today's local Modi'in newspapers report on a number of serious attacks against Israeli cars driving past the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Sira. Over the past week, two infants were wounded when the vehicles they were traveling in were hit by rocks. In addition, residents of the Jewish town of Makkabim have heard shots fired in their direction from neighbouring Beit Sira. Two Beit Sira youths were caught by police near the perimeter fence of Makkabim carrying bucketloads of rocks, apparently in preparation for highway attacks. Until the recent violence, Beit Sira had a busy shopping strip frequented by Jews from all over the region. Other residents of the town worked in Jewish businesses in the area. Modi'in-area residents have been shocked by the sudden turn of events.
Meanwhile, the Arab states prepare to convene an emergency conference in Cairo over the weekend. There have been some rays of hope. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gave an interview on an Arab satellite station yesterday in which he took issue with those in the Arab world who have been calling for greater belligerency towards Israel. "What do they want, war?" he asked (paraphrasing). "War is not a game. You don't play games with war. I'm not prepared to fight a war until the last Egyptian soldier." This was in contrast with statements from leaders of Iraq, Libya and Yemen calling for war against Israel. Iraq and Libya have decided not to attend the Arab conference. There are also indications that Jordan and even Syria are eager to avoid a regional war, or even smaller-scale confrontations. We hope that these are positive signs, and more cautious Arab states will succeed in pulling Arafat back from the brink.
Other positive signs have appeared within parts of the Israeli Arab community. On a radio phone-in program a few nights ago, an Israeli Arab from the town of Kfar Kassem described the Peace Sukkah he and a Jewish friend in neighbouring Rosh Ha'Ayin had set up at the junction between the two towns. Arabs from Kfar Kassem had rioted at the junction two weeks ago, torching buildings in the Rosh Ha'Ayin industrial zone. When he heard that the junction was becoming known as the Junction of Fire, he wanted to turn it into the Junction of Peace. He described how the sukkah kept him busy from morning to late at night, as hundreds of visitors streamed in from across the country, including many Jewish members of Knesset. Residents came from both Kfar Kassem and Rosh Ha'Ayin. Unfortunately, the only Arab dignitaries to visit were the Kfar Kassem city council and mayor; national Arab figures did not appear. Israel's president Moshe Katzav was enthusiastic about the initiative and invited the organisers to visit the presidential sukkah in Jerusalem.
Other peace sukkot have been set up along the same lines in other mixed Arab-Jewish areas. Still, it will take a long time before the wounds of recent weeks heal, if ever. These initiatives have all come from Arab citizens of Israel; no such overtures have come from residents of Yasser 'Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Unfortunately many Israeli Arabs, including most of their leadership and Knesset members, remain hostile as well. Some Kafr Kassem Arabs tried to burn down the Kafr Kassem-Rosh Ha'Ayin peace sukkah earlier this week.
All the best and mo'adim l'simha,

Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Will there by a ceasefire? Pigs might fly

October 17, 2000


I'll start once again with the good news. Yesterday's traditional Sukkot birkat cohanim (priestly blessing ceremony) at the Kotel (Western Wall) took place yesterday despite fears of Palestinian attacks. The event passed peacefully, in part due to stepped-up Israeli security. Today, thousands took part in Jerusalem's annual city parade. Thousands of Christian Zionist pilgrims are also in Israel now, celebrating what they refer to as the Feast of Tabernacles. This annual Christian pilgrimage is based on the verse in Zecharia read in the haftara of the first day of Sukkot, which describes the nations of the world coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot.
The situation over the past couple of days during the Sharm el-Sheikh conference has been quieter in contrast with before, but there have still been many shooting and stoning incidents. On Sunday night a Jewish family driving on the Tzur Hadassah road south-west of Jerusalem was attacked by rock throwers. This occurred within Israel's pre-1967 borders, not in the "territories." The 23 year old mother, Dvora Roseman, was seriously injured by a rock which fractured the base of her skull. She remains in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital. "I never imagined that my family was in danger on a regular trip to Jerualem," said her husband Shlomo.
Closer to home, a young mother and her baby were seriously wounded by rocks thrown at their car near the village of Mevo Horon, east of Modi'in. I guess that's another local road we'll be avoiding at night.
President Clinton's closing statement after today's summit meeting was disappointing. Though he spoke of both sides ending violence and of returning to the situation as of before the recent fighting, the specific steps he mentioned were all obligations on Israel's part: ending the closure on the Palestinian towns and reopening the Gaza airport. There was no specific mention of obligations on the Palestinians. Nothing about prosecuting the perpetrators of Thursday's lynch in Ramallah, nothing about disarming the illegal Tanzim militias, nothing about rearresting the released Hamas terrorists, nothing about restoring the yeshiva in Joseph's Tomb or the ancient synagogue in Jericho. Furthermore, in accepting the proposed fact-finding commission, Israel has granted the UN a foothold in any future arrangements, something Israeli governments have always been scrupulous to avoid. In effect, Israel has again allowed Arafat to achieve diplomatic gains from violence, an outcome which makes future outbursts only more likely.
The first sign of the Arab response to the summit came about an hour after it closed, as dozens of shots were fired at the southern Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo from the nearby Palestinian-ruled town of Beit Jala. This is not the first such incident in recent days; last week Israel stationed tanks in Gilo to deter further attacks. The tanks responded to the automatic gunfire by firing their machine guns (not artillery). The authorities decided to evacuate dozens of families from their homes in Gilo to safer locations. A border policeman was shot in the heart and lungs and is now fighting for his life; one civilian was injured in the arm by gunfire at the entrance to his apartment building, and another was hospitalised for shock. The Israeli army has issued warnings to residents of Beit Jala that they should evacuate their homes, as the army intends to retaliate against the source of the gunfire in a residential area. The hope is that no innocent civilians will be hurt. So far no retaliatory action has been reported.
Both Barak and Arafat committed, according to Clinton, to make public statements calling for the cessation of violence. This would be particularly novel on Arafat's part, as he has never made such a statement to the Palestinian public to date. (Barak's office released his statement at 8:00 pm local time.) Israel Television's Arab affairs commentator Ehud Ya'ari was skeptical as to whether such a statement from Arafat would in fact come, and if so when. He noted that in 1969 Arafat signed an agreement with Lebanon known as the Cairo agreement, an agreement which he never implemented. Throughout the 1970s he would reopen negotiations with the Lebanese over implementation of the Cairo agreement, but he never actually carried it out.
Ya'ari also cast doubt on the suggestion that the Tanzim militias led by Marwan Barghouthi have been acting without Arafat's approval. Anyone who says that, he said, has to explain two phenomena: that official Palestinian Authority broadcasts, which are not under Barghouthi's authority, have continued their incitement to violence as before; and that it seems unlikely that the entire Tanzim apparatus, which is affiliated with Arafat's Fatah movement, would openly rebel against Arafat.
In any case, Barghouthi and the Tanzim have issued flyers in Gaza rejecting the Sharm ceasefire and calling for an escalation of violence tomorrow, insisting that the intifada will continue. Hamas and the Islamic movements have also rejected the ceasefire. We'll see what happens when and if Arafat issues the agreed-upon call for an end to violence.
Near Shekhem/Nablus today a Palestinian was killed and four were injured near the Jewish community of Itamar. They were shot by a Jewish resident patrolling the town. He said they were carrying hatchets and knives, and were on their way to attack Itamar. They say they were carrying knives and axes to harvest olives in their olive grove adjacent to Itamar. Either way, it could reignite fighting in the area. Israeli police detained the Itamar resident for questioning.
Overall, the mood here is, as it often is, hope mixed with skepticism. All of us hope that the ceasefire will come into effect successfully, but events so far are not encouraging.
All the best and mo'adim l'simha,

