Playing fields and killing fields

Israelis looking collectively in the mirror lately have not liked what they have seen.

explosion 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
explosion 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israelis looking collectively in the mirror lately have not liked what they have seen. Some thug seems to have smashed the glass and as a result, instead of reflecting all the good things, the image is cracked, both jarred and jarring. The Betar Jerusalem soccer fans who booed during the minute of silence marking the 12th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, and, worse still, sang songs of praise to Yigal Amir, his murderer, did more than splinter the mirror. They pushed the shards into the hearts of other die-hard followers. Just as Israelis pulled together and finished taping the looking-glass back together - distorting the image but making it safer - a few hooligans blew it to bits. Home-grown terror hit the capital's Malha stadium when a firecracker (what Americans call an M-80) was lobbed into the arena during a Hapoel Jerusalem-Hapoel Holon basketball game on November 11. Security guard Yoav Glitzstein was wounded in the attack as he bravely picked up the exploding device to protect players. (American immigrant Dr. Michael Chernofsky succeeded in reattaching the three nearly severed fingers of the 42-year-old guard's right hand.) Foul play has never seemed so foul. The basketball violence story received worldwide coverage. The ugly Israeli was deservedly reprimanded although the British presenters who declared themselves "shocked" and "speechless" needn't look as far as the Middle East to find violence. It happens - far more frequently - on England's greener playing fields. And it's not clear how the American newscaster who pronounced his relief that that sort of thing doesn't happen in the States managed to hide his hypocrisy when he had two faces for it to appear on. As a reporter summed up on Israel Radio, it made him feel like retorting that we're pleased we have never suffered a school massacre by a crazed student (tfu, tfu, tfu). As it is, the country has never quite got over the Ma'alot school massacre perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists in 1974. AND THAT brings us to the other violence plaguing the region. Not only is the decorative mirror in the comfort of our own homes unusable at the moment. The windows have been smashed by the rough neighborhood "kids" and the chill winter air is putting us at risk of catching a cold. Partly the windows were broken to intimidate us, the residents; mainly they were broken as one gang showed off to its rivals what they dared do. Palestinian groups and breakaway groups target Israel to demonstrate their strength. Israel is the victim but the message is meant for Fatah, Al-Aksa Brigades, or any one of the Hamas offshoots (with the emphasis on the "shoots.") The commemoration of Rabin's death did not go smoothly, due to the minority of Betar fanatics. But, thank heavens, it was not marked in the way the third anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death was. When some 200,000 Palestinians in Gaza marched in his memory on November 12, Hamas gunmen opened fire on the crowd, killing seven and wounding dozens. And those were just the opening shots, as it were. HAMAS HAS been using its heavy-handed tactics to lob Kassams at Israel and eliminate Fatah enemies. Fatah has not remained quiet, either. Rabin tried to bring about peace, and failed. Arafat aimed at fostering hate, and he succeeded only too well. Hamas is his legacy just as much as the "intifadas." Last year, a well-educated, Fatah-affiliated Gazan complained to me - at a peace parley of all places - that the Israeli press arbitrarily called any rocket coming out of the Gaza Strip "a Kassam." Kassam is the correct term only for those launched by Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, he noted. Those missiles fired by Fatah's Al-Aksa Brigades have another name, he explained. The conversation took place very late on a Friday night and I was not writing notes. I regret I don't remember the proper term. I assume, anyway, that the rockets raining down on Sderot and the surrounding Negev communities are now all the proud work of Hamas. And probably even the Fatah official who lectured me is not freely wandering around the Gaza Strip at the moment. He might have removed himself to the relative safety of the West Bank. There, in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week dedicated Yasser Arafat's mausoleum, a work of glass and Jerusalem stone. The edifice measures 11 meters by 11 meters to mark the date of Arafat's death, November 11 - a date better known, one hopes, as marking the end of the First World War. The mausoleum could actually be called a "mos-al-eum," combining, as it does, a mosque - with a laser beam from the minaret pointing to Jerusalem - and a planned museum dedicated to Arafat. The whole complex will cost $1.75 million, paid for by public funds, Muhammad Ishtayeh, head of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, which oversees the project, told AP. It gives a whole new connotation to that inseparable word-pairing "poor Palestinians." The complex is apparently meant to be temporary. Not that Arafat is meant to rise up from the dead. But a piece of rail track underneath his grave and the surrounding water reportedly symbolize the interim nature of the burial site. The Palestinians hope one day to rebury Arafat in Jerusalem. It is a thought which probably has the Jewish venerables buried on the Mount of Olives and Mount Herzl, Rabin included, spinning in their graves. Abbas, dedicating the mausoleum, praised Arafat as the unifier of his "fractured people" and vowed, Arafat-style, to establish an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital. We can expect to hear more of this talk in the lead-up to the Annapolis summit and the let-down which will likely follow. The Palestinians, led this time by Abbas, are in a well-orchestrated campaign still steadfastly refusing to recognize that Israel has a right to exist at all, let alone as a Jewish state. Not to mention one with Jerusalem as its capital. Jerusalem - even at its unholiest with soccer and basketball hooligans - remains at the heart of the Jewish people, however. The argument over how to keep it - and keep it strong - is already splitting Israeli politics and society. Arafat rejected peace offers that would reportedly have included some Jerusalem neighborhoods. At Annapolis, we shall see whether Abbas, too, is serious about peace or going to throw it out the window. Unfortunately, the sound of glass shattering features in our worst nightmares.