The siren at 8 o'clock last night caught me at the traffic lights at Givat Hazarfartit, waiting to turn onto the Ramot road. As we stood by the side of the car, I was at once distressed but not surprised to note several cars ignoring the siren. This is part of the price of living in a democracy where a problematic relationship exists between the minorities and the majority Jewish population. How does the Arab population of Israel see Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day)? Just as we go from mourning to celebration, surely there must be sectors of the Israeli population who do precisely the opposite: celebrating the sacrifices made by our soldiers and mourning the declaration of our State? It is an idea which although horrifically offensive to me also provides a bizarre comfort; we are quite simply, better than 'them' because we have a free press; because criticism of the status quo is allowed; because we extend the franchise to those citizens who would rather we weren't here, however damaging that might be to our interests.
After watching the stories of several fallen soldiers last night, I had an emotional argument with a distressed friend who, once again, challenged me to think about what it is that I am doing in Israel; why I believe that this is the place for Jews to live; why I want to bring up a family here. Living in Jerusalem, both during and prior to, the Intifada, has been exceptionally trying. My first entry on this blog concerned the Rechov Aza bombing, literally 75 yards from where I'm currently sitting and I'm painfully aware that at any moment I could be added to the list of terror victims.
The development of coping strategies is sadly, an essential part of the process of being absorbed into Israeli society; to avoid being reduced to quivering wrecks, afraid to step outside out front doors, we have to be able to justify why we are safe. A friend who lives in a yishuv in the middle of the West Bank and travels on the notoriously dangerous Ramallah Bypass Road daily, is quick to inform me that statistically I'm more likely to be killed in an attack on Rechov Yafo than he is on his drive to work. My mother continues to visit on the basis that she is more likely to be knocked down by a bus in London than by a terrorist in Israel. I personally, look around the world and see trains blowing up in North Korea and Madrid, towers toppling in New York and a mega attack in the UK, so we are told, is only a matter of time. It is easy to take false comfort but how safe are we anywhere in today's world?
In Israel, when we come under attack because we are Jewish, there is an army to defend us and to take the fight to the terrorists. When the Park Hotel was bombed during Pesach 2002, I was one of the reservists called up to that army to take a role in defending my friends and family. At the time, I asked myself what I would have done had I not been called up. I believe that I would have felt emasculated and would have tried to volunteer, to do something - anything rather than to sit on my backside whilst others were in the line of fire.
This tiny country, despite all the trials it has undergone, has developed a strong economy including a technology sector which leads the world in many spheres, is a nuclear power and has put satellites into space, has a vibrant cultural life and educational institutions which turn out world class scholars. Israel has absorbed millions of refugees and has attracted thousands of immigrants from Western countries, who add their splash of colour to the palette of a young, flourishing society. We are a lone beacon of democracy, in a part of the world where dictators and despots are the norm. Israel has much to be proud of. It is not a "normal" country to live in - but that's precisely why I have chosen to live here.