They sat on the grass in Kiryat Arba, a West Bank settlement town set in a biblical landscape of rocky hills, old stone walls and olive groves. There were two dozen of them, Jewish high-school students living just 30 km south of Jerusalem, but a world apart and a dangerous world at that. Arabs in neighboring Hebron had massacred six Jewish worshippers in 1980. On other occasions, the students said, Arabs had stabbed the father of one and pounded another over the head with a rock. Reminded that
Jewish settlers had employed terror tactics of their own—bombing mosques and booby-trapping the cars of Arab mayors—the students reacted with emotion. “There was no choice,” said 17-yearold Yehoshafat Tor. “The government wasn’t doing anything to protect us. Jews shouldn’t have to be scared in our own country. If the Arabs can’t be good citizens, then they should leave. ”
Iris Shillony perched on the edge of her Jerusalem balcony, the sun streaming
past her curly red hair. A 22-year-old student at Hebrew University, Shillony had been active in the Peace Now movement—which favors trading the West Bank for peace with the Palestinians— and had helped organize demonstrations against the Jewish settlements there. “I think the Arabs have good reason to hate us, ” she said. “Of course we should be strong, I’m not naive. But we of all people should understand other people wanting to have their own land. ” She looked off to her right, toward the modest house where former prime minister Menachem Begin, who had encouraged West Bank settlement, now lives in seclusion. “I’m afraid of what occupation is doing to our society, ” Shillony said. “Only bad things. Our moral standards have become almost inhuman. ”
Call those young people the occupation generation. For them, growing up during the 20 years since the Six Day War, the occupied territories have become a kind of ideological crucible, the key battleground in the struggle for the soul of young Israel. The religious nationalists who spearhead the West Bank settlement drive brandish a biblical mandate. It is a measure of their success—and the simple passage of time—that even many middle-of-the-road youngsters in Israel proper now refer to the territories as part of their country. And while young left wingers decry the occupation, they seem weary, as though from the strain of such weighty issues. In fact, asking political questions in Israel seems strangely redundant; the questions—of war or peace, confrontation or coexistence—are always there, plain as the red roofs of Jerusalem. Only the answers are elusive. “It’s complex,” many young Israelis respond. They shake their heads. They sigh.
In recent years Israeli youths have increasingly sought answers on the political right. Many also hold decidedly undemocratic views, particularly on the treatment of Arabs. One 1984 poll of 15to 18-year-olds found that 60 per cent of respondents thought that Arabs living in Israel should not have full civil liberties. A 1985 survey of high-school students indicated that 42 per cent of those polled favored
expelling all Arabs from Israel—the solution advocated by Rabbi Meir Kahane, the virulently anti-Arab Knesset member. A few spout blatantly racist stereotypes. “The Arabs I see are dirty,” said a 14-year-old student at a Jerusalem religious school. “They smell. And they’re wild.”
Such statements are not typical, but they haunt the kind of liberal-thinking Jews who, after the horror of the Holocaust, founded Israel 39 years ago and aspired to be what first prime minister David Ben Gurion called “a light unto the nations.” Experts have offered many explanations for the undemocratic drift, among them the rise of nationalism— and intolerance—among Orthodox Jews. Analysts add that Israeli youngsters have grown up in an atmosphere of continous conflict. “What kind of psychology is needed to live in a perpetual war situation?” asked Rabbi David Hartman, a U.S.-born philosopher who moved to Israel in 1971 after 11 years in Montreal. “Right-wing politics offer you a clear solution, black and white.” Hartman maintains that the conflict has not robbed young Israelis of their underlying morality, but it has left many of them numb. Signs of the terrorist siege are hard to miss. Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport is plastered with warnings: “Beware of suspicious articles.” Parents give children the same admonition wherever they go. At a recent outdoor festival in Jerusalem, soft-drink
cans and corn cobs were strewn ankledeep on the ground—public trash cans are kept in short supply, one less place to plant bombs. Boaz Ney, a 12-year-old resident of Kefar HaNasi kibbutz north of the Sea of Galilee, fears terrorist infiltrators from neighboring Lebanon. “I worry someone will get in the kibbutz and shoot people,” said Ney. “It’s very scary that some day they will come.”
