The months preceding Independence Day 2002 were among the worst Israel has seen since its establishment. In January that year, the wave of suicide bombings that rocked the nation had intensified. In February the terror attacks hit buses, shopping centers, cafes. In March, 133 Israelis were killed in a series of chilling attacks that peaked with the seder night massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya.
In those months, Jerusalem was hit particularly hard. A fatal attack took place there almost every week. The streets were deserted. Hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment were silent. Fear was rampant. At night it seemed that Jerusalem had become a ghost city.
So it was that when celebrants began streaming toward the Ha'oman 17 club on the morning of Independence Day 2002, it was more surreal than usual. Under the gray sky of an early dawn, people in black mesh shirts and face paint broke up the burdensome shifts of the Border Policemen protecting the Talpiot industrial zone, making their way between armed officers in uniforms as they headed to the big after-party of the holiday. As though there were no terrorism in the world, as though the Jerusalem club were not located seven kilometers from the Deheisheh refugee camp. The music throbbed. The ecstasy throbbed. It was an intense whirlwind of passions of all kinds. The passionate Israel. The wild Israel. The liberated and unrestrained Israel.
And then, toward the afternoon, through the flickering, dim lights, the dance floor full of sweaty, half-naked bodies of a tribal cult of the senses, silence suddenly fell. And after a moment, Hatikva began to play. It was a house-music version of the national anthem, which brought the young dancers back to their libidinous dancing after the initial silence of astonishment. And this time with loud shouts. With an outbreak of song. Hatikva.
I stood on the upper balcony, watching from near and afar: an adult observer in this Israeli Sabbath River. The anxiety, the intensity, the chaos. And suddenly it was clear to me that Israel would withstand the war on terror, that the Israeli culture of life would overcome the culture of death trying to destroy it. We have no leadership, no ideology and no real state, but we have a vitality that springs from below, coarse and rough. Powerful.
A month and a half ago, Ha'oman 17 closed down. And on Independence Day 2007, perhaps they won't dance to Hatikva with the same frantic optimism of just five years ago. Israel withstood the terror war of the 2000s, but its spirit has fallen. Nonetheless, perhaps it's not too late. Perhaps the basic strength of Israeli existence is still there. And just like at that big after-party at Ha'oman 17, when the dancers were surrounded by rings of Border Police officers, Israelis have not yet lost hope.
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