Monday, October 16, 2000

Lynchings, shootings and meetings

October 15, 2000


I'm glad to be able to start with some good news for a change: we've had rain. This may sound like an odd thing to be glad for on Sukkot, but trust me, we need it. Actually we had our first heavy rains for the season erev Rosh Hashana, a great way to start the new year as the last two have been really dry.
On to the bad news. You probably haven't heard that on Friday there was another lynching. Thank God this time the victim, David Amsalem, escaped with his life. He was interviewed this afternoon on Channel 2 television news. He appeared badly shaken, with a large bruise below his jaw, and throughout the interview he seemed to be slightly dazed and in pain, as though he could barely summon up the energy to speak. Amsalem, an Israeli civilian, was driving to work at the Atarot industrial area in northern Jerusalem, not far from Ramallah. The main road to Atarot was blocked due to the current troubles, so he took a detour via Beit Hanina, an Arab area of Jerusalem. He and his co-workers have taken this route many times (as have we on occasion) and he was not concerned, especially as there has been no trouble in this area. There was heavy traffic on the main road and he soon became stuck in nose to bumper traffic. After a while he realised that he wasn't getting anywhere and decided to make a u-turn and go home. Unfortunately he found himself once again stuck in standstill traffic.
Suddenly a boy of about 12 ran towards his car and threw a large stone which shattered his windshield. The boy was soon joined by other stone throwers as Arabs ran out of a nearby mosque and Arab drivers got out of their cars and joined in the assault. Within minutes every window in the car had been smashed, a large rock had crashed into Amsalem's ribs, and another had hit him in his neck, just below his jaw. At this critical point the mob ran out of rocks and went off to search for more.
As Amsalem put it, 'I could see that they didn't want to injure me, they wanted to kill me'. Using his last reserves of strength he made a run for it, and the crowd, now armed with planks of wood and more stones began to follow in hot pursuit. Amsalem managed to reach another main road where he saw an elderly Arab driver in a car heading towards a Jewish area. Bloodied and breathing with difficulty Amsalem dived into the car, but the driver refused to budge. Amsalem yelled at him to drive. The driver remain reluctant, but then he saw or heard the mob and he began to drive towards central Jerusalem. They hadn't gone far when a police car stopped them. The police had heard about the lynch but, due to the heavy traffic, had been unable to get through to rescue Amsalem. At this point Amsalem fainted and was taken to hospital.
Aside from this terrible incident, things have quietened down a bit, at least by recent standards.. The news reports that 'there have only been a few cases of rock throwing and sporadic shootings' (on average about 10 a night), things that only a few weeks ago would have been major news items. Suddenly we consider this to be quiet. Last night two Jewish cars were stoned on the road between the mixed Arab-Jewish town of 'Akko and the Jewish town of Karmiel, as they passed the Arab village of Majd-el-Krum. A bus on the route was also the target of stone throwers. Luckily no-one was hurt. Only a few weeks ago it would have been unthinkable for Israeli Arabs to stone cars and buses in the Galilee or anywhere else. Suddenly it is such a routine matter that it only merits a passing mention somewhere near the end of the news. It's as if each day someone finds a new and more painful way to punch you in the stomach. After a while you get so used to being punched that you feel relieved when they don't jab you quite as hard.
Palestinians are still shooting at some Israeli towns and villages, some roads are still targets of attack by local Palestinians, and the rhetoric coming from the Palestinian and Israeli Arab media and leadership is warlike. Of particular concern is the current tension within the Israeli Arab community. Certain sectors of this community, in conjunction with many Jewish Israelis, have been working on rebuilding trust and friendship after the violence of the past 2 weeks. This is particularly evident in mixed Arab-Jewish towns. On the other hand most of the Israeli Arab leadership has not responded warmly to this initiative and Israeli Arabs who have joined in the current reconcillitory dialogue have been criticised from within their community for 'selling out' and for 'talking to the enemy' and other far less charming epithets too.
On Israeli radio this morning presenter Dalia Yairi asked Arab Israeli Knesset member Mohammed Kana'an about the why the Israeli Arab members of Knesset had yet to condemn Thursday's lynch of soldiers in Ramallah. Ignoring the question, he replied that he was horrified by the shooting of the Arab child live on TV. She asked why he could not distinguish between a tragic accident of an innocent caught in the crossfire and an intentional cold-blooded murder. He responded that he did not distinguish 'between blood and blood and between murder and murder'. She pressed him on the matter, but the most he would say was that he condemns all murder. He would not utter a word of condemnation for the brutal lynch.
The Israeli government continues to hope and plan for the summit at Sharm-el-Sheikh tomorrow (Monday). Israel's aim is to get Arafat to commit to a ceasefire and to recall his militias. Israel is also demanding that Arafat re-imprison the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists whom he has recently released wholesale from Palestinian jails, but this I think is unrealistic. Arafat has re-arrested some individuals who have strongly criticised his leadership. Run-of-the-mill bus bombers will remain at large.
Meanwhile we have reports that the Iraqis are moving tanks and soldiers westwards toward their border with Jordan, with the intention of providing military support for the Palestinians. We hope that the Iraqis are just making noise and won't actually do anything. Jordan would certainly rather stay out of all of this; they have enough problems of their own. Israel has often declared that it would view the entry of Iraqi troops into Jordan as an attack on Israel, and respond accordingly. Though Iraq is unlikely to try that, their public military move is important for another reason. By showing their supposed willingness to back the Palestinians with their army, they effectively challenge other Arab states - primarily Egypt, Syria and Jordan - to do the same. With immense public pressure in those countries to support the Palestinians, the fear is that their leaders may feel forced to go to war - which they probably would rather not do - or else risk the stability of their regimes. Thus an apparently meaningless Iraqi threat could potentially push the whole region into turmoil.
We hope and pray that somehow life will go back to normal, but it seems hard to believe that this will blow over soon. Perhaps a ceasefire will be reached at Sharm-El-Sheikh tomorrow. Perhaps somehow, even after Arafat has broken and trampled upon almost every part of the Oslo Accords, the Israeli leadership will try again to negotiate a peace deal. Perhaps the peace will hold for a little while, until the next time, or the time after. The longer this goes on the more I think that perhaps there really is no solution. Perhaps we really are doomed to go between war, semi-war, and cold war, but never, at least not for a long time, to know true peace.
There have been many times over the last 7 years since Oslo that I thought that perhaps, maybe, Israel and the Palestinians would somehow be able to muddle through. I've had my doubts about the feasibility of Oslo from the start, but I always hoped that I was wrong and that somehow things would work out. I looked around me, especially in the last few years, since the major wave of terror in 1996, and I saw Israelis once again feeling comfortable buying at Palestinian markets and villages for the first time since the Intifada riots, and it looked as though we were working out some form of at least economic co-operation. After the events of the past few weeks, though, I can't see how we can ever regain that trust.

