Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We shall overcome

I've heard a lot of people today saying that today's horrific synagogue slaughter is "too much", an attack too far, an act of such barbarity that something will have to change.

The sad thing is that it isn't "too much", we've all "been in this movie before", last time around when there was a surge like this in attacks and Palestinian rantings about "the Jews and Al Aqsa" it got way worse before it got any better and we lost a lot more people. I pray that this time will be different but there is a certain pattern to the insanity here, the way it surges and wanes.

This is not an easy reality to live with, especially as parents to young kids, but painful as it is Israelis have been living and dying with it for decades, most recently during the Oslo intifada years of the early 2000s.

We are a nation suffering collective PTSD, no doubt, but we will find a way to live with it, we always do, whatever they throw at us, however many they kill and hurt, we will hug our kids and grit our teeth and keep going because this is our home and we are the Jewish people and it's never been easy to be a Jew and there is always someone trying to kill us in every generation, בכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלתנו והקבה מצילנו מידם

The day breaks, your mind aches

Back in the bad old days of the early 2000s I had nightmares about mornings like this, we had so many of them. Terror bursting in to what should have been the mundane morning routine and turning it blood splattered and broken, Israeli lives once again destroyed by murderers motivated by unfathomable hatred.

It's been feeling a lot like November 2000 lately, Palestinian terror striking down so many Israelis week after week, a new wave of attacks that echo the early violence of what became known as the Second Intifada or the Oslo War.

How I prayed that those days were over. Days whose evil imprint marks the soul of all of us who lived through them. Days when you lost count of just how many terror attacks there had been, could no longer keep track of the places and dates and names because there were just too many and a new part of the daily routine was simply wondering if you or someone you loved would be the next person to be struck down commuting to work or doing the groceries or taking the kids to school.

That old familiar dread returned again with a vengence this morning as I was sorting socks. My husband was standing in the bathroom, reading the news updates on his phone as he brushed his teeth. Suddenly he stopped, gasped, fell silent. I knew it was going to be bad.

Attack on a synagogue during morning prayers.

In the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof.

I would have felt that too familiar pang of dread on hearing of such an attack anywhere, but Har Nof, Hashem Yishmor, Har Nof, the neighbourhood we once lived in, where we have relatives, friends, former neighbours, acquaintances, so many people, so heartachingly familiar, so many good good people. 

A place of happy memories, of simple kindnesses from neighbours, walks in the woods and being stranded in the snow. A neighbourhood packed with synagogues and yeshivot and hesed organisations and charities, Torah, mitzvot and good deeds. Har Nof.

Har Nof, now a place known in all of Israel as the Jerusalem neighourhood where terrorists ripped in to a group of pious Jews at prayer, wrapped in their tallitot and tefillin as Palestinian murderers attacked them with guns and axes, killing and maiming, soaking the synagogue in Jewish blood.

All morning I had kids to prepare for kindergarten and playgroup, lunch to prepare, chores and projects to do, activities to organise, children to pick up and drop off. Routine to keep my mind from thinking or checking the news or wondering with terror what names I might hear.

This afternoon though lunch had been eaten, kids were busy playing or at youth group, laundry folded, time to check the news, see the photos and choke back the tears.

One of those murdered today was Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg הי"ד the father of a childhood friend from London. Not someone I'd met often, but someone who made an impression on me, a living embodiment of Torah Ve'Avodah, a pious Jew, who made a point of both working for his living and learning Torah regularly. A mensch in every respect. A good person.

My mind refuses to comprehend such a person being taken from this world with such utter barbarism, murdered during morning prayers, wrapped in his tallit and tefillin. May Hashem comfort and care for the family.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shades of autumn 2000?

