October 8, 2000 Update

Letters from Israel


October 8, 2000

Dear All,

First, my apologies for sending a group e-mail, this is not my style, and were it not for the exceptional circumstances I find myself in I would not resort to this rather impersonal form of communication.

I guess you know what's going on here. Thank God we're fine, very worried, especially about our friends and relatives in parts in the country where there has been a lot of trouble, but otherwise fine.

The intention of this message is not to alarm you, rather to give you a personal view of how serious the situation is here because from what we've seen of the foreign press and from friends and relatives overseas whom we've spoken to by phone, the picture you're getting there seems to be very different from what we see here. As I noted, this is going to a mix of family and friends, if you feel that things are explained in too much detail, too little detail, whatever, please understand that I've just tried to cover things on a general level for everyone.

Here then is my attempt at writing down at least some of the many things that have happened. They are not necessarily in order of priority or severity, and I know that there are other things I want to mention but right now can't begin to write down concisely and clearly.

We were with friends in a moshav on the southern Golan, near the Sea of Galilee, over Rosh Hashana. Sunday night after the festival we were getting ready to go home to Modi'in when we turned on the car radio and heard the news.

We have two ways of getting home to Modi'in, via Jerusalem or via Tel Aviv. To get from north-east Israel down to central Israel there are two main routes, one is via the Jordan Valley, past Jericho, a Palestinian enclave, and on to Jerusalem. This is the fastest route and the most usual route, and now there is even a Jericho bypass so that Israeli cars don't have to drive through the Palestinian controlled area except for a short stretch near the roadside village of Ouja. The other is to drive west across northern Israel and then down south on the Haifa-Tel Aviv coastal road to Tel Aviv.

When we heard about the problems we considered taking the Haifa-Tel Aviv road south, to avoid the Jericho bypass road where we heard that had been some trouble. We soon discovered that there was far worse trouble on parts of the lower Galilee and Haifa-Tel-Aviv roads which go close to Israeli Arab villages and towns such as Umm el Fahm, Fureidis, Nazareth and Baka el Gharbia making it very difficult to get to the coastal road, not to mention that the Haifa-Tel-Aviv road was closed to traffic for several hours due the disturbances - the traditionally friendly Israeli Arabs of the village of Fureidis (next to Zikhron Ya'akov) went on the rampage.

We were shocked. I must emphasise that the Israeli Arabs, Arab citizens of Israel, have traditionally been loyal to Israel, they are citizens with voting rights like any other, there are 10 Israeli Arab members out of the 120 members of Knesset, they go to Israeli universities, work with Jewish Israelis, Jews shop in their villages and towns, they work and shop in Jewish villages and towns, they are doctors and nurses in regular Israeli hospitals and clinics. Yes they have not always been treated entirely equally, in part because of the security situation here, but this has been a situation which has been improving consistantly in recent years, in part with the feeling that Israeli security considerations have been changing. Suddenly they had decided to take the side of the Palestinians, and they were attacking passing Jewish cars, rioting along main roads, destroying banks and shops and government offices, torching cars, stoning and throwing fire bombs at Israeli buses and cars which went past their towns and villages. You get the idea. Several key roads were cut, leaving north-west Israel cut off from the rest of the country. Many Jewish towns,villages and farms were effectively besieged, and in places Arab mobs tried to storm Jewish neighbourhoods. Some Jewish communities were cut off for days.

In the end we took the Jordan Valley road and were diverted around the Palestinian enclave of 'Ouja (north of Jericho) via an army patrol road along the border with Jordan. Arriving in Jerusalem we discovered that the main Modi'in road from Jerusalem was closed due to disturbances, as the road goes past some Palestinian areas whose residents were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli cars. Fortunately Modi'in is located between the two main highways to Jerusalem, so we were able to take a slightly longer route along the other highway.