Saturday, October 14, 2000

Ramallah lynching

October 13, 2000


It has been very hard for me to collect my thoughts about the last few days. If the events of the past week and a half were shocking, what should I say about Wednesday and Thursday?

On Wednesday the funeral of Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, a teacher at the Joseph's Tomb yeshiva who was murdered by Palestinians near Nablus/Shekhem earlier this week, took place. American born Lieberman had been a teacher at the yeshiva for 17 years and was so troubled when he heard reports that Palestinians were destroying the site of Joesph's Tomb that he left his home in the nearby Jewish community of Eilon Moreh and started walking to the tomb. He never made it. His bullet-riddled body was later found on the outskirts of the Nablus/Shekhem.

The funeral procession numbering in the thousands began at Leiberman's home in Eilon Moreh, was scheduled to go via the outskirts of Shekhem/Nablus, past the remains of the ruined tomb, and on to the regional Jewish cemetery in the village of Yitzhar. While passing the city the dignified entourage was attacked by an organised ambush of Palestinian snipers. We saw footage of the mourners, including the pall bearers, diving for cover, while the military escort and other security personnel returned fire on their attackers.

Yesterday I knew something was up even without listening to the news. Since the troubles began I have seen the odd Cobra attack helicopter flying overhead, en route to the hot spots in Gaza, Ramallah or Shekhem/Nablus. Yesterday I lost count of the number of Cobra helicopters I saw from about midday onwards flying over my balcony as I worked on preparing it for our Sukkah. Most of the helicopters were flying east, I assume to Ramallah.

At the post office yesterday morning people stood around ashen faced, unusually quiet and patient. I knew the situation was bad but hadn't heard a recent news report. It was only from overheard conversations while waiting in line that I heard the news about the lynching of two Israelis in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

I turned on the television at about 3pm because they mentioned that there would be special news broadcasts in light of the current events. Mercifully at this stage they were only broadcasting footage from Ramallah from after the lynch, crowds milling around and cheering, but not the actual lynch footage itself. (We found out later that Palestinian police officers on the scene made sure to confiscate tape and film from journalists in the area. Somehow, one crew's footage survived, and that's the film that's been broadcast since then.) A dizzying selection of politicians and experts played musical chairs in the interviewee's seat but despite the mix of right, left, reporters and retired officers, academics and activists, they all had one reaction in common - utter horror and disbelief. Even veteran channel 1 news anchor Hayim Yavin looked traumatised.

At 3:54pm a Channel 2 reporter was standing at the western edge of the Jewish community of Psagot, which borders Ramallah, and interviewing a resident who only months before had narrowly escaped a lynching under similar circumstances when he accidentally entered Ramallah. In the middle of the interview there was suddenly a loud boom, everyone dived and in the background a voice yelled in Hebrew 'take cover!"

In the background we could see smoke rising from central Ramallah and hear helicopters overhead. Israel had decided to show the Palestinian Authority that enough was enough and fired 6 missiles at the police station in which the lynch took place, and at local police headquarters. Channel 2 had accidentally captured it live on TV. In order to avoid loss of life Israel warned the Palestinians what the target was to be in advance, the idea being to destroy the buildings used for killing Israelis, without injuring local people.

