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The Cross of Bethlehem II

Running South

They didn't need a compass, south was where the sound of the bombs got weaker...



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Israelis thought they would never see the day. Thousands of people fled south, away from their homes, trying to increase the distance from the falling bombs. South, towards the nation's center, was the safe direction. They didn't need a compass, south was where the sound of the bombs got weaker.

"Masada won't fall for a second time," are the words used by Israeli soldiers to swear allegiance to their country. Two millennia ago, Masada was an impressive fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. A small Jewish sect occupied it and withstood the Roman siege for a few years. Surrounded by high cliffs on all sides - an early version of the modern Israeli wall around the Palestinian territories - the place seemed unconquerable. Food reserves within the walls and sophisticated wells ensured survival in the arid landscape. But the Romans were resourceful and built a ramp all the way up. Nowadays it is called the Snake Way - due to its undulating shape around the cliffs - and it is still the only way to reach the top by foot; the nearby cable car is a modern contrivance. When the Romans reached the top, Masada's people committed suicide to prevent captivity. Only one woman and her children survived to tell the tale.

The girl wrote: 'I waited for this moment for so long...'

The girl wrote: "I waited for this moment for so long..."

Masada is a powerful myth for Israelis. They like to consider their tiny country - without a constitution, without agreed upon borders and with racist laws discriminating amongst its citizens - a kind of modern Masada. The word is even used as the code name for certain strategic military plans.

"Masada won't fall for a second time," say the Israeli soldiers when swearing loyalty; young children disguised as soldiers shout with all their might while tightly closing their eyes to reality.

There is a cluster of political problems in the Middle East; internal problems abound within the regions' countries. In each of them, including Israel, a small oligarchy exploits the masses. Then there are the external problems between the countries - the usual scapegoat of anti-democratic leaders for their internal problems. Never in history have political problems found military solutions. The reasons for this are varied and the testimony for the claim goes back as long as we have written history.

Yet, Israel is trying to solve its political problems with the help of metallic toys. What didn't work in 1982 - or in 1996 - may work in 2006 was the Prime Minister's message to his people. After the second massacre in Qana - where in 2006 many women and children were killed in a similar event to the one in 1996 - the Israeli answer was to drop more bombs, so that in the heat of events the forgetful international media would drop the criminal pictures from their coverage. Military force has become the Pavlovian reflex of the Israeli leadership to any troublesome event, and the only reaction the Israeli people expect from their government.

But, in 2006, the Israelis found themselves running south away from the bombings all the way down to the Jezreel Valley, the valley connecting Mount Carmel with the Jordan River. Jezreel is deep within the Israeli heartland, a place most Israelis consider equivalent to the US State of Kansas in geographical terms.

The implications of this situation escaped international eyes. For the first time since the foundation of the State of Israel, a significant percentage of its population ran away from their homes because their government failed to protect them - and actually was responsible for initiating the military operation that led to the disaster. The protests led by reservist soldiers in Jerusalem won't calm down easily this time, but eventually they will.

More than ever, "Masada won't fall for a second time," sounds to Israelis like a hollow, teenager bravado statement. Does that mean the veil around Israeli eyes will now fall away and that new, enlightened leaders will seek a just political solution to their problems? Most probably not. A common saying in Israel goes, "what can't be solved with force needs more force." More likely, a scapegoat politician - maybe the Minister of Defense or the Prime Minister himself - will be blamed for limiting the actions of the army in such a way that it failed to pulverize the perceived enemy.

Running south, they will keep shouting, "Masada won't fall for a second time," deep into the dusty Desert of Oblivion.

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