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    Israelis and Palestinians

    Voices from the front line

    Feb 19th 2004 | GAZA AND JERUSALEM
    From The Economist print edition


    Stepping back for a moment from the diplomacy, The Economist talks to ordinary Israelis and Palestinians about their lives and views

    Get article background

    AT A party in Tel Aviv, fashionable young Israelis were guzzling wine, smoking joints or washing down ecstasy tablets with mineral water. Trance music drowned the television, but the revellers kept half an eye on the news, just in case. Suddenly, a raven-haired young woman pointed at the screen and shrieked: “There's my tank! There's my baby!”

    In many ways, Israel is like any other western society: rich, free and subject to more-or-less predictable laws. Yet it is unlike other western countries in that it has been on a war footing since 1948, the year of its founding. Its colossal defence budget has declined, in relative terms, from 23% of GDP in 1980 to around 10%, now that its most immediate foes are not armies but guerrillas and suicide terrorists. Even this reduced burden, however, is far heavier than that borne by the citizens of any other western country. Israeli taxes are high and, with few exceptions, every Israeli faces two or three years of conscription and decades in the reserves. Israel's streets bustle with machinegun-toting 20-year-olds, its kerbs groan beneath armoured cars, and its nervous restaurateurs have you frisked at the steel-barred door.

    The struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians has captured the world's imagination like no other. It is not the death toll that sets it apart. Some 2,500 Palestinians and 900 Israelis have been killed during the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, that started in 2000. That is terrible, but not much by, say, Congolese standards. What distinguishes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the reality, grim though that is, but its symbolism. This is where the modern world's fault-lines meet: divides between rich and poor, secular and religious, Islam and the West.

    To many people in poor countries, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians means that the rich always abuse the poor. To many Muslims, it is proof that the West conspires to crush them. To many Jews, Israel is the last refuge for a persecuted people. To some fundamentalist Christians its existence is an essential precondition for the return of the Messiah. Some westerners applaud Israel as the Middle East's sole democracy, a beleaguered ally in the struggle against Islamist terror. Others revile it as the new apartheid regime.

    This last accusation is inexact. Unlike blacks under apartheid, Israel's own Arabs enjoy full political rights. What is more, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle looks less tractable. The South Africans had plenty of land to share, and none of it was holy. White South Africans feared expropriation; Israelis fear extinction. And the Holy Land has no Mandela.

    Since the collapse of the peace process in 2000, and despite subsequent efforts to revive it, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians have started to despair. The Israeli government is building a barrier between the two peoples, part wall, part fence—to keep suicide-bombers out, it says. Palestinians retort that these security concerns are a pretext for a land grab (see article). The Economist talked to families on both sides, to gauge their mood.

    Holy city, unholy dread
    David and Shari Greenberg feel pessimistic. A few months ago, a suicide-bomber hit a café near their elegant home in Jerusalem, killing seven people and blowing glass shards and bloody rags into the street. Shari, a writer and musician, was watching a documentary about September 11th when she heard the blast. “It's all too immediate,” she says. “When a bomb goes off, all you do is sit on the phone and call everyone.”

    Her husband David, a psychiatrist, reckons that if a blast kills ten people, it may cause psychological damage to 150. Those who show up at his clinic are often traumatised either by physical injuries, or by what they have seen. Shari is nervous, too. “I've taken maybe one bus in the last two years,” she admits.

    The Greenbergs came to Israel in 1982, from London, for religious reasons. After a tricky period settling in—“people are very direct here,” says Shari—they grew to love the country's cultural vibrancy, the sense of outdoorsy togetherness forged on youthful hiking trips, and the ease with which they could practise their religion. A small example: had their musical children stayed in Britain, they would have found that the best orchestras all rehearsed on Saturdays. In Israel, schedules are built around the Sabbath.

    Although they arrived during a war, the Greenbergs assumed that the fighting would be over by the time their five children were of military age. They were wrong. In 2002, when Israel reoccupied the parts of the West Bank it had given up to the Palestinians, one son was called up during his engagement party and dispatched to the refugee camp at Jenin. “We heard the news of a massacre [of Palestinians], but we knew that wasn't true, because we were getting reports from our son,” says Shari.

