It always looks worse from the outside than the actual situation on the ground. Of course, wherever and whenever violent attacks occur there is mayhem, often with tragic consequences, but life in Israel goes on pretty much as normal everywhere else, though there is a noticeably greater police and military presence.
Walking through the centre of modern Jerusalem the other day the only remarkable feature was the lack of anything remarkable. People were sitting in outdoor cafes enjoying the sunshine and the delicacies on offer. Tourists were enjoying ice-creams as they strolled along the pedestrian mall, trying to decide which souvenirs to buy. Shops seemed to be doing good business and it was not always easy to find an attendant to take one’s money.
The question is, who gains from stirring up these attacks? The perpetrators are almost invariably shot and killed. The physical damage they inflict is not always as lethal as they had hoped, and the resulting security clampdown and destruction of family homes is scarcely beneficial to their community.
It would seem that those who suffer the most are the shopkeepers and stallholders of the Old City, as few Israelis are prepared to venture there today and tourists are less inclined to frequent the narrow alleys and streets. There are enough attractions and ancient sites in modern Jerusalem to keep any tourist busy for days on end.
What has been achieved, however, is a reinforcement of intransigence on the part of Israelis who might previously have been inclined to cede parts of Jerusalem and the Territories to Palestinian control. What hope is there for peaceful coexistence if murderous violence is apt to erupt whenever one Palestinian agency or another decides to incite its youngsters to take up knives and stab Jews whenever and wherever they can?
It’s no use telling us that ‘they just want their own country,’ as I heard when I was in London a few years ago. Is that why they did their utmost to destroy Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973? Is that why rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza ever since Israeli troops pulled out of the Strip and handed it over, lock stock and barrel, to the Palestinians? Why did they not seize the opportunity to create a flourishing state of their own instead of destroying everything in sight and launching murderous attacks on their neighbours? It might be worth recalling that in 1929, long before Israel’s establishment, the Moslem residents of Hebron rioted and killed Jews indiscriminately, completely annihilating the Jewish population of the town.
Yes, they have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of enmity and possibly even fear, but that too shall pass. Israel has experienced similar outbreaks of hostility from time to time and eventually these have abated, whether as a result of harshly repressive measures or through an effort to engage in dialogue with the other side.
While Israel’s Messianic Zionists, are doing their utmost to arouse feelings of anger among Moslems by organizing demonstrative outings to the Temple Mount there are pinpricks of light here and there where Palestinians and Israelis stand side by side and refuse to be drawn into the senseless cycle of aggression and enmity.
The sad fact remains, however, that the forces of reason, those segments of Israel’s Jewish population who once thought that coexistence alongside a Palestinian state was possible, are diminishing daily, as they are confronted by the all-pervasive intransigence. Given the current atmosphere on both sides, there does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel. But then again, life goes on, and is sometimes full of surprises.