Every so often the Katyusha missiles come to Qiryat Shemona. It is a mountain-shadowed development town just 10 km from the Lebanese border, and it is a favorite target of Katyusha rocket attacks by Lebanon-based Palestinian terrorists. The attacks were most concentrated in 1981 and 1982, and school psychologist Batya Gottlieb recalls that many youngsters grew tired or jumpy. But the bombardment stopped after the
1982 Lebanon war, and life in Qiryat Shemona returned to normal—at least for a while. “I think everyone here lives on denial,” said Gottlieb. “As soon as things stop hitting you on the head, you forget there’s anybody with a hammer.” The hammer came down again in March, 1986, when a rocket scored a direct hit on a local high school. “I remember we had a test, and I finished
it,” said 17-year-old Tali Schinert. “Then I saw the sky go red. There was a big noise, and the students started shouting.” Four students sustained minor injuries. Last month the shelling resumed, with one rocket landing next to the house of 16-year-old Avner Shmuel, who awakened in fright. He rushed outside, where his nieces and nephews were playing—they were unhurt. “Because we’re living in constant fear,” said Shmuel, “I think we mature faster than kids in the centre of the country.” Schinert was asked if the shellings had made her hate Arabs. “I don’t have a general bad feeling toward Arabs,” she replied. “But I hate the Arabs who are sending the Katyushas.”
The pressures go beyond terrorism. Shlomo Breznitz, director of the Centre for the Study of Psychological Stress at Haifa University, cites the lingering effect of being children of the Holocaust and the gnawing uncertainty of having their country’s existence in constant question. He sees the results in daily life, from rudeness to heavy smoking to Israelis’ notoriously reckless and impatient drivinghorns begin to honk before the traffic light even turns green.
But perhaps the greatest stress of all is the persistent threat of war. The country has fought six wars in 39 years. And with the exception of the small ultrareligious minority, all Israelis enter the army at 18, the men for a three-year stint and the women for 20 months. While North American youths are “finding themselves,” said Hartman, “here, at 18, you undergo the baptismal of responsibility. And your society depends upon your courage.”
The soldiers are symbols of Israeli youth— and Israeli readiness. Their image as superheroes, born of their stunning success in the Six Day War, has largely faded. But they retain a certain swagger, looking fit and tanned—and very young—in their olive uniforms, rifles dangling from their shoulders. And they seem to be everywhere: eyeing Arabs in black-and-white kaffiyehs in a West Bank casbah or standing thumbs-out at designated hitchhiking spots around the country. They patrol the winding stone paths of Jerusalem’s Old City through a remarkable mix of local Arabs and Jews and tourists from countless countries haggling with merchants over the price of souvenirs. (“Fighting for peace is like f—ing for virginity,” read one T-shirt.)
One day last month near Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, an army captain lit a cigarette and smiled at a teenage girl from New York who summoned the courage to flirt. “Do you know anyone in Brooklyn?” she said, giggling. Later the captain, who is 22 and served in Lebanon, answered questions from a reporter about Israel’s war there. Israeli soldiers are not allowed to talk to the press without official permission, but often do so as long as their names are not used.
“It’s not good, it’s war,” he said in halting English. “But I think we had to get into Lebanon because of the terrorists.
Arabs kill women and children. Students. Soldiers.” Asked if he thought all Arabs were terrorists, he replied,
“Not all. Most.”
Maj. Ori Landau, a psychologist who commands the army’s Institute for Leadership Training, says that while many Israeli soldiers have decidedly negative images of Arabs, teaching them self-restraint is not a serious problem.
“There is a difference,” said Landau, “between not liking Arabs —or even hating Arabs—and doing an inhuman thing.” Still, Israeli planes have bombed Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, and Israeli soldiers have broken up West Bank protests with a heavy, sometimes lethal, hand. In the process, a nation that prides itself on its conscience has been stricken with painful pangs. And its soldiers have learned how it feels to be hated.
Early in 1982, near the West Bank town of Hebron, Arabs had blocked roads with rocks and burning tires, and were stoning the cars of Jewish settlers. Offer Sheffer, now a 23-year-old medical student but then an Israeli soldier, recalled:
“Someone on a roof would shout to people down below, and they’d come out and throw stones. It was like a bad game. We’d try to catch the leaders, but it was very hard. They’d just run into their homes and sit down and drink coffee.” Often the Israelis would round up Arabs anyway. “We didn’t do harm with no need,” said Sheffer. “I think we have a very humanitarian army.” He has mixed feelings, however, about the col-
lective punishment policy. “It’s very bad that there are terrorists killing people,” he said. “But it’s not fair to punish a whole town because of it—it’s not fair but it works. You have to be a philosopher to answer these questions. It’s very hard to make up your mind.” Sheffer recalls the faces of the stone-throwers. “I saw boys and girls,” he said, “highschool age and younger, with real hate in their faces. That’s something I felt. Changing those attitudes will take many, many years.”
