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Candles On The Carmel

''We are three blocks away; you will be home in a minute.''
The taxi driver nudges me rudely into semi-consciousness. I try
to shake the fog from my head. I am still half asleep, staring
through the window at the Christmas lights. As consciousness
slowly seeps through, something here is out of place. Why is there
a giant Christmas tree on display in Budapest when it is months
after Christmas? I shake my head some more. No, it is not
Budapest. I left Budapest six hours ago and have been flying all
night. I must have succumbed to exhaustion on the ride up to
Haifa in the taxi from the airport.

''You were snoring like a locomotive,'' the driver tells me
helpfully. So now at least I have got the continent straight. Not
Budapest, but Haifa. But here, through the windows of the taxi,
covered with condensed vapor and raindrops, is a giant display of
Christmas lights, flickering in the darkness. Israelis only put up
''Christmas lights'' for Independence Day, and it is not that time
of the year either. Why should Haifa have a ''Christmas'' display
in March? It is almost five o'clock in the morning, the first
streaks of light in the edges of the dark sky. I give the driver a
bewildered yawn.

''Roll down the window so you can see better,? he says.

I do. It is not a Christmas display at all. It is a group of
hundreds of Yahrzeit candles, flickering eerily on the sidewalk
and the wall in silence next to the taxi. Israeli flags defiantly
stand all around. The candles have been burning all night, and
strangely — since it has been drizzling — they all seem to have
survived the rain. Perhaps someone has rekindled them,
although at five o'clock in the morning the street is empty.
Through the half-sleep comes the comprehension. It was here
that Bus 37 was blown to bits yesterday.

Bus 37 is the latest product of a decade of the Oslo ?peace
process.? It is also the bus I take every day to the university. It is
ordinarily jammed with college students, many of them Arabs
from the downtown area of Haifa, who spend their days on
campus cheering on Hamas and denouncing Israel. But it is exam
period now, the time between semesters, and they were not on
board. Only the bus driver was an Arab Christian.

One of the murdered children, a girl from New Hampshire,
was also a Christian, daughter of a Baptist working in Haifa. The
Yahrzeit lights are mainly for the Jewish dead. The 37 in Bus 37
is z''l in gematria, the traditional Jewish expression for ''blessed
memory.''

Because of the break between semesters, my own life is safe
from the bomber, as I am off in Budapest. It is also why most of
the victims are teenage children, who will never attend college.

***

It is ten years since the infamous White House handshake
between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat that was supposed to
usher in the era of peace. Six weeks after that event, in
November 1993, the very first major commentary about how
''Oslo'' would produce bloodshed was published in the United
States. It was written by me, and appeared in Midstream
magazine, alongside pro-Oslo companion pieces by Yitzhak Rabin
himself; by Yossi Beilin, the godfather of Oslo; and by leftish
general Shlomo Gazit.

Those were the days of the grand Oslo euphoria and
consensus. The days of Israelis taking to the streets and dancing
as though the messianic era was upon us. The days of Israeli
newspapers filled to overflowing with petitions and ads endorsing
the deal with the PLO, signed by hundreds of professors, by
almost every Israeli poet, artist, or novelist, and by hundreds of
Labor-loyalist senior officers from the military. The Labor Party
machine was well greased and in high gear. The politicians were
speaking glowingly of the post-war era, of peace dividends, of the
New Middle East, of day trips to Damascus and Beirut.

And into that festivity of bliss and optimism came my
Midstream article. Answering the three pollyanna-ish pieces of
by the Oslo apologists, my article stated simply that the
celebration was misplaced because Oslo would not only fail, but
would ultimately threaten the very existence of Israel. My article
stated that, after a short initial quiet period of entrenchment,
Arafat and the PLO would convert any territories they might be
given into terrorist bases from which to attack Israel.

In that article and other columns of mine shortly following,
I declared that Arafat had not changed his agenda, that he would
use his position in the West Bank and Gaza to escalate violence
with the aim of drawing the Arab states into a new all-out Arab-
Israeli War. My articles

About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


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