At any rate, this, thank God, to date has been our only direct experience of the troubles. The main Modi'in-Jerusalem road has been closed several times during the past week due to local Arabs throwing rocks and fire bombs, but for the most part the police and army have managed to keep it open. This I want to emphasise is a main road, thousands of Israeli cars, buses and trucks normally travel on it every day, along with many Palestinian vehicles. The road is under Israeli control though it borders some Palestinian controlled villages and is used by both Israelis and Palestinians. Up until now Jews visited these villages, buying from their shops, eating at a Palestinian owned roadside restaurant, and Palestinians from these villages shop and work in Modi'in and in many other Jewish towns and villages in the area. These are not people whom we were at war with, on the contrary, Israelis hoped that finally with the Oslo accords we were entering a new era of peaceful relations and mutual recognition and suddenly the village where last week you bought plants and and furniture is this week throwing rocks and bombs at you and chanting 'Death to the Jews!' and 'Destroy Israel'.

Modi'in doesn't directly border any Palestinian or Arab villages, but other Jewish communities in the area do, and in some places shots were fired from Palestinian villages towards their Jewish neighbours, though fortunately no-one was hurt.

It has been a miracle that with all the violence 'only' two Jewish civilians and three Israeli soldiers have been killed to date, though in places in the Galilee and on the outskirts of Jerusalem which border Arab neighbourhoods and villages Jews have been lynched by Arab mobs, only by a miracle escaping with their lives. And these Arab mobs doing the lynching have been their neighbours, not their enemies, neighbours who visited each other's towns and villages, who worked together, who shopped in each other's towns and villages - and suddenly they are chanting 'death to the Jews!' and attacking us.

A cousin of Jason's in the town of Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv phoned us this week. She lives close to the 'border' with the Palestinian controlled town of Kalkilya which is only yards from the edge of Kfar Saba. Every night this week she has heard gunfire from Kalkilya as local residents take pot shots at the neighbouring Israeli town. The nearby Israeli Arab village of Tira has also been causing them problems, attacking Jewish cars passing by the village. As the cousin put it, there have been good relations with the Arabs of Tira for over 50 years, ever since the ceasefire at the end of the War of Independence, 1948-9.

North of Kfar Saba there is an industrial park that straddles the border between Israel and the Palestinian controlled town of Tulkarem. This industrial park is one of several 'peace projects' set up to encourage joint Israeli-Palestinian economic co-operation. Dozens of Palestinians worked at the site together with Israeli colleagues and the project was considered successful. This week a Palestinian mob from Tulkarem marched to the site and torched several of the factories there, and looted equipment from the site. So much for a peace project.

A cousin who lives in Efrat, south of Jerusalem, told me the terrible news that a Rabbi from their community (Rabbi Brovinder, of Brovinder's Yeshiva) driving between Jerusalem and his home was lynched by an Arab mob as he drove past their village. They dragged him from his car, beat him within an inch of his life and torched his car, he was lucky to be rescued by a passing Israeli patrol and is now in hospital. My cousin works in a hospital in Jerusalem but for most of the past week her town and others south of Jerusalem have been cut off from the city because Arabs from Palestinian villages which border their road to Jerusalem have been throwing gasoline bombs and rocks at Israeli vehicles on the road.

In many places Palestinians, and even Israeli Arabs in some areas, have also been shooting at Jewish towns and or at passing motorists. Many of the gunmen are actually Palestinian police, that is Arafat's police, the ones whom we are supposed to have a peace treaty with, the ones with whom according to the Oslo peace agreement we are supposed to have joint patrols with. What are joint patrols? In some areas where there are mixed Jewish and Palestinian populations there are supposed to be joint Israeli and Palestinian police patrols, that was until a week ago, when during a coffee break on such a joint patrol a Palestinian policeman took out his gun and shot at point blank range two of his Israeli colleagues before fleeing to a Palestinian controlled area, out of reach of Israeli forces. One Israeli policeman died, the other was wounded and Israelis were badly shaken at the thought that this murder was the act of one of our peace partners, someone who patrolled with his Israeli opposite numbers day in day out.