Meir Rifkind recalls a similar moment during the Lebanon war. “We used to throw the garbage out,” said Rifkind, now a 23-year-old kibbutz resident. “Arab kids from the mountains came and picked through it. We asked one, ‘What’s the matter, don’t you have a father to get food for you?’ And he said, ‘No, you took him.’ So what reason does he have not to fight us in the future?” Rifkind’s feelings toward Arabs
changed as well. “I learned how to hate them in the army,” he said. “You just feel it in the air.” Still, he says, “each soldier behaved according to his own code. I tried to make sure that no Lebanese had a reason to hate me.”
Older Israelis also fought wars and feared Arabs. But the younger generation confronts new and complex social currents. The influx of Sephardic Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, which began in the 1950s, has altered the face of a nation founded and long dominated by Ashkenazis, or European Jews. It was the Sephardim who, resentful of the Labour party establishment, bolted to Begin’s Likud bloc in 1977 and jolted Israel rightward. The Sephardim’s children followed, although Chaim Adler, a Hebrew University sociologist, said that over the years the Sephardim have grown increasingly assimilated and more moderate politically.
But the most significant change has been among the modern Orthodox Jews, many of whom have set out zealously to extend Israel’s borders. Their cementblock settlements, perched high over the stony West Bank landscape of ancient Arab towns and donkeyplowed fields, often have their own schools and even industries.
Still, most of the settlers commute to work in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and they have been joined by a recent influx of secular city people pursuing the suburban dream, albeit with hostile Arab neighbors.
The Orthodox, however, remain the spearheads, and their sons and daughters echo their beliefs. In her hilltop home in the settlement of Shiloh, 35 km north of Jerusalem, 14-year-old Tzruya Medad said, “It’s important to live here, because this is a part of Israel where not a lot of Jews live.” Medad, who sported braces on her teeth and a Star of David around her neck, was asked what would happen if the Israeli government struck a deal to give the land back to the Arabs. “It’s not a question of giving back,” she said quickly. “It’s ours. It’s giving away.” Asked how she felt about Arab kids, she replied, “They are kids, they are human beings, although sometimes they enjoy throwing rocks at our school bus, which makes me angry.”
Despite frequent clashes with the Arabs—and evidence that the Arabs are not always the instigators—the settlers insist that their goal is peaceful coexistence. Further to the political right lies Kahane, the bearded rabbi who emigrated from Brooklyn in 1971. Kahane’s argument is simple: unless all two million Arabs under Israeli rule—in Israel
proper and the occupied territories — are expelled, they will eventually overwhelm the 3.5 million Jews because of their high birthrate. They multiply “like rabbits,” said Kahane. His Kach movement claims 1,700 youth members or supporters nationwide, although polls suggest more student backing for his ideas than for the man himself. Kahane says that government harassment worries the parents of some wouldbe supporters. Said the rabbi: “Parents always tell me, T love you, but why my kid?’ ”
When a reporter entered Kach headquarters in Jerusalem recently, plainclothes police were hurrying out three Kahane followers and hustling them into a waiting car. Inside the posterfilled office, 18-year-old Noam Federman denied that Kahane’s was a racist movement. “Racist is saying I’m better than you,” said Federman. “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying this is my country, and it should stay like that.”
The young man held out an open palm, then slowly squeezed it shut. “I want to kill all the Arabs,” he said. “In my hand.” He was wearing swim trunks, a solidly built 17-year-old Jew sitting on the beach in the port city of Haifa, showing off for friends. He pointed to a group of Arab men splashing in the Mediterranean. He reached for a cigarette lighter, a handy prop, and insisted, “I’ll do it with this and petrol.” His friends joined in with a barrage of accusations: the Arabs come to the beach to stare at Jewish girls. They start fights. They kidnap children and kill soldiers.
Some of the Jewish youths looked uneasy. “We can’t kill the Arabs,” said a girl in a sleek black-and-red bathing suit. “Think about the Holocaust. We can’t do that to someone else.” The first boy allowed that no, he guessed not, but they could kick the Arabs out of Israel. “When Kahane becomes prime minister,” he said, “then I’ll do something.” He said the name Kahane as if it were magic, capable of making all the Arabs disappear. He refused to give his own full name; he strutted off.
