One speaker after another, most of them veteran left-wing Israelis, spoke passionately with a common message:
is responsible for Arab terrorism. Israel
'How could this be?' I asked.
"If Barak and Sharon had given the Palestinians their own state, there would be no terrorism," they replied. "Settlements undermine the peace process."
"What 'peace process,'" I asked.
"The one that we destroyed," they answered.
"Yes, we forced them to use violence. They had no other means to express their desperation," said Adi.
"The Karine A…?" (A ship loaded with 50 tons of weapons intended for Palestinian terrorists that
intercepted in 2002). Israel
"A fake. A set-up. Not real," she said. "We're not being told the truth."
"And the truth is…?"
"The Palestinians want peace;
wants war.” Israel
"Extremists on both sides," offered Carol, a middle-aged woman, part of the left-wing "Rabbis for Human Rights." She and her friend Adina were studying in
for a year and planned to return to the States. She admitted, however, that she did not agree with demands to remove all settlements. Israel
"But that's what the sign says that you're carrying," I pointed out. She read the sign again and then handed it to someone else. "I don't know. I guess we need to know more," she added.
"We've deprived the Palestinians of their basic human rights," said Rachel. "
was a disaster for the Palestinians. It embedded the occupation, the restrictions in laws. It made their lives hell." Rachel works for a group promoting Arab-Jewish dialogue. Oslo
Ranier, a German student at the
agreed. "We need to give them (Arabs) back their dignity." Hebrew University
"But what about terrorism? Isn't that where it started?"
"No. The Jews caused this suffering."
Would total withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian state end terrorism?
" No, but there's no alternative," insisted Yaron. "Give them a state."
"Even with terrorism?"
"Yes," he replied adamantly.
On the way back we passed Efrat, a Jewish community of over 5,000 families in Gush Etzion. "Get rid of them," an elderly lady sitting near me hissed. "Let them move to the
Negev. They have no business here."
I asked where she lived. "
," she replied. Jerusalem
"Would you be willing to move to the
Negev?" I asked.
"Why should I? I don't bother anyone. It's these religious fanatics who are making trouble. They're the problem."
Alon, a computer sciences student, believes that the "settlers have turned Judaism into racism. They want a theocracy. I want a modern country with Western values. They are destroying Zionism."
For many left-wing Israelis their brand of Zionism is under attack, not only from the outside, by Palestinian terrorists, but from within, by settlers and religious Jews. It is not only an ideological debate among Jews over policy issues, but a struggle over the identity of what it means to be an Israeli.
"Removing Jews from
," admits Alon, "is difficult, but necessary, although there is more Jewish history in Hebron than Jerusalem. But Jews don't belong there now." Hebron
"We have to recognize Palestinians rights," adds his friend, Dina.
"Why then do the Jews have to be removed?" I ask.
"For peace." As if, in this single word one can find some order amidst the chaos, some respite from constant terrorist attacks, perhaps a way of confronting despair.
Groups of children watch us from behind the fence that protects Kyriat Arba. I remind myself that they live here; we do not. In the morning, they will get on buses and go to school and if they are lucky, they will come back alive. Some of the children wave, but no one waves back from our bus, for they are seen as the enemy.