December 21, 2000 Update

Letters from Israel


Thursday, December 21, 2000

Dear Family and Friends,

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,



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Copyright 2000 by Leiah Elbaum.