Despite the shock and pain of the day's event life has to go on and with only an evening and a day to go before the Sukkot holiday we had to overcome our paralysis and take care of some pre-Sukkot errands. The Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) town of Kiryat Sefer had a pre-Sukkot market selling arbah minim (lulav and etrog sets), as well as sukkah parts and sukkah decorations. The usual festive atmosphere was subdued, and despite the delighted children running around, many of the adults looked shaken or jittery. The public noticeboard was covered with posters issued by the various Rabbis and synagogues in town announcing special emergency peace prayer services and calling on residents to recite Psalms for the sake of our brethren in the troubled areas, and for the safety of all of Israel.

From Kiyat Sefer we went on to a local Home Center (Israel's equivalent of the American Home Depot or the British Homebase of B&Q), located in a nearby village. The store was full of people buying wooden beams, tools, folding tables and chairs and decorations for their Sukkot. This is one of their busiest times of the year. Last night however the flurry of activity was subdued.
Customers paused periodically by a group of staff and shoppers who were huddled around a radio in the electronics section and listening to the reports of the day's events. Regular radio programmes were suspended on most national radio programmes, which instead broadcast continuous news, analysis and quiet songs.

I overheard snippets of conversation from the shop assistants: "How can we go to work as usual at a time like this?", "The people who did this lynching aren't human, they're animals if they can behave like this!". "How will we ever be able to negotiate a permanent peace treaty with people like this?", "Issam (an Arab name) didn't show up for work today, I hope he was just staying home because of the situation, I can't imagine that he would be involved in these terrible acts" and, from one of the Palestinian shop assistants, "I know the building that was hit by the Israeli rockets, it's right in the middle of downtown Ramallah, sure I know it, I've been there, everyone knows the police station."

There are quite a number of local Palestinians who work at the store. Many were working there last night. Even as only a few kilometres from here a Palestinian mob was lynching those two Israeli soldiers, and only a few kilometres down the road from us the residents of a local Palestinian village were stoning Jewish cars on the main road to Jerusalem, other Palestinians, some even from the same village, were working as usual alongside their Jewish colleagues in Jewish-owned stores such as Home Center in nearby Jewish communities. It certainly felt strange hearing the news on the radio, knowing the day's terrible events, and then going about business as usual with local Palestinians. Yes, one can't blame an entire nation for what is happening, but in this state of quasi-war it felt hard to trust. Borders here are very fluid, populations are mixed and even in these troubled times, many people get along and work together on a day to day basis. The mix of business as usual salespeople a few kilometres from where people from those same villages were trying to kill Jews is just the way it is, our own little twilight zone in the Middle East.

That evening we arrived home just in time to see footage from the actual lynch itself. If I have been shocked and horrified by the past week's events, it was nothing compared to the feeling of terror and revulsion as I watched Palestinians throw the Israeli soldier's body out of the police station window to the frenzied mob below who set upon him with a broken window, knives and whatever they had to hand. You could see the blood on some of their hands as they beat the life out of him. A journalist, hiding behind a wall, later gave an eyewitness acount of the joy with which the crowd murdered these two Israelis, she said that they went as far as to disembowel one of them, later breaking out into cheers and joyous songs, celebrating their victory over the Zionist enemy. While I have felt like crying at many points during the current craziness, this is the first time that the tears actually came, uncontrollably, as I sat frozen in my seat, refusing to believe that the human beings living just a few miles from here could be that brutal, that blood thirsty - that these are the people we've been negotiating with.

A shooting is terrible enough, but to physically kill someone at close quarters with bare hands and knives, to actually tear someone's body apart, that is a level of barbarism that defies understanding.
And it's happening right here, maybe a 15-20 minute drive from my home, I could have taken a wrong turn somewhere there, there have certainly been occasions over the years when we've accidentally ended up in a Palestinian village while trying to get to friends in Jewish communities near Ramallah.

Contrary to Palestinian claims that these two Israelis, Vadim Norzitch and Yosef Avrahami, were 'spies', they were in fact army drivers, reservists who had been called up to serve north of Jerusalem. Somehow they had taken a wrong turn and ended up at a Palestinian police check post near Ramallah. Instead of turning them away, the Palestinian police abducted them at gun point and took them to the police station in central Ramallah. It was here that the brutal lynching took place, aided by several uniformed Palestinian police. It's still not clear whether there was a third man in the car; if so, his whereabouts remain unknown.

During the lynching Avrahami's mobile phone rang. His wife had heard about the trouble in Ramallah and called to make sure he was all right. One of Avrahami's murderers answered it and told his wife, 'I've just killed your husband'. Norzitch's wife also tried to reach her husband on his mobile phone, wondering why it was taking him so long to reach his base. One of the mob answered the phone in Arabic and then hung up. She rang several more times but there was no answer. Norzitch was married only a week ago, and his wife is in the early stages of pregnancy. Avrahami leaves behind a wife and three children.

Palestinian radio and television continue to broadcast military music and war songs along with calls on the Palestinian people to continue fighting the Israelis. At Friday prayers today, imams in mosques in the Palestinian Authority and in some places within Israel issued calls on Muslims to fight Israel. The Palestinian Authority broadcast sermons from the central mosque in Gaza City and from Al-Aksa in Jerusalem. These sermons included calls for Palestinians to fight for Jerusalem, to make Jerusalem a Muslim city, and many very unpleasant things about Israel and Jews in general. Not exactly an encouraging sign.

Meanwhile Israeli news remains full of hopeful stories about the chance for the renewal of peace talks, or at least a ceasefire. A recent newspaper survey of Israelis show that a majority are still in favour of continuing negotiations.

