Diary of the 'Situation' Part 1

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At the end of last week1 we had a few quiet days. I think this was because it was rainy and foggy during the night and the shooters could not really aim. However, Friday night the shooting began at earnest again.

I should describe the geography of the situation. Gilo sits on a long (about 5 Kilometers) and high (about 850 meters) ridge which streches from East to West. The north side of the ridge faces Jerusalem and the south side faces Bethlehem on the east, Beia-Jala in the center, and the Jewish settlement of Har Gilo in the west. The distance between the most extreme houses in Gilo and the closest houses of Beit Jala is 400 meters by air. Since Beit-Jala and Har Gilo are separated from Gilo by a deep ravine, it is easier to shoot at Gilo from Beit Jala then directly attack.

Almost every second night for the past month, there have been shooting attacks from Beit Jala at Gilo. The shootings have not been too serious. There was one policeman seriously wounded, and the rest of the injuries have been slight. My assumption is that only a few gunman participate in the shootings, and that with the guns they use they can not really aim from a distance of half a kilometer, so they just spray bullets at the general direction of the houses. However, for the people of Gilo it is a frightening experience. Nobody expected this, Gilo is just a normal place, not a heroic place. The people who have windows with a view of Beit Jala keep their lights down, and some have left the place all together. Some fifty apartments have been alreadt hit.

My apartment is on the north side of ridge, about a kilometer from the center of activity, and we have not felt most of the action. All our friends and relatives have been calling us, and we are telling them we are OK. Friday night my wife was talking to her mother, telling her not to worry, when a strong noise rattled all our windows!

It seems that the Palestinian shooting had hit several cars and two people had been injured (lightly, thanks god) and the Israeli army had decided to retaliate. So, a helicopter gunship was in the air and firing at Beit-Jala. This really made a lot of noise in the neighborhood.

I can't say I was frightened, but it is really a strange experience sitting in your house, watching TV and suddenly feeling you are back in the army, in the middle of a war zone.

No(social)security... Tuesday 31st October.

I hoped to begin this entry in a more optimistic mode. After all, there has been no shooting at our streets for two days, and even the tanks which were guarding the neighborhood's gate during the last month were taken away. Alas, every time there is a flicker of hope, there is some event that stops any thought of improvement.

The body of a 30 year man from my neighborhood, Gilo was found yesterday in a olive grove near his house. The man, Amos Machlouf, was missing since Saturday. He left his house to take out the garbage. Palestinians apparently killed him by stabbing him many times.

That was a third murder of an Israeli civilian since Saturday. In the first event an Israeli citizen (Marik Gabrilov) was taken out of a restaurant in the Palestinian town of Ramallah and lynched. In a second incident, a gunman shot two security guards in the social security office at east Jerusalem. One was killed and the other seriously wounded.

In retaliation, Israeli helicopters fired at headquarters of the Palestinian organization Fatah which took responsibility for the social security attack.
One of the minor side effects of the events is that now, I have to take the garbage out every time, since my wife says she is afraid to, and it is a man`s job!

Who Wants To Be An Eighth Of A Millionaire... Wednesday 1st November

Each morning I take the bus to work, and in the evening I take the bus back home. As I wrote before, the street in which I live is not in the shooting zone, however the bus passes through streets that are. One of the streets has a beautiful view of Bethlehem, including the church of nativity. Nowadays the promenade is scarred by blocks of concrete that the security forces have scattered every fifty meters or so, blocks that can serve as hiding places for people or cars if a shooting breaks out. Every time the bus goes through the street at night, I feel a hush going over the commuters. They look out of the windows, and I look at the beauty of the scenery and ask myself if we are going to pass this stretch of road safely.

Another thing I notice each time I pass the street is the 'For Sale' sign on one of cottages. The sign had been put there before the current fighting has started. I suppose the owner has not bothered to take it down, but there is no chance anybody is going to buy a place in any of those streets now.

In fact this is one of the facts that bother the residents of Gilo most of all. The real estate deals in streets that had been hit have ceased all together, and the prices in the rest of Gilo have plummeted.

There is a secretary on my floor whose flat had been hit by a bullet. The bullet shattered the window in her salon, passed through the room and hit the wall, while she was in another room. She is too frightened to sleep there now, so she moved back to her parents house. She told me:
'I have a place I can neither live in or sell'.

The whole situation is now on hold. Nobody knows whether the situation will lead us back to the peace process, move on to full scale war, or remain for many month to come 'a low intensity conflict' as the experts call the current situation. Meanwhile the Israeli economy has taken a real blow. Tourism has come to virtual stand still, the agriculture and the construction businesses which depend on Palestinian workers have also taken a serious hit. People tend to stay home, both because they are afraid of a terrorist attack and also because they are not in the mood, so commerce is down. Even the booming high-tech sector has problems. We have European clients who are unwilling to come here to close a deal because of the situation. I can not blame them, even though our offices are in a totally safe place. From afar, every place in Israel seems dangerous.

