The above was the heading of a post I wrote a few weeks ago about the general election, but heck, it works just as well for what I’m writing about today, the escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza.
The first time I realized that things were getting serious was when I was in my German lesson at the community centre near my house in Mevasseret Zion. “What’s that noise?” I asked the lady sitting next to me. “It’s the siren,” she said, whereupon we and the other participants (all elderly ladies like myself) got up and moved to the shelter, which happened also to house the toilets. We heard (and saw) fire trucks and ambulances racing past, and after hanging around for a while, we all packed up our things and went home to watch the news on TV. A rocket fired from Gaza had landed on a nearby hill, causing very little damage and no injuries, thank goodness.
Since then matters have escalated most horribly, with rockets fired from Gaza raining down all over Israel, our forces retaliating in similar vein, and – most terrifying of all – violent clashes erupting in Israel between Jews and Arabs. To see and hear this happening after so many years in which both groups managed to live side by side in relative harmony is truly horrifying.
Here in Mevasseret Zion we are near the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, and it is to restaurants, shops and bakeries there that we go for meals and all kinds of requirements. Our relations with the providers of those services there are and have always been civil, even amicable, and it is difficult to imagine their friendly attitude turning into enmity at the drop of a hat (or a rocket). Let’s hope that at least their business sense will prevail.
Does this mean that we have been living in a fool’s paradise for the last 73 years (i.e., since Israel’s independence), or at least since 1967 (when Jerusalem was reunited and the West Bank and Sinai were conquered)? Since then there have been political developments that presaged movement towards some kind of settlement of the political situation. Sinai was handed back to the Egyptians in the framework of a peace treaty. Treaties were signed with Jordan and, more recently, Arab Gulf States. Gaza was handed over to Palestinian rule and Israel’s settlements there were disbanded. The Palestinian Authority was established in the West Bank (or Occupied Territories, if you prefer) and accorded considerable self-government rights.
The situation in Jerusalem has had its ups and downs. The area of the Temple Mount where the Al-Aksa mosque is situated has been left in Moslem hands, while the area of the Western Wall is open to Jews. Arabs and Jews mingle on public transport, shopping malls, hospitals, and commercial establishments of every kind. Holy sites of each religion in Jerusalem and elsewhere are open to worshippers of all faiths, thus, Bethlehem, Nazareth and the sites around the Sea of Galilee are accessible to Christians, as are the churches and holy sites in Jerusalem, and the same applies to Moslem and Jewish holy sites all over the country.
The history of this part of the world has always been fraught and full of conflict. The fate of all its occupants depends on their managing to live side by side peaceably. There have always been ups and downs in the extent to which this has been achieved, but rampaging around, rioting, attacking people and destroying property is no way to set about it.
The bottom line is that war and aggression generally have dire (and unforeseen) consequences. When Arab armies sought to obliterate Israel in 1948 and 1967 they ended up paying a heavy price and achieving little if anything. No one can blame Israel for retaliating in view of the barrage of rockets being fired on its citizens today. After all, England did not sit back and accept the German attack on London known as the Blitz. The ruins of Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden and other German cities provide evidence of that.
The Palestinians would do well to consider the lessons of the past. And the government of Israel would do well to bear in mind the sensitivities of all the segments of its population.