    The Greenberg children have had to grapple with moral puzzles their parents never faced. “They would have to hold Palestinians at checkpoints, causing great distress,” says David. “Maybe these people were going to hospital, but maybe one was planning to blow himself up.”

    The Greenbergs' religious values (they are modern Orthodox) keep them from utter despondency. Secular Jews lack that crutch. Osnat and Aharon Zohar, who live in the small town of Karme Yosef, wonder whether it is worth staying in Israel.

    “I was born here, and I'll probably die here,” says Aharon, a consultant. “But, many days, I'm not proud to be Israeli any more.” Three of the Zohars' four parents were Holocaust survivors; Aharon's father was in seven camps and escaped death only because he made excellent shoes.

    Aharon believes that Israel's existence is an important insurance policy against history repeating itself, especially given what he hears about a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. But he worries that Israel's control of the West Bank and Gaza is corrupting the country's young.

    Military helicopters buzz past. “It's crazy to bring up children in this kind of situation,” says Osnat, a physiotherapist and mother of four. After the stress of military service, the Zohar offspring, like so many young Israelis, go backpacking. When their daughter was in Bolivia, her local guide asked how many Israelis there were. She said 6m. No, he replied, he meant in total, not just in Bolivia.

    Osnat and Aharon are doves but, like most Israelis, despise Yasser Arafat. They thought the deal that a former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, offered Mr Arafat in 2000, of more than 90% of the West Bank and Gaza on which to build a Palestinian state, was reasonable. That he rejected it, says Aharon, is a sign that he is not a man who will make peace. (Palestinians tend to remember this offer as less than a quarter of historical Palestine, without the right of return for refugees.)

    Nonetheless, Israelis' distrust of Mr Arafat makes it hard to imagine him as a future negotiating partner. When Israeli tanks smashed into his headquarters in 2002, he attracted little sympathy in Israel. Hawks think he got off lightly. “Most people want peace,” says Moshe Shichtman, who runs a deli in Tel Aviv. “But there is a group of bad men, and we have to kill them: Arafat first.”

    Moshe is proud to be Israeli, proud to have fought to defend his country (as a tank-commander in Lebanon in the 1980s), and confident that God will protect his chosen people. He thinks military service forges valuable bonds. “In the army, no one knows if you are rich or poor, if you have problems in your family; everyone is the same.” He bangs his fists together. “It's good to be united, to be strong.”

    Moshe's parents came to Israel from Romania in the 1960s, fleeing communism, poverty and persecution. He says he is lucky to live in a free country with terrific weather. He thinks the suicide-bombers are mad, inspired by the devil.

    Secular intellectuals might put it differently, but most Israelis tend to share his sense of horror and incomprehension. Black jokes abound. A cartoon in Ha'aretz, a doveish Israeli newspaper, shows a Palestinian family looking out from their balcony at a wonderful sunny day. “Let's go for a picnic,” says the father, who has a bomb-belt strapped around his waist. “I'll blow myself up another day.”

    Where Moshe differs from the norm is that he says he does not worry much about the risk to himself or his family. “I pray; that's all.” He concedes that life must be difficult for the Palestinians, and says he sympathises, as he believes that most are good people who want peace. He thinks that security measures such as the barrier are justified because they make it harder for the bombers to get through.

    Poorer and angrier
    Maybe so, but the roadblocks and curfews have made Palestinians poorer and angrier. Israel's economy is the most sophisticated and dynamic in the Middle East, and the Palestinians depend on it. Before the latest intifada, 135,000 Palestinians worked in Israel (and the settlements). Most of these workers have now lost their jobs, and the closures have throttled Palestinian exports, too, causing the average Palestinian income to fall by more than half. There are now even more jobless young Palestinian men sitting around with nothing to do but watch the Hizbullah satellite channel.

    Their misery and fury are keenest in Gaza, a crowded sliver of land on the border with Egypt, where 1.2m Palestinians live hemmed in by the sea on one side and by the Israeli army on all others. To make matters worse, 7,500 Israeli settlers have grabbed a fifth of the land and blocked many Palestinians' access to the beach.