Last month, I won 125,000 Shekels (about 30,000 Dollars) in the Israeli version of 'Who wants to be a Millionaire'. Now I have to decide what to do with it. The Israeli stock exchange is in jeopardy because of the situation. The interest rates for saving has gone down because of the strong standing of the Israeli Shekel in the past year. I decided to put the money on hold for the while, and to tie it to the Dollar/Shekel rate. The investment clerk at the bank says the dollar will go up only if the prospects for the economy will seem really dim. He said that my investment choice shows I am a pessimist. I hope I am pessimist and not a realist.

A Nightmare... Thursday 2nd November.

Yesterday was a very bad day. The shooting at Gilo started at 4 PM. This is only the second time since the current fighting began at the end of September that the shootings took place at daytime. I was at work when I heard about the shooting on the radio. 4pm is the time my wife picks up our baby from his nanny. I was worried... even though I knew, logically, that the chance of anything wrong happening was slim. Our nanny`s apartment is also shielded from Bethlehem, and the way between is below the ridge`s summit so nothing can go wrong. I placed a frantic call anyway. My wife told me that she heard ambulances everywhere but, otherwise, everything was fine. Later we heard that one Israeli solider was killed and four others wounded in fighting near Bethlehem.

When I arrived in Gilo later in the evening, the gunfire was still raging. The bus did not enter the problematic streets, so I arrived home more quickly then usual. My wife`s sister was supposed to arrive and baby-sit for us so that we could go out. Since our child was born we do not go out much, and I was really looking forward to sitting in a coffeehouse, seeing a movie, anything to distract me. In the end, my sister-in-law did not arrive. The radio said that the police blocks were stopping anybody from reaching Gilo. So we sat and saw the grim news on TV, and all the time we heard the sound of gunfire from outside. Sometimes we heard it in Stereo because they were broadcasting the fight live on TV, and we were also hearing the shots from the window. It was the longest gunfight since the whole mess began, more then three hours.

The army said the shooting from Beit-Jala is not done by the people of that town which is mostly an affluent, Christian populace, but by Moslem militia from poorer neighbourhoods who force themselves into the houses in the forefront of Beit-Jala. They said that they accomplish several things that way: the people hurt are not their own but disliked Christians, and they also hope that, if Israeli retaliation hits a church, the Christian world will turn against the Jewish state.

If they are right, the knowledge that the population hurt by our retaliation, are men like me who have no interest in the shooting and are just forced into the fight, makes my feelings only worse.

The bad news, plus the constant shooting, was really getting on my nerves, so I decided to go to the local videomat (automatic video vending machine) and get a comedy movie. My wife told me that she was afraid I would get shot. I told her that it was totally safe, it is right next to the nanny`s house and no bullet can defy the laws of gravity and get at me. I was desperate to go out.

It turned out that I was right, the streets were quiet and almost totally deserted. Because everybody was afraid to go out, almost no movie was rented out and I was able to get the movie of my choice (`Man on the moon`).

Three Israeli soldiers were killed at yesterday`s fighting, so were five Palestinians.
Tonight was the first time I had a nightmare about the situation.

The Situation... Sunday 5th November.

Wednesday night, the former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat signed a cease-fire. As suspected by almost every one, the cease-fire did not hold for a single moment, but there was some decrease in violence. Some shots were fired at Gilo on Thursday night but no real damage done. On the other hand, a car bomb exploded in Jerusalem`s busiest market killing 2 people, one of them was the daughter of a leader of a political party, and a friend of a colleague of mine .

The Mahane Yehuda market is a colorful place, which offers cheap prices. Most affluent residents stopped going to the market for two main reasons. It has been the favourite target of terrorist attacks (this is the third bombing in five years) and it has severe parking space problems. As usual the poorer people who travel by bus (another terrorist target) are the usual victims.

At times like this there is no escape from talking about `the situation` as everybody calls it. Whenever you visit friends, family or talk with work-mates you end up talking about `the situation'. From this weekends' talks with the above this is the picture I get:

It is probably no wonder that Yasser Arafat is not trusted by most of the Israeli citizenship, but maybe even more problematic is the dwindling support for Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak. Last week polls showed him trailing by 20 percent from opposition leader Ariel Sharon. While many Israelis regard him as not firm enough in the current conflict, most Israeli Arabs and the more extreme part of the Israeli Left think he has been too harsh. I voted for Barak in the last election, so I am saddened by his loss of popularity, but his current zigzagging, talking tough one day and acting very mild the next day, puzzles even me.


How not to get killed in Jerusalem is an article also written by this researcher

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1Weekend of 28th/29th October.

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