The Wreckage Of Peace, Pt.ii: Letters From A War Zone
How suicide bombers demolished normal life in Israel.
Thursday, May 9, 2002
Photo credit: David Silverman/Getty Images
Last week''s issue of the Weekly contained a first-person account by Palestinian writer Mouin Rabbani describing the Israeli offensive in Ramallah from the point of view of the Palestinians who lived there. These two letters from Dorothy Fajan, an American who moved to Tel Aviv two years ago, explain from her point of view why many Israelis believe the incursions were necessary to stop terrorist brutality in their homeland.
I am trying to answer all of the e-mails received in reaction to the recent suicide bombings. Facts first! It took place in a restaurant about a five-minute bus ride from my house, which I have passed many times. Ironically, the place was leased to and run by Israeli Arabs, one of whom was killed, and others who are still in the hospital.
The recent series of attacks has greatly compounded the horror of our situation. Despite all efforts, one cannot help but feel like a sitting duck awaiting this new breed of animal that cares nothing for human life, even its own, and in perverse hatred seeks to achieve by murder what has already been offered in peace and rejected.
What kind of mother heralds the suicide of her child? Even the $25,000 paid by Iraq cannot explain this kind of maternal acceptance! What kind of mother places her child in an ambulance laden with explosives in the hope of enabling another ghastly attack? What kind of political entity uses the basements of hospitals to store weapons and schools to hide wanted criminals?
The world worries about Arafat receiving enough medication and food? Maybe we can send him the unused medications of the elderly people killed in Netanya or the leftover food from the Seder that remained uneaten on the tables. Those people no longer need these things.
When they ask how can Arafat stop terror when he is under siege, we ask why he never acted for decades when he was not under siege?
No, we in Israel are not Camelot, and we know that military strikes cannot stop terrorism, but what choice is available? Shall we sit and accept while Iran, Iraq and Syria mass their forces to join in our annihilation? We tried passivity once; it was called the Warsaw Ghetto, and we will not do so again.
True, our hasbara (public image) is less than commendable, but the world seems to practice a double standard in reporting every event. And judging from the increase in anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in Europe and elsewhere, one can only conclude that the world wishes we troublesome Jews would go away!
Perhaps you in the "free" world should face a little reality and wonder if, after they "get" us, whom will they target next? Was September 11 a harbinger of the future?
Also true, Sharon is no teddy bear. The vengeful hatred he and Arafat bear for each other is only stoking the fires, and both peoples are suffering. The media wail over the plight of the average Palestinian. Can you imagine what it is like to hear constant "Piguim!" (Incident) on the radio and television and wonder if your family is safe? Can you imagine waiting for the cell phone call that says everyone is OK after you hear the sirens; or listening to the radio weather forecast and an advertisement for toothpaste and then hear "Dirty socks 8" or "Eiffel Tower" and realize that those are call-ups for army reserves? This is the present day reality.
There are days that I decide to just stay put and not even turn on the radio, but it doesn''t last long. I have a deep desire to know what is going on. We all know people who have been in attacks, and we are all family and we want to be available to help. But to cave in to fear doesn''t bring an end to the apprehension, it only magnifies it. Some of you have asked me pertinent and insightful questions, to which I have no answers. What does Israel want? Peace and security, to live without fear! Do we think Sharon can do the job? Not really. His history does not bring confidence, and I don''t think he has a plan or a vision and is only reacting to the horrors, as most of us are.
Do we think Arafat can control events? Also, not really, because his political reality is that his extremists can eliminate him even quicker than we can.
I still feel that had Arafat accepted Barak''s offer, Barak may not have been able to deliver, but it was a complete offer-statehood, land and peace. When Arafat decided on violence instead, he confirmed the belief that they really want us totally out of here.
Did you all hear the Hamas leader on TV with Tim Sebastian yesterday? He stated quite blatantly that he wanted all Arabs to return to their land and eliminate the "Jewish Entity." He didn''t even couch his words in diplomatic phraseology.
What will Israel''s actions accomplish? Who knows, but we cannot accept constant terror. Would you? We are also fighting for the right to exist. As for me, I live here, and my family is here and I try to live my everyday life and keep my regular schedule.
To end on a better note, we had an emotional but beautiful Passover, despite the outside reality, with Peter, Nathalie and girls. The cousins enjoyed each other, and Peter regaled us with all the old songs and rituals that he didn''t forget from his HALB days. We had our favorite foods and reveled in just being together. The death of my niece, Bella, and the devastating events here clouded our days, and I must admit I was pleased when the Belgian crew called that they had arrived home safely. Now there are attacks in Brussels, to give us something else to worry about!
We have been doing what we always do-keeping on with our daily routine and activities in organizations and family matters. At the moment we are all well, but Saturday night was a bit out of the ordinary.
