July 27, 2001 Update

Letters from Israel

Friday, July 27, 2001

Dear family and friends,

I don't wish to offend anyone, but sometimes I feel that the rest of the world is blind and deaf when it comes to the "ceasefire" supposedly brokered by American CIA chief Tenet in mid-June. The ceasefire terms called for a complete and unconditional end to violence on both sides before diplomacy could move forward. Somehow now that it is clear that the Palestinians have no intention of complying, the pressure is on for Israel to negotiate anyway, and so reward Palestinian violence.

The G-8 in their wisdom have endorsed sending us "observers", the EU has "unofficial" monitors, Egypt is watching closely, the South African parliament sent a fact finding mission and assorted other states and international busy bodies have all been expressing their desire to press on with negotiations in the region. Yet every Israeli knows that there has never been a Palestinian ceasefire. Odd how no one else can see that.

Since the Tenet agreement there have been almost 700 Palestinian terror attacks in which 18 Israelis have been killed and over 100 wounded. That there haven't been more Israeli casualties is certainly no thanks to the Palestinian Authority, whose forces have continued to participate and initiate terrorism. Rather it is because Israeli security forces have successfully thwarted several bombings, including stopping two suicide bombers in the act in the northern Israeli cities of Afula and Haifa, and more recently arresting or shooting several terrorists (the ones the foreign media refers to as "activists") who were preparing attacks on Israeli cities, such as the planned bombing of the Maccabia "Jewish Olympic" games in Jerusalem last week.

A few hours ago the main Modi'in-Jerusalem highway was targeted again. Palestinian gunmen ambushed Israeli cars on the section of road near the north Jerusalem suburb of Giva't Ze-ev. They just sat there and took potshots at passing vehicles, damaging a few and killing an Israeli teenager sitting by his father in the family car. The terrorists then fled on foot to the neighbouring Palestinian controlled areas.

I know, you've read this stuff so many times before I'm not even sure if it makes an impact anymore. Another Israeli gets shot, so, it's been going on for nearly a year now, I should be used to it already. But I'm not, I can't just get used to it. Would you get used to it if this were happening in suburban New York, Oslo, London, Tokyo or wherever you live? You know what else I can't get used to, it's seeing on television so many places that I know well, that I've visited or driven past dozens, maybe hundreds, of times spattered with blood, or strewn with wreckage. Innocent, everyday places, turned into war zones. Boarded up windows or damaged railings reminding each passer by that a few days earlier a bomb went off or someone was shot at that site. Each time it shakes me up again, sickens me anew.

The site of tonight's shooting was just outside Jerusalem, on a rural section of highway linking Jerusalem with the suburb of Giva't Zeev. That stretch of the road is lined with fields and Israeli and Palestinian villages are side by side, framing the fields. Sometimes you see Bedouin shepherds with their flocks or tents there. Often you see families from local villages tending their crops or elderly women in beautifully embroidered dresses carrying baskets full of produce to sell to passing motorists.

In late winter and early spring almond and fruit trees paint the landscape in shades of pink, from tender off-whites to brilliant fuchsia. The little schoolhouse of the Jewish village of Giv'on is gaily painted with cartoon characters and across the road in the other half of Giv'on there is an old broken down van which has sat there for years with "Hag sameah" (happy holidays) painted on the side in huge white letters, greeting traffic driving up to Jerusalem. Looking ahead the road rises steeply towards the tomb of the biblical prophet Samuel, a huge stone building dominating the skyline.

This was always a place that was special, a place I especially looked forward to. As someone whose hobbies include photography, bird watching, well, nature watching in general, it was always a good spot to see something interesting. After heavy rain, especially after snow, the nearby fields are often waterlogged and large flocks of birds gather to drink. Careful observation, albeit from a moving car, often yielded something unusual and at night I've often seen foxes and sometimes also jackals drinking from these temporary pools.

I haven't travelled that road at night for months now and while I've often driven there by day I'm now relieved when we pass it. Not that there have been many attacks there, only one or two prior to tonight, but still, Palestinian villages are no longer picturesque, but sadly now a potential source of danger. The villagers in the fields may mostly be peaceful bystanders, but who knows if, as tonight, there may be gunmen or rock throwers hiding among them. Each time a car with Palestinian licence plates overtakes your vehicle there you hold your breath for a moment, wondering if they are just trying to pass you or to kill you.

On the face of it the area looks the same, save for the pile of earth which blocked the turn off for the Palestinian village of Bir Naballah. It was unblocked again months ago as part of an Israeli goodwill gesture after Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire. Tonight's gunmen probably escaped to this village, and from there to Ramallah. Weird to think that last summer we got lost in Bir Naballah. Back then the shops had huge signs in Hebrew and the village was filled with Israeli shoppers, Jews and Arabs. We were looking for the shortcut to a north Jerusalem suburb and eventually found our way. Many people took this shortcut and thought nothing of it. After all, we had peace then, or so we thought.

Shabbat shalom, have a peaceful Sabbath/weekend. Amazing how seriously we take that greeting now.


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Copyright 2001 by Leiah Elbaum.