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Normality returning to Israel's Streets

By Alan H. Stein

Published in The Waterbury Republican-American
June 19, 2006

I write this while on an El Al plane, flying home after a vacation in Israel. My wife and I, along with several other American relatives, went to help celebrate an Israeli relative's wedding. It was our first visit to Israel since the height of the Arab terrorist offensive in 2002 and we were interested in seeing what had changed.

We had last visited a month after the awful Passover seder massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya, the Arab terrorist attack that finally led Israel to start fighting back. There were very few tourists in Israel at that time, with empty hotels laying off staff or closing, shops catering to tourists going entire days without any customers, and everyone we met expressing gratitude at our presence.

Four years later, the situation is much different. We had planned to spend the first few days in Tel Aviv, but there was a mixup with our hotel reservation. Four years ago, that wouldn't have been a problem; this year, there were no hotel rooms available in Tel Aviv. We wound up staying at a hotel in Netanya, a short walk from the sight of the 2002 massacre.

Wherever we went, life seemed normal. The streets, which had been empty in 2002, were full, with new shops and restaurants filled with customers. The people we spoke with no longer lived in constant fear of the next terrorist attack.

As we drove north to visit with friends in Afula, we wanted to see the security barrier. At lunch, we visited with Orit Anshelovitz, whom we had last seen four years ago on the very day she had watched body parts flying past her car when a terrorist had walked into Gilboa from Jenin and blown himself up. After lunch, we drove with our friend Donna Ron to the "seam line" in Gilboa, just a stone's throw from Jenin, which had been at the center of Arab terrorist activity.

Donna had to point out the barrier several times before we noticed it; I had been looking right at it, but at first thought I was looking at a fence simply separating farm fields. It was barely noticeable from about a hundred yards.

Of course, not all of the barrier is fence; about five percent of it, primarily in the Jerusalem area, can be accurately referred to as a concrete wall and we wanted to see that as well. Driving back from Gilboa to Netanya, we often were close to the barrier, though much of it was so inconspicuous it was hard to pick out. Driving by Qalqilya, we did see a very short stretch which was concrete rather than fence. In this case, too, it took a second glance to realize it was the security barrier; in appearance, it resembled the sound barriers we have alongside highways in the United States.

As critics have said, it was, for a short stretch, obtrusive, but no more obtrusive than a sound barrier and serving the much more important purpose of saving lives.

We also looked for the barrier in Jerusalem, and found it by driving to the suburb of Gilo, where families had been subjected to sniping from the nearby Arab village of Beit Jala. Once again, we saw a short stretch (perhaps a couple of hundred yards) of concrete barrier protecting the people of Gilo.

We talked to many Israelis during our visit and, in contrast to four years ago, spoke mostly of family life and everyday affairs. Still, some discussion of politics and terrorism was unavoidable. The almost universal assessment of the security fence was best summed up by Zimry Ron of Connecticut's Partnership 2000 sister region of Gilboa, who said "it's given us our lives back."

There seems to be virtual unanimous agreement that there is no chance of coming to any accommodation with the Palestinian Arabs in the foreseeable future, with even the doves reconciling themselves to the reality that the Oslo process was a dismal failure, exacerbated by the Palestinian Authority inculcating hatred and the glorification of martyrdom in an entire generation of youths.

The security barrier is seen as a way of letting the Palestinian Arabs go their own way without continuing to murder ordinary Israelis.

Perhaps some future generation of Israelis will find the Palestinian Arabs finally willing to live in peace and it will be possible to remove the security barrier; until then, the barrier is an unfortunate necessity brought on because the Palestinian Arabs, under the malignant leadership of Yassir Arafat, chose terror over peace.

Alan H. Stein of Waterbury is president of Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting (http://www.primerct.org).

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