Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Old guy with signs
Once upon a time my maternity leave was over and the nanny we had employed for baby Youngest turned out to be a terrible mistake, so for lack of other options at that late date, and having already returned to work, I put Youngest into a day care center just a bit too far from home and work, in a congested business area of Tel Aviv. That year I was forever in a rush. I had to have her at the day care center at seven every morning, while Bish took Eldest to her day care center, a bit nearer to our home, and thus I could get to work on time. To get to work, I used to have to rush like a maniac along a main Tel Aviv boulevard, minutes before rush hour would have had me stuck in traffic and I would be horribly late.

The old guy was there at the junction, every morning, come rain or shine, long before I drove past, with his scruffy gray beard and his big homemade signs. Every day, they were a bit shabbier, those signs of his, a bit dirtier. I suppose the same could be said for his lungs, but that didn't seem to deter him. The first time I saw him I wanted to stop the car and give him a good shake. Couldn't he see how wrong he was? No, Oslo wasn't a disaster for the people of Israel! What an idea! Oslo was the dawn of a new, better future for all of us! Why couldn't he see that? Why couldn't he open his heart to our Palestinian neighbors and accept compromise?

But I didn't stop the car. I never stopped the car. I was in a hurry. Remember? (Good excuse). I didn't even roll down the window and shout to him how I felt about his relentless one-man demonstration. I just sat in my car at the junction, waiting for the red light to change, day after day, watching him turn himself and his signs to greet whichever traffic had the green, waiting for my turn to sail past him. Gradually, my annoyance at his mistaken views was replaced by a grudging admiration of his perseverance and dogged determination. I didn't accept his views, but I came to respect the way he expressed them.

If I remember correctly, he disappeared from the junction, for a while at least, following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. I think I saw him again, once, when Bibi Netanyahu was in office, and about to retreat from large parts of Hebron. But by that time, Youngest had moved to the day care center nearer home and I no longer drove past that junction in the mornings.

Things have changed quite a bit since then, have they not?

I hadn't thought about him for years, until his image suddenly flashed through my mind this morning, when I heard on the radio about the demonstrations the Israeli Right are planning, to express their opposition to the Road Map.