A broken dream

Anthony Lewis

December 10, 1990|By Anthony Lewis

YUVAL NERIA looks like a romantic vision of an Israeli poet: dark eyes, curly black-and-gray hair. In fact he is a war hero. As a 21-year-old lieutenant in the 1973 Middle East war, he twice jumped to another tank when his was destroyed. He won Israel's highest decoration, the Medal of Valor. "I was quite meshuginah," he says -- crazy.

Now he is a clinical psychologist and the author of a best seller on the 1973 war, "Fire," something between autobiography and fiction. He also helped to found the organization Peace Now, and he is in the United States at the moment conveying its message.

But what is Peace Now's message at such a time? The organization has favored Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and negotiations with the Palestinians. But the Persian Gulf crisis and Palestinian support for Saddam Hussein have made the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace even more remote than they were.

"Separation," Neria said when we met the other day. By that he meant physically separating Israel within its 1967 borders, to the extent possible, from the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

"We are flooded with traumatic events," he said: "the murder of three Israelis in Jerusalem a month ago, this week the Palestinians attacking with knives on a bus, the incidents on the borders. The people are so angry. There is no negotiation, no hope -- none for us, none for the Palestinians.

"We need some time to let us regain a little quiet, to reduce the anxiety. It's an immediate necessity. I don't want to enter into a paranoiac state where everyone is suspicious of everyone, and we are very close to it now."

If the 1967 border were actually closed, I asked, how would the Palestinians in the occupied territories survive? They are heavily dependent, especially in Gaza, on work in Israel. Neria said international economic aid would be necessary, but he confessed that he had no detailed solutions. He only wanted to prevent the situation from getting worse.

The official position of Peace Now is more complex. It still calls for negotiations and a political settlement with the Palestinians. But a statement last month called for "gradual economic separation between Israel and the territories," by promoting economic self-sufficiency in the West Bank and Gaza.

Prime Minister Shamir and his Likud bloc have always favored a Greater Israel including the West Bank and Gaza. But curiously, events seem to be pushing them toward increasing emphasis on the 1967 borders. Events are confirming Peace Now's view that holding onto the occupied territories harms Israel's security.

The events are violent attacks by Palestinians, especially since the police killing of 17 Palestinians in Jerusalem on Oct. 8. In the last two months more than 20 Israelis have been stabbed by Arabs; five died of their wounds. Some of the incidents have occurred far from the borders, one in Tel Aviv, and many more Israelis have taken to carrying weapons.

To try to prevent such attacks, the army and the police have

sharply restricted Palestinian entry into Israel across what had been an open border. This week a new network of roadblocks was set up along the border, and the police were ordered to check Palestinians closely, including the use of metal detectors.

"Shamir cannot admit the end of Greater Israel," Neria said. "But those who advise him -- the army and so on -- know it is a myth, a broken dream.

"I'm not in politics, I can't say. But the younger people in the Likud must not be able to deny reality."

Neria's parents were both professional soldiers: his father a colonel, his mother "a lieutenant colonel like me," Neria said. (That is his rank in the reserves.) His parents were in the Palmach, the elite unit of the Haganah, the Jewish underground army before the state was born in 1948. They fought in the War of Independence that year, then in the wars of 1956 and 1967.

"They had the dream that after 1948 their world would change," Neria said. "I remember my mother telling me that the War of Independence would be the last war; after that nothing would happen to the Jewish people.

"I think the only hope for them is that there are still young people who have enough energy to fight for peace. They are very supportive of Peace Now, which is important for me."

Yuval Neriya spoke last Wednesday night at Baltimore Hebrew University in Baltimore.

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