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Arts & Culture Journalist Mixes Reporting, Memoir in Book on Israelis Coping with Terror

March 26, 2004
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David Horovitz couldn’t believe his ears.

Tuning into CNN right after Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the editor of the Jerusalem Report magazine heard the attack being described as the killing of a beloved leader of an Islamic group.

Even a veteran journalist and media watcher such as Horovitz found absurd such a one-sided description of Yassin, whose group is considered responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis since the Palestinian intifada began three and a half years ago.

Horovitz himself had no ethical qualms about the move.

“He was an evil man,” he told JTA in an interview in New York on Tuesday during a break from a two-week tour to promote his new book, “Still Life With Bombers.” “I have no moral ambivalence about it.”

But Horovitz is anguishing about whether the assassination was the right move from a strategic standpoint — or whether it will foment even more hatred and spur additional terrorist attacks.

During the interview, he also wondered about some of the recent moves of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — for example, why Sharon didn’t release Palestinian prisoners arrested for intifada-related crimes when such a move might have bolstered Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, but then released hundreds of prisoners in an exchange with Hezbollah for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers and a kidnapped Israeli businessman.

He also wondered, as do many others, whether a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will be seen as a reward for terrorism and questions the West Bank security barrier will really protect Israeli soldiers.

The fence “does offer a heightened degree of protection against bombers,” but adds that unless the fence hews close to Israel’s pre-1967 borders, it leaves many Israeli settlers and Palestinians on the “wrong” side, he writes.

His unclassifiable stances — some seen as more dovish, others more hawkish — have sparked debate on Horovitz’s book tour. Some asked why Israel doesn’t finish the job of cracking down on the terrorists, while one man wondered if there’s a point at which supporting Israel might become too costly for Americans.

Horovitz, 41, says he wrote “Still Life With Bombers” — his second major book, after “A Little Too Close to God” – – to set the record of the past three years straight.

He said he aims to reach and educate both the protesters who say “End the Occupation of Palestine” and the people who march outside synagogues protesting when Palestinian moderate Sari Nusseibeh speaks.

“I’d like to at least broaden some minds. At least give them some more context,” he said.

Part political reportage, part memoir of daily life in Israel, the book is a grim accounting of the effects of the almost- daily violence on Israeli life.

The British-born Horovitz, who now lives in Jerusalem with his American-born wife, Lisa, and their three children, represents a broad swathe of Israelis who have seen the optimism of the Oslo years literally blown to bits by the onslaught of Palestinian terrorist attacks.

In his book, he describes himself as a supporter of the Oslo process who still thinks the experiment was necessary, since Israel had to know that at least it had tried to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians.

While not supportive of every move the Israeli government has made, Horovitz places the blame for the current violence squarely on the Palestinians.

He’s sharply critical of P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s decision to walk away from negotiations after the Camp David summit in summer 2000.

“It seems unarguable,” he writes, that “Arafat had no intention of striking a deal.”

But Horovitz doesn’t allow his pessimism devolve into hopelessness about the conflict — or about the Palestinian people themselves.

The Palestinian public is suffering from what he calls “manipulated desperation.” It’s a desperation created by their leaders, to keep them miserable and incite them to violence to detract attention from the leadership’s own shortcomings.

These feelings have only been exacerbated by the three years of violence — and by the heated-up rhetoric from Islamic leaders.

“I don’t believe that the widespread anti-Israel sentiment “is a necessary condition. And I know it wasn’t true a few years ago,” he said in the interview.

Horovitz details the changes that he and his wife have made in their personal lives — not allowing their children to attend certain school field trips, choosing where to shop or catch a movie based on which venues have the best security.

“On the fairly rare occasions when we went out to a restaurant, we’d agonize over that choice, too — with the freshness of the food and the breadth of the chef’s imagination ranking a distant second and third to the perceived safety of the location,” he writes.

Despite such daily accommodations, Horovitz said he thinks Israelis’ resilience in the face of terrorism has been remarkable.

“I think it’s astounding that Israelis haven’t flooded out of the country,” he said, noting the large number of immigrants, particularly from France, who have moved to Israel since the intifada began.

Horovitz grew up in an Orthodox family in London. He attended a Zionist school, and visited Israel several times as a kid.

He felt increasingly attached to the Jewish state, eventually making aliyah in 1983.

Personally, though a lot of Horovitz’s non-Israeli-born friends have left Israel, he’s not going anywhere.

“It’s the only place where Jews get to control their own destiny,” he said.

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