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The Israel Report


March 2001

1948 - by Reuven Rubin

Israel Shudders in a Time of Siege

By YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI

One by one, people around me are beginning to vanish. So far, the random disappearances haven't claimed anyone in my intimate circle. But the background of my daily life is gradually being depleted. Casual acquaintances, who fill the empty spaces of the day with small pleasantries, now appear on the front pages of Israeli newspapers, smiling for the last time.

     In recent weeks, the violence in the West Bank has penetrated my Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill. A month ago, my neighbor's son was shot dead in a terrorist ambush on a West Bank road; a few days ago, the janitor of my son's school was killed in a similar attack while driving to work. Now, when my neighbors and I greet each other in the parking lot and ask what's new, what we really mean is: Has anyone we know disappeared today?

     But that increasing sense of Israeli despair seems to have gone largely unnoticed abroad. Our victims tend to disappear from press reports about the intifada's casualties--"most of them Palestinians," as the media formula goes. And when a murder is reported, the victim is often dismissed as a "settler," forfeiting his civilian status and his place in the ledger of mourning.

     The implicit assumption in that contempt for Israeli deaths is that our casualties are somehow deserved because we are supposedly the Goliath of this conflict, the occupiers and the aggressors. That assumption ignores the fundamental shift that has occurred in the balance of moral power between Israel and the Palestinians. Beginning with the Oslo process in 1993 and culminating with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's peace overtures, Israel did what the international community had been demanding of it for decades: empower the Palestine Liberation Organization and agree to redivide Jerusalem and withdraw almost fully to the 1967 lines, offering land within Israel proper for those settlements that would remain intact.

     Palestinian rejectionism and Israeli vulnerability have returned the Middle East to 1947. Yasser Arafat's intransigence recalls the Arab world's rejection of the 1947 U.N. partition plan, when the Palestinians also insisted on all or nothing and ended up with nothing. And Israelis' growing fears recall that time just before Israeli statehood when roads became too dangerous to travel without armed escort and entire parts of the country became off-limits to Jews.

     Today's state of siege imposed on Israelis extends from the territories to the entire country. A few days ago, mortar shells were fired at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, on the border of Gaza but within pre-1967 Israel. That incident was followed by the murder of a member of Kibbutz Manara, on the Lebanon border. The international media barely noted those stories, which are, after all, local news. But for Israelis, they are the details that define our new reality, reminding us that the conflict isn't about occupied territories after all, that the Middle East has marked us, individually and collectively, for disappearance.

     The other night I drove a friend back to his home in Neve Yaakov, a working-class neighborhood mere minutes from French Hill. Once I would have considered that a routine drive. But in recent weeks, sniper fire has targeted the road between our two neighborhoods, and now I drive there reluctantly, aware that I have become a target.

     Down the road from Neve Yaakov is the West Bank town of Ramallah, which has been under varying degrees of military closure for more than a week. Once I might have considered that tactic excessive. But this time my Israeli conscience is clear. The closure, after all, was imposed after intelligence warnings that a Ramallah-based terrorist group was planning a series of bombings in Neve Yaakov. And not just any terrorist group but members of Arafat's own elite guard, Force 17--which left-wing Israeli governments armed as part of the Oslo process, in the forlorn hope that placing police uniforms on terrorists would turn them into allies against terrorism.

     Having urged us to empower the PLO, some in the international community now seem to believe that we have no right to protect ourselves from the terrorist entity rising on our borders. If it is immoral to respond to the Palestinians' siege of terror against us with a counter-siege of Palestinian towns, how do we prevent those trying to kill us from entering our neighborhoods? Or is that right too now forbidden us?

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Yossi Klein Halevi Is the Israel Correspondent for the New Republic and a Senior Writer for the Jerusalem Report

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
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