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The Vacuum Issue 8 spacer Issue 8
From Israel
by Natalie Kosoi
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Our ability to adapt to any situation makes it difficult for one living in a conflict zone, after an initial wave of shock, to notice the abnormality of such a situation. Only an outside observer can see it clearly. When returning to Israel after a five years sojourn in England I had the opportunity to be such an observer.
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I remember feeling the effect on Israelis' lives of terror for the first time when coming to Israel in June 2002 for some job interviews. It is not that there were no suicide attacks before, in fact they had already begun in 1994 or 1995, some time after the Oslo agreement. But by 2002 their number and frequency had increased to a level not known before. On 29 March 2002 the Israeli army re-occupied the Palestinian territories in an attempt to stop these attacks, which dramatically reduced their number.
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At the airport I was shocked by the change in peoples' behaviour. In all my earlier visits I had felt as if I were already in Israel when queuing at the check-in for the flight: crowded, noisy people trying to jump the queue and while doing so pushing each other, (not like British manners). But in June, it had all changed, people tried to keep a physical distance from each other as if suspecting that any other passenger might be a suicide bomber. Upon arrival I noticed another, probably obvious, change. I was the only person on the coach to Tel Aviv, while all the other passengers queued for a taxi.
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Tel Aviv itself has changed radically. Before I left for England in 1997, most of the cafes, pubs and restaurants were open almost twenty-four hours a day and many of them were crowded. On some days of the week there were traffic jams even at 4 am. But in June 2002 I felt as if I had arrived at another city. Not only public meeting places were empty but also the streets themselves. Many people, who did not live in Tel Aviv but had visited often, tried to avoid coming. The fear of suicide bombers combined with the economic crisis had caused the closure of many shops, restaurants and cafés and one could see "to let" signs everywhere. Those that were still open were mostly empty and at the entrance of each pub, café, restaurant and government office was an armed guard searching the bags and bodies of everyone who wished to enter.
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But, eventually I discovered that being searched everywhere I went was not such a nuisance. Most of my friends refused to go out if it was not necessary. They preferred to invite me to dinners at their homes, where we were mainly attuned to the sounds of sirens outside, each of which provided a reason to turn on the TV, as it might have been another attack. In the rare cases we did go out, we had a lot of trouble finding a place that looked 'safer' than others. A safe place was a place which was not too crowded (that was no problem finding) and which had available seats as far as possible from the windows. The reason for this, it was explained to me, was that if the place exploded while we were drinking our coffee, the most dangerous places are next to a window as the glass, broken by the blast, might cause additional and sometimes fatal injuries.
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While this seems to be logical conduct, in many other cases fear defies logical behaviour. I remember taking a bus from Haifa University, where I had an interview, towards Acre. On this occasion the bus was full because many students at Haifa University are Israeli Arabs, one of the most deprived populations in Israel and who cannot afford cars. About two stops before the last, one of the passengers, probably a student, forgot her bag when getting off. The unattended bag was soon noticed, everyone became hysterical and demanded the driver stop immediately and open the doors at a busy road so they could get off. The driver reasonably refused as the chances of getting hit by a passing car were much greater than being blown up, in particular considering the rarity of suicide bombers in Haifa and Galilee, which is mainly populated by Israeli Arabs.
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The most obvious effect of the terror has been the almost complete annihilation of the Israeli political left, which supports the establishment of a Palestinian independent state. Seeing no other solution many left wing Israeli's moved to the right and joined right wing opinion, that a peace agreement with the Palestinians cannot be reached, and supported the re-occupation of the West Bank. This is not to say that there is no left at all, but only that it considerably lost its popular support. Consider that after the Oslo agreement the majority of the Israeli population supported the establishment of a Palestinian state, a fact that threatened the extreme right. This was also the reason for the assassination of the then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
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Coming back for good in September 2002, I found a completely different mood. Maybe because the number of successful suicide attacks was dramatically diminished, or maybe because of the human ability to adapt to any situation, people began to use public transport again and to go out more. Even I do not pay any attention to the armed guards searching me before I enter any public place. Like car accidents it became an unpleasant but an integral part of the fabric of life in Israel. However, in spite of this 'business as usual' atmosphere the Israeli left has not succeeded in regaining its power. In the last election, the right wing parties won by sweeping majority.
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Writing all this I mean to show only the Israeli side of the conflict. However it is not my intention to diminish the fear the Palestinian population must feel. Of course, one cannot compare the impact of a suicide bomber attack to an aircraft attack, or the situation the Palestinian people are living in with ours.
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