The town in the Galilee, in which Christ grew up, has not escaped the commercialisation of Christmas. Shining from shop awnings along Nazareth’s main street are hundreds of inflatable Father Christmases and glossy Rudolph the Red- Nose Reindeers gently swaying in the cool breeze of winter. Silver trees and artificial snow are in almost every window. Competing for attention as dusk fell last week on Paul VI Street were the constant explosions of firecrackers thrown by children celebrating the final days of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, which this year coincided with the build-up to Christmas. Parents marked the occasion in more subdued fashion by snaking long strings of green lights — the colour associated with Islam — along their balconies and windows.
The town in Galilee in which Christ grew up has not escaped the commercialisation of Christmas. Shining from shop awnings along Nazareth’s main street are hundreds of inflatable Father Christmases swaying in the cool breeze of an Israeli winter. Competing for attention as dusk fell on Paul VI Street have been the explosions of firecrackers thrown by children celebrating the final days of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, which this year coincided with the build-up to Christmas. Their parents marked it by snaking long strings of green lights – the colour of Islam – along their balconies. But in this city, one third Christian and two thirds Muslim, there has been little sign of the tension or rivalry that scarred relations between the two Arab communities.
The Labour Party — in its current guise and earlier incarnation as Mapai — has ruled Israel for most of the country’s 53 years. But, since Ehud Barak’s huge 25- point defeat in last February’s elections, ideological and political infighting has torn the party apart. Today there are almost as many separate voices in the party as there are Labour members in the Knesset. The fate of Labour has been inextricably tied to the success of the peace process ever since its late leader Yitzhak Rabin declared his conversion to the cause of peace with the Palestinians at Oslo in 1993. Now with that process in tatters, the party is adrift and directionless as its traditional rival, Likud, rallies the Israeli public to a new cause, that of war.
Drivers arriving in Tel Aviv are being greeted with a giant message of reassurance. Some 24,000 light bulbs have been draped over one of the Azriela Towers — Israel’s very own version of New York’s now-departed Twin Towers — to form a huge Star of David. The Azriela company is also handing out 25,000 miniature Israeli flags and half a million stickers bearing a slogan demanding steadfastness from the Israeli public: “It’s up to us.” The purpose of all this jingoism, says the firm, is to prevent the country yielding to “an exaggerated prophecy of destruction that will become self-fulfilling.” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is surely delighted: he believes that Israelis need to demonstrate the same patriotic spirit that has so rapidly infected the American public realm since 11 September.
Said Rabih received his letter from the army last March, shortly before his eighteenth birthday. Like thousands of other young Israelis, he was told that he was being called up for three years of military service. But eight months later, Rabih is still a civilian and determined never to wear the uniform of his country’s army – even though he faces a lengthy jail sentence should the authorities catch up with him. And sooner or later they will. The next time he is stopped for a spot-check his identity card will give him away – clearly marked are both his date of birth and the word “Druze.” Since 1956 Israel’s 80,000 Druze have been required by law to do military service alongside Jews. The country’s other Palestinian communities – Muslims, Christians and Bedouin – are exempted.
The banging by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the door for entry to the coalition against terror has grown deafening in the past weeks. After his meeting with President George W. Bush in Washington on Sunday, which coincided with a weekend of the worst violence inflicted on Israel since 1996, he was finally admitted. Sharon wasted no time in launching his own single- handed war on terrorism on his return from the US the next day. But his target was not Hamas, the group responsible for the weekend’s spate of suicide bomb attacks — two plus a car bomb in the heart of West Jerusalem and another on a bus in Haifa — that left 26 Israelis dead and at least 275 injured. Instead his goal was the political and personal destruction of the Palestinian Authority leader, Yasser Arafat.