Monday, February 04, 2008

Safety in Israel

Since our return from Israel several people have asked us if we felt safe there. The short answer to this is "Yes".

I now understand the feelings of the many French Jews who are buying property in Israel. On the one hand, if you are bothered by the anti-Semitism coming from parts of the Arab-Muslim community here, you might think, as I did, that moving from France to Israel is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. On the other hand, they say, at least the Jews call the shots in Israel.

Such was our sense, for better or for worse, of the balance of power there. Incidentally, the feeling of long-time Israelis towards these French newcomers is ambiguous. The former see the latter as at least partly responsible for the sharp rise in real estate prices, while much of that now French-owned real estate remains unoccupied several months of the year.

The tortured relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors, in particular the Palestinians, was barely noticeable during our stay. There are plenty of Arab neighborhoods, almost all of our taxi drivers were Arab, as were many of the employees in the Jerusalem Novotel. But we sensed no undercurrent of hatred, animosity or threat of violence. We didn’t venture into Hebron, Jericho, Nablus or Ramallah, however, the main cities of the West Bank, nor into Gaza.

The most recent cycle of violence began while we were in Israel, but I wouldn’t have known anything about it had I not picked up a newspaper. On the day before we left, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area near Ashkelon. Here is the title of the article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post:

Israel fears 'strategic threat' as Katyusha hits N. Ashkelon.
250,000 within rocket range
IDF kills 9 Palestinians in Gaza strikes

Here is the title in the International Herald Tribune from the same day:

Israelis kill 9 in raids into Gaza

It wasn’t until I read the IHT article that I found out that Palestinians from Gaza had fired a rocket and even then, it wasn’t exactly clear which action was in response to which! Ironically, in the paper version of the IHT, there was a subtitle in smaller print that said something like “Rocket lands near Ashkelon.” The contrast was striking: the same two items of information were announced in two newspapers on the same day, but in reverse order and font sizes. So much for the impartial media!

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