Friday, October 24, 2003

I saw it coming, although I didn't really know what it was
In October 1985, I spent my last night on my army base clutching the Uzi submachine gun that was usually chained to a rack in my department room, to be used only for guard duty. In a moment of superstitious hysteria I decided I was never going to get out of the army alive, and this, being my last night, was obviously the night all hell was going to let loose. It didn't happen. But I was right, something was brewing. It just took another couple of years to manifest.

Going to bed with an Uzi was a bit over the top, I know, but not completely out of touch with reality, it seems, with hindsight. You see my base was on a hilltop. The slope of the adjacent hill was completely covered by sprawling houses of an Arab village, a very hostile West Bank Arab village. I saw nothing to stop the villagers from attacking the base. The rather nonchalant guarding routine worried me tremendously, but no on else seemed the least bit bothered.

A few months earlier we had watched as bus after bus of terrorists, freed in the Jibril deal, had rolled into the village amid much jubilation. After that, tension had soured, or had it been gradually increasing beforehand and I just hadn’t noticed? We were no longer allowed to leave the base on foot, and had to wait for a vehicle to take us. A bomb exploding at the nearby bus stop, used by the soldiers of the base, killed no one only because, luckily, the times that the work shifts on the base began and ended had been changed the day before and the stop, which should have been full of soldiers, was empty. We no longer spent our free time roaming the alleyways of the old city of Jerusalem in civilian clothes. Something was definitely in the air.

After that last night on the base, I packed my bags and left. I moved to Tel Aviv where I had enrolled in Tel Aviv University. I didn't see Jerusalem again for about five years. Wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me there. In Tel Aviv I forgot all about the army and Jerusalem, and unfriendly Arabs.

When the Intifada erupted in December 1987, I made no mental connection to the tension I had experienced in Jerusalem. I had blocked it out as part of an unpleasant period of my life.