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On the Jerusalem Bus at 7 AM: “Where is our Peace?”

“The bomb attacks in Jerusalem and Ashkelon confirmed in the fullest sense what Professor Shlomo ben Ami said on Friday: there is a class of people for whom the peace process goes right over their heads—and they therefore feel no personal stake in it.

The economic privatization we are undergoing carries no guarantee for social justice, no medical conscience or care for those in distress. It has no social obligation or solidarity with the social strata that are called weak. We are told: when peace comes the regional economy will boom, and everyone’s situation will improve—and this is probably right. But this statement does not alleviate the feeling that, in fact, at this time, no one really cares, and that until the sun rises, one’s soul could expire.

After the signing of the peace accord between Israel and Egypt euphoria reigned in Cairo. Egyptians were convinced that from now on they would come in droves to work in Israel. This hope was not fulfilled. We witnessed a wave of disappointment in the peace which was seen by many as a peace between leaders only. The Egyptian Minister of Agriculture could show with pride the accomplishment of agriculture in his country since the arrival of Israeli consultants: but the peace still has a long way to go to arrive at the doorstep of the people. The same sense of peace-between leaders exists in more than a few strata as well in Jordan: beside those Jordanians who come and fill our shopping malls there are many who cannot afford the prices of the mall in Malcha or the hotel in Tel Aviv. In their eyes, the peace is a rich man’s peace.

And among ourselves—when 50% of our salaried workers don’t even reach the lowest tax bracket and the social welfare system appears at times to be drowning in a sea of problems, why should the issue of peace be central to a distressed family whose situation has not improved, sometimes for three generations? Why would they be comforted by a promise for the long range, when in the short range it seems impossible to finish out the month or buy a child a new pair of shoes?

And here we should be reminded: these are exactly the people who are riding the buses before seven o’clock in the morning. When we speak of Jerusalem, terror hits the people: that’s how it was in the bombing at the Mahane Yehuda market, and that’s how it was yesterday on bus 18 [on February 25 and again on March 3] They certainly feel that they are not protected: not economically, not socially, and not in terms of their personal security. Those who own their own cars seem to be better protected.

Pursuing the present peace process is the most right thing for us to do. In this writer’s opinion, there is no substitute for the leadership of Shimon Peres on the entire political front. But the Labor Party will make the mistake of its life, and not only because of coming elections, if it neglects the unprotected stratum, that earns less than the average salary in our economy, that rides the bus to the central station in the early morning hours, for whom the gap between themselves and the upper tenth is only becoming greater with all the touted “growth”—a gap that is now one of the largest in the world. The peace must not be seen as a peace of industrialists and yuppies; it must not be seen as a peace between people in suits who have Philippine maids, on the backs of, and over the heads of those who are referred to too clinically as the “lower tenth percentiles”—in simple Hebrew, the have-nots.”