A smaller boy came forward, as though he had been reluctant to earlier. “I don’t agree with Kahane,” he said. “First he’ll get rid of the Arabs, and then he’ll get rid of anyone who doesn’t agree with him.” The boy nodded at the pleasant scene around him. “And he’s religious—he’ll close the beaches on the weekend.”
The rise in undemocratic attitudes toward Arabs has alarmed Israeli educators. Mina Tzemach, a Tel Aviv pollster whose 1984 survey confirmed the trend, said that while students support democracy in theory, “when you translate it to real behavior, they don’t know it means you have to give equal rights and free speech.” To cope with that situation, Alouph Hareven of the Van Leer Jerusalem Foundation, a private think-tank, has developed textbooks and teachertraining programs in Arab-Jewish relations and democratic principles.
The students, who may know Arabs in daily life only as gardeners or cleaning women, “start with almost total ignorance,” said Hareven.
The courses, offered in high schools, aim to rectify that by teaching Arab history and literature. Hareven added that because only about 30,000 to 40,000 students have taken the course so far, its real impact is still unknown. But Yeheskiel Gabbay, a Jerusalem high-school principal, is enthusiastic. “We give teachers the courage to speak more openly,” he said. “And the students can listen.”
Some Jewish and Arab students have also been brought together for intensive seminars in coexistence, which cover such subjects as stereotypes, cultural background and politics. Anat Ronen, an 18-year-old student who took one workshop, said it was helpful in breaking down barriers, although it did not start lasting friendships. “An Arab boy wrote me after the program,” she said. “I didn’t write back. I feel bad about that.” She thought for a moment. “I think maybe I’ll write him.”
Avra Lang met Kareem Dally in the fall of 1984, during their first year of nursing school at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. Lang is Jewish, an émigré who spent her early years in the United States and Canada, where her father taught at McGill University in Montreal. Dally is an Arab and a Christian, the son of a factory worker
from a village north of Haifa. They studied together, and soon they became romantically involved. That March they moved in together. “My parents liked him,” said Lang, now 23. “But as it got more serious, they got more worried. How would society look at us? What would people say? His parents began to worry, too. If we did get married, what would happen to the children? They’d have a Jewish mother, so that would make them Jewish—that means they’d have to go in the army, and his parents didn’t like that.”
Dally, also 23, resents the fact that Lang served in the army, which he calls
“not a defensive army but one that goes and fights.” He favors a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza; she says she tends not to be political. Most of their friends have accepted the relationship, although Dally says he has sensed disapproval from Jewish workers at the hospital. Said Dally: “When I tell them I have a Jewish girlfriend, they say, ‘You’re stealing our girls.’ They laugh about it, but I can tell they’re very serious.” Dally and Lang laugh at the mention of Romeo and Juliet. They have not decided whether to marry. “My parents say the only way is to move to the United States,” said Lang. “But I don’t want to run away from the problem. I want to fight it. I’m a citizen. I was in the army. It’s my country.”
The problem does not go away. It drags on, shooting by shooting, bombing by bombing, all of it looming over the new generation like an immovable storm cloud. For every youngster who insists
on keeping the occupied territories for religious or security reasons, there seems to be one who would trade land for peace—if it could be a lasting peace, if they could be sure that the Arabs would not keep demanding more and more. There is a skepticism about political solutions—and especially about politicians. When a silver limousine carrying Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir drove through a crowded park recently, flanked by security men and chased by children, one young girl declared, “Who is he that they’re running after him? He’s only the prime minister.”
Some of Zion’s children see little hope
for peace. Sitting beside her huge pink teddy bear in her Jerusalem home, an 18-year-old soldier said: “My mother used to say, ‘You won’t have to serve in the army. You will be soldiers of peace.’ But I know my children will serve in the army.” If their pessimism is palpable, however, so too is their love for the land, for the people. “The newspapers always ask about the bad things,” said Sheffer, the medical student. “No one asks what I like about Israel. I like to walk in the desert. I like to watch the birds. And I have good friends—Israeli people are temperamental, but they are also very friendly.” He continued for some time, sketching in the promise of the promised land. And he concluded, “My future is here.” Soon the future will belong to the young Israelis, born into the glory of the Six Day War but come of age in a time of daunting uncertainty.