The Washington Post

A conflict that’s near, yet far from mind

- Steve.hendrix@washpost.com shira.rubin@washpost.com salwan.georges@washpost.com Miriam Berger contribute­d to this report.

South of Hebron, the Negev Desert spreads wide and dry as Route 60 winds to another military checkpoint. Palestinia­n day laborers amass at this southern exit from the West Bank, waiting for rides into Israel. Israeli soldiers wave through most cars with Israeli plates, stop those with Palestinia­n ones.

Twelve miles on, in the Israeli city of Beersheba, Route 60 comes to end, terminatin­g at an entrance to the Mall of the Negev, the city’s largest shopping center. Here, amid 1.2 million square feet of air-conditione­d commerce, the question on the lips of many Israelis when asked about the conflict with the Palestinia­ns is: What conflict?

Lidor Zahari, 25, seems almost surprised to be asked about the generation­s-long standoff with the Palestinia­ns. His interactio­n with them largely amounts to selling them cellphone chargers, cases and screen protectors when they stop by the kiosk where he works.

“It feels that it’s not really connected to me,” he says amid the chattering echoes of strolling families. “The conflict is next door, yes, but it still feels that I don’t have contact with it. We’ve already gotten used to it.”

Zahari, who is training to be a barber, says he is taken aback when the issue is raised by outsiders, like foreign singers who balk at performing in Israel or the European soccer players who recently hesitated to play in Beersheba because the Gaza Strip is 25 miles away.

“What they don’t understand is that they shouldn’t be afraid,” he says. “It’s just regular life.”

So if there’s no pressing dispute to be settled, what need is there for a solution — much less a two-state solution that would require substantia­l sacrifices by Israel?

The “Palestinia­n issue” used to dominate Israeli political discourse, but it has all but disappeare­d as a topic during the four national elections Israel conducted in the past three years. In one survey of voter concerns by the B’tselem human rights group, the conflict with the Palestinia­ns ranked sixth, well behind the economy, cost of living and other domestic issues.

The era of terrorist bus bombings that rattled Israelis for years is a decade in the past. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during 15 years in power, deliberate­ly sidelined the issue, persuading Israelis that life could go on without any solution to the conflict — and certainly without allowing Palestinia­ns their own state. The accords that Israel signed last year to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan showed Israelis they could make diplomatic inroads with their neighbors even if the Palestinia­n issue was unresolved.

After decades of stalemate, the status quo has been woven into the fabric of daily life.

Even the periodic flare-ups of violence do little to raise any sense of urgency.

Daniel Mamo, sipping cappuccino and listening to music on headphones outside Aroma Cafe, recalls the May air war with Hamas, when rockets fired from Gaza flew over faster than he could keep track. But when the sirens sounded, he didn’t budge.

“I, many times, was sitting in a cafe and didn’t move,” he says with a shrug. “And there were others all around me.”

Mamo, a 45-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, thinks he has an outsider’s perspectiv­e, a bit different than that of most Israelis. And what he sees is that “we have all gotten used to despair.”

“At this point, the country does not allow itself to even aspire to anything different,” he says.

And, with a smile, he puts his headphones back on.

 ?? PHOTOS B Y SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Shoppers ride an escalator at the Mall of the Negev in the Israeli city of Beersheba. Here, amid 1.2 million square feet of air-conditione­d commerce, the question on the lips of many Israelis when asked about the conflict with the Palestinia­ns is: What conflict?
PHOTOS B Y SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POST Shoppers ride an escalator at the Mall of the Negev in the Israeli city of Beersheba. Here, amid 1.2 million square feet of air-conditione­d commerce, the question on the lips of many Israelis when asked about the conflict with the Palestinia­ns is: What conflict?

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