The Palestinians are continuing to attack and destroy Jewish holy sites. Following yesterday's lynching and Israel's response they decided to burn down the ancient Shalom Al Yisrael (peace upon Israel) synagogue in Jericho. This synagogue, famous for its beautifully preserved mosaic floors, is one of the most ancient in the world. It has somehow survived the turbulent centuries in this part of the world. Even during Jordanian rule of the West Bank, when many Jewish holy sites and synagogues were destroyed and desecrated, a local family took it upon themselves to protect this synagogue. Under the Oslo accords Jericho and the synagogue were placed under Palestinian control in 1994. Under the agreements the Palestinians are duty bound to protect this site, and and to allow free Jewish access to the site, and the adjacent yeshiva. The yeshiva students don't live on the site, but commute from nearby Jewish communities, and in addition to their learning helped to maintain the synagogue.

Since the troubles began Israelis have been barred by the Israeli army from entering Jericho, for their own safety. While Palestinian police have for the most part protected the site, yesterday they and a mob of local residents decided to destroy it. They ransacked the synagogue, destroying the Torah scrolls and other religious articles, and then set it alight. In an interview on Israel radio today residents of nearby Jewish communities described how they watched from a distance as the mob descended on the synagogue and shortly after thick black smoke rose from the site.

Of course these reports are only the tip of the iceberg, but this is all I have the time and concentration for right now. It's almost yom tov, almost shabbat and there are all the usual last minute things to do.

I pray that this shabbat will be uneventful, but I'm not optimistic.

