Domingo 28 de Abril de 2002, Ip nº 13

Israeli independence day: reflection, not fireworks
Por James Bennet

Eyal Zimmerman, the shaggy-haired waiter at the coffee shop down the block, believed in peace, the young men said. But he also did his duty as a reservist in the Israeli Army, and he died in the ferocious fighting earlier this month in the Jenin refugee camp, in the West Bank.

Now his picture sits above flickering votive candles in the Coffee Tree. There are 23 candles, the same number as his age, and the tally of the Israeli dead in Jenin.

His former customers, his contemporaries, somberly said, when asked how they felt, that they had absorbed the loss. ''You don't feel anymore,'' replied Liran Kehat, 22.

Or Raveh, also 22 and himself just returned from the fighting in Jenin, put in, ''You're kind of used to it; it's sad all the time.''

Today was Memorial Day in Israel, the day the nation remembers its dead, and this evening marked the beginning of Independence Day, the day that celebrates what all that sacrifice has achieved.

At the fulcrum of those two commemorations, as the afternoon waned here, the three young men, veterans all in a nation where nearly everyone serves in the military and then the reserves, smoked cigarettes in another coffee house and wondered when the sacrificing would ever end.

''I just feel tired,'' Mr. Raveh said. ''I think everybody does.'' But, like his friends, Mr. Raveh said he also felt he was left no choice by the multiplying suicide bombings other than to keep fighting for a Jewish state, whose chances for survival after 54 years he sometimes doubted.

Flag sales are soaring, as Israelis rally behind their sweeping invasion of the West Bank. At the same time, Independence Day celebrations here and in other places were canceled, for fear of attacks.

In Jerusalem, the show went on tonight. ''For all the Jerusalem viewers, what you're going to hear just now is fireworks,'' one newscaster warned this evening.

Downtown Jerusalem, usually packed with more than 10,000 revelers as Independence Day begins, tonight was a maze of steel barricades. A few hundred people milled in the guarded area, in an air of foxhole camaraderie. ''Don't be afraid,'' called one middle-aged woman. Most of the celebrants were in Zion Square, where scores of young people raced around, spraying each other with shaving cream as a rock band blared.

Most Israelis told pollsters that they objected to canceling public events, but most also said that they would not attend any.

''The Situation,'' as the state of conflict with the Palestinians is universally referred to here, has become as grim as most people can remember. In interviews in this middle-class Tel Aviv suburb and elsewhere, Israelis said they felt isolated, believing that their fight for survival had been deliberately misconstrued as brutality and oppression by an unsympathetic world.

''People around the world never liked us, because we are Jews,'' said Shai Shiloach, 20, who paused on the sidewalk here after buying tickets for an Independence Day party tonight. In simply deciding to go out for an evening, he had weighed and reconciled himself to risks most young people would never have to consider. ''If we are going to die, we are going to die,'' he said, shrugging.

The Israeli military operation has left an unknown number of Palestinians dead, destroying or damaging hundreds of homes and business. Israeli forces have imposed 24-hour lockdowns in many Palestinian cities, threatening those who disobey with sniper fire. While many Israelis expressed doubts that the operation would succeed in ending terrorism, most said Israel had no other option.

There have been two terrorist attacks in the past year in Kfar Sava, killing two people. But the specter of such attacks has strikingly thinned the crowds along the sidewalks.

Mr. Shiloach, a soldier, said that he had concluded that the Arabs ''don't want any peace with us.''

Fifty years from now, he said, it might be possible for Israelis and Palestinians to ''talk about something.'' And until then? ''War,'' he said. ''Like now. But this is our reality. We have to face it.''

One 34-year-old computer programmer said Israelis might also bear some blame. ''I feel a little bit of shame to celebrate independence while taking it away from other people,'' he said. ''Palestinians want their independence, too.''

Interviewed as he pushed his 4-year-old son on a worn bicycle, the man said he sometimes thought of leaving Israel, though he said he loves it. ''I'm thinking, what options will my son have growing up in this place,'' he said.

The polling here is a mass of contradictions that appears to reflect a sort of anguished determination. Most Israelis interviewed for a survey published today by the newspaper Maariv insisted that they felt a sense of hope. But only 32 percent said that they expected peace with Palestinians in the coming year rather than a regional war; 43 percent said they expected the converse. More than half said that quiet could be achieved only through force.

This sense of a building storm is particularly hard on the young. ''Three years ago, we thought we were the peace generation,'' said Idan Evyatar, the third member of the group in the coffee house, also 22. But, he said: ''You can't ignore someone trying to kill you. You're going to fight if you need to.''

He said young people in Israel, unlike their parents and grandparents who founded the nation, were brought up with materialist images of the good life in the United States and Europe. But, he said, they could not quite live it here. He works as a waiter at a beach restaurant, where armed guards oversee the bathers.

''It just keeps getting worse,'' Mr. Raveh said of The Situation. ''Each time you feel like, 'That's it,' it gets worse.''

To be 22 in Israel is like being 40 in any other developed nation. Having completed their mandatory military service, facing an eventual hunt for satisfying work in a staggering economy, these young men sounded less independent than trapped.

Mr. Raveh said this feeling helped explain why many young people travel after military service. ''After three years, people are a little like refugees,'' he said. ''You just want to go somewhere you can breathe.'' But, he said, he would come back.

Mr. Evyatar agreed: ''It's your home. You didn't choose it. You have to live with it.''


  17/04/2002. The New York Times.


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