Monday, June 16, 2014

Palpable Pain

It's difficult to accurately articulate the pain and confusion that has gripped most of Israel over the past few days. If you're living in Israel, you already know, and if you don't, you can't. That's not a criticism, but a reality. I doubt that many people got much work done yesterday. Today is a bit better.

Every parent in Israel who blessed his or her child this Friday night added an extra prayer of thanks, for the simple ability to spend Shabbat with that child. This kidnapping hit home precisely because it's so close to us all: it's our children; our yeshivot; our yishuvim. People from across the country send their children to yeshivot, seminaries, colleges, program - you name it - and they all get rides at some point or another. Children are frightened, and lack the tools to address that fear. Parents are similarly scared, and don't really have words of comfort for their children.

I'd like to share a few observations from the past few days about how this story unfolded.

The story first spread like wildfire on social networks. We first received word via WhatsApp, from a counselor of one of my children in Ezra (a local youth group) who studies in Mekor Chaim. You also started seeing strange things on the web. A popular group on Facebook just shared a chapter of Tehillim without explaining why. A website put up a post telling its readers to stop what they were doing, and say five chapters of Tehillim. It was a surreal feeling that the entire country knew what was going on while the official press which also had this information, withheld it under strict IDF instructions.

The State of Israel, so often the home of so much debate and discord, certainly knows how to band together when facing a crisis. It's either this or winning Maccabi Tel Aviv winning the Euroleague Championship. I don't follow Israeli basketball, but if we're looking for achdut, I'll take basketball any time.

On "tremping" (hitchhiking): It's simply a way of life here in Israel, and not just in Yehudah and Shomron, but anywhere where there's a lack of good public transportation. Moreover, despite the really frightening episode of this past week, it's truly a safe means of transportation (think of the statistics). If people are worried about young people they see hitching on the side of the road (and especially late at night), instead of clucking your tongues and wondering about their parents, stop and pick them up. Wouldn't you want someone to pick up your kids (and trust me, one day it will be). Moreover, I think that the "tremping" phenomenon is really one of the nicer aspects of the Jewish State. Not only do people hitch rides; thousands of people with cars stop and pick up those trempers, helping them get where they need to go, often quickly. Of course one should tremp carefully, and if you've got even a moment of doubt or concern, don't get in the car. But in the vast, far majority of cases, tremping is not only perfectly safe, but the most reasonable manner of reaching destinations without easy access to public transportation.
And, if you're still not convinced, why is hitchhiking considered dangerous, but using an app like Uber, where you're picked up by someone you don't know, who has no licensing whatsoever, considered not only safe, but trendy? How hard would it be for a predator to make up an Uber profile and pick up an unsuspecting passenger?

A note about the peace process and the cost of one of the steps that Israel has taken for peace:
I am in favor of peace, and hope that Israel can come to a reasonable arrangement with the Arabs living in Israel allowing them autonomy and self-determination, as long as that arrangement doesn't include their desire to either kidnap our children, or keep trying to drive us into the ocean. To that end, Israel has been taking steps to ease life for Arabs, including easing their ability to travel without impediment within the West Bank. That effort, which is largely under-acknowledged, has included the removal of dozens of check points and road blocks across the West Bank (see here and here). People around the world cheered and encouraged Israel's actions to give relief to the Palestinians, assuming that they'd be a win-win; no great cost to Israel, and a great benefit to the Arabs.
From a kidnapper's point of view, the most difficult aspect of successfully kidnapping these kids would not be getting them in the car (if one group doesn't get in, eventually someone else will). Rather, the hardest part would be successfully navigating the roads in order to smuggle them into Palestinian controlled areas. This week, we see the costs of removing those roadblocks. Looking at the map from the Etzion Junction (marked on the map) towards Jerusalem, it's pretty easy to identify a number of places that the car could have turned off into an Arab area without impediment. Had there been roadblocks and checkpoints in place before the entrance to the tunnel to Jerusalem, the kidnapping would have been far more difficult to achieve, and might never have been attempted in the first place.
The road blocks were there for a reason. Today, they're not there - because Israel took concrete steps to encourage peace. Those steps seem to have backfired.