Unrelenting fear for family seems eerily normal here

For 15 years my wife and I were constantly worried about the well-being of our daughter and her family, for they lived in Kiryat Shmona, an Upper Galilee town near the Lebanese border that was frequently bombarded by terrorist rockets. Now, at least in the meantime, things are quiet in that part of the country.

But our worries are not over, for they have just moved south.

Our focus is also on our son and his family who live in Modi'in, a booming new town midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Its geographical location was a big selling point for people like my son: men and women with jobs in Jerusalem but desire to live elsewhere — in order to get away from the Arabs and/or the fervently religious. The relatively low cost of decent apartments in the region is also attractive.

For their first few years in the town, everything was great for the Meyers family, and particularly for our grandchildren. The educational facilities in Modi'in are excellent and the playgrounds infinitely more numerous and greener than in Jerusalem. Finally, our son, who teaches at the Hebrew University, was able to commute to work in less than an hour by way of a new, well-paved road. Although the road is bordered by several Arab villages, no one seemed to mind.

That was before.

This idyllic state of affairs came to a screeching halt some weeks ago when a motorist traveling from Modi'in to Jerusalem was shot dead in a roadside ambush, only a half-hour after our son had driven past the spot. That incident and two subsequent ones occurred in the evening hours, so many Modi'in residents assume that it is still reasonably safe to use the road during the day, but who's to say this timing won't change?

Uncertainly remains the norm everywhere. Take the seaside town of Netanya, for instance. A car bomb recently went off there, causing great material damage but killing only one person, apparently the terrorist who set off the bomb. Does that mean I should stay away from Netanya, as some of my friends recently suggested to me when I told them I had a meeting there?

I refused their advice, pointing out that there have been bombs and shootings in a dozen cities, and that rocks hurled at passing vehicles have also caused death and injuries. So Israelis have no alternative but to take their chances.

It is not that civilian casualties have been massive. Road accidents claim far more victims than Arab bullets, bombs and rocks. But the psychological damage of the latter is greater.

I can see it in my own family. "I don't know," my wife said this week, "how long I can go on taking the tension, go on worrying about my children and grandchildren. I wish that they — like their cousins in Australia and the United States — didn't have to serve in the army or fear traveling from one place to another."

Both the candidates for prime minister promise that there will be security in the future — in the Galilee, on the road to Jerusalem and everywhere else. Ehud Barak thinks it will be achieved by reaching an agreement with the Palestinians; Ariel Sharon places his trust in a tougher Israeli response to Palestinian violence. It is doubtful whether the one who wins will be able to fulfill his election promise.

A considerable majority of Israelis see no point in Barak's proposals for "painful compromises" if all they bring are more Palestinian demands and increased violence. Among those at least contemplating a vote for the Likud candidate Sharon are people who never in their lives have supported a right-wing leader and may even be afraid of Sharon. But under the circumstances, they can't bring themselves to vote for Barak; and if they gag at the thought of backing his opponent, they may simply abstain.

Voters here want a prime minister who can convince the Arabs and the world that there is a limit to the degree that Israelis can be pushed around — and Barak doesn't seem to be the man to do this. But what hope is there for calmer times with Sharon in office?

My son finds the present situation troubling, even frightening, but from his perspective, "it certainly doesn't make life impossible. Also, to be frank, I can usually choose an alternative route to Jerusalem, even if this means an extra hour on the road each day. And in Jerusalem itself, I can even take taxis if traveling by bus seems too dangerous."

However, he adds, "For people with fewer resources, neither of these possibilities exist." For these individuals and their families, "painful compromises" are not an option.

I'd like to believe that this is a temporary situation. But I'm afraid that this is not the case.