25 Jul War and Peace in Israel
As I write, I am sitting on the balcony of the Castle in Karem Maharal, a few miles north of Caesarea and a few miles south of Haifa. I look out over my balcony at the vineyards drinking Tishbi wine, which has been grown here in Zichron Yaakov for decades. To my left the sun is setting over the Mediterranean Sea. The family cat is asleep on the patio and the neighborhood dog is asleep on the picnic table. A partridge slowly walks the lawn. Dogs are barking in the distance. Horse hoofs on pavement echo quietly below. One can hear a shepherd leading his flock home from pasture. Children are playing in the local playground. The stores in the village are quickly closing, as the Sabbath is fast approaching.
My accommodations could be highlighted in Architectural Digest. The rooms feature stones, high ceilings, exquisite tilework, and the art work of Udi Stuler, owner and operator of the castle. He has owned the place for almost three decades, and we talked about how the price of real estate in this region has gone through the roof in the past decade. In a word, it is peaceful here, as peaceful as one would expect from a weekend visit to the countryside in Italy or Switzerland.
From where I sit, I am looking north. Fifty kilometers (30 miles) to the north is the Israeli border with Lebanon. Hezbollah controls the southern part of Lebanon. During the Lebanese war in 2006, missiles landed a few kilometers from here. This is the other face of Israel, the face that you read in the papers. It is the face of Israel not at peace but at war. There is evidence of Israel at war as well. I have seen more guns in the past three weeks than I have in my entire lifetime. But even still, the Israelis appear casual, almost nonchalant, about the fact that they are in a permanent state of war. Swimming at the pool two weeks ago at the Ein Gedi kibbutz on the shores of the Dead Sea, I saw a fat man wearing nothing but a bathing suit and a semiautomatic rifle. I alone appeared to notice the incongruity. At the checkpoint on the road to Eilat the guard had me convinced I was lost and was about to cross the border into Jordan. Just as I was about to turn around, he laughed and said, “Just kidding, my friend, have a great weekend in Eilat!” On the bus to Jerusalem soldiers were everywhere, but they were asleep or listening to their Ipods, rifle held limply in hand. On several occasions I thought that the young female soldiers I saw at the local mall looked like they could be at any mall in the United States, but for the uniforms, and the security, and the checkpoints.
In short, Israelis appear to be yearning for normalcy. But the good news is they appear to have it in large doses. In fact, I would say this country feels normal, but for the ubiquity of guns and soldiers and checkpoints. They get on with their lives as well as one could hope, striving and achieving a remarkable degree of normalcy. As I sit here on the eve of another Sabbath, I have an overwhelming sense that Israel is at peace, even though I know it is at war.