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Sometimes you feel so helpless. Several years ago, just as Rosh Hashana was about to start in Israel, a tornado-traumatized friend called me from the Caribbean island where she was working to share her fears as a major hurricane headed her way. All I could do was offer sympathy, empathy and a promise to be thinking of her while praying in Jerusalem. The tone, if not the words, of that phone call echoed down the line this week when I dialed my friend in Sderot to see how she was faring amid news reports of a wounded family and large numbers of incoming missiles. As I stood in the capital, surrounded by noise of Jerusalem Day celebrations, I heard the chilling sound of incoming Kassams pounding down next to her unprotected home. Shortly after she had described the frightening drive back to her house from a home two doors down from the one that sustained a direct hit, my friend suddenly broke off and began reciting psalms out loud. Very loud. Even her young son had earlier commented on the strength of her fervor during their frantic drive home.
My feeling of helplessness was the same after both phone calls - thousands of miles and many years apart. But the two incidents couldn't be more different. A hurricane is, after all, what insurance agents like to call "an act of God"; a Kassam, on the other hand, is something satanic, that is dryly summed up by assessors as "an act of war."
My friend said that Sderot had been expecting a heavy attack. I thought she meant that Jerusalem Day provided the perfect excuse, if such a thing is necessary, but she explained that it was "obvious" that as the situation deteriorated in Gaza more rockets would be fired at Israel because Hamas would try to prove itself. After six years, I guess you get to be an expert on such matters.
Kassams might be indiscriminate when it comes to where they land, but they are launched deliberately in a pattern that has its own reasoning, however perverted that might be.
That the situation has deteriorated in Gaza is clear. I heard an Israel Radio interviewer speaking to a Palestinian journalist who was trapped in her house with her children, the sound of shooting by Hamas and Fatah audible to the radio listeners, in a call that reminded me of my phone conversation with my friend in Sderot.
I felt sorry for the Palestinian woman. She was living a nightmare with no way out in sight.
Israelis spurred on by the direct broadcasts from Sderot - a 12-year-old girl described how her bat mitzva was ruined by the Kassam barrage, noting in a heartbreaking matter-of-fact way "one Kassam is natural, that's to be expected" - opened their hearts to the residents. Various companies and organizations sponsored short respites and recreations in quieter parts of the country.
Russian-born billionaire Arkady Gaydamak, being crowned by some as "King of Israel," stepped in on cue to pay for hotel stays and increasing protective measures in Sderot. The sound of Kassams falling on the Negev reverberated around the country and Israelis united, the northern residents in particular recalling last summer and the effects of Hizbullah's power struggles.
Elsewhere in these pages Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh says in an interview with Ruthie Blum: "[I]f you went to an Israeli Arab - Muslim or Christian - and said, 'Look, in a future agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, we are going to be able to include where you're living in a Palestinian state,' he'd probably say, 'No thank you; go away.' If you were to ask him why, he'd say, 'This [Israel] is my country. This is my state. I've grown up here. I like it here. And I look at you over there, and I don't like what I see.'
"And, you know, I don't blame them. We Palestinians have not succeeded in creating something of which we can be proud, or which can be attractive. So, why should anybody wish to come and live here?"
Indeed, there are many signs that Arabs are struggling to remain within the Green Line. An official for the Israel Society for the Preservation of Heritage Sites, an NGO, recently pointed out that there is a tremendous amount of illegal construction taking place in Jerusalem's Old City. This has escalated in the years since the beginning of the construction of the security fence as Arabs fearful of being stuck "on the wrong side of the fence" prefer to leave their homes in nearby towns and villages and live in cramped extensions hastily built on rooftops within the ancient walls.
This strange form of "disengagement" is understandable. Arab Jerusalemites receive free education, health care through high-standard Israeli health funds and National Insurance Institute payments. Life in Jerusalem might not be a dream, but it certainly seems more attractive than the nightmare that is taking place where the Palestinian Authority has established its de-facto state.
We can - and do - complain about our government here in Israel. It sometimes seems like kvetching is a national sport, a way of letting off steam without anyone getting hurt. But whatever Israeli ministers might think of each other - which is not exactly a secret given our free press and the ministerial attraction to free publicity - it is child's play compared to the kidnappings and murders being carried out by the rival factions in the Palestinian cabinet.
The Israeli coalition makes for strange political bedfellows, each metaphorically struggling to grab the sheets to expose the other, and perhaps at some point kick the rival out of bed. The Israeli ministers shoot off their mouths; they do not, thankfully, get their supporters to literally shoot their rivals. This is in direct contrast to the Palestinian government - the one Israel is constantly being urged to negotiate with. If the Hamas-Fatah government is their idea of unity, no wonder the peace agreement with Israel blew up almost at birth in Oslo.
And however much Israeli journalists love to lead the griping, they do so freely. Among the latest victims of the Palestinian infighting was Suleiman al-Ishi, a senior editor of the new Falasteen daily. It gives a new meaning to the term media wars.
May 15, the day on which the Palestinians marked 59 years since the Nakba, the "Catastrophe," known to you and me as Israel's independence, saw a bloodbath in Gaza which left 14 Palestinians dead in what can only be described as a civil war. It was somehow symbolic. The Palestinians have taken their first steps towards statehood, but instead of uniting to build a country of their own, they are shooting themselves in the foot. A catastrophe indeed.