JWR Israel: Dreams, Realities
May 1, 1998 / 5 Iyar, 5758

It's difficult to escape reality in Israel

By Robert Sarner

JERUSALEM --- Getting away for a weekend in Israel can be a lot harder than in most countries. To really get away from reality here, you must plan carefully or else you'll have your nose rubbed in it.

Recently, my wife and I planned to take our three children up north for a two-day break as it had been months since we last spent a weekend out of the city. As part of our family escape plan, we decided to keep the car radio off to avoid spoiling the three-hour drive with the news reports every half-hour. We were on holiday after all and wanted to take our minds off the state of the nation.

Fat chance.

In North America, a drive through the country usually resembles a trip through a nature reserve. Inevitably, once out of the city, the postcard-perfect vistas of countless lakes, fields and forests leave you blissfully divorced from the issues of the day. As one should be when on vacation.

No so luck here. Talk about reality bites! It seemed virtually everywhere I looked, I was hit with another somber reminder of Israel's geo-political reality.

Leaving our home in Jerusalem, we were excited about spending time again in our favorite part of the country --- the Golan Heights. Shortly after departing the capital, we drove past an army checkpoint. Only 24 hours earlier, Arab residents nearby had clashed with Israeli troops during riots triggered by the fatal shooting of three Arab workers by IDF soldiers a few days before.

Minutes later, we passed Ma'ale Adumim, the largest so-called "settlement" in the West Bank. With close to 25,000 residents, this fast-growing community is more a full-fledged city by Israeli standards but in Arab eyes and to much of the world, it symbolizes Netanyahu's controversial "expansionist" policies.

We were then greeted by the sight of what elsewhere might seem more an image of folklore than a source of conflict --- the tent camps of Bedouin families. They are members of the Jahalin tribe, many of whom have been forcibly evicted in recent months after losing a Supreme Court battle against being relocated to make way for the growth of Ma'ale Adumim. The Court ruled they were living illegally on state land.

We then arrived at the proverbial fork in the road. In this case, it entailed the existential decision of whether to save about 20 minutes by driving through the Palestinian autonomous area of Jericho or to take the longer way via the bypass road. I couldn't recall facing such quandaries last summer when, during a visit to Canada, I drove from Toronto to Muskoka.

The next leg of our trip took us through the Jordan Valley. It would have been more easy-going had we not had to share the highway with psychotic Israeli motorists whose dare-devil driving creates headlines and casualties every day.

Lest we forgot which country we were in, the plethora of bumper stickers plastered on the back of every second car removed any doubt.

Stickers espousing every political cause and struggle of the day from "Peace Now" to "Jewish Hebron Forever" provided yet another glimpse at the unresolved national agenda.

Next, on the right side of the road, a big sign announced "Naharayim - Island of Peace," a small piece of land Israel returned to Jordan as part of the l994 peace treaty. We happened to be driving by one year to the day after a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli school girls visiting the site, killing seven and wounding dozens of others.

By now, our kids were asking impatiently how many minutes until we reached Metulla as we had promised them a side-trip there so they could go skating at the Canada Centre, the country's only decent ice rink. While in Metulla, it crossed my mind where we were - next to the border with Lebanon in an area often the target of Hezbollah Katyusha rocket attacks.

After a good skate, we headed to our destination, the Golan Heights, arguably the most tranquil, majestic part of Israel, where we spent a terrific weekend at Kibbutz Afiq. But wouldn't you know it? One of the main topics of discussion with our friends there was on the future of the Golan Heights, especially in light of current efforts to withdraw Israeli troops from South Lebanon and resume negotiations with Syria.

Keeping reality at bay in Israel, even while on holiday, is no simple proposition.

Robert Sarner, a Canadian Jewish News columnist, is a director, writer and newscaster at the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
©1998, Canadian Jewish News