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.

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