TEL AVIV — My husband has kept a Colt .38 Special locked in a drawer of our home in Israel for the past 15 years.
He has never fired it, except to renew his gun license. I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions it has emerged from lock and key, to be taken with him on what he judges are potentially dangerous highways. Then he wraps the gun in an old felt shoe bag closed with a drawstring. Not exactly a Gunsmoke scenario.
I never touched this gun or any other until last month, during a catered affair at a Jerusalem hotel.
Many guests stayed away that night, for travel to turbulent Jerusalem these days has become a calculated risk. So as not to insult the hosts, we chose to make the one-hour drive, but the gun went with us. In the autumn of 2000, Jerusalem joined my husband's short list of hazards.
Once in the open, the gun becomes an albatross. Since it is illegal to leave a firearm unattended in an automobile, the gun had to come into the hall. When my husband got up to fill his plate from the buffet, it fell to me to keep the pistol in my purse, lodged between perfume and lipstick.
Close to midnight we got lost, trying to find the highway back to Tel Aviv. Above all, we were afraid of taking that infamous wrong turn leading straight to Palestinian-controlled Ramallah in the West Bank. Stopping at an intersection, we asked directions of the car beside us. "Straight ahead," its Arab driver said without hesitation.
Continuing on the deserted road for a few minutes, we came upon a forbidding luminous sign: "Barrier Ahead."
Roadblocks on the way to Tel Aviv? The suspicion that had passed through my mind seemed confirmed: The driver had deliberately misled us. A police van approached, its windshield guarded by a grill resembling the cage seen on nature shows when photographers venture into shark-infested waters. But yes, the policeman corroborated, Tel Aviv was indeed straight ahead.
We had alighted on the new alternate highway winding through the occupied territories. Upon completion, practical, picturesque Highway 443 immediately had become one of the most heavily traveled in the country. Not anymore.
As we drove those 30 minutes on that blackened road, I made small talk. My husband gripped the wheel with one hand and drove fast. He kept the other on the gun. We never saw another car until rejoining the main road in the center of the country. His gun rested, unbeckoned, inside its shoe bag.
A few days ago, on that same Highway 443, a driving instructor was fatally shot by assailants in an ambush. Eliahu Cohn, father of a new son, was not killed in an armed robbery. He wasn't killed in a lover's quarrel. He was targeted by chance, for no other reason than because he was a Jew. It might as well have been us, or anybody. In the past 10 days, three deadly ambushes have been carried out on Highway 443. The perpetrators escape into Palestinian-controlled areas under cover of night.
Random racial violence strikes Arabs as well. Just the other day, a young man was stabbed in the back while doing nothing more provocative than walking into a mall.
There are examples of brutal anonymous murders on both sides, attacks the radio describes as being of "nationalistic background," in current Israel newspeak.
Having a Colt .38 Special beside him would not have saved Eliahu Cohn. After being struck by bullets, he lost control of the car and crashed. But, my husband repeats, it is good he had taken his gun, just in case.
I am embarrassed to admit I have a firearm in my home. It contaminates our integrity. Guns are supposed to be for law enforcers, not for people like my husband who, as a cardiologist, is in the business of saving lives.
True, how significant is one quiescent pistol in the sea of violence that is the Middle East? Still, its lethal potential is a distorted fact of life I cannot make my peace with. Nor can I in good faith oppose keeping it. Only when far-sighted people in power finally dare to gamble on a larger peace, will I feel able to insist we banish the ugly instrument forever.
Helen Schary Motro is an American lawyer and writer living near Tel Aviv. She writes a column for The Jerusalem Post.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society