We don’t know if we should stay. Late afternoon on the beach in Bat Jam south of Tel Aviv. There is a cool breeze. Just a few middle aged men dare to take a swim. A couple play tennis on the beach. Dogs are being walked. The seafood tastes wonderful and to that a full white wine. It is fantastic to be here on a Sunday afternoon.
Then we hear the sound of choppers. Three helicopters slowly approach us from the north. We see the couple playing beach tennis stop for a shortly while. They look up at the three large birds. They say something but continue playing before the birds have passed over their heads. Shortly thereafter come two more. Now no one reacts. Five helicopters carrying heavy rockets. Five rockets that are already aimed towards the south, to a small strip south of Tel Aviv, Gaza.
I have experienced this before, a few years ago. We were four people from Sida who sat on the beach. Four persons who had just arrived in Israel. We sat on the beach as the sun was setting. That time we also tasted the white wine while the helicopters began going in a kind of shuttle traffic towards Gaza with heavy weapons hanging underneath. We could later read that one of the largest operations was being carried out against Gaza. At that time everything was new for us. Everything was unreal. Something happened within us when the sunset, the beautiful yellow and red horizon was traversed by heavily loaded helicopters.
Much has happened between these two occasions on the beach in Tel Aviv. Arafat is gone and Sharon is no longer the leader in Israel. Blair has completed his period as prime minister and Bush has been replaced. Hamas won the 2006 elections but soon had to leave Ramallah. The two state solution has become three: Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We are speaking of a completely new political landscape in Israel, Palestine, the UK and the USA. Even Sweden has gone through large political changes and today finally has a foreign minister with a lot of knowledge about the Middle East.
But independently of the political landscape the helicopters have continued. There, nothing has changed, time has stood still. The most sophisticated weapons against a confined people who retaliate with suicide bombers and homemade rockets. The helicopter borne missiles almost always hit their target, the homemade ones almost never. Statistics from Israeli B’Tselem confirm this. But independently of weapon type, fear, sleepless nights and urgings of revenge are created.
The couple playing beach tennis nonchalantly looked up at the fighter helicopters. They were used to seeing helicopters carrying missiles. Here, a few miles from Gaza they temporarily felt safe despite an uncertain future. But neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli collective is supported by safety. The fear, the everyday presence of fear, or the more long-term future of fear is constantly there. One waits for a power, somebody who will have the ability to do the unexpected, the different. The power is sought in Israel, in the West Bank, Gaza or somewhere in another country. But today we do not see the slightest hint of this. Everything is predictable. The actors playing in this historic play know their parts. Refine them over time but within clearly defined borders. The unexpected move that everyone awaits does not come. No one dares or has the ability. The same applies to the international community. Governments fumble, foreign ministers fumble and everyone with responsibility today exhibit an enormous weakness and lack of initiative.
All we see are the meaningless fights. Walls of all kinds multiply, becoming higher and higher, and the costs in dollars, human lives, lost hope and psychological wrecks are countless. On a daily basis the newspapers have pictures from Gaza of masses of people who follow their relatives into the simple grave. The only thing we know is that soon the ground offensive will start again. Every freely thinking fellow being knows that this is a wrong and criminal act.
At the same time, we sit in the first stalls, on the beach as the sun sets in the distance. We eat our calamari and sip our wine. We are at a sufficient distance when something we do not understand zooms past. Something that moves between two points. We do not participate but we try to understand. We feel but do not know whether we feel the right thing. We do not know what to say, what to tell. We do not know how to make our friends understand. We do not understand ourselves. We do not know whether we should stay or leave.
MATS SVENSSON, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He can be reached at email@example.com.