Guest entry from Lisa G. (Pony sister, Happyrobot Tel Aviv correspondent)
I've been so depressed about the situation here over the last 10 days that I've literally been unable to focus on writing. And I'm not alone in feeling this way.
As usual, I offer up the example of the voluble taxi driver as the Israeli Everyman...
I was late to meet friends for a movie tonight ("Gosford Park" - marvelous!), so I took a taxi. The driver, who looked about 60, flipped on the metre, sighed and said, "I think that I'm just going to go home now and be with my family. I don't feel like working. My daughter won't let me take my seven year-old granddaughter out to the park to play, because she's afraid of terrorist attacks. Two weeks after my son returned from a one-year trip around the Far East - Thailand-Shmailand, New Zealand and Australia - he got a call-up notice for indefinite reserve duty, and now he's in Ramallah. My wife is worried sick. I can't focus on anything, haven't been able to read a book for a month now. God knows what the future will bring. We can't go on like this."
The week of Passover was one of pure gloom. After the Haifa restaurant bombing, which occurred less than 12 hours after the Tel Aviv cafe bombing, Tel Aviv became weirdly, eerily quiet. During a week when school is out and the majority of offices are closed, the cafes and restaurants were all-but (and in many cases entirely) empty, the streets were dark and quiet at night, and most parties were cancelled - not out of fear, just out of a lack of desire. Do you remember the Opera Cafe, next to the Mann Auditorium - the concert hall? It's got floor-to-ceiling windows - and now they're covered in sandbags, stacked about one metre high. There is hardly a single cafe or restaurant without an armed security guard. The owners of one popular restaurant with a large outdoor seating area simply cleared away all the outdoor tables - because they're too difficult to protect. Another restaurant with a lot of windows is now surroun! ded by metal police barricades and guarded by a grim-looking guy with a lot of gel in his hair and a stubby semi-automatic slung from his shoulder. The entrances to the shopping malls also have metal barricades and armed security guards, instead of the old pensioners who used to glance perfunctorily into our bags as we entered.
There hasn't been a terrorist attack for five days, but still the places of entertainment remain empty. Yesterday I chose to sit near the window at the Espresso Bar, a choice that caused the waitress to raise her eyebrows (I was the only one sitting near the windows)... Later an old-timer, a regular (judging from the familiarity with which he was greeted by the manager) sat down near me and announced loudly, "I'm sitting here to show them that I am not afraid."
Walking home from the movie tonight, I felt incredibly sad seeing that so many cafes had simply closed early, for lack of business, and that the streets were so quiet and empty. Tel Aviv is such a bustling, lively town, with its trendy clubs (the kind with the Studio 54-style selection at the door), its cafe life, its street life... To see it reduced to this state is really hard. And of course the economy is being further damaged - not only because people are afraid to go out and spend their money, but also because so many productive workers are being called up for reserve duty.
My friend Ravit's husband, Richard, got a call-up notice on the third day of Pesach - just three days after completing his annual reserve duty and one month after he started a new job. He's driving an army petrol truck in the West Bank, and sleeping in the cab of the truck. Ravit said that he barely knows how to shoot a gun, as he served in a non-combat unit... Richard's a lovely, romantic guy; pinned to the bulletin board in the kitchen are little notes he wrote to her - "Please remember that I love you very much," and "Take a hot bath and drink something. I'll be home at 9:00 to cook dinner for us." I saw the notes when I was at her place for the dinner party that they'd planned to host together. She decided to go ahead and host it alone, and it was lovely - but sad, too. No-one was able to make light chat for long; every topic led back to "the situation."
I suppose that it seems rather self-indulgent to moan about the climate of fear and gloom in Tel Aviv, when Palestinians in the West Bank are suffering from house-to-house searches, shortages of water, food and electricity, and the destruction of their property. I certainly do not know any Israelis who are celebrating their suffering. And I know quite a few who express grief and compassion for them.
I wonder what the hell Yasser Arafat was thinking, when he unleashed that wave of terrorist attacks during Pesach week. He knows Ariel Sharon better than he knows his own wife, Suha (still busy shopping in Paris, I suppose, where she's been living for the past few years.) He must have known that Sharon would counter-attack - big time. Perhaps he thinks that, by gaining the sympathy of the world, he will have more bargaining power for future negotiations. (Meanwhile the people whose interests he is supposed to be protecting are dying...)
And there will be negotiations, although the idea of Sharon and Arafat sitting down at the same table right now seems utterly ludicrous. Because this conflict cannot be resolved by force. Sharon can fantasize about re-occupying the West Bank, about killing Yasser Arafat and about destroying the Palestinian people, but he know that he cannot do any of those things. And Arafat can fantasize about destroying Israel, and about establishing a modern Palestinian state in all of historical Palestine, and he can continue to feed that fantasy to his people (in Arabic) but he knows that that ain't gonna happen either.