Life in Israel has changed in many ways in recent years, with both the desire for peace and the fear of terror attacks on the minds of residents.Immigrating to Israel from the United States at

the end of 1994 was the culmination of a life-long dream. It also was

the dawn of a new age in Israel: The Oslo peace process was at its height

– its initial accord had been signed on the White House lawn one year

earlier. Negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders were taking

place at a steady clip, and a permanent settlement between the two parties

seemed within reach.

When my husband and I settled in Jerusalem, we were

struck by the vast advances that had been made in Israeli society (as

compared to Israel’s image as a primitive place to live, lacking in luxuries

and Western comforts). What we saw was a society enjoying a hi-tech boom,

families spending far more time picking out stone floors for new or renovated

apartments and homes than they did worrying about adequate bomb shelters

for a missile attack. The Gulf War had dimmed in people’s memories and

the promise of Oslo reigned.

Moreover, Israel’s isolation internationally had

all but ended, again due to the strength of the peace process. This meant

huge increases in foreign investment, and of course, throngs of tourists

from all over the world coming to explore the treasures of the Promised

Land. I was personally struck by the freedom of movement we enjoyed, even

in areas that were newly under the control of the burgeoning Palestinian

Authority.

Since my work entails hosting U.S. congressional

delegations in Israel, taking members of Congress to Jericho (in the West

Bank) to see what a Palestinian city looked like, to sit over coffee in

its renowned cafes, and point out the newly established Palestinian “blue

police,” were all done with great pride. We were taking interested

pro-Israel leaders from the United States into the Gaza Strip to better

grasp the potential of commercial joint ventures between Israel and the

Palestinians, and to see the newly formed industrial parks on the border

of Israel and Gaza. “See what this peace process has created,”

was the message given to American lawmakers. For Israelis to once again

roam freely in the West Bank, free of security concerns, meant that peace

had been victorious.

Seven years later, the picture of life in Israel

could not be more different. Not only are jaunts into Jericho, or other

West Bank towns, out of the question, but outings to malls, cafes and

even participation in public celebrations are undertaken with great caution.

The Israel that ushered in the new millennium with such promise has quickly

become a state whose citizens live under constant fear of the next terrorist

attack.

Following last summer’s Camp David summit – at which

then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed far-reaching peace proposals

to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat – the Palestinians embarked

on a campaign of violence and terror. What began as random attacks in

the West Bank and Gaza quickly became systematic violence and terrorism

in the heart of Israel. Initially, Israelis could look at the violence

as something somewhat distant, even if upsetting. The terror was concentrated

mainly toward West Bank and Gaza settlements. Almost overnight, the heartland

of Israel was under attack. Once-random attacks had become almost daily

occurrences.

The vibrant bustle of Israel’s cities does go on,

but the mental hoops that one jumps through before running a simple errand

is quite daunting. Sitting in cafes with friends is thought through carefully,

as is riding on public buses. The once much-enjoyed experiences of outdoor

fairs and exhibits are now looked upon as security hazards.

The whole concept of suicide bombings continues

to amaze, while at the same time dictates our way of life. Armed guards

are stationed in every major cafe, movie theater and mall. The guard at

my daughter’s kindergarten not only monitors those entering and leaving

the building, but is expected to “sweep” the playground before

the kids go out to play, out of concern that “suspicious objects”

may lie in wait for the class of 5-year-olds.

The picture of everyday life here now is stark,

especially in comparison to the freedom and optimism we knew only two

years ago. Nonetheless, for as vigilant as Israelis must be, and as stressful

as life can be, there is that fighting Israeli spirit that somehow prevails.

While the annual arts and crafts fair in Jerusalem posed security concerns

for would-be patrons, the vast Sultan’s Pool yard was packed with thousands

of people who wouldn’t let the so-called ha matzav, the “situation,”

keep them home.

Guards or no guards, most cafes are still full at

all hours. While the tourists stay away, the natives refuse to allow the

difficult situation to bring their lives to a halt. Although the public

mood is decidedly morose after a suicide bomb attack – the experience

of mourning the victims is a national one – people do carry on with their

activities. Were you to ask an average Israeli why they deign to go to

the movies, or for pizza or coffee in this environment, most would say

that terrorism cannot defeat a society. Life’s pleasures – be they decaf

cappuccino or children’s birthday parties – carry on even under the black

cloud we call the terrorist threat. Perhaps these pleasures are enjoyed

even more during these painful times; or else, Israelis have been through

too much and are too determined a people to end their way of life.