The sky last night looked like something straight out of the X-Files. Five eerie orange lights hung in the sky as though suspended on invisible lampposts. They were way too bright and too large to be stars or planets, easily outshining the many constellations in the clear summer skies. Driving along a rural road toward the brightly illuminated Lod industrial zone, which on any night looks like the set of a sci-fi movie, the strange lights in the sky created a surreal atmosphere.
Then it struck me what the strange glowing balls looked like. Flares. Military flares.
At first they seemed to hang in place. Then a couple of them started drifting downwards and two new lights shot up into the sky to take their place.
Definitely flares. Flares floating just east and north of Modi'in and Makkabim. Of course.
We remembered why we were out driving through the countryside in the first place. It helps relieve the tension and heartache of an especially bad news day. And last Saturday was a very bad news day.
The motzei Shabbat news roundup brought news of the Palestinian attack on an Israeli army base in Gaza in which three soldiers were killed and several more wounded.
Later a news flash reported another shooting on route 443, the Modi'in-Jerusalem highway. A family - two parents, their baby girls and the mother's brother - were ambushed by Palestinian snipers near a gas station, less than ten minutes from Modi'in. The parents were killed, the brother mortally wounded and the babies escaped with light injuries.
I know that I shouldn't be shocked anymore, death has come to so many familiar places, but this brutal multiple murder so close to home hit extra hard, just because it was so close to home, just because all of us who travel to Jerusalem know that road so well, just because it was yet another Israeli family wiped out by Palestinian terror, both parents murdered before their childrens' eyes. This evening, Sunday, the mother's brother died of his wounds. Ironically the family's name is Ben-Shalom - son of peace.
You might think that Israelis should be immune by now, after all this has gone on for nearly a year, but the only way to become immune to such things is by losing one's soul, one's very humanity. Thank God we are not immune, we are still stunned by each attack, each time another life is lost, another person is maimed.
Somehow driving through the tranquil fields to the south of us soothes the nerves and reminds us of that rugged old Israel, the kibbutzim and moshavim of 50 years ago, the rural landscapes of the early days of the modern state of Israel, the land of fireside singalongs, pioneering agriculture turning the barren hills green and a simpler, more austere way of life. The people of that old Israel endured far worse than we have, even during the past 11 months.
In the early years of the state there were shortages, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees to be resettled, Arab armies threatening from all sides and Jewish communities, including Jerusalem, struggling for survival under Arab siege. A drive through some of these historic areas to the south of us is a lesson in history, a reminder that we have faced far worse and survived, battered and bruised, but nevertheless mostly intact.
Lord knows this Saturday night we felt battered and bruised. The flares in the distance were there to illuminate the scene of the shooting while the army attempted to track down the terrorists.Turning towards home we found ourselves driving towards the flares. They were right over the Jerusalem-Modi'in highway, near the Palestinian village of Beit Ur A Tahta.
Monday, August 27, 2001
Unfortunately the terrorists got away, probably escaping to the nearby Palestinian controlled city of Ramallah, a major base for terrorist operations throughout the greater Jerusalem region. The gunmen struck again tonight, opening fire on the Jewish village of Beit Horon, situated on route 443, halfway between Modi'in and the Jerusalem suburb of Giv'at Ze-ev.
In response to the renewed attack on the road Israeli security forces have once again increased their presence along the road. Tanks have returned to several strategic hilltops, patrols have been increased and abandoned watchtowers restored. Exactly as happened after the first fatal shooting on the road last December.
Still, it is going to take a long time to restore public confidence in the security of this route. By the light of day many local residents still drive on route 443, not only because it is a straight, modern road and the fastest route to Jerusalem, but also as a matter of principle, a refusal to give in to intimidation. However only a brave few dare to drive it after dark. While we in the Modi'in area have alternate routes, residents of Jewish towns along the road, such as Beit Horon and Giv'at Ze-ev have no choice - after dark they must either risk the road or be cut off.
God willing next letter I'll be able to write about the more cheerful events of the summer.