Some rays of hope in Israel-Palestine...
Hopefully, continued progress with lead to more trust...
A cool breeze came in from the sea, knocking over salt shakers at the Zorik Café. It was a beautiful day in Israel, clear skies, brilliant light, and the volleyball players were out. Young couples in low-slung jeans sipped smoothies and ate poached eggs.
Things are calm in Tel Aviv. Menace is beyond the horizon. Nobody thinks twice about boarding a bus, hanging out. It was pleasant to sit and people watch, see the smiles and bear hugs. New York’s West Village of a balmy Sunday.
In walked a stocky guy in jeans and an open-neck shirt, olive-green eyes, a ready smile and a mop of dark hair flecked with gray. He was Col. Avi Gil of the Israel Defense Forces, and here’s what he told me:
“When I was in the Special Forces a few years back, I could not tell my wife everything and one day I was in Nablus and there was an incident. I was a company commander and the operation went on from 5:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. and the soldier just to the left of me was injured and also another soldier beside me. Later in the day I went to see them in hospital in Petah Tikva and then I came home to Tel Aviv to get civilian clothes for my cousin’s wedding and I’d almost died that day and I said nothing. I don’t know what’s better, Afghanistan for seven months or living like that. When you live in your homeland and that homeland is small, that is the situation.”
Gil smiled. Life in Israel is many-layered, tranquility and anxiety always tussling for the upper hand, like argumentative siblings. What, I thought, was that Orwell line about sleeping safe at night because rough men stand ready? I couldn’t summon it and, besides, Gil wanted to show me something.
The yellow pages, yes, the yellow pages from the West Bank town of Kalkilya were in his hand, and he found them interesting because, in recent years, they had tripled in thickness, an indication of the expansion of business and decline in violence.
After his Special Forces stint, Gil had gone on a two-year assignment to Washington (liaising with the U.S. Marine Corps), and had only returned to the West Bank in November 2009 as a senior officer. He’d found the transformation, as measured on his yellow-pages gauge, striking.
“It’s in our interest to maintain the peaceful trend in the West Bank and I’m willing to take some chances,” Gil said. “It’s fragile, but the fact is nobody wants to fight.”
What sort of chances? Well, Gil meets regularly with his Palestinian Authority counterparts — “Today, I trust them,” he said, underscoring the “today” — and he provides intelligence on militants. He’s ceding ground. In December he went into Tulkarm 19 times, but only twice last month.
Roadblocks are coming down — to 14 from 42. Gil admires the state-building of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, although he thinks Fayyad is “walking on the edge” because his pledge of nonviolence has not stopped stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails.