Israel calm on eve of momentous
debate in U.S. Congress
Blogger’s note: This is the first of an ongoing series “Eyewitness to history” in which we will bring to readers views from across the Atlantic where the debate raging in America will play out in real time with real consequences.
An aerial view of Israel’s largest metropolitan area, Tel Aviv, on Sunday afternoon. It was clear enough to see all the way to the Gaza Strip, a different “country” and a universe way. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
JERUSALEM – It’s a balmy summer’s night in this biblical city, steeped in history both ancient and modern.
There is not a hint of tension in the air as throngs of shoppers and diners strolled the streets of downtown as the crescent moon appeared shortly after sunset around 1700 GMT and quickly followed the sun below the horizon.
In a few hours, a momentous debate begins in the U.S. Congress that could have serious personal repercussions for all the 800,000 residents of this city, founded 3,000 BC., and closer to Damascus than Los Angeles is to San Francisco.
MANY HERE BELIEVE that if the U.S. strikes at Syria for its use of chemical weapons, those very weapons will be hurled at the Jewish state in retaliation … along with some of the 100,000 missiles Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has at his disposal.
“It’s very complicated,” said my host at House 57, Nir Elnekave, who has lived here for three years after growing up in the coastal town of Haifa – and spending 1992 in Pasadena, California, just a few blocks from my home. He still has a Los Angeles area phone number.
Nir Elnekave of House 57, a bed-and-breakfast in the heart of Jerusalem with a splendid view westwards. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
He is, as are many, conflicted over whether President Obama should launch the missiles.
“Arabs understand force, they understand control,” he said, over-generalizing. “[If Obama doesn’t strike] by showing weakness, the Arabs will believe they can do whatever they want.”
Of course, what Iran (which is not an Arab nation) wants is to build an atomic bomb.
But then, Elnekave quickly adds: “If Assad goes down, the big question is, who would take his place? I don’t know who the ‘opposition’ is in Syria. Does anyone?”
His biggest concern is lack of a U.S. follow through. A hit-and-run attack will accomplish nothing, he believes. “There is no simple solution,” he said, without a trace of exasperation.
Nothing in the Middle East has a simple solution.
This ancient city – where mortal enemies live within shouting distance of each other – is a melting pot of humanity like no other, with as many perspectives on the current situation as there are nationalities and ethnic groups.
Ruthy Sherman, who immigrated from Colombia 26 years ago, was my companion on the shuttle from the airport as it navigated its way through crowded, narrow, winding streets towards the center.
“How many killings will it take until they stop it?” she wondered. “[The U.S.] should not start another Vietnam.”
Ruthy Sherman, an immigrant from Columbia now resident in Jerusalem, shared her views on the crisis in Syria. Click image ton enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
If she were in Washington, Sherman would counsel the president to “take out the highest levels of [the Syrian] government.”
Questioned about how such a precise attack could be mounted, she didn’t hesitate: “It would not be the first time,” she said.
Sherman pointed out that U.S. missiles would inevitably kill innocent people. “That is not something that would help us,” she said. “[Regular folk] everywhere want peace – even in Syria.”
Sherman related how friends of hers were inconspicuously visiting family in Syria bringing carloads of supplies – “diapers, clothes, rice, blankets” – to those stranded by the civil war.
Some two million Syrians have already fled to Lebanon, creating another disaster there. “And there are Syrians in Israeli hospitals, too,” Sherman said. “No one talks about that, though.”
Just arrived from Chicago, John Perumal is seen in the waiting area just outside Ben Gurion International Airport on Sunday afternoon. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved
She echoes a refrain heard elsewhere. “The problem with all theses crises is that ordinary people are suffering.”
There are no easy solutions.
Fresh off the plane from Chicago, software developer John Perumal, visiting for a four-day business trip, echoed what Jerusalem resident Elnekave said. “There has to be follow up,” he said, “otherwise these incidents [like chemical warfare] will expand around the world.”
He added he feels perfectly safe in Israel (well, compared to Chicago, it’s probably safer), despite the looming threat.
“Israel has been living through things like this all their history – meaning 2,000 years or longer,” he said. “This too, shall pass.”
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