Today was Shabbat, so it was only this evening that we turned on the televsion to see Palestinians (including Palestinian police) destroying Joseph's Tomb in the town of Nablus (the biblical town of Shekhem), one of the Jewish holy sites under Israeli control according to the agreements with the Palestinians. The rest of the town of Nablus is under Palestinian control and over the last week the Palestinians have been constantly attacking the holy site, resulting in the death of one Israeli policeman and damage to the tomb.

In the early hours of Saturday morning the fighting got very bad, and an agreement was reached with the Palestinians whereby they assured Israel that if the Israeli army withdrew from the site, they would protect it. Within hours a Palestinian mob, including their police, had set Joseph's Tomb on fire and began ransacking it, taking it apart stone by stone with axes and their bare hands. I just watched this wanton vandalism and violence in horror, this is a holy site, Muslims are supposed to respect Joseph (the biblical Joseph) as well, and here they were just destroying this holy site piece by piece.

For many Israelis this was the last straw, this shattered what trust remained in the good intentions of our supposed Palestinian peace partners who we had spent the last 7 years negotiating terms with. Not only could they not protect an ancient holy site, they were actively destroying it. A site which they had often claimed as holy to them as well.

Only weeks ago, Israeli leaders were talking of working out some kind of power sharing agreement regarding the holy sites in Jerusalem, only weeks ago, we were considering sharing control (some in the government even talked of handing over control) of Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a site on which the Muslims later built a mosque and claim as holy to them too. Under Israeli rule of course this site has been open to Muslims to pray there, on the contrary, it is Jews who are not allowed to pray there so as not to provoke the Muslims, yet it was on the agenda to hand this site over to international control, or share it with the Palestinians. Israel was prepared to go that far, but instead we have received only destruction and violence.

In general the mood here is that we all feel badly shaken and shocked. All Israeli Jews, whatever there personal views on the Oslo peace process or politics, all Israeli Jews want peace. We hoped that somehow this peace process would bring real peace. Even those opposed to the Oslo agreements, hoped that somehow Israel would be able to muddle through with some kind of peaceful co-existance with the Palestinian Authority. Contrary to the black and white analysis of much of the media, Israel is not divided between 'pro-peace' and 'anti-peace', but rather between those who believe that the Oslo process was the only way to bring peace, and those who oppose the Oslo process because they believe that it will not bring peace, and sadly judging by current events this seems to be the case.

Israelis are heartbroken and shocked by the violence, the hatred and the bloodshed. We hoped and prayed for peace with all our Arab neighbours, but now we are witness to the same, or even intensified hatred, as though all these years of negotiations and compromise mean nothing to them. They are trampling on the peace accords and on the agreements Israel has reached with them, and in exchange for all the precious things that we have given up in the name of peace (and which many Israelis were prepared to give up in the months to come) we are receiving only hatred, bullets and bombs.

I'm sorry for this long ramble, I've been thinking of writing something for several days now but I had such a mass of things in my heart and mind that I wanted to say that in the end nothing could come out. I think that like many Israelis I am still in shock over what is happening, I am still in shock at seeing the destruction of out hopes for peace, at seeing the destruction of Joseph's Tomb, at all the terrible things that have happened this week and are happening right now.

As for Yom Kippur, we pray that the situation will calm down but fear that it will not. While there is usually no radio or TV on Yom Kippur in Israel due to the situation Israel Radio will be leaving several frequencies open, which people can leave their radio's tuned too and in the event that it is nessary broadcasts and updates will be available. The Rabbis of Modi'in have said that it is permissible for people to leave their radios on and tuned to these frequences in case has veshalom there is an emergency. The Rabbis of Modi'in have also asked that those who have weapons permits come to shul armed to ensure the safety of the kehilla in case has veshalom someone tries to infiltrate the area.

There are many more events and thoughts that I'd like to write about, but for now I think that I'll have to stop as it's late and my mind is wandering and I need to try and sleep.

All the best to you.

Fast well and may you all be inscribed for a happy, healthy, blessed and successful year.



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Copyright 2000 by Leiah Elbaum.