    At the southern end of Gaza, Israel is building a wall as towering as, though much shorter than, the one being erected on the West Bank. It is supposed to stop terrorists digging tunnels to smuggle weapons in and out. Dozens of homes have been flattened to create a buffer zone, leaving a muddy wasteland, on the edge of which lives Abu Ahmad.

    It is a risky place to live. A few days ago, he says, his 11-year-old daughter was playing with her friends in the street outside when an Israeli gunner peppered a wall above their heads, showering them with bits of plaster.

    Abu Ahmad was born in Gaza, but worked as a cable-joiner in Saudi Arabia for 27 years. He came home in the 1990s, when peace seemed plausible. He was disappointed: “There were not enough jobs, and the PA [Palestinian Authority] does everything by bribery and cronyism.” He says he tried to get one of his sons a job as a [PA] policeman, but was told he would have to pay a bribe, so he gave up.

    He thinks Yasser Arafat is “as powerless as any other Arab leader”. He laments that Arabs have never been able to stand up to the West: instead of using their oil wealth to achieve political objectives, they waste it on importing luxury cars and Marlboro cigarettes.

    He says he likes Jews and has nothing against Israeli soldiers, either—those who have searched his house have been polite, and he senses that many do not want to be in Gaza. Nonetheless, he approves of “martyrdom” operations against Israeli military targets. Killing civilians, however, is contrary to Islam, he says; such attacks “have caused death and misery without benefiting us in any way.” Suicide bombings will stop, he reckons, when the Israelis pull out of the occupied territories, and he says he would kill any Palestinian who tried to carry out such an operation if the Israelis were to withdraw.

    Abu Ahmad sprays kerosene on twigs and lights them to make tea. As he passes round the cups, a loud burst of gunfire rends the evening air. Shortly after, his sons leave. They sleep with relatives, he says, since it is too dangerous here. Then, hospitably, he offers your correspondent a bed for the night.

    Your correspondent elects to stay instead with Walid Abu Marzouq, who lives in a quieter part of Rafah. Walid says he has had his homes demolished five times since 1971, mostly in Gaza. For several years he lived a few miles away, in Egypt; but after Egypt and Israel made peace the Egyptian authorities arrested him for smuggling arms into Gaza, and pulled out his teeth and toenails.

    He moved back to Gaza in 1999. He built a house by the border, where land was cheap. Four months after he moved in, it was bulldozed. Why? “There were Israeli tanks patrolling the border, and the resistance would shoot at them with AK-47s, using my house for cover. The Israelis responded with heavy machineguns and occasionally shells. I asked the shooters to go away, but they didn't. They were armed, and I wasn't,” he shrugs.

    The UN gave Walid another house and helped him set up a little shop in his front yard, but he says he is still paying off debts from his last home. He says suicide-bombers are heroes, even if they kill civilians.

    Many Palestinians agree with him. Young men, especially, speak of the incorruptibility of Hamas, the most prominent guerrilla group, and draw unfavourable comparisons with the PA. It is, of course, easy for Hamas to stay cleaner than the PA, as it runs mainly low-budget suicide missions, whereas the PA is trying to govern a fledgling state. If you were a crook, which would you join?

    The corollary of this is that murderous extremism has social cachet. No one defaces the posters celebrating “martyrs”. Even those who have nothing to do with the violence aspire to sound like jihadis. In the house of a young maths teacher in Gaza, for example, ten young men, all jobless, loll in front of the TV talking tough. One claims to have attacked an Israeli soldier with his bare hands; the others don't believe him. Another boasts of having served time in jail for political offences. Yet another jokes that your correspondent would be a good person to kidnap.

    Even Palestinians who are materially well-off feel wretched. Tayseer Barakat, an artist who runs a café-cum-gallery in Ramallah, in the West Bank, lives in a pleasant and spacious house with a splendid view over a valley. But the view is spoiled for him by the red roofs of a Jewish settlement on the hilltop opposite, and by the daily catalogue of humiliation on the television news.

    Shortly after the intifada began, he says, his 12-year-old nephew was shot in the eye by an Israeli soldier. Rockets shattered the windows of his café. He cannot visit his family in Gaza, and it is difficult for him to travel abroad to sell his paintings. He cannot use the airport at Tel Aviv, he says, but has to drive all the way to Jordan and board an aircraft there. “Sometimes we don't even have the energy to be sad.”

