karnit goldwasser 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As we bid 2007 good-bye, and contemplate who might qualify as Israeli of the year, we must first ask: What was the biggest event of the past 12 months for Israel?
That's hard to say. One reason, perhaps, is that last year's most reported event - the Annapolis conference - ended up more of a public relations photo opportunity than an encounter of any lasting substance. Indeed, a little more than a month after the meeting, one can't say at this point that it achieved any more than bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the point where they can't agree on any of the major issues needed to resolve the conflict between them.
In that case, the biggest event of 2007 was not the non-event of Annapolis, but the event that didn't happen at all - the widely expected sequel to the Second Lebanon War, the "war next summer" - which, in the end, didn't break out.
Why not? Well, Iran was never forcefully challenged, certainly not militarily, on its nuclear program. Hizbullah, and its Syrian ally, seemed more preoccupied with the internal struggle for political control of Lebanon than provoking Israel. Hamas, likewise, ended up killing far more Palestinians belonging to rival Fatah in their struggle for control of the Gaza Strip, than it did Israeli civilians and soldiers.
So the expected war between Israel and the radical Islamic axis was canceled - or perhaps just postponed to a later date, which is when new IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and the reinvigorated military will truly be challenged. The unfinished business, on many levels, of the Second Lebanon War, remained the biggest story of the year here, as was demonstrated by the stormy scene in the Knesset on Monday when the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee presented its evaluation of the IDF's conduct in that conflict.
An absence of war doesn't necessarily mean peace, and nobody in their right mind would argue that's what we enjoyed in 2007. Certainly the residents of Sderot, two of whom lost their lives in the continual Kassam attacks, and the rest suffering varying degrees of physical and psychological wounds, will look back on 2007 as nothing less than wartime.
But the lack of a major conflict, and the effectiveness of the security forces operating in and around the West Bank and Gaza - invaluably aided by the security fence being built around the former - meant that only an unlucky 13 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed in conflict with the Palestinians/Arabs this year, the lowest number in decades.
That figure is one major reason why the big political story of 2007 was another widely expected event that didn't happen - the fall of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Yet while simply surviving in office is a significant achievement in politics, it's not the kind that gets somebody chosen as person of the year, and Olmert cannot claim that honor by any measure.
Nor can Ehud Barak, merely on the basis of returning to the leadership of a Labor Party that still appears unable to return to the leadership of the nation. The same applies to Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, who has yet to find the magic formula to break up Olmert's surprisingly steady coalition.
Indeed, the only Israeli politician who truly scored notable success this year was Shimon Peres, who won newfound respect as the office-saving replacement for disgraced ex-president Moshe Katsav. Yet, although Peres may well get credit by future generations for once again being prophetically ahead of the curve - this time for using the presidency as a bully pulpit in promoting Israeli contributions in the search for alternative energy - his central achievement this time was simply in carving out a new late (last?) chapter in his long, long political career.
Outside of the political sphere, the Israeli economy remained surprisingly strong, recovering quickly from the fallout of the Lebanon conflict. Several local tycoons, especially Yitzhak Tshuva and Nochi Dankner, surely qualify as businesspeople of the year for leading the way in a relatively new development of Israelis making major investments abroad. But their financial machinations have little influence on most ordinary Israelis, and none has developed new products or trends that impact on society in the fashion of a Steve Jobs.
Elsewhere in 2007, individual Israelis scored outstanding achievements in a number of fields, but none that stand out above all others.
This, overall, was a year in which Israelis seemed content most of all to hunker down after the severe challenges of 2006, and to try and go about their business in the face of the persistent threats that surround us. In this regard, the residents of Sderot who determinedly remained in their besieged town, might will qualify as a collective person of 2007, even if no one individual emerged to embody that fortitude.
There was one person, though, who can be said to have personified the nation's collective struggle with the lingering trauma of the Second Lebanon War - especially the fate of hostages Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who together with Gilad Schalit, still held captive by Hamas in Gaza, remain the most urgent unresolved issue from the summer of 2006.
All these hostages' family members have struggled valiantly to keep the fate of their boys in the public eye. One in particular stands out, though, having emerged as an effective advocate not only for her own personal cause, but also as a valuable spokesperson for Israeli concerns in the international arena.
She has repeatedly shown it is possible to air a cause and grievance without resorting to partisan posturing or personal invective, and has demonstrated a continuing grace under pressure that is a quality her fellow Israelis could use more of when faced with the most trying of circumstances.
So because of who she is, and what she represents, our choice for Israeli of the year is Karnit Goldwasser.
And one can only hope that when 2008 ends, there will be no longer be any need to consider her, or any member of the Goldwasser, Regev or Schalit families, as the Israelis of this coming year.
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