TEL-AVIV – Although it isn’t instantly apparent, most Israelis seem to be keenly aware that the struggle Americans view as an Israeli-Palestinian issue is, in fact, much larger—which President Bush acknowledged by visiting Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau before the latest “peace summit.”
Talking with a wide range of Israelis in the week immediately preceding Bush’s Middle East visit has proven revealing about the perceived prospects for peace. Israelis with whom I spoke in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv the past few days realize that they are wanted dead by a massive portion of the world—almost all of which surrounds their tiny country. President Bush’s journey to the region has done little to inject ordinary Israelis with a sense of optimism.
Walking down the residential streets of Jerusalem Thursday afternoon and through the business district of Tel Aviv the night before, the atmosphere is one that could be found in Los Angeles or New York. Sitting outside restaurants and nightclubs, people are walking, flirting, laughing. Most of the Tel Aviv delis (or convenience stores, as some Americans would call them) have no fourth wall, conveying an openness that belies the residual anxiety many Israelis feel.
One Israeli, a light, olive-skinned woman in her mid-20’s whose family emigrated here from Yemen, told me that if you are here long enough, you see that not everything is actually copasetic. “Israelis are nervous, but we are allowed to be,” she explains. “I used to live right over there (pointing to an apartment building near the U.S. Embassy, about two blocks in from the Mediterranean Sea). There were three bombings right nearby in the year I lived there.” Just one block from where that conversation occurred is Mike’s Place, the site of a suicide bombing just a month earlier that killed four.
Walking past Mike’s Place now, an observer would see no signs that an attack had taken place—except for the small, makeshift memorial about 15 feet from the entrance. Photos of the victims adorn a small sign that stands about four feet tall. The bar, which is a popular hangout for U.S. Embassy staff (who work next week), was re-built within one week of the April 30 attack. That is common here in Israel. More than anything else, it is a statement of perseverance, a determination that Israel will stand strong in the face of evil.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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