57. I counted. 57. There were 57 drivers who took time out this past week to wait at some border "machsom" in Northern Israel and drive Palestinian children with their parents to hospital appointments in Israel, and back to the "machsom" till the next time. All volunteers, last week, next week, and so forth.
As so many of my previous letters obviously attest, the issues of minority oppression in Israel and the forging of a modus vivendi with the Palestinians in the conquered territories are the most critical for the survival of liberal Zionism and the future of our small country.
I've always found my ability to have an impact on those issues fairly limited….limited first and foremost by my own endowed abilities, but also by other important responsibilities such as work, family, community, as well as, perhaps, a certain laziness at latching onto activist opportunities with others.
Nevertheless, I've attempted to set aside a day a week to join with others in an attempt to breech the walls that hamper progress towards those two issues. For a number of years I joined other dedicated Israelis in chaperoning West Bank Palestinian farmers to their fields and groves as protection against the harassment and violence of our Jewish settlers. As this became physically more difficult for me, I found and joined a group of other Israelis dedicated to driving ailing Palestinian children and their parents from the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. I've "toured" the Palestinian West Bank from the cave dwellers of the southern Hevron thru the villages of East Jerusalem and Northward to the villages near Shchem and into the city of Jenin. In Belien I was enveloped by the horrible smoke of tear-gas grenades. In Sheich-Jerach I sat with families evicted from their homes. I've spent some days in the Beduin areas east of Beer Sheva, and was enveloped in more gas grenades while demonstrating in Um-el-Fachem against the physical provocations of extreme right-wing Jewish Israelis. And, of course, I've written a good number of long letters to a long mailing list with the hope that a few hundred, or at least a few tens will actually read and be influenced.
In all of this I've always been a foot-soldier, or perhaps more correctly…a soldier of fortune, never joining any particular political group, never following a particular leader, but also never taking the initiative to lead others, almost always being a loner or piggy-backing on what others have organized. This, of course, because of my endowed nature and those limitations I mentioned above.
During one of my rides from the Jelamy barrier (near Jenin) to Rambam hospital in Haifa, the father of a child with some breathing disorder (something I'm personally familiar with) asked me if I'm paid to do this mission. I answered that all of us drivers are volunteers. He looked bewildered and puzzled, as I was probably bewildered by his not knowing. He asked "Why?". I remember answering something about the need to help people and also the need to show a bond of friendship between Israeli and Palestinian. Yet his question stuck in my mind as some questions often do, and I know that there are a few more answers I give to myself, and the answers are so much more complicated.
Perhaps, in the final analysis, I've been doing my small part in an attempt at a more organized and orderly retreat within a battle that can't be won. Perhaps I'm simply one more loser within a liberal Zionist minority squirming to clutch at straws while the heavy machinery of a fundamentalist-nationalistic future drives on with assurance. Perhaps I'm an extreme pessimist vowing to go down fighting. Then again, I think with a sigh of relief, perhaps I'm really just an extreme optimist waiting for the "big change".
That "big change" certainly did not come with these last elections. About 25% of non-Arab party seats in our newly elected Knesset have placed the Palestinian issue as a major item in their agenda. More than 55% have placed the yearning for a Greater Israel at the core of their agenda whether through nationalistic, fundamentalistic, or messianic reasons. The rest of our Knesset's non-Arab seats (Lapid's Yesh-Atid) have taken up other issues as their core agenda while lining up politically (with Bennet and Habayit Hayehudi) to assure that Greater Israel has an even greater voice and influence in our new government. Greater Israel voices will therefore make up about two thirds of our new government coalition. The coalition also includes a less than 9% fig leaf strongly supporting a Two-State policy. The current fig leaf, Tzipi Livni's Hatnua, will be even less effective than Labor's dismal effectiveness in the previous government. Our new government will not promote a Peace Process based on compromise and Two States for Two Peoples. It will talk "peace-process" while promoting the continued and gradual evolvement of a Greater Israel with a Palestinian population oppressed by lack of citizenship and equal rights, while harassed by security precautions to nip rebellion in the bud. The Greater Israel part of our new coalition has also purified itself of its more democratic voices (Meridor, Begin, Eitan, Rivlin). We Leftist-Liberal cry-babies are "in for it".
The Palestinian from Jenin, while sitting next to me on the way to Rambam hospital, asked me "why?", why do I do this?. I answered what I answered, but I think I know the real reason:
There is the probability that some years from now my grandchildren will be pondering the question of whether to leave my country. My country may, by then, have formally become that Greater Israel I fear……the jingoist-fundamentalist-messianic land of apartheid, upheld by its Spartan militarism. In the hope that my grandchildren will be part of the small minority Liberal-Zionist opposition to that reality, I expect they will ask piercing questions of their ancestors, such as: "Where were you when there was still a chance to do otherwise?"………and I will be able to answer them: "I did not turn away. I did not do nothing. I did something. Not enough. I know. I'm sorry. But I did some things. And, also, last week (so many years ago) I was one of those 57 drivers from Jenin to Rambam hospital."