ah, what a lovely drive

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    But Where Does the Road Go?
    Paula R. Stern
    20 June 2003

    Years ago, I was driving late an night with my husband and children asleep in the car. Alone with my thoughts and the open road, I marveled at the scenery, the quiet, peaceful road. I drove past quiet homes, Bedouin campsites, small cities, into the desert and beyond. Onwards through the night, until suddenly, I came to a checkpoint. Nothing unusual in Israel, but this one was different.

    Usually, the soldier takes one look, performs the automatic profiling that we all know exists, and waves me on through. A momentary inconvenience justified a million times over each time the Israeli army catches an armed terrorist bent on murder and mayhem. But this time, the soldier didn’t wave me on. He didn’t raise the barrier. He just stood there looking at me. What was he waiting for? Almost wondering if he was a bit daft or perhaps just overly tired at this late hour, I opened my window and asked if there was a problem. No problem, he responded, but he didn’t lift the bar.

    A moment or two of silence and then he asked where I was headed. “Eilat,” I responded, assuming perhaps he just wanted to confirm that I wasn’t a terrorist by hearing my voice again. This happens sometimes and my decidedly American accent usually gets instant recognition and the bar gets raised. But not this time. The soldier smiled. “Turn around and go back that way, 29 kilometers,” he finally said. Feeling that perhaps he was not the daft one after all, I pointed ahead and asked, “So what’s there?”

    “Egypt,” was the answer.

    They say a picture can communicate a thousand words, but that one word he said communicated just as many. And I understood. A border between nations. A cold peace. Turn around and go back. More like an absence of war than anything else. The road getting to the peace with Egypt was long and hard and in the end, we settled for an empty peace with a people who still largely hate us. Turn back.

    A few months ago, a pleasant Egyptian woman inquired about taking one of my online help courses in Herzliya. She was quite friendly until she realized that Herzliya was in Israel. Then, she was quite offended. Through a brief exchange of emails, she accused my country of being populated and led by barbarians and mass murderers, our leaders of being war criminals.

    The emails escalated to images. She sent me a picture of a Palestinian child looking sad and lost amidst the rubble of a building in Jenin. I sent her a picture of Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old baby shot and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. She sent me a picture of an Israeli soldier approaching a mosque with his gun aimed at a sight only he could see. I asked her what was in the mosque, if that building, like so many Palestinian ambulances, schools and churches, was being used to hide explosives and ammunition. And I sent her a picture of the bloody hands of the “lynchers” of Ramallah.

    She said the Palestinians were fighting Israeli tanks with stones and thus we were the terrorists. I sent her a picture of Yehuda Chaim Shoham, a beautiful 5-month-old baby who was hit in the head and killed by a rock thrown at the car in which he was riding, and I sent her a picture of Joseph’s Tomb, burned and desecrated long after Jews had evacuated the holy site. It was destroyed because it was a Jewish holy shrine, yet another attempt to wipe us from their midst using violence.

    I answered her emails even though I knew I was wasting my time, speeding along to nowhere. Another dead end. Back that way, 29 kilometers. Not all roads lead to reconciliation and peace.

    So now, we are on a new road, this time with the Palestinians. Beautiful scenery. Promises of peace at the end of the road, if not along the way. The road begins in Aqaba in sunshine and hope. Three leaders shaking hands, all saying the right words. An end to the suffering. Human rights. Peace. No more occupation. No more terrorism. It is the road to peace, we are promised. The end of 50 years of conflict. Drive on. Even if the road gets bumpy and there are more terrorist attacks, we are urged to continue forward. No answers to the most basic of questions: will the Palestinians now accept what they refused in 1947, what they rejected at Camp David, what they have fought against for the last three years in bloody terrorist attack after terrorist attack? How do we really know that this time their words are not as meaningless as they have been for decades?

    The road is clearly marked in the still-wet ink of many nations and the blood of thousands… but where does it lead? Establishment of a Palestinian state. A two-state solution. Them and us, but is that true? Will the terrorism stop? Will they really accept us? No, says Hamas. Not likely, implies Islamic Jihad. Silence from the man in Ramallah who never knows when to shut up.

    I am part of the anti-“roadmap” camp, so I should not complain too loudly. I am not in favor of war. I want peace. But I am simply unable to muster the faith to believe that this “roadmap” is going to solve what decades of negotiations have failed. We are told to try it, for what alternative do we have? Endless violence. Try it. Dare to hope. Dare to believe that this is the beginning of peace. Take the road. Drive on.

    I am reminded of the times I’ve told my children, “If you don’t try it, you’ll never know.” But I was talking about a new type of chicken dish or an unusual fruit. I wasn’t talking about a life and death situation in which trying it could mean a death sentence and even more terrorism.

    For those of us who do not support this “roadmap”, we feel like the world is celebrating at some great party to which we weren’t invited, or at least, are unable to attend. We send our regrets, our deepest regrets. The world has no idea how much we wish we could attend this party. We would even offer to host it, if only it were true.

    Why can’t we too celebrate the end of war? Withdraw, grant concessions, evacuate outposts and perhaps settlements. After almost three years of war, it is hard for me to believe that we have reached the end, that suddenly, because President Bush has decreed it, because the French and the Russians endorse it, because Abu Mazen and Sharon have signed it, now there will be peace. It wasn’t the Americans, the French, the Russians, or even Abu Mazen or Sharon that started it. What makes them think they have the power to end it?

    When I left for Eilat with my family, I had a roadmap. I trusted the signs and drove on through the night. Obviously, I missed some key marker along the way. The one that would have told me conclusively that I was headed the wrong way, on some fruitless trip that leads to nowhere. Finally, I stumbled into that barricade that barred the road beyond. On that trip, I was able to turn around and go back. Will the same be true when Israel arrives at its unmovable bar?

    While others doze peacefully around me, believing that the leaders understand, I remain awake and vigilant. Up ahead, perhaps 29 kilometers, perhaps more, there is a bar blocking the road. It might be the issue of the return of refugees. For certainly, if Israel is expected to absorb millions of people who were born and raised in another country and have never even set foot on our land, we will cease to exist as a Jewish country. Maybe the bar will be our refusal to divide Jerusalem and give them our holiest of holy places.

    Or perhaps the bar will be what it has been for so many years, what it was at the Erez checkpoint when four Israelis were murdered in a joint attack by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah. The final bar may well be what it has been since 1947, the basic refusal of the Palestinians to accept our right to be here.
    Paula R. Stern is the Founder and Documentation Manager of WritePoint, a technical writing company.
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