My granddaughter Naíama is living in Jerusalem for this year, and working with the Youth Movement, a group of young people that have been very close to each other for years. Their house is in Rehavia, about a half-block from the Prime Minister''s residence. Saturday night they were returning from a weekend of training, and had just passed the Moment Cafe, when the suicide bomber blew up the place, killing 11 and wounding over 50. Naíama called Judy at 11pm, hysterical and crying. She heard and felt the blast, and the whole group was in shock. That''s as close as we ever want to get to disaster!
I spoke to her yesterday, and she is doing better, but still pretty upset. She is a sensitive young woman, committed to her social service work and to the movement. They had spent a good part of their free time over the last two months assisting the disabled protesters in front of the Knesset. She was profoundly influenced by them, saying that she never really understood how difficult their lives are in a country that is hardly user-friendly in this regard.
But, as I said, for the most part, we just do our thing. The bus routes in Haifa were recently revamped, for security reasons, so a group of us tested out the new system by going to Acco for the day.
The "situation" is never far from our thoughts and my reactions are so conflicted! Morally, I know the occupation of conquered territory is wrong, even though it was conquered in a war that was not of our making. The settlements are occupied by over 200,000 people, in large part Orthodox Americans, whose ideology supersedes their reality perception. But the borders of 1967 are indefensible, and the UN resolution does not say withdrawal to those borders, it says to "secure and recognized borders."
Yes, I believe we have to give back most of the land, and yes, I do believe there should be a Palestinian state, despite the fact that there never has been a Palestinian nation. From the 1948 partition to 1967, there was never an attempt to establish one.
Even though Arafat refused Barak''s offer and never made a counter offer, that''s past history. Concentrate on now. We must find a solution, and here is where I have a problem.
No military solution has worked or will work in this kind of war. Viet Nam taught us that. So negotiation and a political solution is the option we must try. But deep down I don''t believe or trust that by giving up the land, sharing Jerusalem, and even returning "refugees" will stop Arafat. What I do believe is that they want us out of here-altogether out of here, and that is something we can never accept.
Interestingly, they claim 750,000 "refugees" who are now living in permanent housing and have now swelled to three million. They are totally supported by the UN and Arab nations, but make no mention of the 750,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands that were settled and absorbed by Israel.
The other gripe I have is with the one-sided news the world gets, such as the stories of our soldiers shooting at ambulances. The news doesn''t tell you that four ambulances in Balata, with "wounded" on board, contained Tanzim men dressed as paramedics, and were loaded with explosives. If it were my kid stationed at the checkpoint, I would hope he would fire at the ambulance!
Is our civil rights record a bit fuzzy? Sure it is, but for a country only 54 years old, and at war for all 54 years, we do pretty well, and with the enemy less than eight miles from my home it''s a bit tough to be sympathetic. We''re in a democracy, and can fight to correct these wrongs, and, given a bit of peace and trust, we can. But not in this atmosphere!
Have events changed my way of life? Sure! I now look at my fellow passengers on the bus with some trepidation.
But we still go everywhere and attend functions, and shop and eat out, as though there was no intifadas, because to do otherwise means they won. The mood in the country, while somber to some extent, is also defiant. We Israelis are determined as well as angry, frustrated and fearful. People have shorter tempers and there is more yelling and arguing than is usual for the Middle East culture. It is born of anger, fear and frustration.
In the last analysis, am I glad I live here? A resounding "Yes!"
The settlements? Those built in the West Bank are as illegal as all the Palestinian homes built on Israeli land without building permits. Some adjustments for security need to be made, but basically, we have to get out of there. This is not popular view with my fellow Israelis, but I keep asking them, "Which kilometer of land is worth my grandson''s life?"
The settlements are impossible to defend, and militarily, we cannot win. And they are illegal. Not that illegality in war ever cut much ice. What is fair and moral in war? Every country in the world lives by standards of self-interest. Why should we be different?
Opposition in government? In Israel? You must be kidding! Put ten Jews in a room and you already have 15 opinions. There are "peace-niks," "right-wingers" and "ultras."
At least, we are free! The Palestinians who believe in peace can''t open their mouths. Someone asked an Arab woman at one of our Interfaith meetings why she doesn''t speak up, and she said, "If I did, who would care for my children after they assassinate me?"
Adverse criticism from the U.S.? Some chutzpah! You guys bomb Afghanistan back into the stone age, where it already was, and give off plenty of collateral damage, because Bin Laden killed 3000 Americans out of 270 million. Because they have killed 350 Israelis, mostly civilians, we destroy their empty buildings after first warning the people to get out. Do the math percentages-350 out of six million, and Colin Powell calls it "overreacting!"
If you want to help, try working for a fairer presentation of news. Get in touch with CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Mid-East Reporting-or come and observe what is really happening. Maybe you can look at pictures of houses in Gaza with tunnels to smuggle arms, or inspect explosive and rocket factories in the "refugee" housing.