Wishing you all shabbat shalom and hag sameah,

Thursday, October 12, 2000

Tense Yom Kippur

October 11, 2000


We spent Yom Kippur with an aunt in central Jerusalem, where we davened at the Great Synagogue. Jerusalem was full of tourists as usual, including many who turned up to watch Kol Nidrei services, some wearing jeans and crucifixes. (People who daven at the Great Synagogue are used to such things) We had a star studded lineup - Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was in attendance and gave the Kol Nidrei night sermon. Sitting in the front row were Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and sons, and, believe it or not, ABC newsman Ted Koppel. The service was led by renowned hazan Naftali Hershtik, accompanied by the Great Synagogue Choir.
Yom Kippur offered a welcome break from the news. It is the one day a year when everything in Israel comes to a complete standstill: no shops, no public transport, no television broadcasts, no radio, virtually no cars on the roads. Everyone is either at synagogue or at home. Many non-religious kids take their bicycles, skateboards and scooters out for a spin on the otherwise-empty roads and highways, while their parents are likely to stock up in advance on rented movies to pass the time. All in all, a typical Israeli Yom Kippur.
At the same time it was an odd Yom Kippur, with the feel of a nation on alert. Chief Rabbi Lau ruled before the holiday that people should leave a radio tuned to a news station, which would broadcast silence throughout the day - unless events warranted alerting the public. We saw several army helicopter transports flying over Jerusalem and smoke rising in the hills in the distance to the north, areas where we now know there was trouble.
Many synagogues were less crowded than usual. Some decided to stay home in case things got worse, others couldn't get to Jerusalem because of blocked roads near their towns, and of course many tourists cancelled. In some areas people in civil guard, army reserve or police units were called up, whether to bolster security forces or to protect communities under attack. A young woman sitting next to me in shul commented that her parents were spending the day in Tel Aviv, as her father had been called up to the army.
The strange thing is that it is war and it isn't war. Some towns in the Galilee or near Palestinian-ruled areas have been under virtual siege since Rosh Hashana, with their access roads frequently cut off, travel dangerous, and, in some places, gunfire on civilian homes. In other places further from the fighting, background gunfire has been frequently heard. Meanwhile, in much of the country it's hard to believe that anything is out of the ordinary - unless you hear the news.
Particularly shocking to many Israelis was the reaction of Israeli Arabs, especially in the Galilee. Villages which have been peaceful for over 50 years suddenly joined in the "Intifada for Jerusalem". While Israeli Arab riots have mostly subsided, this was not the case through Yom Kippur. Most main highways through the Galilee pass by Israeli Arab towns, whose residents have rioted intermittently, closing the roads to Jewish traffic by attacking passing vehicles. Day after day we would hear reports of highway closings throughout the Galilee. There were several cases of Israeli Arabs setting up roadblocks to check whether passing drivers were Jewish or Arab. Arab drivers were allowed through. Jewish drivers were at best thrown from their vehicles, which were torched; at worst set upon by a lynch mob. Last week an Israeli motorist on the Haifa-Tel Aviv road was killed when a stone crashed through the driver's window, hitting him in the chest. Travel on some of these roads remains perilous, especially after dark. Last night alone there were ten stonings of cars on the Wadi Ara Road, a major artery through the southern Galilee.
Here in Modi'in we've had extra police patrols and we've seen more border guard jeeps patrolling the main entrance roads, but otherwise you couldn't tell that anything was up. The main Jerusalem-Modi'in road has been closed intermittently due to stonings and firebombings, but that warranted only a brief mention in the local weekly newspapers, which continued to focus on their usual stories about municipal business, building permits, schools, local sports and entertainment, and all the usual small time news which is the meat of any small town's local press.
In many ways daily life goes on as usual. Jason commutes to work, we shop at our local supermarket and water our plants. I practice Flamenco, the students I'm tutoring come for their lessons, and our neighbour's dog barks menacingly at every passerby. Where Jason works in Herzliya, a coastal town north of Tel Aviv, life is perfectly normal. There's no indication that only a few kilometers away there are blocked roads and attacks. Even in Modi'in or in most areas of Jerusalem everything is normal. People go out shopping and to restaurants, kids go to school, teenagers go out on the town, tourists visit museums and holy sites. It seems impossible that within commuting distance there are Jewish towns which are being shot at every night and stoned every day. The whole situation seems surreal.
Despite the normalcy, we have made changes in our routine. Even when the main road to Jerusalem is open it no longer feels safe to Jews, as it passes several Palestinian villages. Just the other night a Jewish driver was stoned and severely injured not five minutes away. Instead, we detour through the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway to our south. The extra 5-10 minutes is more than worth avoiding trouble. On the southern route to Jerusalem, it is Israel as usual; on the northern route people are worried and fearing the worst.
Cousins in a village not far from here are organizing the the annual family get-together on hol hamo'ed Sukkot, but it seems unlikely that everyone will be able to attend. Some relatives cannot leave their homes easily, certainly not after dark, for fear of attacks by Palestinians. Others are army reservists and have been called up to serve their country. For soldiers in regular service, Sukkot leave has been cancelled, as was Yom Kippur leave.. Planned events are being cancelled daily, from the Arab-Jewish alternative theatre festival in 'Akko to the Carlebach music fest down the road from us.
There are places we once would have visited without hesitation, such as Efrat or Tekoa south of Jerusalem, Talmon northeast of Modiin, or Givat Zeev on the road to Jerusalem, but now we would think carefully before driving on their roads and pay close attention to the traffic reports warning of attacks and road closures.
As if we didn't have enough trouble, rioting began Saturday night among Israeli Jews in a number of cities, instigated by local hooligans and hotheads. And yes, I understand that folks are hurting, God knows we all are, but it makes me even more mad to see our own people sink to this level. It is precisely what the Arafat and Co want -  chaos and violence all round. It started in Tiberias, which has been under a great deal of pressure since the start of the violence on Rosh Hashana. The main highways leading in and out of town pass by Israeli Arab towns in Galilee, and were closed intermittently throughout the week, effectively cutting Tiberias off from major population centres in central Israel, creating a siege around Tiberias. In one incident last week, a Tiberias resident was dragged from his car and severely beaten by local Arabs. Then came Saturday's news, with the savage destruction of Joseph's Tomb. Finally, one of the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah Saturday at the Lebanese border was from Tiberias.An enraged mob decided to take matters into their own hands, and tried to set fire to a mosque in central Tiberias. Like that was in anyway going to help the situation, at least it was only a building though, and horrific as such an act is, at least they didn't take out their fury on people, not that that is much comfort. By Yom Kippur, Jewish riots had spread to other towns affected by Arab rioting: 'Akko, Upper Nazareth and Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighbourhood, which borders on Jaffa.
Unlike the Israeli Arab riots, which were encouraged by leaders in the Israeli Arab community, including Arab members of Knesset and religious leaders, the riots by Israeli Jews have been roundly condemned by all Israeli leaders (from the far right to the far left), who have called for their immediate cessation. Chief Rabbi Lau and political leaders have issued calls for calm and restraint, insisting that it is wrong for citizens to take the law into their own hands, wrong of them to attack their Arab neighbours and just plain wrong to engage in wanton violence, whatever the triggers, however upset they are. Most of the areas where there have been Jewish disturbances are neighbourhoods with a history of social or criminal problems, areas where there are a lot of youths hanging around with nothing to do. For them the latest Arab violence may have just been an excuse to go out and wreak some havoc themselves.
In contrast, in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) the Jewish response to Arab attacks has been mostly peaceful. While roads have been closed to Jewish vehicles, especially after dark, and some Jewish communities have been besieged by day as well, Palestinian motorists have been free to travel on the road in complete safety. This has infuriated many Jews, some of whom have set up (peaceful) roadblocks, insisting that if Jews are unable to travel on the roads, Palestinians shouldn't be able to either.
We hope that things will get better, but quite honestly I'm really not sure how. If we can get Arafat to call off his army and go back to negotiations, what then? Do we just agree to more concessions just to stop the fighting, including giving up the Old City and many areas of Jerusalem? Do we give in to the intimidation of the recent fighting and say, OK,. anything for peace? And if we do, how can we trust the Palestinian Authority again after these events, especially the destruction of Joseph's Tomb, the besieging of Jewish communities and the coordination with Israel's Arab citizens? But if we don't manage to bring Arafat back to negotiations will we end up with a full scale war or perhaps months or even years more of the sort of war of attrition we are experiencing now? Or is there some chance that despite the severity of the situation somehow this will all blow over as the 1996 tunnel riots and May 2000 Nakba riots did, and in a month or two most of us will forget that it ever happened?
And what about the terrible damage done to Arab-Jewish relations within Israel? How can things return to normal after we've seen our Israeli Arab neighbours, fellow citizens and co-workers, shop keepers and religious leaders attack us while chanting 'death to the Jews' and pledging to destroy the State of Israel? How can we continue to allow some of the prime rabble-rousers, including many Israeli Arab members of parliament, to continue to be members of parliament when most of them have been 'stirring up' the Israeli Arab community for months now with calls to attack the police, jihad for Jerusalem etc, and who during the riots did nothing to quell them and continued to mark Israel as the enemy?
And one final note, ironically perhaps a hopeful one, perhaps a point which will show just how confusing this all is. One of the three soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah on the Lebanon border last week is a Beduin Arab from the village of Salame in the Galilee, near the Jewish town of Karmiel. He is one of a significant number of (Muslim) Beduin from the Galilee and southern Israel who are loyal to the state of Israel and who volunteer to serve in the Israeli army. While the kidnapping is a terrible event, another tragedy to add to the week's litany of tragedies, perhaps it also serves to prove to Israeli Jews that even as we sit in shocked, horrified silence and ponder this terrifying outpouring of violence on the part of Israeli Arabs, we should not forget that there are Israeli Arabs who have thrown in their lot with the Jewish state and are prepared to risk their lives for it. Even as Israeli Arabs were in places continuing to attack Jewish communities, synagogues across the country were praying fervently for the safe return of Sgt Omar Sawayid.
All the best to you, and Gmar Hatima Tova,

Monday, October 09, 2000

All hell breaks loose


October 8, 2000

First, my apologies for sending a group e-mail, this is not my style, and were it not for the exceptional circumstances I find myself in I would not resort to this rather impersonal form of communication.

