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Israel Policy Shaped By Fears Of Retribution

by Ben Lynfield


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(IPS) JERUSALEM -- At first glance, the three young Israeli women sitting at the counter of Elisha's Espresso Bar in the heart of Jewish West Jerusalem seemed calm in the midst of an eight month violent confrontation between their country and the Palestinians.

It was only after one of them was asked about the latest bombing by Palestinian militants, which had taken place that day, May 27, around the corner an hour earlier, that their anger and frustration emerged.

"People who live here can't understand it. Fear dictates our lives, fear and worry," said Sharon Davara, a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"Before I brush my teeth I open the news to make sure nothing has been bombed," she said. "I'm afraid to go on the bus. You sit on the bus and look around to see if there are Arabs or someone with a big bag. You don't want to go out. I just prefer to sit at home."

According to Israeli psychologists, the fear many Israelis are experiencing comes not only in response to the actual bombings by Palestinian militants, which have become a hallmark of the eight-month-old uprising. It is also caused by the way the media is emphasizing the carnage, they say.

Moreover, the response is accentuated by previous traumas from Israel's war-torn history, the psychologists add.

The bombings are intended to sow fear and disquiet. Islamic fundamentalist groups view the attacks as part of a long-term struggle that will end with the defeat of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state, according to Ghassan Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

At the same time, Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement conducts attacks in the occupied territories "to give the Israelis the impression that if there is no peace then there is a price to pay."

Security anxiety is already shaping the stances of Israelis on how to resolve the conflict, pollsters say. A survey last week in the Ma'ariv newspaper showed that for the first time Israelis, by a margin of 48 to 45 percent, favor a U.S.-imposed ceasefire in the conflict with the Palestinians.

"The message is 'come save us, the main thing is to get us out of this trouble,'" wrote Chemi Shalev, the paper's diplomatic correspondent. "The public is ready to clutch any straw that might get it out of its distress."


Footage of terrorist attacks shown over and over, but Palestinian victims ignored
On the Palestinian side, psychological damage appears to be even more widespread, with psychiatrists saying that in the Gaza Strip, where Israel has used helicopter gun-ships and tanks regularly, the entire population has been traumatized to some degree.

Davara was in the cafe because she and about 40 co-workers had been evacuated from their jobs in the building of the Bezeq national phone company, where they work as operators, as police searched for more explosives.

The bomb, near police headquarters in downtown Jerusalem, was loaded with mortar bombs that landed unexploded hundreds of meters away. Several people were injured by glass shards and another 30 were shaken up enough to need medical care.

Cheli Mualem, another operator and student, says that every day she wonders which is the best bus line to take so that "you don't come home without your arms and legs."

"We are in a tunnel without light," says Cheli's sister, Michal, who, as is standard practice for many Israelis, immediately phones friends and relatives to check on them when there is an explosion.

Psychologists say tensions associated with the bombings are exacerbating conflicts among couples, who lose their sense of security and belief they can work out differences.

"People's paths in life aren't as clear as they used to be. They are all braced inside, waiting for the next attack," says Janet Baumgold-Land, a therapist at the Counselling Center for Women in Jerusalem. "They stay where they are, they are not looking forward to moving onto something new. The idea is to stop here and dig in, rather than feel that the world is open."

Chanoch Yerushalmi, director of student counselling at the Hebrew University, says some of his patients are having dreams about bombings and terrorist acts.

The death toll on the Palestinian side is approaching 500 and on the Israeli side 100. Most of the Israeli fatalities were among soldiers and settlers at the front lines of the conflict.

But the numbers alone don't explain why so many Israelis feel they are under constant threat. In Baumgold-Land's view, the government and media highlight the bombings to convey the message that Israelis are "the good guys" while the Palestinians are "terrorists."

"They'll show footage of terrorist attacks over and over, but they won't show Palestinian (victims of the Israeli army). The feeling is that we're the victims, it's only happening to us," she says. "We tend to demonize the other so that it becomes a whole group that is out to get us. It's way beyond a specific act."

Yerushalmi offers a different explanation. In his view, each attack is layered on to previous attacks, conflicts and traumatic episodes in Israel's war-torn history. "I would say Israeli society is a post-traumatic society in many ways. When a trauma is recurrent, it enlarges the fracture," he says.



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Albion Monitor June 4, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)

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