Shavuot: Late last night I walked around this peaceful neighborhood under a bright crescent moon, watching moderately religious strolling couples holding hands or pushing strollers, groups of boys and girls talking animatedly in Hebrew or English (earlier, stepping into the supermarket for last-minute shopping, I’d heard Italian and French in the crowded isles as well). These young people were coming home from shul, but I knew that others, mostly older men, were beginning the traditional Shavuot all-night study, to end with davening at dawn.
I was tempted, but I am tired, having had an intense month of travels, lectures, and meetings around the country and beyond. Much has happened while I’ve been here. At the moment former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is on trial for various corruption charges while the present one, Bibi Netanyahu, is gleaning the glory (clear in the polls in both countries) of having embarrassed and defeated an American president on his own territory, while Obama was away.
This could be a Pyrrhic victory if Obi is re-elected. Mitt Romney just entered the race, the only one so far who might beat the Osama-Slayer, but he is least likely to win the Republican primaries. The president’s chances are not sure, but good. What will he have to lose in the four years between ’12 and ’16? He can oppose Netanyahu in a strong sense, not just in the weak way he has tried out so far.
So when Bibi comes up for re-election in ‘13, strained White House relations may not be such a plus. But he and his government are very pleased with themselves. Israel’s economic and technology engine is running at full steam and without sign of running down. European and American criticism is muted. Israeli liberals and even the centrist opposition are in thorough disarray.
But the clock is running down toward a UN vote to recognize and admit a Palestinian state, within the ’67 borders. On Nakba, or “Catastrophe” Day, which was May 15, some hundreds or thousands of people living in Syria and Lebanon surprised the IDF by massing on the Northern Border fence in certain places, claiming to be Palestinian refugees returning to their homeland. They broke through in one, and some infiltrated deeply into Israel before all (authorities say) were apprehended.
On Naksa, or “Setback” Day, marking the first day of the 1967 war, three days ago, another like attempt was made; it was well prepared for and repulsed. Syria accused the IDF of killing 20 demonstrators by opening live fire (after repeated warnings) when the crowd reached the remade fence. Some of those deaths occurred when Molotov cocktails thrown by demonstrators touched off land mines protecting Israel. Some were caused by errant rifle fire aimed at legs.
The IDF was satisfied with its response, and international criticism was muted. The next day, Monday, there was no activity at the border. Why? Because Syrian guards, instead of encouraging the demonstrators, stopped their buses before they got to the fence, as Lebanon and Jordan had done in the first place.
On June 1, between Nakba and Naksa, a march of 40,000 Jewish Jerusalemites through Arab streets on Yom Yerushalayim provoked understandable protests, but the police only had to arrest 24, mostly Jews. Watch the video of Jewish marchers in Muslim and Christian streets joyously singing, “Death to the Arabs, Death to the leftists,” and “Muhamad met, Muhamad met”—”Mohamed is dead”—to get a glimpse of the people most likely to undermine and destroy Israel. See a pretty young woman say in a thoroughly American voice, of the Arab neighborhood she’s waking up at 4 AM, “Because it’s ours, so we’re happy.”
Meanwhile, the larger neighborhood continued in turmoil. In Yemen, where some of my Palestinian friends are working, the revolution is ongoing, the president wounded in a successful attack on the capital and apparently driven out; in Libya, Qaddafi holds on amid much bloodshed; and in Syria, more protesting citizens have been killed by their own troops every day for weeks than were allegedly killed by Israel on the the two days that crowds tried to breach its border.
My life, however, is normal, or rather, abnormal in a nonviolent way. I have given four lectures and seminars to the medical and public health faculties of the Hebrew University (Hadassah/En Kerem), two lectures (hospital-wide rounds and pediatric rounds) at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, hospital-wide rounds and a seminar for midwives at Bnai Zion (also in Haifa), a seminar (together with Ann) for developmental psychology students at the Univesity of Haifa, and a seminar for anthropologists and anthropologists at Hebrew University at Mount Scopus.
In the midst of all this, I gave a lecture at St. John’s College, Cambridge University, at a conference on the origins of violence, and was asked, with little notice, to comment on parallels between the conflict in Northern Ireland and the one between Israel and the Palestinians. As my friend the Rav says, I’ve been a busy bee.
I also had tours and meetings at all these places, learned a great deal, and was immensely impressed with the quality of the people and the facilities, much of which, in terms of research, training, and clinical care, is on a par with leading institutions in the U.S. and Britain—not surprisingly, since many of the Israelis were trained in those institutions. I’ll be giving a seminar to Palestinian midwives and nurses in East Jerusalem next Monday. Perhaps I can show them a different Jewish face from those of the fanatics who threatened them and their families on Jerusalem Day.
On Shavuot, Jews read the story of Ruth, a righteous Moabite woman, a member of a tribe hated as persecutors of Jews. Yet she is embraced, marries a second Jewish man after she is widowed, and becomes the great-grandmother of King David and thus the ultimate great-great-…grandmother of the Jewish Messiah, according to the faith of religious Jews. If only they took Ruth’s story to heart.