All shook up

Annapolis isn't the only fault line - locals rattled by two minor earthquakes.

cracked earth 88 (photo credit: )
cracked earth 88
(photo credit: )
Annapolis is not expected to produce any earthshattering results. The regional movers and shakers will convene amid tight security, be shot by photographers fighting for a good angle on the peace process, and make pronouncements offering their vision of the Middle East - a blurred vision in most cases, and outright double vision when it comes to many. While they shake hands for the cameras, protesters will gather and hold placards with shaking hands warning of disaster. Nature, as if in tune with events, produced two minor earthquakes last week just as an Annapolis preparatory meeting took place in Sharm e-Sheikh and another minor one a few days later. The tectonic movement on November 20, measuring a harmless 4.2 on the Richter scale, had its epicenter in the northern Dead Sea and was felt particularly in Jerusalem and the Jordanian capital, Amman. Experts immediately termed the tremors a wake-up call, as they do with good reason after every such mini-quake. The country, they warned, is not prepared for what Californians call the Big One: not from the point of view of construction, rescue services or recovery programs. One can almost hear the voices of the witnesses who will be called to some future committee of inquiry headed by a retired judge of repute (Eliahu Winograd is still busy investigating the lack of preparedness for the Second Lebanon War) to present headline-producing evidence. It is the nature of tremors to shake the dust off official reports and rattle local residents. Major structural damage is immediately evident. Of more concern are the effects of the strain and stress which weaken buildings and foundations without being obvious straightaway. METAPHORICAL tremors have this effect on people, too. Living with the fear of renewed terror should Annapolis fail - which is far more likely than it succeeding - takes its toll. At the beginning of the academic year, many of the country's educational institutions held drills to show pupils where to go in the event of a missile attack, terror attack or earthquake. I suspect that my six-year-old son is now better prepared than many of the country's leaders. At least he's not in a state of denial. The biggest fear is that these tremors are simply the geophysical "coming-soon" clip for a horror movie. Seismologists warn that a major earthquake in the next few decades is not a question of if but when. Similarly, security officials warn that conflict with our neighbors is almost inevitable. Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has said that Annapolis will not lead to an outbreak of hostilities on the scale of the failed Camp David summit of 2000, which rocked the country and whose aftershocks continue to claim victims. Ashkenazi did, however, reportedly dispute the wisdom of agreeing to release more than 400 Palestinian prisoners before Annapolis even gets under way. And the advisability of providing the Palestinians with armored vehicles at this particular point has also been disputed in article after article and interview after interview in the Israeli press. THERE HAS been friction, both geophysical and hard-hitting physical, along these lines since time immemorial. This front marks the boundary between two tectonic plates which have rubbed together over millennia, causing geological upheavals in the past, most notably in 1033 and 1927. Turbulence, above ground and below it, has caused a great deal of destruction, as can be seen in the ruins of Beit She'an, Tiberias, Safed and Caesarea. Only last month, scientists from Tel Aviv University reported evidence of a major earthquake (over 7 on the Richter scale) which took place on the Golan Heights in the year 749 CE. In September, the Post carried the story of Syrians hitting the IDF Home Front Command's newly launched Web site after Al Jazeera referred to the site ahead of an emergency drill by Damascus which, like Israel's drills, focused on how to respond to a state of emergency, be it earthquake or missile attack. It seems we have more in common with our neighbors to the north than we usually think. Last week Ma'ariv even carried a story with the headline: "Assad: I am worried about the Annapolis summit." The Syrian president shares that concern with the majority of the Israeli public, although, of course, for different reasons. It is nice, however, to imagine that one day Syrians and Israelis could openly share technology and information that can save lives - to prepare together for what insurance forms quaintly term "acts of God" rather than the utterly unholy "acts of war." Annapolis was originally touted as the place where the Mideastern map will be altered, through mutual agreement and understanding. But no shoving "peace partners" together under pressure will heal the rifts, just as you can't physically close the gap between the two sides of the Jordan Valley, along the Great Syrian-African Rift. It makes sense to prepare the country for a major earthquake through strengthening existing constructions and enforcing building codes. But "confidence-building" measures which involve releasing security prisoners and equipping what amounts to an army in an entity that refuses to even acknowledge Israel's right to exist is a structurally strange way to prepare for peace. As the sides meet in Annapolis, or more to the point as we come up to November 29, it is worth remembering the 1947 UN partition plan called for dividing mandatory Palestine "into Jewish and Arab states." Had the Arab states accepted that plan 60 years ago we would not have had to suffer war after war, terror atrocity after atrocity. Instead, we could have built a region where cooperation ruled and emergencies would have been entirely the work of a Higher Force. As with earthquakes, stability is not entirely in our hands. What we can do is help prevent structural collapse and reduce destruction. It is difficult to prepare the public for any emergency situation without spreading panic. There is a fine line between sounding a warning and making people feel the best thing to do is hide under the table with their hands on their heads. The end of the world, Armageddon, is not nigh. But the thought of being unprepared for major tremors - geophysical or diplo-political - leaves us quaking.