I guess you know what's going on here. Thank God we're fine, very worried, especially about our friends and relatives in parts in the country where there has been a lot of trouble, but otherwise fine.

The intention of this message is not to alarm you, rather to give you a personal view of how serious the situation is here because from what we've seen of the foreign press and from friends and relatives overseas whom we've spoken to by phone, the picture you're getting there seems to be very different from what we see here. As I noted, this is going to a mix of family and friends, if you feel that things are explained in too much detail, too little detail, whatever, please understand that I've just tried to cover things on a general level for everyone.

Here then is my attempt at writing down at least some of the many things that have happened. They are not necessarily in order of priority or severity, and I know that there are other things I want to mention but right now can't begin to write down concisely and clearly.

We were with friends in a moshav on the southern Golan, near the Sea of Galilee, over Rosh Hashana. Sunday night after the festival we were getting ready to go home to Modi'in when we turned on the car radio and heard the news.

We have two ways of getting home to Modi'in, via Jerusalem or via Tel Aviv. To get from north-east Israel down to central Israel there are two main routes, one is via the Jordan Valley, past Jericho, a Palestinian enclave, and on to Jerusalem. This is the fastest route and the most usual route, and now there is even a Jericho bypass so that Israeli cars don't have to drive through the Palestinian controlled area except for a short stretch near the roadside village of Ouja. The other is to drive west across northern Israel and then down south on the Haifa-Tel Aviv coastal road to Tel Aviv.

When we heard about the problems we considered taking the Haifa-Tel Aviv road south, to avoid the Jericho bypass road where we heard that had been some trouble, including rock throwing at Israeli vehicles. We soon discovered that there was far worse trouble on parts of the lower Galilee and Haifa-Tel-Aviv roads which go close to Israeli Arab villages and towns such as Umm el Fahm, Fureidis, Nazareth and Baka el Gharbia making it very difficult to get to the coastal road. The Haifa-Tel-Aviv road was closed to traffic for several hours due the disturbances - the traditionally friendly Israeli Arabs of the village of Fureidis (next to Zikhron Ya'akov) went on the rampage.

We were shocked. I must emphasise that the Israeli Arabs, Arab citizens of Israel, have traditionally been loyal to Israel, they are citizens with voting rights like any other, there are 10 Israeli Arab members out of the 120 members of Knesset, they go to Israeli universities, work with Jewish Israelis, Jews shop in their villages and towns, they work and shop in Jewish villages and towns, they are doctors and nurses in regular Israeli hospitals and clinics. Yes they have not always been treated entirely equally, in part because of the security situation here, but this has been a situation which has been improving consistantly in recent years, in part with the feeling that Israeli security considerations have been changing and that relations between the surrounding Arab world and Israel have been improving in recent years.

Suddenly these Israeli citizens had decided to take the side of the Palestinians, attacking passing Jewish cars, rioting along main roads, destroying banks and shops and government offices, torching cars, stoning and throwing fire bombs at buses and cars which went past their towns and villages. You get the idea. Several key roads were cut, leaving north-west Israel cut off from the rest of the country. Many Jewish towns,villages and farms were effectively besieged, and in places Arab mobs tried to storm Jewish neighbourhoods. Some Jewish communities were cut off for days.

In the end we took the Jordan Valley road, where the army organised civilian traffic into a convoy with military escorts, diverting around the Palestinian enclave of 'Ouja (north of Jericho) via an army patrol road along the border with Jordan.

Arriving in Jerusalem we discovered that the main Modi'in road from Jerusalem was closed due to the violence too, as the road goes past some Palestinian villages whose residents were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli cars. Fortunately Modi'in is located between the two main highways to Jerusalem, so we were able to take a slightly longer route along the other highway.

At any rate, this, thank God, to date has been our only direct experience of the troubles. The main Modi'in-Jerusalem road has been closed several times during the past week due to local Arabs throwing rocks and fire bombs, but for the most part the police and army have managed to keep it open. This I want to emphasise is a main road, thousands of Israeli cars, buses and trucks normally travel on it every day, along with Palestinian vehicles. The road is under Israeli control though it borders some Palestinian controlled villages and is used by both Israelis and Palestinians. Up until now Jews visited these villages, buying from their shops, eating at a Palestinian owned roadside restaurant, and Palestinians from these villages shop and work in Modi'in and in many other Jewish towns and villages in the area. These are not people whom we were at war with, on the contrary, Israelis hoped that finally with the Oslo accords we were entering a new era of peaceful relations and mutual recognition and suddenly the village where last week you bought plants and and furniture is this week throwing rocks and bombs at you and chanting 'Death to the Jews!' and 'Destroy Israel'.

Modi'in doesn't directly border any Palestinian or Arab villages, but other Jewish communities in the area do, and in some places shots were fired from Palestinian villages towards their Jewish neighbours, though fortunately no-one was hurt.

It has been a miracle that with all the violence 'only' two Jewish civilians and three Israeli soldiers have been killed to date, though in places in the Galilee and on the outskirts of Jerusalem which border Arab neighbourhoods and villages Jews have been lynched by Arab mobs, only by a miracle escaping with their lives. And these Arab mobs doing the lynching have been their neighbours, not their enemies, neighbours who visited each other's towns and villages, who worked together, who shopped in each other's towns and villages - and suddenly they are chanting 'death to the Jews!' and attacking us.

A cousin of Jason's in the town of Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv phoned us this week. She lives close to the 'border' with the Palestinian controlled town of Kalkilya which is only yards from the edge of Kfar Saba. Every night this week she has heard gunfire from Kalkilya as local residents take pot shots at the neighbouring Israeli town. The nearby Israeli Arab village of Tira has also been causing them problems, attacking Jewish cars passing by the village. As the cousin put it, there have been good relations with the Arabs of Tira for over 50 years, ever since the ceasefire at the end of the War of Independence, 1948-9.

