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Monday, May 31, 2010

Sometimes being Israeli is no picnic

It's the morning of memorial day. I'm in bed talking on the phone with a childhood friend from Israel who now lives in Los Angeles. We're talking about the usual stuff like we do every week, when suddenly she asks me "Did you hear what happened in Israel?" I say no, and immediately all kinds of very scary scenarios go through my mind.

In 1996 I went to Israel to tell my parents that they were going to become grandparents. On my first morning there, I wake up to the sound of my father's agitated voice. I'm too jet lagged to really grasp what he is talking about, but slowly I begin to understand that a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem. That's how my visit starts. 19 people die. The next morning I wake up again to hear my father talking about suicide bombing. And he sounds as upset as on the day before. And I'm thinking to myself, Am I reliving yesterday? Why is he so upset now, it happened yesterday. Then I realize that another suicide bomber blew himself up, this time in Tel Aviv, 13 dead. Walking distance from my brother's apartment. Another friend of mine lives two blocks from there. This is absolutely crazy, I think to myself. Nuts does not even begin to describe it.

And so the years go by. More suicide bombing, more people die on the Israeli side, a lot more people die on the Palestinian side. In 2001 there were 41 suicide bombing in Israel, 94 die that year, scores are injured. No suicide bombing during my visit in late December 2001, the one I took my daughter with me. Sigh. In 2002 - 45 bombings, the famous Passover bombing on March 27 in Netanya claims the lives of 30 people, total 237 people die that year; 2003 - 23 bombings, total 144 people die in suicide bombing missions that year. December 25, I'm visiting my brother in Tel Aviv when a suicide bomber explodes in a bus stop in one of the suburbs. I'm in a gallery with a friend. I call my brother to check on him. He thinks I'm crazy for calling him. That bombing was 15 miles away, he says, why am I calling him?

My brother lives in the suicide bombing triangle in Tel Aviv. He travels by bus a lot. I don't like to think about him playing with destiny, taking chances like that. People are completely desensitized to bombings and to death and to sirens and to politics, he tells me. There is only so much anyone can take. So as long as no one from your family gets killed, you feel lucky. Until the next bombing. And then you just call around, making sure your kid is fine, the wife is still alive, no one was at the market the day the bomber hit. Good news. Stay away from popular restaurants and clubs, don't wait on the sidewalk for the light to change from red to green if more than three people stand next to you, always locate the exit when you sit in public places. Pay attention to your surrounding at all time. Avoid crowded areas if you want to stay alive.

I learned not to call every time someone explodes himself (or herself) in Tel Aviv. I sound like an oblivious American when I call, my brother tells me. So I don't call, because I don't want to sound like an oblivious American. I'm a jaded Israeli, after all. Kind of. For my brother's sake.

So as all this goes in my mind I ask my childhood friend what happened.

By now everyone already heard what had happened. 6 ships try to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, carrying humanitarian aid. 10 people get killed when Israeli commando stormed one of the ships. Israeli-Turkish relations are in jeopardy, protests all over the world, peace talks are going down the drain, U.N. investigation, U.S. response, condemnations, all the usual stuff. It's all over the place. Israel messed up big time. Now people can hate Israel and feel good about themselves. They are on the side of the victims. Israel is a fascist bully supported by American tax dollars and weapons. No excuses. Even Hamas looks good now, compared to the murderous Israelis.

My friend puts me on hold. All I can think of is, this is very bad news but at least I don't have to freak out about my brother and my friends in Israel. No Iranian bomb, no chemical attack, no scud missiles, no suicide bomber in the triangle.

When she gets back to me she tells me someone has just called her, asked her what she thought about the flotilla incident.

So I ask her: Why do people think we should have an opinion about it, and why does our opinion matter? Am I working for the Israeli Defense Forces? Do I know the secretary of defense (we call him "minister of security"). Am I supposed to form an opinion about it in a matter of minutes? I mean, we've just heard what happened and already people want to know what we think. Does it really matter?

People ask me what Israel is planning to do about Iran. Like anyone in Israel consults my opinion on the matter. People ask me how the conflict with the Palestinians is going to be resolved, like I'm one of the negotiators.

So here's what I think:

This was a no-win situation for Israel. It was a provocation, a test of Israeli resolve, a successful public relations stunt. Israel took the bait and messed up. If things went according to plan Israel would have come out as the bad guy, which it is, but not as an international lawbreaker. That's it. But this is really not the point. This is just another story, another excuse to continue with the blame game rather than find a workable solution to the conflict!

The thing is that no one really wants to find a solution to this conflict. Lots of people get a lot out of it. Legitimacy, power, money, fame, influence, control, more power, more influence, and more money. So there is really no incentive to solve it. Not on the Israeli side, not on the Palestinian side, not on the other neighbors' side.

That's my opinion in a nutshell.

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