    He believes that the Israelis “want to make our lives so terrible that we will accept anything they offer us,” and that America allows this because the Jewish lobby “more or less controls its policies, especially in this region”. He refuses to condemn suicide-bombers. “The Israelis create these people,” he says.

    Demography and despair
    Many Israelis have recently started fretting about the “demographic problem”—the likelihood that, within a few years, there will be more Palestinians living west of the Jordan than Jews. Palestinians find this insulting, and jokingly ask parents if their “demographic problems” are well.

    If the demographers are correct, Israel cannot annex the occupied territories and still remain both democratic and a Jewish state. Mr Sharon appears to be taking pre-emptive action: earlier this month, he promised to pull the Israeli settlements out of Gaza.

    The Gaza settlers protest that a pull-out would encourage terrorism by rewarding it, that it would bruise the morale of the settler movement, and that it would destroy enterprises that, for example, grow 95% of Israel's insect-free lettuce. True, no doubt, but protecting and subsidising these doughty lettuce-growers swallows, by one estimate, the equivalent of a fifth of Israel's defence budget. Their presence enrages Palestinians, and there is no obvious scriptural justification for thinking Gaza part of Israel. A more reasonable objection is that the plan might be part of a larger one to annex chunks of the West Bank. Further conflict seems assured.

    For Israelis who do not believe that God has commanded them to live in Israel, the idea of moving to, say, America, where salaries are higher and bombings less frequent, can seem tempting. So far, after three years of recession—the intifada coincided with the global tech-stock bust—perhaps 210,000 have left the country. More are talking about it. The most potentially mobile are those Israel can least afford to lose: the bright, best-educated ones.

    Some Israelis have even started to doubt whether Israel will survive. “I can't say for sure,” says Aharon Zohar. Jihadis may find that encouraging, which in itself augurs badly for peace. Asked if he expects an end to the strife in his lifetime, Walid Abu Marzouq says: “No.”

    Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

  • #2
    Typical article offering no criticism of Israel or Sharon. Israelis are rich educated people defending their homes while Palestinians are poor shiftless killers.

    This passage in particuliar is terribly inaccurate -

    This last accusation is inexact. Unlike blacks under apartheid, Israel's own Arabs enjoy full political rights. What is more, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle looks less tractable. The South Africans had plenty of land to share, and none of it was holy. White South Africans feared expropriation; Israelis fear extinction. And the Holy Land has no Mandela.
    Arabs technically enjoy full political rights but are subject to Jim Crow like laws that severely limit thier abilities to work, buy land, and represent themselves within the Israeli government.

    If Israelis fear extinction they are Morons. This myth that arabs want to run all the Jews into the sea is absurd yet it is repeated whenever this topic comes up. Israel has never been under threat of being wiped out, not in the least. Israel has always held all the cards. They have never been the victim always the aggressor and it is these policies that have put them in the position they are in now. Also there is no Mandela on either side, the Israeli right killed the only decent leader Israel ever had. Most of Israel's PMs have been known terrorists, and possibly the worst one sits in power now.


    • #3
      Instead of "Rookie" under Pacey's name, would it be possible to change it to "Anti-Semite"?

      Tell us about how Sharon ordered the planes into the WTC again.

      I could use a good laugh tonight, and you just provided me with one.
      When you say to your neighbor, "We're having a loud party on Saturday night if that's alright with you," what you really mean is, "We're having a loud party on Saturday night."


      • #4
        Exactly what part of my above post is inaccurate?


        • #5
          Ladies and Gentlemen. The oldest unlocked thread in the forum (until now). Our racism goes back to the beginning of time.


          • #6
            Thank you, thank you
            Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist


            • #7
              Oh, right.. Torch was an anti-semite.

              Why are the Russians suddenly a problem?" -Bgats


              • #8
                Originally posted by mellanby_equals_grit View Post
                Oh, right.. Torch was an anti-semite.
                and retarded
                Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist


                • #9
                  Found this and wasn't sure where to put it. A search for "Israel" kicked up this ancient thread, underused and with a good title.