North of Kfar Saba there is an industrial park that straddles the border between Israel and the Palestinian controlled town of Tulkarem. This industrial park is one of several 'peace projects' set up to encourage joint Israeli-Palestinian economic co-operation. Dozens of Palestinians worked at the site together with Israeli colleagues and the project was considered successful. This week a Palestinian mob from Tulkarem marched to the site and torched several of the factories there, and looted equipment from the site. So much for a peace project.

A cousin who lives in Efrat, south of Jerusalem, told me the terrible news that a Rabbi from their community (Rabbi Brovinder, of Brovinder's Yeshiva) driving between Jerusalem and his home was lynched by an Arab mob as he drove past their village. They dragged him from his car, beat him within an inch of his life and torched his car, he was lucky to be rescued by a passing Israeli patrol and is now in hospital. My cousin works in a hospital in Jerusalem but for most of the past week her town and others south of Jerusalem have been cut off from the city because Arabs from Palestinian villages which border their road to Jerusalem have been throwing petrol bombs and rocks at Israeli vehicles on the road.

In many places Palestinians, and even Israeli Arabs in some areas, have also been shooting at Jewish towns and or at passing motorists. Many of the gunmen are actually Palestinian police, that is Arafat's police, the ones whom we are supposed to have a peace treaty with, the ones with whom according to the Oslo peace agreement we are supposed to have joint patrols with. What are joint patrols? In some areas where there are mixed Jewish and Palestinian populations there are supposed to be joint Israeli and Palestinian police patrols, that was until a week ago, when during a coffee break on such a joint patrol a Palestinian policeman took out his gun and shot at point blank range two of his Israeli colleagues before fleeing to a Palestinian controlled area, out of reach of Israeli forces. One Israeli policeman died, the other was wounded and Israelis were badly shaken at the thought that this murder was the act of one of our peace partners, someone who patrolled with his Israeli opposite numbers day in day out.

Today was Shabbat, so it was only this evening that we turned on the televsion to see Palestinians (including Palestinian police) destroying Joseph's Tomb in the town of Nablus (the biblical town of Shekhem), one of the Jewish holy sites under Israeli control according to the agreements with the Palestinians. The rest of the town of Nablus is under Palestinian control and over the last week the Palestinians have been constantly attacking the holy site, resulting in the death of one Israeli policeman and damage to the tomb.

In the early hours of Saturday morning the fighting got very bad, and an agreement was reached with the Palestinians whereby they assured Israel that if the Israeli army withdrew from the site, they would protect it. Within hours a Palestinian mob, including their police, had set Joseph's Tomb on fire and began ransacking it, taking it apart stone by stone with axes and their bare hands. I just watched this wanton vandalism and violence in horror, this is a holy site, Muslims are supposed to respect Joseph (the biblical Joseph) as well, and here they were just destroying this holy site piece by piece.

For many Israelis this was the last straw, this shattered what trust remained in the good intentions of our supposed Palestinian peace partners who we had spent the last 7 years negotiating terms with. Not only could they not protect an ancient holy site, they were actively destroying it. A site which they had often claimed as holy to them as well.

Only weeks ago, Israeli leaders were talking of working out some kind of power sharing agreement regarding the holy sites in Jerusalem, only weeks ago, we were considering sharing control (some in the government even talked of handing over control) of Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a site on which the Muslims later built a mosque and claim as holy to them too. Under Israeli rule this site has been open to Muslims to pray there, on the contrary, it is Jews who are not allowed to pray there so as not to provoke the Muslims, yet it was on the agenda to hand this site over to international control, or share it with the Palestinians. Israel was prepared to go that far, but instead we have received only destruction and violence.

In general the mood here is that we all feel badly shaken and shocked. All Israeli Jews, whatever there personal views on the Oslo peace process or politics, all Israeli Jews want peace. We hoped that somehow this peace process would bring real peace. Even those opposed to the Oslo agreements, hoped that somehow Israel would be able to muddle through with some kind of peaceful co-existance with the Palestinian Authority. Contrary to the black and white analysis of much of the media, Israel is not divided between 'pro-peace' and 'anti-peace', but rather between those who believe that the Oslo process was the only way to bring peace, and those who oppose the Oslo process because they believe that it will not bring peace, and sadly judging by current events this seems to be the case.

Israelis are heartbroken and shocked by the violence, the hatred and the bloodshed. We hoped and prayed for peace with all our Arab neighbours, but now we are witness to the same, or even intensified hatred, as though all these years of negotiations and compromise mean nothing to them. They are trampling on the peace accords and on the agreements Israel has reached with them, and in exchange for all the precious things that we have given up in the name of peace (and which many Israelis were prepared to give up in the months to come) we are receiving only hatred, bullets and bombs.

I'm sorry for this long ramble, I've been thinking of writing something for several days now but I had such a mass of things in my heart and mind that I wanted to say that in the end nothing could come out. I think that like many Israelis I am still in shock over what is happening, I am still in shock at seeing the destruction of out hopes for peace, at seeing the destruction of Joseph's Tomb, at all the terrible things that have happened this week and are happening right now.

As for Yom Kippur, we pray that the situation will calm down but fear that it will not. While there is usually no radio or TV on Yom Kippur in Israel due to the situation Israel Radio will be leaving several frequencies open, which people can leave their radio's tuned too and in the event that it is nessary broadcasts and updates will be available. The Rabbis of Modi'in have said that it is permissible for people to leave their radios on and tuned to these frequences in case has veshalom there is an emergency. The Rabbis of Modi'in have also asked that those who have weapons permits come to shul armed to ensure the safety of the kehilla in case has veshalom someone tries to infiltrate the area.

There are many more events and thoughts that I'd like to write about, but for now I think that I'll have to stop as it's late and my mind is wandering and I need to try and sleep.

All the best to you.

Fast well and may you all be inscribed for a happy, healthy, blessed and successful year.