Days of war, dreams of peace

This is my first war. Though it's not as if there has ever been peace here like back in the UK.

IDF Artillery 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF Artillery 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
'Most people were more interested in getting their cup of coffee than talking about the war on the Lebanese border," said the Canadian Broadcast Company reporter I met, clutching her befurred microphone as she walked along Emek Refaim, Jerusalem's restaurant row. She was eagerly recording morsels of vox pop for listeners back in North America. She didn't speak to the friends I had met that morning. We all greeted each other with the customary blithe "How are you?" but were scarcely able to mouth the statutory "I'm fine" in reply, as we lowered our eyes and spoke in hushed tones of sons, sons of friends, the young men who belong to us all. THIS IS MY first war. Though it's not as if there has ever been the sort of peace here that I knew back in the UK. But my arrival - I've lived here for almost two years - coincided with a quieter phase in hostilities. It was of course an illusion, one we welcomed with open arms. It was sweet and, like the balmy days of an English summer, you thought it would last forever. When I arrived in this land at peace I soon accepted, as the norm, security guards rummaging through my bag. I learned that we all freeze for a moment as an ambulance goes by. One for a baby, two for a road accident, and three for… I learned the mantra and counted screaming sirens quietly to myself, just like everyone else. We lived like all other peoples do, preoccupied with the challenges and banalities of everyday life. We buried our heads in the sands of tranquility. But we should have known that those halcyon days were merely an interlude. The soldiers I met returning from the Lebanon border brought constant, harrowing stories of regular terrorist incursions into Israel. Nightly our soldiers would lie in wait in this difficult terrain of sharp hills and valleys hoping to capture terrorists on their way to murderous missions in Israel. THE HIZBULLAH rocket emplacements in southern Lebanon were no secret; the accumulated weaponry… the terrorist infrastructure… all assembled with Syrian sponsorship. All ignored. The international community would never have tolerated a preemptive strike. And so we waited. We waited for the Katyushas to kill and for soldiers to be kidnapped. It's the price we pay for international rhetoric that throws us crumbs of condolence. I became accustomed to the occasional roadblocks on Emek Refaim alerting us to the fact that security had been heightened because a suicide bomber had slipped through the constant veil of vigilance which hangs along our borders. In places we built a concrete wall to help contain and preserve our dreams of peace and tranquility. But much of our border still requires the sleepless soldiers who lie in wait for the smallest rustle, the slightest movement. The roadblocks came and went. The robot bomb probe waltzed onto our street several times, drawing crowds of fascinated onlookers. A detonation, a puff of smoke. The illusion of peace remained intact. WE TORE ourselves apart to leave Gaza. I listened to the wise, who told me this would herald a period of real peace. The Palestinians would see how sincere we were in encouraging them to build their own nation. The global community would hail our noble action. We watched bemused as the conflicting Palestinian factions murdered each other as this new epoch of their history unfolded. Showers of Kassam rockets arrived. We ignored them. The international media designated them "home-made" bombs, as if this reduced them to nothing more than a display of firecrackers. And, anyway, no one was usually killed. We saw Hamas rise to power. We were not truly appalled. It was to be expected, a rational response to the corrupt and nefarious Palestinian leadership established under Yasser Arafat's fiefdom. The world demanded Hamas relinquish its claim to the land of Israel. We who live here know it's absurd to expect a change in the religious dogma that underpins their ideology. We are flanked by enemies who quote Holy Scripture when preaching our demise. In the midst of all this we continued to construct the illusion of peace. And now it has shattered. Yet perhaps, while we sit on Emek Refaim sipping our espressos and cappuccinos, a shred of the illusion still shimmers. The writer is a regular contributor to In Jerusalem.