Shalom from Jerusalem. It’s just after 10 pm here as I write this and I have been up for 34 hours straight so I will keep this short. I hope to write something longer tomorrow night.
The most recent ceasefire between Israel ahd Hamas expires in less than two hours and no one knows for sure what will happen. Israel’s Channel 2 news is reporting that the Palestinian media are reporting that an agreement has been reached but there is no official word from anyone. Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Israel will not be the one to open fire but that if the Palestinians launch rockets again, Israel will respond strongly.
A few quick thoughts from Jerusalem. It’s seven years since I’ve last been in Israel and the face of Jerusalem has changed tremendously. There is a massive new commercial district called Mamilla Mall right around the corner from my hotel which leads all the way to the Jaffa Gate. Jaffa Road, a main commercial thoroughfare, is now car-free below King George Street except for the new, sleek, and very popular Light Rail. Both changes make the city more pleasant to stroll around.
Tourism is way down and a lot of businesses which depend on tourism are hurting. The El Al flight over was far from full. There was a birthright israel group from Northwestern University on the flight and the young woman sitting near me told me that of the original 40 who had signed up for the trip, only 22 wound up going. When we got to Ben Gurion airport, there were five lanes open for Israeli passport holders and only two for holders of other passports, a clear indication that most arriving passengers are Israelis rather than tourists. One of the rabbis in our group said that a Family Tour including three B’nai Mitzvah was supposed to take place this week, but was cancelled, so he and his wife came by themselves. Another indication that tourism is down: waiters, cashiers and taxi drivers have all addressed me in Hebrew rather than English, which means they assume anyone here is not a tourist. Ben Yehuda Street, usually packed, is, while not exactly empty, far from full.
I was able to catch up today with a few Israeli friends and their feeling is very pessimistic. Tonight our group was addressed by Dr. Shlomo Avineri, a winner of the Israel Prize, past Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and one of the architects of the Oslo Accords. He, too, is very pessimistic about any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians being achieved any time soon. He told us he still believes that the ultimate resolution lies in the creation of an Israeli and Palestinian State living side by side, but this is going to take a long, long, time.
Our itinerary is changing as the security situation changes. The latest version of our itinerary which we received today -- version 18 -- was obsolete even before we received it. We were supposed to go to Ashkelon tomorrow to tour the Iron Dome battery there, but late this afternoon the Army decided that wasn’t safe so we are going to the Ashdod Iron Dome instead -- assuming it’s safe to do so. We’ll be visiting Masorti (Conservative) congregations in the areas which have been hardest hit by Hamas missiles and learning about their situation. Tomorrow night we’ll have dinner with former Knesset Member Einat Wilf, who served on the Defense and Foreign Affairs committee. Before that, we will meet Rabbanit Rachael Frankel, whose son Naftali of blessed memory was one of the three teenagers kidnapped and killed in June by Hamas terrorists.
If you are on Facebook, go to my page to see some pictures from today. When I’ve had more sleep I’ll figure out a way to share them more conveniently.
Shalom from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Charles L. Arian