Jane Ahlin column: An Israeli family's dilemma
The Israeli couple and their 14-year-old son will spend most of the summer in Minnesota. Concern for his safety is the reason they want to get away from Israel. A gentle, big-eyed boy whose bar mitzvah was last August, the son doesn't complai...
The Israeli couple and their 14-year-old son will spend most of the summer in Minnesota. Concern for his safety is the reason they want to get away from Israel. A gentle, big-eyed boy whose bar mitzvah was last August, the son doesn't complain much. He is old enough to understand that in Israel, random suicide murders are all too common. No one knows when or where they will occur, only that they will happen again, and innocent people will die.
To live in Israel is to be at risk.
The couple and their son are secular Jews, supportive of the 1993 Oslo accord, who would have been comfortable with the terms of the negotiated settlement brokered by President Clinton with Barak and Arafat a few brief years ago. Still, they weren't surprised Arafat backed out. In the eyes of Israeli Jews, Arafat has bloodstained hands; he is a destroyer, not a builder. They feel about him the way Palestinians feel about Sharon: Each is a man more comfortable killing than making peace; each allows his own hatred and ego to trump reason.
In Israel, all young adults do a stint in the military -- a policy Israelis point to with pride. Naturally, the Israeli couple and their son know many soldiers. One awkward, 18-year-old who seems particularly ill-suited to the army comes to mind. If he is lucky enough to be tapped for computer work, he may be okay, but the thought that he might shoulder an Uzi and patrol the occupied areas ready to shoot armed Palestinians is ludicrous in the blackest sense of the word. The 14-year-old scheduled to spend the summer in Minnesota may recognize that like his friend, he is ill-suited for the kind of war the Israeli army has been waging. Yet he, too, will have no choice.
The best he and his parents can hope for is that by the time he serves, there will be relative peace. In the meantime, they think about not only vacationing in Minnesota but also taking sabbatical leave in the United States for the year. For a while they even talked of emigrating, but that idea is fraught with emotion. The husband is the son of a German holocaust survivor, and the wife is the daughter of two Polish holocaust survivors. She also served in the Israeli army well into her thirties, working on Jordanian documents as a translator. The two are disillusioned by the right wing and frustrated by the factionalism that continually wracks the government; they detest the religious zealotry that feeds the contentious settlements.
The fear the Israeli couple has for their son's future brings to mind a day in 1993 when I accompanied two women to a rehabilitation hospital in Tel Aviv. From the outside, the hospital had the look of a 1960s American elementary school. Inside the look was institutional -- linoleum floors, ramps, and metal equipment taking up space on the floor or hanging from the ceiling. The rooms were airy and not overcrowded, and there was a constant din of activity as could be expected. It was not a gloomy place.
Still, what the women had not prepared me for were the patients, almost all of whom were maimed young men. Mere kids. Young men who looked hardly old enough to shave were missing legs or arms or eyes, or they were paralyzed. The senselessness of their injuries was overwhelming and a sense of cold futility chilled me to the core. What amazes me thinking back is that 1993 was a hopeful time.
Right and wrong (good and evil) can be argued. The point is that neither side is in control of its extremists. Arafat squandered the good will of the Oslo accord and the good start of the negotiated settlement; Rabin -- who was probably Israel's greatest hope -- was assassinated by one of his own and Barak lost his political capital trying to bring peace. More and more, it appears that an imposed peace, with Marshall Plan types of rewards for moderation (Arab countries, Europe, and the United States all lending financial support), is the only way out of the nightmare.
Ahlin is a regular contributor to The Forum's commentary pages.