Not a typical weekend, but not all that unusual. This is a tense place, with frequent events that can provoke great drama.
It began with a tragic accident. A heavy truck swerved on a rain slicked road north of Jerusalem, slammed into a bus carrying a group of four- to eight-year old Palestinian children on a school outing. The bus overturned and burst into flame. Seven children and a teacher died, and more than 30 were injured.
An accident late in 1987 set off the first intifada. Seven died, and an IDF military vehicle was involved.
The responses to this tragedy provided signs of Palestinian incitement and Israeli efforts to produce calm, as well as indications of cooperation in dealing with the immediate needs. Initial Palestinian reports exaggerated the number of deaths, leading Israeli commentators to recall claims about a "Jenin massacre." That allegation came in response to an IDF operation after the terror attack on a Passover Seder at a Netanya hotel in 2002. Palestinian sources claimed hundreds or thousands killed in their homes, but subsequent inquiries by international organizations found that 52 or 54 Palestinians were killed, along with 23 IDF soldiers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Palestinians speaking on Israeli radio blamed Israel for this weekend''s accident. If Israel had provided better schools for Palestinian children, parents would not have had to send them to the private school that had arranged this outing. IDF soldiers manning a check point near the accident did not reach the scene quickly enough to save more children. And Israel had not invested enough in the roadway to assure that it would be free of accidents.
Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of official mourning for the dead, and assigned them the designation of martyrs. That term suggests that they had died as part of the Palestinian national conflict with Israel.
For its part, Israelis reported that the truck driver who caused the accident was himself an Arab, and emphasized the number of injured children treated in Israeli hospitals. It also reported on the cooperation at the scene between Israeli and Palestinian emergency medical personnel.
Chaos continued in Syria, along with competing assessments of whether, and how long, Bashar al-Assad and/or the present regime can remain in power. The Israeli government has refrained from any official comments about what is happening just over its border. Assad is no angel, but so far has had the support of various Christian and Druze minorities in Syria. His own forces are disproportionately made up from his Alawite community, an ethnic and religious minority that has been viewed as not entirely kosher by other Muslims, and has acquired a reputation as hateful repressers. Yet other minorities in the country fear that the rebels are disproportionately Muslim extremists, who would not be charitable to any but themselves.
A Palestinian friend speculated that when Assad falls, Alawites would flee in anticipation of a massacre by the victors. And insofar as they would not be welcome by any of the Muslim countries surrounding Syria, Israel would be their obvious place of refuge. Someone claiming to speak for the Syrian rebels indicated that they would be willing to reach an accommodation with Israel about the Golan heights that took account of the demographic changes that have occurred since 1967.
Among the problems in interpreting that is the lack of unity among Syrian rebels, and no clues as to what kind of regime would actually replace that of Assad, if indeed, he personally or some other Alawi does not succeed in quelling the revolt.
Somewhat lesser in its capacity for shaking the region and perhaps the world was this item from Thursday''s Ha''aretz
"Mormon church leaders apologized to the family of Holocaust survivor and Jewish rights advocate Simon Wiesenthal after his parents were posthumously baptized, a controversial ritual that Mormons believe allows deceased people a way to the afterlife but offends members of many other religions."
Not the kind of publicity that Mitt Romney needs, but it might pass without effect on his campaign. People are used to excessive enthusiasm among the adherents of various religions, including the Haredim of Beit Shemesh and Mea She''arim.
Speaking of which, those of us who express ourselves via the Internet might heed this report from another of our neighbors.
"On February 4, 2012, the date marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, a 23-year-old Saudi man named Hamza Kashgari posted three messages on Twitter, which were perceived by many in Saudi Arabia as direct insults to Muhammad. The incident caused a stir in Saudi Arabia, with thousands of Twitter users calling for his execution. Karshgari attempted to flee the country but was apprehended in Malaysia and deported back to Saudi Arabia to face charges of blasphemy, apostasy, and atheism, which carry the death penalty."
Somewhat more threatening than religious extremism among Mormons. It''s one thing to have one''s ancestors converted in order to provide them with eternal life. It another thing to lose one''s head on account of a Twit said to be blasphemous.
Along with all the above, the country has been locked down due to an awesome weather forecast. Lots of rain and wind, snow in the north and predicted above 600 meters in the center of the country. French Hill sits at the highest point within Jerusalem. Our balcony is 810 meters above sea level. City officials proclaimed their emergency plans, the National Park Authority closed its sites in order to assure the public''s safety, and Ha''aretz send a text message Friday morning indicating that Sunday''s paper would likely be delayed.
I awoke Saturday morning to find wet, and to hear some wind, but nothing more. Latest advisory is for a few flakes mixed with the rain. I was hoping to have something to compare with all those snow dusted statues photographed last week in Rome.
There would be nothing in this less place concerned with graven images to compare with all those Roman heroes. The most French Hill has provided in an occasional winter is a few centimeters of the white stuff that I remember from Fall River, Wisconsin, and Utah. But not this weekend.