There has been a steady trickle in the last couple of years, warnings of an impending next intifada for at least the last year, in some quarters a bit more.but the big trigger to the boiling over in Jerusalem seems to have been the sick revenge killing of an innocent Arab teen, Muhammed Abu Khdeir, by Jews. I'm not saying that something wasn't in the works on the Palestinian side anyway, egged on by Kerry, Obama and Co's chronic Mid East bunglings, but the murder created a wave of popular support on the Palestinian street even in otherwise peaceful and middle class areas like Beit Hanina.

It's over a decade since the last big round of the Oslo intifada, things have been quiet, business has been picking up, construction etc in the Palestinian Authority, a new generation of young people ready to stir things up who were just children during the last round.

Plus there is the Jerusalem light rail which has made the city better connected, as well as creating a very distinct symbol of Israeli sovereignty in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

And then there were all the recent prisoner releases. between the Shalit deal and the "good will" prisoner releases under pressure from Obama and Kerry, hundreds of Palestinian terrorists were released, including convicted murderers and aspiring murderers free again to resume killing Israelis, and that is exactly what many of them are doing, such as the man who today murdered 26 year-old Dalia Lemkus in a mixed car attack and stabbing. Echoes of the first Intifada in the late 80s, escalated by the prisoners released in the Jibril deal.

During the last intifada Israeli security forces put up blocks like this around bus stops in isolated areas in Judea and Samaria because of attacks. Then there were a bunch of attacks and the majorly busy bus stops/hitchhiking post in French Hill, northern Jerusalem, so they barricaded those waiting areas too. Now after all these attacks on the Jerusalem Light Rail, the shiny new light rail stations are next. How long until they have to do this with regular bus stops in Jerusalem or in other major Israeli cities?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Israel's Druze (for all those who asked)

I'm posting this for all the people who seem confused by the name and ethnic identity of the Border Guard (Magav) officer killed in today's Jerusalem terror attack. Jeda'an Assad was from Israel's Druze minority, a small Arabic speaking religious minority who live in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The Druze broke away from the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam in the 11th century and maintain their own distinct and highly secret religion. Druze in Israel have been loyal citizens since the founding of the state of Israel and Druze men are conscripted for military service just like Israeli Jews. Many have served with great distinction and the community has lost many of its finest defending the state of Israel. The Druze in Israel live in a number of villages and towns of northern Israel. In today's attack one Druze was killed, others wounded and the guard who stopped the terrorist's rampage was also a Druze.

If you want to learn more about Israel's Druze this time of year many villages in the Galilee have olive harvest related activities and festivals. There are organised Druze cultural tours in Usafiya and Daliyat el Carmel, near Haifa, including some where you can visit Druze homes and learn about the customs and way of life of the community, as well as tasting traditional dishes (kosher meals can be arranged).

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

For better and for worse

The experience of riding a sherut, service taxi minibus, is oddly initimate, ten strangers and a driver in a closed confined space for the duration of what can be quite a long intercity journey.

It isn't just the sitting together in close quarters, but the pervasive custom of not paying when you get on, but rather first taking your seat, then rummaging around in your purse or pockets for the fare and passing it along to the front via the passengers sitting near you, the money going hand to hand until it reaches the driver, then any change coming back the same way.

There's something of a mini-kibbutz atmosphere about the experience, the driver checking where everyone is getting off and whether he can skip parts of the route by common consensus, the passengers asking the driver to drop them off at unofficial stops along the route, the cramped seats that push people close together and unlike a regular big bus if you don't like the radio station the driver is tuned to you can't just move all the way to the back 20 or more rows away.

Like it or not, you're going to have some basic contact with the other passengers. If you take a particular route on a regular basis you are more than likely to get to know, if only at the most cursory level, your driver and fellow travellers, it's just that kind of thing. A bit like Cheers.

This Israeli institution cuts across many of the cultural and social divides, bringing together the spectrum of Israel's diverse demographic cramped together for the duration of the ride.

On my local route to Jerusalem most of the drivers and often quite a few of the passengers are Arabs.

For example last week riding home from Jerusalem our driver was a Christian Arab, his dashboard decorated with silver plaques depicting Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus. His passengers a mix of women in Jewish and Islamic headscarves, soldiers and a couple of formally dressed (by Israeli standards) male commuters. The soldiers dozed, the commuters were glued to their smartphones, the women seemed to be regulars on the route and were soon chatting about kids, work and grocery shopping while the driver hummed along to a music station playing Israeli Middle Eastern style pop and chatted from time to time on his hands free phone.

Or take one of my trips in to Jerusalem around the autumn Jewish festive season which this year coincided in part with the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha. I got on with a couple of my kids near the beginning of the route, greeted the driver and made my way to the back row where we could all sit together.

By the time we were on the highway to Jerusalem the other seven passengers consisted of two Sephardi ultra-Orthodox women in elaborate headscarves, an Indian Hindu foreign worker, a Border Guard policeman who spent the whole journey chatting in Arabic on his mobile phone, a hipsterish secular couple who spent most of the ride canoodling on the double seat in front of me and an elderly lady, her neck adorned with an assortment of goldchains with Jewish charms and amulets. Our driver was a Muslim Arab from Jerusalem.

The ultra-Orthodox women, the elderly lady and the driver were clearly regulars, the women greeting him warmly and wishing him hag sameah (happy holidays) as they entered the vehicle. As we drove along they chatted about family, where each would be for their respective festivals, how work was going, whether we'd finally get a rainy winter.

After a while one of the women took a phone call, another started to doze and the driver turned on the radio to a station playing Middle Eastern style Jewish religious music. He seemed to know much of the playlist, singing along from time to time.

The reason this particular journey stuck in my mind was because I was taking my racing car mad kids in to Jerusalem to watch the Formula One show postponed to the autumn due to the war this summer.

Our sherut minibus dropped us near the Central Bus Station and from there we hopped aboard a tram on the light rail, the destination board flashing up place names in Hebrew, Arabic and English, the compartment filled with a hodge podge of elderly women travelling home from market, tourists, race car enthusiasts and families with kids. Gliding along almost silently save for the distinctive ding ding of the tram's bell, the air was filled with the chatter of passengers, Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, French, Farsi, Yiddish and Amharic.

This is the background against which the recent upswing in terror attacks has been taking place. Terror attacks designed to destroy precisely this fragile status quo which allows life to go on despite all the politics and conflict.

We've had a decade of relative quiet since the last intifada's bus bombings made every Jewish passenger check the Arab passenger next to him for wires protuding from his clothing or bulky jackets in the heat or summer. It made me and many others sick to our stomachs to have to think that way, but with so many Palestinian suicide bombings that was the chilling reality of life.

The recent drive by attacks offer even less warning though, how do you spot a potential terrorist's vehicle until it is speeding towards you at your bus or tram stop? How can you not start to wonder about your Arab bus driver, how well you really know him?

And yet those things go completely counter to the day to day coexistence that despite the tension manages to be the norm, a utopian glimpse of what the Middle East could be, has the potential to be.

Jerusalem Light Rail attacked again in crash and kill terror attack

Two points, because I am being bombarded with people saying the same thing about today's horrific attack, that the response should be to ban Arabs from driving cars in Jerusalem:

1. Plenty of Israeli citizens are Arabs, most of them law abiding and decent people, you can't just ban everyone from driving a car. I regularly travel on local buses where the drivers are Arab citizens of Israel, many Israeli bus and taxi drivers are Arab, as are many of the passengers. Someone charging in to a Light Rail station in Jerusalem, especially that part of Jerusalem, was in fact just as likely to hit Arab passengers as Jews.

2. Why the Light Rail again? Why has it been attacked over and over again in recent months? Many reasons but this is what springs to mind right now, it is an easy target, running through or near many Arab Jerusalem neighbourhoods, so opportunity is certainly a factor. It is also a symbol of the united city and of coexistence, connecting Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods with both the modern city centre and Old City.