Poetry amid hatred

By defaultuser
April 18, 2002

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At this point in time, because of the suicide bombers, the reality of civilian life in Israel is that no place is safe. Every major city has had its spate of bombings, as have smaller towns such as Netanya, Hadera and Ntanya. It is important to emphasize that these suicide bombings are happening within the Green Line – that is, not in the Occupied Territories. I live in the north of Israel, in the Galilee, and just this past Wednesday a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus at a junction on my route to work, killing 8 people. Most students didn’t arrive for classes that day, both as an expression of fear and also for the very practical reason that the roads leading to the college were closed for hours after the explosion. The high-risk places are all public places: malls, hotels, stores, open-air markets, restaurants and cafes, bus-stations, and the buses themselves. Restaurants and cafes have been hardest hit, it seems – resulting in a tendency to stay home and a sense that one chooses where one might eat out according to the security of the place (ie an armed guard at the entrance, a less crowded or popular venue being preferable). Recently, there have also been a few bombings at private celebrations – such as weddings and bar-mitzvahs – held in public halls.

So yes, certainly, the lives of Israelis have been profoundly changed by the reality of suicide bombings. We live in a high level of anxiety and a sense that simple every-day choices – such as which bus you board – are fateful. Parents keep their children close to home (all school trips have been cancelled) and appoint guardians for the eventuality that something might happen to them (in one of the bombings in downtown Jerusalem last month, a mother and father were both killed, leaving behind two little girls. This phenomenon is, of course, not uncommon). And, having said all this, I must also emphasize that our lives go on – we go to work, our children go to school. We have electricity and running water and all the basic municipal services that keep life comfortable. In contrast, the lives of Palestinians have screeched to a halt during Israel’s recent invasion of the towns in the Territories – in Jenin (where the bloodiest battles have taken place), in Nablus, in Tul-Karem, in Bethlehem. All the infrastructures have been demolished, and people have been closed inside their homes for days on end, with no food, water or electricity. Most tragic of all, of course, is that hundreds have been killed it is, at this stage, unclear how many.

Why are young Palestinian men and women blowing themselves up in the centers of Israeli towns?

I believe that this horrific phenomenon – horrific for perpetrator and victims both – is the result of years of despair at being an occupied people, coupled with religious fanaticism and indoctrination.

Why is the Israeli army re-occupying Palestinian towns, paying a steep price in soldiers’ lives, polarizing the Israeli public even further, wrecking havoc with the economy and severely straining relations with its allies?

While the official reason given is to “route out terrorism,” I believe that this bloody and tragic military option was taken by this government – with General Sharon at its head – as a type of revenge, as a flexing of itsgreater power, and as an attempt to demolish the Palestinian Authority.

Clearly, nothing good will come of this – just more years, decades perhaps, of hatred and violence.

The despair here is great. I fear that it will be a very long time before Israelis and Palestinians will again sit at a negotiation table in an attempt to bring peace to its peoples and peace to the region. My oldest son is turning 11 this summer – I fear that in 7 years time he could be an occupying soldier, and I wonder what can I do now to prevent that eventuality, to protect his body and soul both. Obviously, Israel must leave the territories once and for all, letting the Palestinians build their own state. And the Palestinians must acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and stop all terrorist activities.

Wednesday is Israel Independence Day – known as “the Day of Catastrophe” to the Palestinians. My second son, a first grader, was given home-work of writing a birthday blessing for the State. Without a second’s pause and in his beautiful first-grade handwriting, he sat down and wrote in big letters: “May there only be peace.”

With best wishes,

Dr. Rachel Tzvia Back

Poet and Professor of English Literature at Tel-

Aviv University and Oranim College

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