Every year I spend a couple of weeks in Israel visiting my children and grandchildren, seeing old friends, and watching my wife buy large quantities of popular music. As the cassettes have been replaced by CDs, my perception of everyday life here has been like a time-lapse film, where the slow changes that the permanent residents barely notice become strikingly visible.
This year as usual I notice a remarkable increase in the number of cars on the road. On major thoroughfares there is always a “p’cock” (cork), a traffic jam, and not just during rush hour. There is construction everywhere, gleaming new neighborhoods rising in places that were formerly empty. The economy is apparently strong. Everyone has a big flat-screen TV although it is still impossible for me to understand how average people afford things like apartments and cars on their wages.
Stuck in a p’cock at 10:30 am I mention to a taxi driver that it looks like things are booming. “Look at all of these cars,” he says. “When do these people go to work? Do they all do business on their cellphones while driving?” “Maybe they start later,” suggests my wife helpfully. The driver, who obviously works long hours, doesn’t believe it. The mall is full of shoppers, though, 99% of whom got there in their cars.
Driving through South Tel Aviv, my son points out the large number of African migrants. He doesn’t need to — it’s impossible not to notice them. Some are waiting for work in pickup zones reminiscent of those in California where illegals from Mexico do the same; others just hang out in the neighborhood, waiting for who knows what. Some are refugees from the fighting in the Sudan, others are simply economic refugees. Israel is a very small country, and surely the next generation of many of these refugees will become Israelis.
People are still nice. Several times when I was looking confused and talking to my wife in English, a passerby came up to me and asked if we needed help. I asked a bus driver how many stops there were before the one that I wanted, and when the bus slowed for my stop, another passenger that had overheard helpfully let me know.
Almost all of my friends wanted to know what I thought the US would do about Iran. The subject almost always came up, although I did not bring it up. They did not understand US policy and where the Obama administration stands. “Doesn’t he see that if Iran gets even one bomb, [the US] will be screwed?” said one. “Everything will change.” I couldn’t explain it to them.
Nobody, but nobody, mentioned the ‘peace process’ that so interests the US and European media. Of course, none of my friends works for the Ha’aretz newspaper.
Everyone seems to be aware that there will be some kind of confrontation between Israel and Iran and its proxies, and this knowledge lies below the surface of their daily life. My son was lucky enough to buy an apartment before the recent astronomical rise in prices and now wants to sell it and get a larger one for his growing family. But “the market is frozen,” he said. No one is buying. When I went on a walk the other day I passed numerous real estate brokerages; the offices were all empty of customers.
Things are on hold. People understand that there will be a war, that reserve soldiers will be activated, and that there will be some damage on the home front. Nobody has any idea of how bad it will be. The center of the country has not been hit since the Iraqi Scuds of the 1990-91 Gulf war, which perhaps miraculously only killed two people.
My son has picked up gas masks for his family. My daughter hasn’t yet. “So why haven’t you? They are running out,” I say, annoyed. “Don’t worry, I know someone,” she responded.
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