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Returning Home
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel National News Radio
March 18, 2002

Call it a mild form of survivor guilt, but that's what I experienced after having been away from home during the most dreadful three weeks of what Haaretz columnist Arie Shavit aptly calls the War of Sovereignty.

When I left for a swing through a number of US communities on a book tour, things were very bad--front page news the day I flew out of Tel Aviv was the horrific incident in Gush Katif that claimed the life of a young mother of two, and featured the heroism and dreadful injuries sustained by Jerusalem Diaries correspondent Moshe Saperstein--but events took on a distinct turn for the worse while I was away. An appalling increase in the frequency and ferocity of vile attacks against Jews trying to go about their daily lives, combined with an Israeli response that seems incapable of halting the bloodshed, all contributed to the deepening sense of embattlement I felt immediately upon my return.

Checking in with friends to reconnect after my absence, I heard the same stories from almost everyone. Each person recounted the horror of listening to one or another nearby explosion. Jerusalemites spoke of spending several wide-eyed nights inundated by the sounds of Israeli retaliatory bombardments in Bethlehem, and gun battles in Gilo, all just a few moments away.

I live a few minutes walk from Cafes Caffit and Moment--both the targets of Islamikaze bombers while I was gone. Friends felt compelled to tell me how they'd been at one or the other place in the days or hours preceeding the killings there. The proximity of the terror has caused many to change their daily routine. Some no longer travel by bus. Others won't go to any events where large numbers of people gather--no more movies, concerts, demonstrations. Some parents won't let their kids walk unaccompanied to school any more. Many mention that they are exhausted--both by lack of sleep and the high level of tension.

In response, the city itself has developed the feel of an armed camp. Besides the extraordinarily heavy presence of IDF troops and police on patrol everywhere, armed guards are now posted outside every cafe. In contrast to the almost lackadaisical approach of these guards just a few weeks ago, men are now routinely patted down before being allowed in and woman are carefully scrutinized.

This morning I drove the length of Jaffa Street in the center of town in about two minutes. In normal times this would be a route to be avoided due to the clog of traffic.

Yesterday, before two terrorist attacks took place in Jerusalem and Kfar Saba, the mayor of Nahariya closed schools there for the day in response to a security alert.

Succumbing to what has become routine in Europe in recent decades, all synagogues here are now required to have protection. So much for "liyot am chofshi be'artzeynu." (To be a free people in our land--words from Israel's national anthem.)

In the midst of the bleak pall, the Peugeot company is trying to lift our spirits by placing dozens of lion sculptures all over the city. The whimsical four foot high figures are all decorated differently. One white lion has a cascade of dreadlocks: another sports wings; yet another is covered in mosaic tiles. Last year, penguin figures adorned the Gush Dan region--the colorful creatures could be seen throughout Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Netanya. Lions seem to be more in keeping with the serious atmosphere of Jerusalem, however. Could it be that the French car manufacturer is subtly reminding us of Balaam's biblical prophecy: "The people will arise like a lion cub and raise itself like a lion; it will not lie down until it consumes its prey..." (Numbers 23:24)

Over at the Inbal/Laromme Hotel, the rooftop is adorned with Israeli flags and huge blue and white banners hang from the front wall, a display generally reserved for the week before Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day).

Meanwhile, American negotiators and politicians shuttle in and out of the region. Palestinian and Israeli security officials meet at a Jerusalem hotel. It's the same scenario I left three weeks ago. Only now, there are seventy five less Israelis around to witness it.