Riding the No. 18 in Jerusalem
IT had become a macabre yet mundane calculation - should I get on, walk, or take a cab? Where should I sit? Are there enough Arabs on the bus to make it ''safe''? If I read an Arab newspaper, would that dissuade a potential ''martyr''? Every morning and afternoon as I waited for the No. 18 on Jaffa Road, I ran through this list. More often than not (I shudder to recall) the deciding factor was the weather, or the desire to save few shekels.
I was in Israel to cover the Palestinian elections, to do research on Arab-Jewish relations during the pre-state period, and to help organize and perform in concerts featuring Israeli and Palestinian musicians. I arrived soon after the Jan. 5 killing of ''the Engineer,'' Yehiya Ayyash, and everyone I knew - Israelis, Palestinians, and foreign journalists - felt that his murder, which broke a five-month-long unofficial cease-fire between Hamas and the Israeli government, would lead to more bloodshed. Yet the excitement surrounding the coming elections overshadowed the killing. As I traveled around the territories, even Arabs opposed to the Oslo accords spoke of their desire to live in peace with Israel.
It may seem like a naive dream now, but peace was in the air in January. I had never felt such optimism among Palestinians, nor such indifference toward them by Israelis. Thus, after the first few nervous minutes on the bus, I would happily settle into my routine of preparing for the day's interviews and planning the afternoon trip to Ramallah or Nablus. As the Old City appeared outside my bus window, the thought of living in Jerusalem for a while grew more enticing.
Now all I feel is betrayal, by both Israelis and Palestinians. I feel betrayed by the Israelis because the supposedly enlightened Peres government has not only continued enlarging settlements in contravention of the spirit of the ''peace'' process, but so blithely blew away a five-month cease-fire when it could, and should, have demanded that Arafat arrest Ayyash instead - thereby testing his, not their, commitment to peace. The government had to know killing him would restart the violence, but, as with Hamas, the logic of revenge outweighed the logic of peace. I also feel betrayed by the great number of Israelis who had no desire to emotionally reconcile with the Palestinians but rather were happy just to be rid of them.
As for the Palestinians, I feel betrayed by them because the lack of a massive public condemnation of the renewed terror campaign by Hamas, when coupled with politically inept stone-walling in the promised revision of the National Charter, has undermined the decade-long efforts of so many to humanize them in the collective Israeli psyche. I understand Palestinians' own fear of Hamas, but if they don't take a stand now, when will they?
Yes, no one can deny that the Oslo process is inherently unfair to Palestinians; but I can think of a lot of nations - Kurds, Tibetans, East Timorese - who would gladly trade their political future for Palestine's. Too many Palestinians still don't recognize the humanity of their Other, and place a higher priority on perpetuating the comfortable mantle of victimhood - and the violence that goes with it - than on reaching a livable compromise with Israel.
Yet I can't help thinking of my last trip on the 18. I was returning to my hotel after attending a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian college students. Almost 100 talked honestly about their fears, stereotypes, and their desire to build a warm peace. They talked of taking responsibility for their future away from their leaders in order to build bridges between their communities. They promised to keep meeting no matter what happened. I hope they still are.