The boom-and-bust decade

The first 10 years of the 21st century have not been the best in Israel's history. But there have still been some reasons to celebrate.

April 27, 2010 15:38
david ben gurion 224.88

david ben gurion 224.88. (photo credit: GPO)


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My mother says the Cuban missile crisis almost passed her by as she was busy looking after my newborn brother. My strongest memory of September 11, 2001 was the realization that I had broken my rule never to nurse my son while watching the news, after only 10 days. 
Despite the reflex action of journalists all over the world to draw up reviews of The Year That Was - an urge magnified tenfold at the end of a decade - I suspect most adults look back on a set period as the time when they started college / got married / had children / moved homes / changed jobs or sadly, suffered losses through dismissal, divorce or death. Read on to remember some of the events that were happening while you were busy living life.

It has not been a good decade. Anywhere. In Israel, in true blue-and- white fashion, it was in particular a roller- coaster ride of highs and lows. The terror attacks and wars, which provided so much of the background to the past 10 years, brought us together; the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 threatened to pull us apart.

Whether you call it disengagement or expulsion, the removal of the Jewish communities from Gaza/Gush Katif was the benchmark of the first decade of the millennium here in much the same way that Yitzhak Rabin's assassination was the turning point of the 1990s. On that, at least, we can all agree.

The scenes of IDF soldiers forcibly removing Jews from their homes, accompanying Torah scrolls being taken from synagogues and even evacuating Jewish bodies from graveyards have left an indelible mark. 
It was reinforced with every Kassam that was since launched from where (heavily guarded) Jewish communities once grew fruit, flowers and vegetables. Even those who could justifiably say 'told you' did so without pleasure.

THE DECADE started out fairly reasonably: The Y2K end- of-the-world- type fears proved unfounded; Pope John Paul II made the first papal visit to the Jewish state; in May 2000, the IDF pulled out of the Lebanese security zone without loss of life; and all the while dot.coms floated around in their pretty but fragile bubbles.

The first major slap in the face came in July 2000 when Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat failed to reach a peace agreement at Camp David. In September, Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount was used by the Palestinians as a trigger to launch the second intifada. In October, two IDF soldiers were brutally lynched in Ramallah and Hizbullah abducted (and killed) three IDF soldiers, setting the tone for the decade. According to figures compiled by the non- partisan One Family Fund, more than 1,370 Israelis can be considered fatal victims of terrorism since September 2000. Against this backdrop, the security fence entered our lives and with it increased international condemnation.

In Israel, 2001 was a year so bad it can only be summed up, in the words once used by the British monarch, as an 'annus horribilis.' 
There was the Versailles wedding hall disaster in which 23 people were killed when the dance floor collapsed. But above all, it was a year of terror: the Dolphinarium attack in which 21 victims, nearly all of them Russian immigrant teens, were killed at a Tel Aviv discotheque; Sbarro, in which 15 people, including seven children died in a Jerusalem pizza parlor. So many individual victims died in
2001 - 206, to be precise - that there is no space to recall them all, but a few names stick out: 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass shot in her stroller in Hebron; Dr. Shmuel Gillis, the life-saving hematologist gunned down in a roadside ambush; Tekoa teens Yossi Ish- Ran, 14, and Kobi Mandell bludgeoned to death as they hiked near their home; and minister Rehavam (Gandhi) Ze'evi assassinated in a Jerusalem hotel.

The date 9/11 is so etched into the world psyche that it needs no extra mention here. This was the decade of al- Qaida, in which global jihad tried to take over the global village by force. Many of the atrocities around the world did not affect Israel directly, but few here can forget journalist Daniel Pearl's last words before his grisly execution: 'I am Jewish.'

One of the worst attacks of the decade here was the Park Hotel massacre in March 2002 in which 30 people were killed as they gathered to celebrate the Pessah Seder. Unable to ignore the level of atrocity, the government ordered the IDF to launch Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin. While this was going on, al-Qaida murdered
21 people at the Djerba synagogue in Tunisia. The group was also behind the Bali attacks in October 2002 in which 202 people were killed and the attack on Israeli vacationers in Mombasa, Kenya, in which 15 died. Thankfully, the simultaneous attempt to shoot down an El Al plane at Mombasa airport failed.

