|"One More for the Road"|
This portion of my 2004 Middle-East Travelogue recaps the end of my trip, my last week in Israel. Photos of this trip are here.
Last time I wrote to you about moderate Palestinians and extremist Israelis. I think it's only fair to also give you the other perspective.
I've spent the last week traveling around Northern Israel, hanging out with secular Jews. The vast majority of Israelis do not support the settlements. I talked to a young man of 24 who, in his army service, guarded the very settlements in Hebron that I walked past in disgust 2 weeks ago. He told me that, standing with his armor and rifle for hours and hours each day, he'd get so mad that he wanted to kill them; he wasn't talking about the Palestinians, but rather the Jewish settlers! The general population certainly does not want to be in the West Bank and Gaza.
Unfortunately, they feel that they have no choice. Since Arafat rejected the peace deal in 2000 that would've given the Palestinians their own country (including East Jerusalem), and the current Intifadah subsequently began, it seems to most Israelis that the Palestinian leadership doesn't really want peace. Just about everyone here has lost someone they know/love to a suicide bomber; that doesn't really help liberalism much. People generally don't like the idea of the security wall... but it is saving lives, and it's gradually being moved back to the '67 line (it currently runs through the West Bank, rather than just around it). They see 14-year-old Palestinian children being sent with explosives to kill Israeli civilians, and so they support strong security measures. You can't really argue with that.
This week, everyone's been on edge. It's Passover, and the 'situation' has been particularly awful lately, so everyone is bracing for a terrorist strike. Two years ago on this holiday, bombers struck a hotel where hundreds of people were celebrating (I met a girl who lost her grandfather in that bombing), so there's fear of a similar attack. It must be so awful to constantly live with this fear hanging over your head.
I've now spent a lot of time over here in Israel, talking to all kinds of people and considering the 'situation' from many perspectives. I certainly know a whole lot more about what's going on here than I did three months ago. That being said, I'm not sure that I'm any more qualified to provide commentary. The situation in Israel is kind of like a Thomas Pynchon novel; anyone who claims to really understand it is a big liar. What the heck, though... here are my conclusions: If you want to hand out blame, the extremists on both sides deserve plenty. The next steps in the process are for Israel to get rid of the settlements, pull out its occupying army (two things which actually seem to be happening, albeit really slowly), and continue to brace itself. The Palestinians could use a great leader who espouses non-violent protest, a-la Ghandi or Dr. King. Not likely. Overall, there isn't much cause for optimism, but there's always reason to hope.
In just a few hours, I'll be on my way home. I'll spend 10 days in SF, 4 weeks in NYC, and then get back to SF for good in late May. It's been a fantastic trip, but I'm definitely excited to get back. While lately I've been somewhat embarrassed to admit my nationality when asked, I have to say that when it comes to home plumbing and insulation, we are truly a beacon of light in an otherwise dim world. If we would just bring over our superior toilet technology- and leave the flawed democracy at home- I think we'd be doing a much better job of 'winning the hearts and minds' in Iraq.
Thanks for reading. I hope you've enjoyed some of it. I should have pictures up soon...