On the evening of that bleak Tuesday, Sept. 11, nearly 150 Jews gathered at a local synagogue to hear Jerusalem-based freelance writer Judy Lash Balint, a former Seattleite, speak about her new book, Jerusalem Diaries, In Tense Times (Geffen Publishing House, $16.95). Only it was no longer necessary to explain what it feels like to see innocent civilian friends and neighbors murdered in the course of a normal day’s activities. Everyone now understood the pain.
An otherwise intellectual and social event such as an author’s book signing on this night began with an impromptu prayer and healing service as local rabbis prayed, chanted the Kaddish and delivered words of strength and hope and to console a stunned and nervous group. The event was sponsored by Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, the David H. Alhadeff Institute for Adult Education, Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath and Sephardic Bikur Holim congregation.
Balint approached the podium. “I’m sorry that you are experiencing the pain that Israelis have felt for 53 years and the pain of the families that have lost loved ones,” she said, making the necessary segue from the horrific events of that morning to empathy for the plight of the Israelis.
In her book, which is a series of vignettes exposing the daily struggle against escalating terrorism in Israel during the past two years, Balint ultimately hopes to engender support for Israel by establishing the critical connection that all Jews can have to the Jewish homeland. Unfortunately, overnight, it took on a secondary use as a sort of psychological survival manual.
“In a certain sense, I’m trying to help people understand how we deal with this in Israel,” said Balint, “the emotions, the feelings of uncertainty and the apprehensions. It’s quite surprising to me that people really didn’t realize how upsetting it is and they might want to find out how we deal with it. There is a way that Israelis deal with it.”
Balint was somewhat astonished by the closures of many of our shopping malls and places of tourism such as the Space Needle. She has come to learn what those who live in countries besieged by terrorism have learned — that is exactly what they want.
“We have precisely the opposite reaction in Israel because we know their goal is to disrupt normal life,” said Balint. “We will not allow them to reorder our daily lives. The level of security in Israel gives people a sense of safety but everyone deals with it differently. The religious community deals with it in a prayer way, others deal with it through political agitation, some people refuse to read the news at all and others, particularly those who live in high-risk communities, have developed eating disorders and post traumatic stress disorders. Those who have the means to travel try to get away, even if it’s to Cyprus, which is close by, even for a couple of days to get away from the tension.”
The tension in Israel, according to Balint, is the result of multiple factors and the general facts of life concerning its geographical location.
“You don’t have any moderates in the Middle East,” said Balint. “You have dictatorships and monarchies, but you have no moderates with whom to deal and that is very problematic. They are all masters of propaganda. We in Israel listen very carefully to what the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is saying. At every PLO rally they say, “With blood and fire we will redeem our homeland. Hanan Ashrawi (a PLO representative) has got her sound bite down to three sentences and she’s on Israeli television all of the time. For the last nine years they have been teaching their people to hate Jews and sending their children to summer camps where they learn to use guns. Since 1999, we have seen a direct change regarding compromise.”
Balint made the case against the PLO, outlining their plans to eventually take over Israel and claim it for themselves. Balint documented the loss of access to Jewish holy sites, a growing population of Israeli Arabs and an uninformed international press who are often getting erroneous and biased information from those that Israelis have come to call Arab “fixers.”
“Fixers,” explained Balint, “are young, well-educated Palestinians who will fix or arrange an interview for U.S. reporters. Who do they take them to and what do they tell them in the cab on the way there? Palestinian journalists are afraid of the PLO. They get knocked off if they say the wrong thing. Of the 300 to 400 senior level reporters stationed in Jerusalem, mostly they run to their peer group for knowledge and information. The BBC is a disaster. All they report is that the Palestinians are fighting for their freedom and the Israelis are the aggressors.”
In addition to misinformation and propaganda, Balint cites a campaign of revisionist history on the part of the Arabs that is threatening the Jewish claim to be in the land.
“They are negating our claims to our holy places like the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most holy and precious cite,” said Balint. “There are reports that the Southern Wall, which we allow the Islamic authorities to care-take and is next to the Western Wall, is almost crumbling. They are trying to discount our claim by denying there was ever a temple there in the first place. A 6th-century synagogue in Jericho was destroyed and in order to get to Rachel’s Tomb you have to go there by bulletproof bus under armed guard. And we have huge numbers of Israeli Arabs with full rights. We’re looking at a demographic time bomb.”
Add to these the very imminent problems of a water shortage in Israel, rising cancer rates from dangerously polluted rivers and, according to Balint, the “general demise of the economy with 30 hotels that have closed because tourism has died,” and you get the message of her book and her passion: Come to Israel and show support in her time of need.
“Send your kids to Israel after high school. Come to Israel. Israel is ailing. We need you. When we see that people are not coming, that is not a good feeling. Pray and identify with us.”