                  (I do not miss Torch.)

                  In "The Gatekeepers," Israeli Security Chiefs Say What US Leaders Can't

                  Here are six examples of things said in the film (by the six living former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service) that could get you pilloried in American politics:

                  1. "Talk to everyone, even if they answer rudely. So that includes even Ahmadinejad, [Islamic Jihad, Hamas], whoever. I'm always for it. In the State of Israel, it's too great a luxury not to speak with our enemies…Even if [the] response is insolent, I'm in favor of continuing. There is no alternative. It's in the nature of the professional intelligence man to talk to everyone. That's how you get to the bottom of things. I find out that he doesn't eat glass and he sees that I don't drink oil."—Avraham Shalom (1980-86), on negotiating with the enemy.

                  2. "We are making the lives of millions [of Palestinians] unbearable, into prolonged human suffering, [and] it kills me."Carmi Gillon (1994-96).

                  3. "We've become cruel. To ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population." Our army has become "a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II. Similar, not identical."Shalom, who clarifies that he is referring to the Nazis' persecution of non-Jewish minorities.

                  4. "We don't realize that we face a frustrating situation in which we win every battle, but we lose the war."Ami Ayalon (1996–2000), regarding the wisdom of Israel's counterterrorism measures.

                  5. "To them, I was the terrorist.… One man's terrorist is another man freedom fighter."Yuval Diskin (2005-11), candidly discussing the very first time he considered his profession from a Palestinian perspective.

                  6. "We are taking very sure and measured steps to a point where the State of Israel will not be a democracy or a home for the Jewish people."—Ayalon
                  "At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed."
                  – Frederick Douglass, doing an amazing job since 1852


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by YYZ View Post
                    Found this and wasn't sure where to put it. A search for "Israel" kicked up this ancient thread, underused and with a good title.

                    (I do not miss Torch.)

                    In "The Gatekeepers," Israeli Security Chiefs Say What US Leaders Can't

                    --John McCain


                    • #11
                      This article will probably be on line in a week or so, even if you do not subscribe to the New Yorker.....this guy really sorts things out....hezbollah, syrians, sunnis, shiites, lebanese, Iranians, Israelis.........I recommend it....

                      A Reporter at Large

                      After Syria

                      If the Assad regime falls, can Hezbollah survive?

                      by Dexter Filkins February 25, 2013

                      Subscribers can read the full version of this story by logging into our digital archive.
                      Memorial Services;
                      Sohmor, Lebanon;
                      Hassan Nasrallah

                      A REPORTER AT LARGE about Hezbollah’s reaction to the Syrian crisis. Late last year, a memorial service was held for two young fighters from Hezbollah, who had been killed under murky circumstances. At the time of the service, Hezbollah had spent months denying that its men were crossing the border into Syria to fight for Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. Yet evidence was mounting that they were. In an Arab world dominated by Sunni Muslims, Hezbollah agitates on behalf of Shiite identity—forming, along with Syria and Iran, a column of resistance sometimes called the Shiite Axis. With Syrian and Iranian help, Hezbollah has become the most powerful force in Lebanon. Too strong to be challenged even by the government, it has set up its own mini-state and built one of the world’s most sophisticated guerrilla armies. It has kept up a relentless campaign to confront Israel, even provoking a war in 2006. Now the civil war in Syria is threatening to break the axis. Hezbollah could lose its main link to Iran if the regime of Assad fails. Describes the writer’s visit to Mleeta, a fantastical theme park dedicated to Hezbollah’s triumphs. Mentions the Rafik Hariri assassination in 2005. As Hezbollah solidifies its official power, anxiety over assassination still permeates Lebanon’s political class. The issue of Hezbollah’s role inside Syria raises fundamental questions about its identity and purpose. Is it really a “resistance” organization, dedicated only to fighting Israel? Siding with the Assad government has already left Hezbollah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah alone in the Arab world. Since the civil war ended, in 1990, the Lebanese political system has relied on an exquisite balance among the main groups, and on a measure of self-restraint on the part of each. The question for the future may be whether Hezbollah can restrain itself if it is threatened with a diminishment of its power.

                      Read more: