Festivals of Indifference

Ignoring the fate of the Palestinians began by the use of the word "quiet" to characterize the past 6 weeks - that may indeed have been a period without terrorist attacks in Israel, but during those weeks 69 Palestinians were killed, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

It was going to be a lively Sukkot week-long holiday, filled with leisure-time possibilities - and it probably will be like that, despite the renewed acts of terrorism last week. No fewer than 150,000 Israelis are going abroad, and those that stay behind can choose from a wealth of festivals, happenings of all kinds and festivities.

The Mekorot Water Company would like you to "flow to the water sources (mekorot)," the National Parks Authority offers you "the way to nature," and the Jewish National Fund offers families the chance to take part in the olive harvest "with joy in their hearts."

Six weeks without terrorist attacks left their mark and many Israelis were tempted to believe the government's road of force had been proved the right one. The spate of terrorist attacks last week did not spoil things too much, except of course for the victims and those around them.

The city's good-time crowd returned to Allenby Street on Thursday a few hours after the blown-up bus had been towed away. The combination of a natural desire for normality and the insensitivity with which people react to attacks following such a large number of terrorist incidents will undoubtedly induce "the masses of the House of Israel" to celebrate during Sukkot week, despite the deep fears that everyone feels.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. But the fact that these popular festivities are taking place in juxtaposition to a nation that is being held prisoner is both dangerous and infuriating. Ignoring the fate of the Palestinians began by the use of the word "quiet" to characterize the past six weeks - that may indeed have been a period without terrorist attacks in Israel, but during those six weeks no fewer than 69 Palestinians were killed, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Those killed include 13 children and nine victims of Israeli assassinations.

Many of these 69 Palestinians were innocent of any crime, such as the Hajin family in the Gaza Strip, who were sprayed with deadly flechette shells by an Israeli tank while they were working in their vineyard, or the children of the Drarama family in the West Bank village of Tubas, who were killed in the course of a failed attempt to kill a wanted individual. In the course of this period of imaginary quiet, Israel also demolished homes, relocated relatives of terrorists, unilaterally annexed Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and continued to hold a million people prisoner in their homes or towns.

In Nablus, it needs to be recalled, the curfew has continued for nearly three months without letup. All of this can guarantee everything except quiet. Those who thought that this situation would continue indefinitely, with the Palestinians locked up, hungry and humiliated, while quiet would persist in Israel, have been proved wrong. The relaxations that Israel introduced during this period in Gaza and Bethlehem were also a mockery. How symbolic it is that as Israelis went on holiday for Rosh Hashana, a full curfew was imposed in all the cities of the West Bank.

It is not difficult to imagine what the residents of the territories - unemployed and confined to their homes - thought about the reports of the curfew on the one hand and the tens of thousands of Israelis enjoying themselves in the north of the country, which followed each other on Israeli television. They saw people rafting on the Jordan River and others turned on by trance music in a forest festival, not far from their West Bank homes, and their insides turned over.

Now Israel is going on the Sukkot holiday, while three million people who live under Israeli control cannot even dream of even a tiny fraction of such pleasures. For them there is no going abroad and there are no festivals or cultural events or vacations. As commercials invite Israelis to "flow to the water sources," Israelis would do well to remember that tens of thousands of Palestinians have no water in their faucets on most days of the week. As the National Parks Authority invites people to embark on "the way to nature," Israelis should recall that the majority of Palestinians are not allowed to leave their homes. And when the JNF urges people to pick olives as family entertainment, Israelis cannot forget that thousands of Palestinians for whom the olive harvest is a source of life and livelihood, and not "family happening like in the good old days," are barred from going to their groves.

It is not just a matter of a human need to show consideration for others, it is also a matter of political wisdom. It is still necessary to point out that as long as this is the fate of the Palestinians, our fate will not be much better. The two sides are intertwined, and only when their plight is alleviated will things get better for us, too.

Only when the Palestinians are able to celebrate their holidays safely and with dignity, will we be able to celebrate our holidays without fear. Now, though, the situation is reversed - our holidays automatically become tragedy days. Rosh Hashana in Israel? Full curfew in the territories. Sukkot? Full closure. Only the days of disaster are shared - a horrific terrorist attack immediately brings collective punishment in its wake.

This is the intolerable trap. When there are no terrorist attacks, the illusion immediately prevails that there is no need for bold and far-reaching political initiatives, as quiet is here already. And when the terrorist attacks resume, the usual chorus of voices declares in unison that there is no one to talk to and nothing to talk about, because there can be no talks while terrorism rages. So we turn to the way we are most familiar with - lay siege, expel, liquidate, demolish, kill and imprison.