Sunday, December 31, 2000

Weeping at The Wall

Saturday night/Motz"ash, December 30, 2000

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

Friday, December 22, 2000

Shots on our highway

Thursday, December 21, 2000

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

Saturday, December 02, 2000

Sorry to bore you...

Friday, December 1, 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We keep hoping and praying for better days.