Encounters with other Jewish Israeli citizens told us that this kind of reaction is not only common, but expected. Violent acts of terrorism against Jews by Arabs have been known to happen and is likely to continue now and again. If I were a local Israeli Jew, and not a curious traveller just passing through, perhaps I too would have the same attitude. In fact, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem I found myself sometimes flashing on vivid and gruesome scenarios in which we were the unfortunate victims of random violence. This became all the more real when two car bombs exploded almost simultaneously in two Jewish cities—Haifa and Tiberius—as an act of protest to the signing of the agreement between Barak and Arafat the night before. We had been in Tiberius four days prior, and in Haifa—at the central bus station 250 meters from the scene of the explosion—for four consecutive days, including the morning on the day of the blast. There was a lot of activity in bus stations as Jewish families were getting ready for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year)—a time when 'things are more likely to happen'. I found myself following the practice of locals; watching for unattended baggage, suspicious of their contents. I was startled by any big sounds; watchful anytime a siren screamed by. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, garbage workers had gone on strike and two weeks worth of trash had piled up on every street. I was concerned; what better hiding place for bombs than a stinking trash mound? If a tourist in the country for a mere two weeks was starting to think like this, imagine what growing up and living in Israel is like.
The threat to Israeli security is real and hence the fear and anxiety understandable. Terrorism, no matter how you look at it, is very ugly, raw in its cruel destruction, and psychologically destabilizing, playing on emotions and fears. It should in no way be condoned. At the same time, it would be wrong not to speak of the state of oppression under which many Palestinian Arabs face living within and around the vague boundaries of the Israeli state. Terrorism has been met by terrorism where such acts have been committed by Israeli Jews against Arabs, though any Israeli Jew would probably tell you far fewer than those by Arabs against Jews. But the point is not to tally the victims and subsequently determine who is the greater evil. The tragic fact is that this happens in both directions on some level and is a shared problem resulting from a very complicated issue. It should be said that there is on-going violence against Arabs of a different nature that should also be condemned—the institutionalized, systematic oppression carried out by the Israeli government through policies of land seizures, forced settlements, and deliberate de-development of already dependent economies. One can't simply turn a blind eye to the silenced losses related directly and indirectly to those living under such conditions. And this is to say nothing of the scale of violence perpetrated by an armed Israeli army against largely unarmed civilian Palestinian Arabs—men, women, old and young—during the seven years of the Intifada. Those casualties, injuries, and years of youth wasted away in prisons are as bitterly felt by the Palestinian families as the pre-mature deaths due to terrorist acts against the loved ones of Jewish families.
Three weeks in Israel is hardly sufficient to formulate any real understanding of the complex issues affecting the lives of those living the struggle, on both sides. It is perhaps only enough to make surface observations, engage in a few discussions that raise further questions, and pore over newspapers and books to try to find some tangible answers. In doing so, I have found a wide spectrum of opinions suggesting debate and disenssion occurs at virtually every level of the conflict. Clearly, the issue is far from being black and white and perhaps there is no "solution". Regretfully, in my mind,current agreements between Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Jews are at best only a tentative and temporary consent to contain violence within a never-ending history of religion, ideology, and politics.
The recent Sharm el-Sheikh agreement commonly referred to as 'Wye II' resulted in the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners and another 200 in the coming months. While this was regarded as a miracle for Palestinians reunifying with their families, this caused outrage, as expected, among many Jews. A minority of Jewish voices spoke of what this symbolized for both sides—a step towards improved relations and trust building, perhaps, a chance for hope.