Review of Jerusalem Diaries by Edward Alexander The Jerusalem Post
October 5, 2001
Judy Balint, a Jerusalem-based writer, has collected in Jerusalem Diaries her first-hand observations of the last two and a half years of Israel's long struggle for independence; or, shall we say, of the Arabs' interminable war against a Jewish presence in a region they consider exclusively their own.
In November 1998, in a reaction of "disbelief" to Netanyahu's making (at Wye) the concessions he had inveighed against when in opposition, Balint began to record her sense of despair and frustration in brief, impressionistic essays that she sent to friends and family, and then to the wider audience of internet users and newspaper readers. The last diary entry was written in May of this year, post-Netanyahu and also post-Barak, eight months into the war whose seeds were planted at Oslo.
People who rely on the New York Times and Washington Post or, worse yet, the British press for their sense of what is happening in Israel will discover, in reading this book, that they have been walking about blindfolded. (How many readers of the Western press know that Jews are murdered nearly every day in Judea and Samaria?) Balint, in sober, undramatized prose, reminds us that Jews in Jerusalem and the disputed territories have been under constant assault ever since Arafat decided, in 1999, that he preferred a policy of ethnic cleansing to the Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem that Barak had offered him.
Balint's great virtue as a reporter is that she goes precisely to the places that prudent people try to avoid during a war. She is at Gilo to watch the barricades go up after the firing from Beit Jalla begins; she is at the Western Wall when the Arabs demonstrate their unflagging attention to Jewish holidays by flinging stones at worshipers; she pays a condolence call upon the families of the two reserve soldiers lynched in October 2000 by a barbaric Arab mob in Ramallah.
Sometimes she is herself a (courageous) actor in the tragic drama she describes. During the Nightline program of October 2001 from Jerusalem's YMCA, Balint was, as millions of viewers saw, the single Israeli in an audience of hundreds to make the case for Israel and to confront the satanic Hanan Ashrawi.
What integrates Balint's variegated descriptions of Israel's daily crises and occasional celebrations is the old Zionist theme of normalization--turned upside down. Zionism proposed to transform Jews from a deformed Diaspora existence into a "normal" people living in their own land, speaking their own language, just like the goyim. But what Balint describes is for the most part distinctly not normal. Children in Gilo summon their parents home from Baka because the nightly shooting has begun; spectators at soccer matches are barely disturbed by the sound of gunfire not far away; Israelis in frontline communities live with sandbagged windows, and many people avoid going to public places--except for hospitals and cemeteries. Perhaps least normal of all, in Balint's view, is that Jews in one part of a tiny country act as if the assault on their countrymen a few miles away is an acceptable and "normal" state of affairs.
Journalist's 'diaries' a plea for an Israel without compromise by Alexandra J. Wall North California Jewish Bulletin
October 26, 2001
As devastating as the loss of life was in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon last month, the number of Israelis killed over the past year during the al-Aksa intifada has been just as deeply felt, said journalist Judy Lash Balint.
"Israel is very small, both physically and numerically," she said. With at least 177 "deaths over the past year in our Jewish population of some 5 million, the impact is as deeply felt as with the 5- to 6,000 here."
The British-born Balint was in San Francisco recently to talk about her new book, "Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times," a volume of vignettes describing daily life in Israel.
Balint is the Israeli representative for the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha, after working for the U.S. arm of the organization for many years. She has long been involved in the Soviet Jewry issue and made aliyah in 1997, after living in both Seattle and New York.
Arriving in Israel "halfway through the Oslo process," Balint said she soon "realized what people [abroad] didn't know about day-to-day life in Jerusalem. I felt I could make some contribution and provide background to the headlines. It's a very different thing to know and understand on a personal level how things were affecting people."
As a journalist, Balint nonetheless has a specific agenda: she is openly sympathetic to the movement to keep the West Bank and Gaza in Israeli hands. Raised in a strong Zionist home, she is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors.
Balint opposed the peace process from the start. First of all, she said, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could never be trusted, as he "invented the concept of international hijacking."
She recognized she was out of step with most of the Israeli public, noting that the "majority of Israelis understood the need for compromise to achieve peace. The intellectuals, the media and everything was geared to make us understand that."
The problem, though, was that the Palestinians were not doing the same.
"Actually, the level of hatred and incitement was increasing on their side," Balint said. "The writing was on the wall. There was no way Palestinian society was being channeled to accept the existence of Israel."
Bringing it back to the present, in the years since Oslo and especially since the outbreak of the intifada, Balint is certain of her long-held beliefs: "Everyone recognizes that now."
Balint has many friends who live in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and one of her motivations in writing her book was to describe to her readers what life is like there.
While Americans are likely to read such headlines as "Settler killed in drive-by shooting," they don't understand what it's like "to be under siege, and what it's like to go to funerals and see friends' kids injured."
