Checkpoints and Charred Buses

So far, three and a half years after the beginning of this war of terror, the Israeli cultural body has not found a way to cope emotionally and conceptually with the killing.

On Friday afternoon "Mahsomim" (Checkpoint) was screened in Tel Aviv. It is an important film, "Checkpoint" - one that every Israeli should see.

This sensitive movie by director Yoav Shamir documents in minute detail the intolerable reality of the occupation. The film, which won first prize at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, provides a chilling depiction of the daily hell and humiliation of the Palestinians.

"Checkpoint" has only one problem: It is a film without a context. No terror, no incitement, no bigger picture. This humanistic film is full of endless compassion for the Palestinians and none at all for the Jews. It is a film that has no room in it for even one Israeli bus.

On Sunday morning, in Jerusalem, a charred bus crouched on the asphalt. This time its roof was not blown off, but its windows were shattered. The two Japanese families who sat in the congested morning traffic in the No. 14 bus route froze in their seats under the volcanic-like ash. The cold dry wind that blew from the Valley of Hinnom carried the sounds of new Jerusalem: the blaring ambulance sirens, the cries of the injured.

Anyone who turned his face away from the horror and tried to leave the scene via the road that leads down toward the Cinemateque found himself walking between pieces of torn flesh.

So far, three and a half years after the beginning of this war of terror, the Israeli cultural body has not found a way to cope emotionally and conceptually with the killing. After a whole generation during which a culture of guilt and protest developed here, creating highly sophisticated patterns of self-flagellation, it is difficult for many of us to truly and completely identify with the Israeli reality. It is still hard for us to view situations in which the Jew is the victim.

It is therefore much easier for the filmmaking community in Israel to deal with checkpoints than with buses. It is therefore much easier for the local human rights community to focus on the Palestinians' freedom of movement than on the Jews' right to life. Even after the brutal murder of 960 Israelis, the Israeli enlightenment still leans spontaneously toward criticizing Israel rather than defending it.

Until 2000 it was possible to excuse this anti-Israel bias. After all, Israel is an occupying power denying 3 million Palestinians their own civil rights. Since 2000, however, it is much harder to accept this obsessive self-criticism by artists, thinkers and Israeli journalists. It is much harder to accept the partial and twisted presentations of the reality that they broadcast from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam, London and Manhattan.

The reason for this is not only that in 2000 it turned out that the Palestinians bear substantial responsibility for the continuation of the occupation. The reason is also not that in 2000 it turned out that the Palestinian struggle is not only a legitimate fight for independence but a zealous struggle against the very existence of Israel. The reason is anti-Semitism. Since 2000 it has become unequivocally clear that anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head once more.

Secular sabras find this hard to believe. They still tend to relate to the hatred of Jews as something that has passed from this world, like tuberculosis. The truth, however, is that like tuberculosis, which had been conquered in the 50 years following the Holocaust, anti-Semitism has returned in recent years to take its place at the center of history's stage. The ancient pathological tendency not to relate to Jews according to the same standards used when relating to others has returned and erupted in the 21st century in all its fury. Now it has spread the length and breadth of the leading newspapers in Europe. It is prevalent in most of the international institutions. It is present even in The Hague.

The significance of this new situation is dramatic: After 50 years of grace, the Jews are again a minority that the international majority (Muslim and Christian) finds difficult to treat equally. The Jews are again a minority, the value of whose lives cannot be taken for granted as being equal to the value of the lives of others.

The accelerated delegitimization of Israel and the gradual demonization of Jews are causing teenagers in Jerusalem to be murdered on their way to school; causing the attempt to protect their lives to be perceived as not completely legitimate.

Enlightened Israelis must understand the gloomy reality created by this anti-Semitism. They must understand that under the new historic circumstances Jews are judged like women, blacks and Muslims. This certainly does not mean that Israel and its policies must not be criticized, but such criticism must be in context. Balanced, rational criticism relates to the whole complex reality just as it is. It must not feed the demonization of the Jews and does not permit the shedding of their blood.

The renewed anti-Semitism does not approve of any of Israel's acts in the West Bank and Gaza. On the contrary. Anti-Semitism demands that Israel put an end to the occupation that is flooding the documentary movie screens worldwide with day-to-day pictures of the Jewish-Israeli evil. Anti-Semitism, however, obligates those struggling against the occupation to be very careful with their choice of words and pictures. It obligates them to constantly remember that alongside every unjust Israeli checkpoint crouches a charred Israeli bus.

Alongside the great controversial Israeli wall there is deep Israeli fear.