My front row seat to the intifada

Memories of a visit to 1980s Israel, the year after the first intifada began.

By URI PILICHOWSKI
December 13, 2015 21:55
4 minute read.
Illustrative: Palestinian stone-thrower

A Palestinian stone-thrower looks on as he stands in front of a fire during clashes with IDF troops in the West Bank village of Duma. (photo credit: REUTERS)

‘Excited” only begins to describe my feelings in late December 1987. I was 11 years old and preparing for my first trip to see Eretz Yisrael.

We all remember our first trip to Israel. Whether that initial journey was with parents, a summer program or Birthright, we always cherish that peek out the airplane window and vision of Tel Aviv’s coast, that first smell of the shuk in Jerusalem and neck-tilting glance upward to the top of the Kotel. As winter vacation approached, I couldn’t wait to see the images we had studied in day school come to life.

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A year earlier, Palestinians had started the intifada.

The scenes are etched into our memories; for those too young to remember, the first intifada’s rock throwing, fire bombing and all-out chaos has been replicated many times in the years since. As an 11-year-old, thoughts of the intifada, danger and rebellion never entered my mind. Eretz Yisrael was the land of the Bible come alive, where everything was Jewish, and all the food was delicious and kosher. I couldn’t wait to get there.

I was quickly exposed to the intifada when I arrived.

I have family that had recently moved from America to Neve Aliza in the Shomron (Samaria) and getting there required a drive through Kalkilya, an Arab village full of hotheads throwing rocks at passing cars. I had never seen a soldier before and the constant sight of Israeli soldiers and private citizens armed, even in the synagogue on Shabbat, opened my eyes to a reality in Israel that my young brain couldn’t really process. I had nightmares those first few nights, some of which I still remember vividly 27 years later.

One episode from that trip sticks in my mind. It was Friday, erev Shabbat, January 1, 1988. My parents took me to Mea She’arim. As we people-watched and window shopped, a slowly approaching rumble could be heard. Traffic split and large armored personal carriers rolled down the street. I can’t recall how many military vehicles drove down the narrow street and pushed us to the walls, but my mouth was wide open in shock.

I don’t remember being worried or scared, but I do remember being confused. I remember turning to my father and asking him what was happening and his explaining to me that it was an Arab anniversary and the army was just being careful. He assured me that there was nothing to worry about. I trusted my father and accepted his answer.

With the power of the Internet, I researched that day and saw it was the anniversary of the founding of Fatah, the armed wing of the PLO . In the midst of the intifada, this could have been a day of tremendous and overwhelming violence. Israel had also recently deported members of the PLO , and mass protests had erupted over the deportations. This followed a tour of Gaza by then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin (with TV cameras in tow). Israel was a powder keg ready to explode; the IDF had spread out to calm any potential outbreaks. I had a front-row seat to a massive show of force.

Those are my memories of the intifada. On that first trip we also visited Masada, the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi.

It was fun, with majestic views and odd experiences.

On the drive back to Jerusalem, our tour guide convinced us to stop and visit a new yishuv a few months younger than I was, and he promised my parents that we’d be impressed by how quickly this developing town was growing.

That was my first trip to Mitzpe Yeriho. In another 25 years, this time on a pilot trip before moving to Israel, I returned to that community. I walked onto the large porch of a beautiful home that overlooks Jericho, the Jordan Valley, and the Jordanian mountains all the way to Amman, and in perhaps the worst negotiating tactic ever employed, I turned to the owner and told him “I’ll take it.” Today my family and I live in Mitzpe Yeriho and we couldn’t be happier.

As I look back to that initial trip and the impressions etched into my memory, I realize that those first sights of an intifada against Israel gave me a taste of the very real risks that Israel faces every day. In a visceral way, those many armed soldiers and civilians and the armored personal carriers rolling down Mea She’arim helped me see the need for a security fence, checkpoints, and ultimately a peaceful solution to this decades long conflict.

May God grant that we see it soon.

The author is a Rebbe at Yeshivat Migdal Hatorah and teaches Israel Political Advocacy in America and Israel.


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