When asked why settlers would endanger the lives of their children by living in such hostile territory, she said, "If we had no settlements in [the Gaza Strip's] Gush Katif, those attacks would be in Ashkelon." Israel is surrounded by hostile neighbors, she said, "so if you take that argument to its logical conclusion, we'd say, 'Let's pack up.' It's not a Jewish response, not a moral response and not the correct response to people who threaten you with violence. The minute you cave in to that, it's all over."
Those who suggest that dismantling the settlements would solve the conflict are deluding themselves, she said. "They are losing site of the hatred of the presence of Jews in the Middle East." While this past year has been an unusually tense one in Israel, Balint said that since the terrorist attacks in America, Americans could learn a thing or two from Israelis.
On the one hand, she wonders how people "maintain the right level of consciousness and empathy, while on the other hand, not let it overflow your life?"
Answering her own questions, Balint noted Israelis have their own way of coping, such as reopening businesses in the vicinity of a bombing as soon as possible. "People are encouraged to come back, because you don't want to play into the goals of terrorists."
However, individual people have their own ways of coping, too: Not listening to the news is one; travel is another, or, in the case of religious people, praying and doing more acts of chesed (lovingkindness). Nevertheless, she said, once-rare occurrences are quickly become the norm and taking a toll. For instance, nowadays, Balint barely registers the noise of the shooting in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo about five minutes away.
"I hear the firing and then I go back to my TV program. On the one hand, you have to do that to maintain normalcy, but you also are saying, 'How can you be doing that?'"
When Balint visited New York about two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, she read an editorial in the New York Times, encouraging readers, "Don't abandon us"; come visit the city. She was struck by its similarities to Israeli pleas.
"We've been crying this for the past year. Americans in particular are choosing to stay away from Israel at a time like this, and this is something Israelis really feel very deeply, especially now."
Nonetheless, Balint ended on a positive Zionist note, saying that despite the tension, there was nowhere else she'd rather live.
"There is no other place to have a more meaningful Jewish life, where you feel your existence is meaningful and you're contributing to Jewish history. The destiny of the Jewish people is not being written in the U.S."
Living in a time of terrorism by Eileen Goss San Jose Jewish Community News
Judy Lash Balint has been living under the daily threat of terrorism in Jerusalem for several years, "There's an emotional roller coaster quality to life in Jerusalem, and it's most evident whenever terrorists choose to disrupt our lives," she writes in "Jerusalem Diaries-In Tense Times." On a promotional tour for her book, Balint stopped in San Jose to speak to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in October. The freelance Israeli journalist has created snapshots of daily life in Israel so readers could view what happens behind the headlines and glimpse the many aspects of living with suicide bombers, shootings and other random violence everyday. Throughout the book, she clearly voices her fervent support of Israel and criticism of those who would give up the land. Whatever one's political views, the reader can gain valuable insights of lives in jeopardy profiled so eloquently in over 50 short articles.
Although the book only covers November 1998 to May 2001, many of the issues apply to the current experience in the United States. Judy Lash Balint was in the United States on September 11 so her reaction to the terrorist attacks was unique. Throughout her book, she emphasizes how important the return to normalcy is after each attack in Israel. "No matter what happens, the shops are open and people try to get back to business," she says. "I was really amazed," she continues, "that on September 11th every Starbucks and mall closed down in Seattle."
She also speaks to the incessant news reports, rampant in Israel as well as in the United States. "It has become almost unbearable to listen to the constant barrage of news and analysis. None of the politicians or academics has anything new or constructive to say," she complains.
In one pointed article, "Gas Masks Back in the Closet," Balint addresses the challenges of securing a gas mask. She describes waiting in line for the mask almost as a neighborhood social event and the business-like instructions on the use of the mask and administration of an antidote to certain biochemicals as almost routine.When I asked her about it, she revealed that although she has never had to use the mask, she feels more secure having it in the closet. She added that each mask is bar-coded, and when the mask has to be inspected, it's very routine to take the mask to a center where the barcode is read to determine if any part of the mask has to be upgraded.
Other articles in the book talk about the sorrow in attending a child's funeral and the reactions of Israelis to the constant barrage they suffer at the hands of the Palestinians. She also discusses the importance of missions from the United States and how the hostilities have injured the Israeli economy. "On the positive side," she reports, "the situation has, in fact, strengthened feelings of solidarity and resolve both within families and within settlements."
Born in England as a child of survivors, Judy Lash Balint attended Jewish schools and became active in Zionist youth movements. After high school, she went to Israel and attended a kibbutz ulpan. There she met her husband, an American from Seattle, and moved to Seattle with him where she lived for 20 years. She attended college and received a Masters of Social Work from Seattle University. In 1974 she began working in the Seattle Action Group for Soviet Jewry and began doing publicity. She became intricately involved in Operation Exodus where she met Morey Schapira who was active in the Bay Area Soviet Rescue effort. It was partly due to his efforts, that she came to San Jose.
The book provides a fascinating glimpse of life in Israel and has many lessons Americans can take to heart.