January 5, 2001 Update

Letters from Israel


Friday, January 5, 2001

Dear family and friends,

We were driving home from an evening out in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night when we heard the news. Two Israelis were shot in their car on the approach to Makkabim Junction. Makkabim Junction?! That's just down the road from us, no more than a five minute drive from our apartment. On a Saturday afternoon walk we often go up to a nearby hilltop and look towards the Makkabim junction about a mile away and watch the traffic go by. The intifada had not hit this close to home before. There have been occasional shooting attacks a few miles to the north and east of Modi'in and they have been increasing in frequency in recent weeks. I suppose we had a feeling it would come to this sooner or later but still the actual attack was shocking. I can't quite come to terms with the fact that two men were shot not five minutes from my front door.

The shooting took place at around 8pm. Yossi Barukh, 35 and Aharon Kabriakov, 23 from Neriah, a Jewish town north-east of Modi'in, were driving home from Jerusalem on Route 443, the Jerusalem-Modi'in highway. As they passed the Palestinian village of Beit Sira Palestinian gunmen opened fire on them. Yossi Barukh was shot in the head and is currently in critical condition fighting for his life at a Tel Aviv hospital. Aharon Kabriakov suffered bullet wounds to his neck and jaw and his condition is stable. A few minutes earlier two other Israeli cars came under Palestinian fire in the same area, though fortunately only the cars were damaged.

Night is when the Palestinian gunmen have the upper hand. Lately most Israelis have stopped driving on Route 443 after dark, leaving the road almost empty. The bus to Jerusalem has changed its schedule too, travelling on 443 by day, but detouring via the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway by night. For the people of Modi'in this means that the route home takes a little longer. For the people of Beit Horon, a Jewish village on Route 443 itself, it means that after dark there are no buses home. I've taken the bus into Jerusalem several times in the last few weeks. The entrances to the Palestinian villages along Route 443 have been blocked by huge concrete blocks and mounds of earth to prevent their residents from getting to the road and attacking Israeli vehicles. The olive groves along the roadside no longer seemed picturesque. They have become potential hiding places for Palestinian gunmen, as on the night two weeks ago when Eliahu Cohen was murdered. The road is the same, and yet it is transformed, pastoral beauty masking potential threats.

Recently I was talking about the situation with friends, mostly discussing what roads we would or would not drive on. One woman told of her daughter, who lives in a town close to Palestinian areas whose main access road is dominated by a Palestinian village high above the road. She drove the gauntlet of rocks and firebombs each day until one day she saw a Palestinian standing on high pushing a boulder down upon her car, a boulder that would have killed her. She pressed on the gas pedal and sped past, a move which saved her life as the boulder glanced off the car's rear fender rather than crushing the driver's seat. Since that day she decided to take the far longer, but safer route, through a winding single lane mountain road. Better to take an extra hour than not to arrive at all.

Or is it? We agonised over whether it was worth the risk to drive on roads which come under attack, if an alternative route was available. On the one hand it doesn't seem worth risking a rock through the windshield or a bullet in the head just to save time on a journey, visit friends or go away for the weekend. On the other hand if we avoid every road that has been attacked we are conceding these vital roads to our attackers and giving in to Palestinian terror. If we just avoid every road that is attacked we send the message that we can be frightened away from every road in the country, and if we allow that to happen then we will have no country. Bombs have gone off recently in major Israeli cities, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Hadera and Jerusalem, does this mean that we should avoid these places as well? Perhaps avoiding roads on which attacks have occurred is defeatist. Or perhaps we just don't feel brave in a car that can offer little protection against bullets and firebombs - or even rocks. And yet what should Israelis in "risk areas" do, drive around in armoured cars wearing helmets and bullet proof vests just to go to work or drop the kids off at school? Should we cower in our homes waiting for the danger to pass?

I don't have an answer to this dilemma, few of us do. Some avoid roads, all the while feeling guilty for doing so. Others brave roads which have been attacked, either because they have no choice, or as a matter of principle. Still others insist that the solutions are bullet proofed buses, concrete walls to protect the highways from attack or building new roads to bypass Palestinian areas. Some in the government have suggested building a wall along the borders between Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas, such as the one built at the edge of Gilo to protect it (unsuccessfully) from gunfire from neighbouring Beit Jala.

While the Modi'in area is the region I'm most familiar with, just because I don't write about other places doesn't mean that all is quiet elsewhere. Far from it - Palestinian shootings, bombings and stoning attacks continue in many parts of the country. On Monday night I arrived home at 10pm, as I usually do on a Monday night, pleasantly tired from my three-hour Flamenco class. As I walked in the door Jason casually asked if I knew how my uncle was planning to get from Jerusalem to Netanya, where he was going to visit friends. I said I thought he was taking the bus. It seemed a slightly odd question, but then my uncle had been unsure of the bus schedule, and he hadn't visited Netanya in years. Then Jason asked if I knew when he had left. Well, I last saw my uncle at 4pm when I caught the bus back from Jerusalem to Modi'in. We had spent several hours shopping in central Jerusalem for a housewarming gift for friends who have just moved into a new house in Netanya. I told Jason I thought my uncle had left Jerusalem not long after I did, and asked why he was interested in all this in the first place. A funny look came over Jason's face. "There was a pigu'a (terror attack) in central Netanya this evening, about 30 hurt, mostly lightly."

For an instant I was terrified. Then followed a feeling that my uncle must be fine. Common sense took over and told me not to panic. I called directory inquiries to get the friends' number and I phoned them as I calmly as I could. The wife answered and straight away reassured me that my uncle was there safe and sound. I heard my uncle joking in the background. Then he came on the phone to say that he had almost been in central Netanya at the time of the blast. Not sure which gift to buy, he had planned to take an early bus to Netanya and shop for a present there. At the last minute, though, he decided to buy the framed picture we had looked at in Jerusalem. In the process he missed the earlier bus. He heard the news about the car bomb while on the way to Netanya, sitting on the bus in the traffic jam caused by the police, who sealed off central Netanya after the explosions. Had he taken the earlier bus he would have been shopping in central Netanya, the scene of the bombing, just at the time of the blast.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression. Life does go on as usual in most places. People go to work, school, to the movies, shopping and out to cafes. Except for avoiding Route 443 after dark, extra police patrols and some school outings being cancelled life in Modi'in hasn't changed much. We aren't running around in fear all the time. Thank God most of us have not even heard the shooting down the road. In general, for most Israelis it's business almost as usual. Walk around in Tel Aviv or down town Jerusalem, including the Old City, and you wouldn't know anything was wrong. Life has to go on as usual, this is our best response to Palestinian terror designed to leave us cowering in our homes.



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Copyright 2001 by Leiah Elbaum.