Occasional expressions of concern for our safety come from overseas. Their primary worries are about Palestinians or Arabs. As I began writing this, a weatherman friend who lives in the West Bank warned me about the approach of high winds. "Stay away from swaying trees" was his message.
Life is dangerous. Hopefully ours will continue for a while, and end with a minimum of pain.
For a couple of weeks after this wave of violence began, I did my neighborhood walks with a pointed stick. A friend retired from a career in one of the security services he cannot talk about carried both a pointed stick and a gun. He said that the stick was likely to be a better defense against someone with a knife. He also said that "the best defense is to run away," but both of us may be beyond that option.
It takes a while for Israeli security services to learn how to deal with each wave of threats. An early response to this one was to establish blockades and police searches at the exits to Palestinian neighborhoods, including Isaweea. I didn't like carrying a pointed stick. It added a problem to my greetings with the Arabs I meet on those walks. When the focus of attacks went elsewhere, I left the stick at home.
Now--six months into this wave of violence--there have been about 35 Israeli deaths, 200 or so Palestinians or Israeli Arabs killed while attacking, and thousands arrested. There's an opinion poll done by Palestinians that indicates that a small majority of West Bank Palestinians opposes the violence, and prefer getting on with their lives. Yet a large majority of Gazans support the violence.
A recent visit with friends from Washington reminded us about a primary defense against violence is staying away from locations known to be dangerous. Americans and Europeans, as well as Israelis practice it.
In this wave of violence, the places to avoid are the Damascus Gate of the Old City, and the junctions near West Bank settlements where Palestinians and Israelis work and shop alongside one another, and drive on the same roads. Statistics of overall violence show that a disproportionate amount is within the minority communities. Arab attacks on Jews are a small proportion of Arab attacks on Arabs, reflecting competition between underworld gangs, family feuds, and honor killings, Likewise elsewhere, problematic minorities are most likely to kill one another.
We've never entered Isaweea, only 200 meters as crows would fly. One Jewish friend, an Arabic-speaking lawyer, with clients in Isaweea, does not currently go where once he was comfortable.
Israel's responses to Palestinians are escalating as the violence continues. There have been nightly sweeps through West Bank towns, with suspects brought back for prolonged questioning, administrative detention, and formal charges. A media source of incitement was raided, equipment seized, and personnel arrested. Relatives of a killer living illegally in Jerusalem were brought to Ramallah. The Indonesian Foreign Minister appeared at the border crossing from Jordan, said that he intended to visit with Palestinian officials in Ramallah. His entry was made conditional on also meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem. He refused, and didn't make it to Ramallah.
Not all is simple. Indonesia is among the more moderate of Muslim countries. We've met Indonesian Christians who visit Israel, and Israeli friends have visited Indonesia. In recent days, Saudi Arabia led a move at the Arab League to define Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Jewish history is both a source of pessimism and optimism about this wave of violence. An overwhelming majority of Israel's Jewish population have family connections with the Holocaust or the persecution of Jews in Arab countries. Varda's name is the Hebrew version of her Grandmother Rosa, the wife of a military veteran who had been posted against my father in World War I. German Jews were proud to have served at a higher incidence than non-Jews. Among Varda's stories is listening as a child to the radio programs meant to reunite families separated, and not knowing the fate of their loved ones. She remembers thinking that her Grandmother had been killed, but was not sure until she received an official report from the Dutch Red Cross years later. She continued to hope to hear on the radio that her Uncle Karl had survived, but she also found his name on what she received from the Red Cross.
Luckier was a friend whose father had not spoken about his past, and received a knock on the door while at dinner with his wife and children. The man standing there said, "I am your brother."
Donald Trump's presidential campaign reminds some Israelis about those bad times. Pictures of fighting at rallies, with Trump jesting about the violence of his opponents, without condemning that of his supporters, brings back images of Hitler's Brownshirts.
We're Jews, and we also argue about that. Israel Hayom's front page headline focused on the violence of Trump's opponents. Ha'aretz highlighted the comparison with bad Germans, reporting that a Trump supporter yelled, "Go to f***ing Auschwitz."
I've heard from Jews who think that a comparison with Hitler is extreme.
We can hope so, but his lack of governmental experience is a cause for uncertainty. Political bargaining is close to the essence of civilization, allowing people with different interests to get along. The process differs from the bargaining in commercial deals. The prominence of values makes it more complex than the pursuit of profit. Subtlety and nuance are important.
The height of complexity appears in international politics, where a leader of nations must sort through conflicting advice about foreign cultures. It's not something that recent American Presidents have done well, and Donald's one-liners are not encouraging.
Yet here we are, scored by the World Bank as one of the world's wealthiest countries. Poverty is most apparent among the ultra-Orthodox, where the fathers of large families prefer study over work, and among Arabs, where women are less likely to work than in Jewish families. Yet Israeli Arabs have better health measures than White Americans, so how bad can it be?
Ethnic tensions still bother some Jews with family backgrounds in Europe and the Middle East, as well as recent immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia. But intermarriage is melting our pot. Children who are mixtures, including our grandchildren, nieces and nephews, are Israeli more than anything else. Publishers of prayer books have coped with the phenomenon by publishing Ashkenazi versions of the text facing Sephardi versions on the oppose page.
It ain't perfect, but a lot better than what it was. We shouldn't envy cousins living elsewhere.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem