The boom-and-bust decade

The first 10 years of the 21st century have not been the best in Israel's history. But there have still been some reasons to celebrate.

david ben gurion 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
david ben gurion 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
My mother says the Cuban missile crisis almost passed her by as she was busy looking after my newborn brother. My strongest memory of September 11, 2001 was the realization that I had broken my rule never to nurse my son while watching the news, after only 10 days.  Despite the reflex action of journalists all over the world to draw up reviews of The Year That Was - an urge magnified tenfold at the end of a decade - I suspect most adults look back on a set period as the time when they started college / got married / had children / moved homes / changed jobs or sadly, suffered losses through dismissal, divorce or death. Read on to remember some of the events that were happening while you were busy living life.
It has not been a good decade. Anywhere. In Israel, in true blue-and- white fashion, it was in particular a roller- coaster ride of highs and lows. The terror attacks and wars, which provided so much of the background to the past 10 years, brought us together; the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 threatened to pull us apart.
Whether you call it disengagement or expulsion, the removal of theJewish communities from Gaza/Gush Katif was the benchmark of the firstdecade of the millennium here in much the same way that Yitzhak Rabin'sassassination was the turning point of the 1990s. On that, at least, wecan all agree.
The scenes of IDF soldiers forcibly removing Jews from their homes,accompanying Torah scrolls being taken from synagogues and evenevacuating Jewish bodies from graveyards have left an indelible mark. 
It was reinforced with every Kassam that was since launched from where(heavily guarded) Jewish communities once grew fruit, flowers andvegetables. Even those who could justifiably say 'told you' did sowithout pleasure.
THE DECADE started out fairly reasonably: The Y2K end- of-the-world-type fears proved unfounded; Pope John Paul II made the first papalvisit to the Jewish state; in May 2000, the IDF pulled out of theLebanese security zone without loss of life; and all the while dot.comsfloated around in their pretty but fragile bubbles.
The first major slap in the face came in July 2000 when Ehud Barak andYasser Arafat failed to reach a peace agreement at Camp David. InSeptember, Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount was used by thePalestinians as a trigger to launch the second intifada. In October,two IDF soldiers were brutally lynched in Ramallah and Hizbullahabducted (and killed) three IDF soldiers, setting the tone for thedecade. According to figures compiled by the non- partisan One FamilyFund, more than 1,370 Israelis can be considered fatal victims ofterrorism since September 2000. Against this backdrop, the securityfence entered our lives and with it increased internationalcondemnation.
In Israel, 2001 was a year so bad it can only be summed up, in thewords once used by the British monarch, as an 'annus horribilis.' 
There was the Versailles wedding hall disaster in which 23 people werekilled when the dance floor collapsed. But above all, it was a year ofterror: the Dolphinarium attack in which 21 victims, nearly all of themRussian immigrant teens, were killed at a Tel Aviv discotheque; Sbarro,in which 15 people, including seven children died in a Jerusalem pizzaparlor. So many individual victims died in
2001 - 206, to be precise - that there is no space to recall them all,but a few names stick out: 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass shot in herstroller in Hebron; Dr. Shmuel Gillis, the life-saving hematologistgunned down in a roadside ambush; Tekoa teens Yossi Ish- Ran, 14, andKobi Mandell bludgeoned to death as they hiked near their home; andminister Rehavam (Gandhi) Ze'evi assassinated in a Jerusalem hotel.
The date 9/11 is so etched into the world psyche that it needs no extramention here. This was the decade of al- Qaida, in which global jihadtried to take over the global village by force. Many of the atrocitiesaround the world did not affect Israel directly, but few here canforget journalist Daniel Pearl's last words before his grislyexecution: 'I am Jewish.'
One of the worst attacks of the decade here was the Park Hotel massacrein March 2002 in which 30 people were killed as they gathered tocelebrate the Pessah Seder. Unable to ignore the level of atrocity, thegovernment ordered the IDF to launch Operation Defensive Shield inJenin. While this was going on, al-Qaida murdered
21 people at the Djerba synagogue in Tunisia. The group was also behindthe Bali attacks in October 2002 in which 202 people were killed andthe attack on Israeli vacationers in Mombasa, Kenya, in which 15 died.Thankfully, the simultaneous attempt to shoot down an El Al plane atMombasa airport failed.
In October 2003, terrorists hit Haifa's Maxim restaurant, a haven ofcoexistence, killing 21 and almost wiping out two families. The nextmonth al-Qaida killed 27 outside two Istanbul synagogues. Hundreds ofIsraelis were killed in the last 10 years as buses, shopping malls,restaurants and streets became terror targets: Cafe Hillel, Moment, theHebrew University cafeteria, the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva library... 
too many places to record here.
Israelis watched as Saddam Hussein, who had attacked Israel with Scudmissiles in the 1991 Gulf War, was captured and humiliated in Iraq inDecember 2003 (and hanged in December 2006) and Yasser Arafat died inParis in November 2004. Some would say it wasn't all bad news.
THIS WAS a tumultuous period in Israeli politics - never particularlycalm. Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister in special elections inFebruary 2001 and re- elected, as head of Likud, in February 2003. InNovember 2005, he left Likud to create Kadima. Sharon suffered a strokein January 2006, falling into a coma from which he has not recovered.The party, too, seems doomed to fizzle out despite Tzipi Livni'simpressive electoral results in February 2009. Ultimately, BinyaminNetanyahu, as head of the largest political bloc, became prime ministerfor the second time that month.
This decade was marked by political convictions of the criminal kind: 
Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson and former health ministerShlomo Benizri were both put behind bars. Ehud Olmert (prime ministerfrom 2006 to 2009) is fighting corruption charges, and Moshe Katsav,who served as president from August 2000 to July 2007, is on trial forsexual offenses.
Shimon Peres replaced Katsav as president at the age of 83. He is soobviously enjoying keeping young on the job that it is no surprise tofind he has launched his own YouTube site (which is soooo TheNoughties).
OF ALL the sad stories of the decade, one that seems to have touchedthe most people is the fate of Gilad Schalit, abducted in June 2006and, as these words are written, the only IDF soldier in Gaza. Hiscapture, brought home more forcibly in a media-conscious era, wascompounded a couple of weeks later by the kidnapping (and, it turnsout, deaths) of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser by Hizbullah.
This sparked the Second Lebanon War, 33 days of fighting in which some200 Katyushas a day were launched on the North and the country becamefrighteningly aware that the illusion of peace after the withdrawalfrom the security zone was just that: an illusion. The war isconsidered an IDF failure, both strategically and morally, but lessonswere learned and applied later in Gaza. And it is the Hizbullahleadership that is still in hiding in Lebanon, while Israelis are againvacationing in the North.
In the South, according to figures compiled by The Israel Project, morethan 10,000 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza between
2001 and 2008; some 6,500 since disengagement. That is the backgroundto Operation Cast Lead a year ago, although you might have missed it ifyou relied on the report by the UN's investigator, Richard Goldstone.
IT WAS a decade in which anti-Semitism became the bon ton in the guiseof anti-Zionism, accompanied by many boycott and divestment attempts.In early September 2001, while the country was being rocked to therhythm of bomb blasts and shootings, the UN's Durban Conference againstRacism blasted Israel on the public opinion front
- a war Israel all but lost this decade. From Durban in 2001 to thetorture and murder of French Jew Ilan Halimi in Paris in January 2006was a short step for inhumanity. Durban II in 2009 was dominated by theimage of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad literally laughing at the world as hestamped on the last vestiges of human rights in Iran and stepped up hiscountry's nuclear program. You have been warned.
The 'peace process' turned into the Road Map in 2003 and became theAnnapolis process in 2007, but the road so far has led to nowhere. Bythe time Netanyahu had publicly recognized the two-state solution in2009, there were already, in effect, three states: Fatah in the WestBank, Hamastan in Gaza and guess who stuck in the middle. BarackObama's election in 2008 was obviously not enough to bring about worldpeace, just a Nobel Peace Prize.
ISRAELIS also did quite well on the Nobel front with four new
laureates: Profs. Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover (chemistry) in2004; Prof. Robert Yisrael Aumann (economics) in 2005; and Prof. AdaYonath (chemistry) in 2009.
There were other moments of nachas, too: In 2004, windsurfer GalFriedman boosted morale by winning the country's first Olympic goldmedal at Athens. Bar Refaeli became an international supermodel.
The movie industry (dealt with in depth elsewhere in the Post) scoredhit after hit - particularly for films dealing with the trauma of the
1982 First Lebanon War: Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, Ari Folman's Waltzwith Bashir and Shmuel Maoz's Lebanon. (For those who need light relief- and who doesn't after the past 10 years - I recommend thenon-political comedy The Band's Visit.)
Early in 2003, Israel reached new heights of collective pride watchingwatching astronaut Ilan Ramon making kiddush in space. The shock of theColumbia's disintegration on its reentry became one of those 'wherewere you when you heard?' moments. The poignancy was heightened a fewmonths ago when his son, who had followed in his pilot father'sfootsteps, was killed in an IAF training accident. 
Another only-in-Israel moment.
On a happier note, in 2009, Tel Aviv went to town over its centennial
- the White City which grew from a few homes on the sand to ametropolis more liberal than many others along the Mediterranean. Andlarge quantities of natural gas were discovered off the coast.
LIFE IN Israel, like the rest of the world, was defined by the era ofreality TV and ratings. It's a wonder elections weren't conducted bySMS. American Idol converted to Kochav Nolad in 2003. The first seasonwas won by Ninette Taib, who is remarkably still going strong. 
Big Brother, Survivor and various other members of the genre burst intoour lives, providing escapism of the lowest kind. Israeli sitcoms anddramas, such as In Treatment, returned the favor and made it to US TVs.
DESPITE THE ups and downs - and even more downs - of the decade,birthright-Taglit helped thousands of Diaspora youths visit the countryand new immigrants continued to arrive. These were the years in whichNefesh B'Nefesh seems to have overtaken the Jewish Agency as the majorfacilitator of immigration from North America and Britain, but JAFIproved its traditional worth by flying Jews out of war-torn Georgia in2008. Israeli aid groups, including Zaka, which has invaluableexperience in identifying bodies, also helped as the world sufferednatural disasters, including 2004's tsunami (another word most peoplehad never heard before this dismal decade).
We survived the Wall Street crash fairly well (the definition probablydepending on whether you kept your job and salary). On the other hand,Bernard Madoff - who took the phrase 'charity begins at home' to meanyour favorite charity and his favorite home - provided a devastatingblow to local philanthropic efforts and morale.
Visitors included two popes, innumerable presidents and politicians,and giant entertainers from both this decade and the past - Madonna,Pet Shop Boys, Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen to name but a few.
THIS WAS the Green Era. In Israel, the return of solar energy giant Luzwas a shining example of the increasingly environmentally consciousworld. The Birkat Hahama (Blessing of the Sun), a prayer recited onceevery 28 years when, the Talmud says, the sun reaches the same spot inthe firmament as when it was created, was said with feeling by Jewsaround the globe just before Pessah in 2009. There's a lot of comfortin tradition when times are tough.
More than anything else, the past decade was marked by technologicaladvance. On January 1, 2000, walking home from a new millennium partyat 1 a.m. - and thankfully, despite the violence and terror a woman canstill walk out at this hour in Jerusalem - I met other revelers,religious and secular. Jokers greeted each other 'Bug sameah,' a playon the words 'Happy Holiday' referring to the widespread fears thatcomputers worldwide would collapse.
Who could have imagined then just how fast innovations would develop? 
At the beginning of the decade we had mobile phones which were, well,phones - devices for receiving and making calls. We end it with theiPhone, which has more applications than you can possibly need and anaggressive marketing policy trying to convince you otherwise. We havehad to learn about BlackBerries, iPods, GPSs, Wii games, digitalcameras, Photoshop, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. The disc-on-key - anIsraeli invention - became an essential part of our lives.
It might be the language of prophets, but Hebrew has had a hard timekeeping up. Nonetheless, misron is gradually taking over SMS, andreshet seems to have caught on for Web. And who can imagine what newwords we will need 10 years down the line?
May it be a decade of peace and prosperity - we deserve it.