In October 2003, terrorists hit Haifa's Maxim restaurant, a haven of coexistence, killing 21 and almost wiping out two families. The next month al-Qaida killed 27 outside two Istanbul synagogues. Hundreds of Israelis were killed in the last 10 years as buses, shopping malls, restaurants and streets became terror targets: Cafe Hillel, Moment, the Hebrew University cafeteria, the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva library... 
too many places to record here.

Israelis watched as Saddam Hussein, who had attacked Israel with Scud missiles in the 1991 Gulf War, was captured and humiliated in Iraq in December 2003 (and hanged in December 2006) and Yasser Arafat died in Paris in November 2004. Some would say it wasn't all bad news.

THIS WAS a tumultuous period in Israeli politics - never particularly calm. Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister in special elections in February 2001 and re- elected, as head of Likud, in February 2003. In November 2005, he left Likud to create Kadima. Sharon suffered a stroke in January 2006, falling into a coma from which he has not recovered. The party, too, seems doomed to fizzle out despite Tzipi Livni's impressive electoral results in February 2009. Ultimately, Binyamin Netanyahu, as head of the largest political bloc, became prime minister for the second time that month.

This decade was marked by political convictions of the criminal kind: 
Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson and former health minister Shlomo Benizri were both put behind bars. Ehud Olmert (prime minister from 2006 to 2009) is fighting corruption charges, and Moshe Katsav, who served as president from August 2000 to July 2007, is on trial for sexual offenses.

Shimon Peres replaced Katsav as president at the age of 83. He is so obviously enjoying keeping young on the job that it is no surprise to find he has launched his own YouTube site (which is soooo The Noughties).

OF ALL the sad stories of the decade, one that seems to have touched the most people is the fate of Gilad Schalit, abducted in June 2006 and, as these words are written, the only IDF soldier in Gaza. His capture, brought home more forcibly in a media-conscious era, was compounded a couple of weeks later by the kidnapping (and, it turns out, deaths) of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser by Hizbullah.

This sparked the Second Lebanon War, 33 days of fighting in which some 200 Katyushas a day were launched on the North and the country became frighteningly aware that the illusion of peace after the withdrawal from the security zone was just that: an illusion. The war is considered an IDF failure, both strategically and morally, but lessons were learned and applied later in Gaza. And it is the Hizbullah leadership that is still in hiding in Lebanon, while Israelis are again vacationing in the North.

In the South, according to figures compiled by The Israel Project, more than 10,000 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza between
2001 and 2008; some 6,500 since disengagement. That is the background to Operation Cast Lead a year ago, although you might have missed it if you relied on the report by the UN's investigator, Richard Goldstone.

IT WAS a decade in which anti-Semitism became the bon ton in the guise of anti-Zionism, accompanied by many boycott and divestment attempts. In early September 2001, while the country was being rocked to the rhythm of bomb blasts and shootings, the UN's Durban Conference against Racism blasted Israel on the public opinion front
- a war Israel all but lost this decade. From Durban in 2001 to the torture and murder of French Jew Ilan Halimi in Paris in January 2006 was a short step for inhumanity. Durban II in 2009 was dominated by the image of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad literally laughing at the world as he stamped on the last vestiges of human rights in Iran and stepped up his country's nuclear program. You have been warned.

The 'peace process' turned into the Road Map in 2003 and became the Annapolis process in 2007, but the road so far has led to nowhere. By the time Netanyahu had publicly recognized the two-state solution in 2009, there were already, in effect, three states: Fatah in the West Bank, Hamastan in Gaza and guess who stuck in the middle. Barack Obama's election in 2008 was obviously not enough to bring about world peace, just a Nobel Peace Prize.

ISRAELIS also did quite well on the Nobel front with four new
laureates: Profs. Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover (chemistry) in 2004; Prof. Robert Yisrael Aumann (economics) in 2005; and Prof. Ada Yonath (chemistry) in 2009.

There were other moments of nachas, too: In 2004, windsurfer Gal Friedman boosted morale by winning the country's first Olympic gold medal at Athens. Bar Refaeli became an international supermodel.

The movie industry (dealt with in depth elsewhere in the Post) scored hit after hit - particularly for films dealing with the trauma of the
1982 First Lebanon War: Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir and Shmuel Maoz's Lebanon. (For those who need light relief - and who doesn't after the past 10 years - I recommend the non-political comedy The Band's Visit.)

Early in 2003, Israel reached new heights of collective pride watching watching astronaut Ilan Ramon making kiddush in space. The shock of the Columbia's disintegration on its reentry became one of those 'where were you when you heard?' moments. The poignancy was heightened a few months ago when his son, who had followed in his pilot father's footsteps, was killed in an IAF training accident. 
Another only-in-Israel moment.

On a happier note, in 2009, Tel Aviv went to town over its centennial
- the White City which grew from a few homes on the sand to a metropolis more liberal than many others along the Mediterranean. And large quantities of natural gas were discovered off the coast.

LIFE IN Israel, like the rest of the world, was defined by the era of reality TV and ratings. It's a wonder elections weren't conducted by SMS. American Idol converted to Kochav Nolad in 2003. The first season was won by Ninette Taib, who is remarkably still going strong. 
Big Brother, Survivor and various other members of the genre burst into our lives, providing escapism of the lowest kind. Israeli sitcoms and dramas, such as In Treatment, returned the favor and made it to US TVs.

DESPITE THE ups and downs - and even more downs - of the decade, birthright-Taglit helped thousands of Diaspora youths visit the country and new immigrants continued to arrive. These were the years in which Nefesh B'Nefesh seems to have overtaken the Jewish Agency as the major facilitator of immigration from North America and Britain, but JAFI proved its traditional worth by flying Jews out of war-torn Georgia in 2008. Israeli aid groups, including Zaka, which has invaluable experience in identifying bodies, also helped as the world suffered natural disasters, including 2004's tsunami (another word most people had never heard before this dismal decade).

We survived the Wall Street crash fairly well (the definition probably depending on whether you kept your job and salary). On the other hand, Bernard Madoff - who took the phrase 'charity begins at home' to mean your favorite charity and his favorite home - provided a devastating blow to local philanthropic efforts and morale.

Visitors included two popes, innumerable presidents and politicians, and giant entertainers from both this decade and the past - Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen to name but a few.

THIS WAS the Green Era. In Israel, the return of solar energy giant Luz was a shining example of the increasingly environmentally conscious world. The Birkat Hahama (Blessing of the Sun), a prayer recited once every 28 years when, the Talmud says, the sun reaches the same spot in the firmament as when it was created, was said with feeling by Jews around the globe just before Pessah in 2009. There's a lot of comfort in tradition when times are tough.

More than anything else, the past decade was marked by technological advance. On January 1, 2000, walking home from a new millennium party at 1 a.m. - and thankfully, despite the violence and terror a woman can still walk out at this hour in Jerusalem - I met other revelers, religious and secular. Jokers greeted each other 'Bug sameah,' a play on the words 'Happy Holiday' referring to the widespread fears that computers worldwide would collapse.

Who could have imagined then just how fast innovations would develop? 
At the beginning of the decade we had mobile phones which were, well, phones - devices for receiving and making calls. We end it with the iPhone, which has more applications than you can possibly need and an aggressive marketing policy trying to convince you otherwise. We have had to learn about BlackBerries, iPods, GPSs, Wii games, digital cameras, Photoshop, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. The disc-on-key - an Israeli invention - became an essential part of our lives.

It might be the language of prophets, but Hebrew has had a hard time keeping up. Nonetheless, misron is gradually taking over SMS, and reshet seems to have caught on for Web. And who can imagine what new words we will need 10 years down the line?

May it be a decade of peace and prosperity - we deserve it.

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