Monday, July 9, 2001

To be a free people in our land

To be a free people in our land
 July 9, 2001

Picture this:
You're driving home from a long day at work. Twenty minutes from home the traffic jam starts. Eventually, reaching the beginning of the line, you are waved into a huge parking lot.

After finding a spot to park, you walk to the next line. Finally it's your turn, and you climb up onto the bus. On your seat you find the uniform - a bulletproof vest and a helmet. Having donned them you sit down and wait for the bus to fill up so you can finish your ride home. The next morning, on the way to work, the same procedure, only backwards, from your home to the parking lot.
Sound like a science-fiction story? Unfortunately, it's not so far fetched. The Israel Defense Forces is presently renting bulletproofed buses and asking people to use them, rather than travel in private cars.

Over four years ago, as the infamous Hebron Accords were signed and implemented, a senior military officer met with Hebron leaders. The reason for the meeting: additional safety measures for Hebron residents in the newly discovered era of peace.

The officer's suggestions were plentiful. He first recommended construction of an 'above ground tunnel', in other words, two parallel walls, stretching from Beit Hadassah all the way down to Maarat Hamachpela, about a kilometer away. Why build the walls? In order to protect us from shooting attacks from the hills surrounding the Jewish neighborhoods, transferred to Arafat and his armed forces.

You understand? The Israeli army wanted to protect us from the very hills that we warned would be used to target us, yet were handed over to the terrorists as part of the Oslo peace process. The suggested solution -- that we walk between walls, the entire distance of the Jewish Community of Hebron. When one of the Hebron participants questioned the officer, saying, "The terrorists will be able to hurl bombs or hand grenades over the walls," the response was simple: "No, we are going to cover them with some kind of roof." Again, he was asked, "And what about the children? They'll have to ride their bicycles between walls?" The officer didn't answer that one.

But he did have another brilliant idea. He suggested that the army pay to bulletproof all the windows of apartments facing the hills. One of the men queried, "If you bullet proof the windows, they are impossible to open. We won't have any air in the house." The officer's reply, "Don't worry, we are going to buy you air conditioners." Another person piped up, "But, we have a very large family and my wife hangs all the laundry out the window to dry." The officer turned to his assistant and instructed him, "Make a note, we have to buy them clothes dryers."

It sounds funny, but unfortunately, this is a true story. It really happened. Hebron's leadership met, discussed the issue and suggestions, and responded with a solid no, refusing all the so-called protective measures offered to the community. We were looked at as if we'd fallen off the moon, straight onto our heads. "Why?" they asked us incredulously, "This is for your protection."

Our answer was short and succinct: "We came back to Israel to live as a free people. We left the ghettos of Eastern Europe to live freely in our land. As we say in the Israeli national anthem: L'hiot Am Hofshi b'Artzenu - to be a free people in our land. Can we be a free people living in our land, behind walls and bulletproof glass? No, of course not. If you want to protect us, take care of the terrorists. Push them back; defeat them. But don't punish us; don't cage us in, because they are trying to kill us."

That was well over four years ago, and today, well, the same film is being rerun. Only this time, not just in Hebron. This time, bulletproof glass, bulletproof vests, helmets and other so-called security measures are the name of the game throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Yesterday, a manufacturer displayed his newest design: Lego-like bullet proofing of automobiles for only $10,000. He tried to convince the Israel Defense Forces to purchase and subsidize the product in order to protect the lives of Israelis living in Yesha. As described by an Israeli news correspondent, "It looks like the armored vehicles used in 1948, and isn't very attractive, but it can save lives."

What was Yassir Arafat's response to the offer of transforming our cars into individual private tanks? Last night several bombs were detonated near IDF jeeps. In one of those jeeps, just south of Hebron, sat a twenty-two year old captain, who caught a piece of shrapnel in his head. After being operated on all night, he died in the early morning. Captain Shai Shalom Cohen was buried earlier today in his hometown, Pardess Hannah. Initial investigations report that the land mine used to kill the officer was very similar to mines used against Israeli forces in South Lebanon.

What's the point? Very simple. The answer to terrorism, the answer to war, is not to run away and hide. This will have the opposite effect, showing our enemies that we are scared, that we are running to take cover. It is a tremendous show of weakness. There is nowhere to run away to. Drive in a bulletproof car and the enemy will use a land mine. Ride in an armored bus and the enemy will use a missile. There's no end to it.

A letter released last week by various Yesha leaders states: "All of these measures are being offered as an alternative to true security and in place of war against terror. Their real significance can be described as abandonment of the roads to terrorists, fleeing and hiding? relinquishing the demand for true security, while abandoning our land to terrorist murderers.

"We call on all Yesha leaders and residents to refuse to accept the proposed protective safeguards and to return to the must fundamental and legitimate demand for true security on our roads, in our homes and in our communities."

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