The guns are everywhere at this time of peace.
For most Arabs here, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel is infuriating; they see autonomy as a disguise for permanent Israeli occupation.
And so the Israelis more than ever are on alert - for the protesting riot in West Bank Arab towns, for the terrorist bomb planted in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem.
In the Paris airport, Israel-bound passengers are taken into cubicles and frisked. In Rome, they are forbidden to leave the plane - even when it remains on the ground over an hour. "For obvious security reasons," the captain explained. At Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, the first sight is of soldiers with machine guns standing on the landing field.
Sights: A group of touring children are accompanied by a teacher with a machine gun slung over the shoulder. A rabbi on a kibbutz carries the Bible and a rifle as he heads off to teach Hebrew classes. A bus-load of tourists at Qumran, cameras slung around their necks, stare in the hot desert sun at the cave where the Dead Sea scrolls were found - as a young Israeli army escort yawns, bored, his right index finger in the standard position near the machine gun trigger.
At the Eilat airport, coming back from the Red Sea, travelers are asked by security if anyone gave them a gift. "It could look like hair spray," the young woman says, unsmiling, "but it could be a bomb." And on the lonely West Bank road coming back from Galilee, smudge pots glow at checkpoints in the dark.Two soldiers always come up to the car. "Shalom, meaning peace, is spoken softly as one sweeps the car with his eyes and the other holds the gun by the window.
But after a few days, the sight no longer shocks. The Israeli soldiers become as much a part of the landscape as the ancient stones of Jerusalem.
Security is an obsession, but the Israelis tick off their special litany of why it must be. "It is a rule" to have armed guardians because "terrorists in '74 killed 12 kids on a school bus," says a guide at Masada, Herod's mountain fortress.
There were the terrorists who invaded a tour bus on the road from Tel Aviv and killed passengers. Two men gave two young women tourists a present for someone in Israel - and the "present" blew up the plane. The bomb-of-the-week, as the regular terrorist bombs have come to beregarded, was yet to go off in Jerusalem's crowded Zion Square, killing one, the shards of broken glass injuring 13 others.
"Those who suggest we are paranoid - can you see a man sitting in an electric chair, and say, 'This man is paranoid because he is afraid of electricity'? We are sitting on the electric chair - and you say, 'Why are you thinking like that?'" says Rafi Horowitz, a government spokesman for foreign press.
During the two weeks before the peace treaty signing, the papers, the radio, the talk on the streets, is of peace. From Arabs, from Jews. there is hopeful talk, doubtful talk, spoken without joy. They speak from a deep well of distrust and suspicion and experience. One Israeli says, "We are opti-pessimistic or pessi-optimistic, whichever you want to use."
Oil and Independence
Israel is the smallest of countries - the Golan Heights is but two hours drive from Jerusalem; Tel Aviv is 45 minutes. Every one has a story to tell of a friend or relative who died fighting for it. Some 11,000 have died since 1948 and 12,000 died in wars before that.
The only real peace most Palestinians say they will accept is independence, but the idea of giving back the West Bank is an anathema to most Israelis. "The last thing I want to see is another Arab country between us and Jordan," says one member of a moderate Israeli party.
"And what of the oil? I'm afraid of onne thing. When Israel gives back the oil fields in the Sinai, then what happens if there is a shortage and the United States cannot guarantee oil to Israel?"
Indeed, Israelis have been used to so many negatives in world politics that they easily flip a positive into a negative. The treaty, shrugs one Israeli, means having "only one less border to fight on."
But another says: "We've tried war forever - so now we should give peace a try."
"Come, please," beckons one of the young Arabs who stand ever alert to the prospect of making a dollar or two from a tourist who asks the way. "I will show you," he says when asked how to reach Via Dolorosa, Christendom's most sacred road, the path on which Christ carried the cross to his crucifixion.
The Arab quarter of Jerusalem's Old City takes one back into biblical times - donkeys and Arabs in flowing head-dress, stalls with mammoth vegetables, whole hanging lambs and the smell of Turkist coffee. Twisted mazes of stone steps and alleys. But modern times intrude: disco records and Coca-Cola. T-shirts with slogans in English, Arabic and Hebrew are hawked, and menorahs and crucifixes coexist on the shelves of an Arab vendor.
"You Christian?" asks the Arab as he points out the Stations of the Cross. To simplify, the woman says yes. How could she explain it all? She had heard the casual antisemitism of Midwestern Christians and learned "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" at Methodist Bible school. Now she is walking through the streets of Jerusalem iwth her husband - raised an Orthodox Jew, whose grandmother fled the sword-wielding Cossacks and knew only Yiddish.
It is she who cries, standing with her 12-year-old daughter by Jerusalem's tiny garden of flowers which is dedicated to the children who died in the Holocaust. It is she who is overwhelmed at the sight of the Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall, as she stands there with her Bar Mitzvahed son. But she says only "yes" to the Christian question.
The barbed wire that separated Arabs and Jews and kept the Jews from worshipping at the Wailing Wall was removed 12 years ago. Religion is still the complex catalyst of fury in this city destroyed many times over in the name of the sacred. Holy wars of small proportion are played out daily.
Mike Asman, the guide, is 20 and has lived in these twisting corridors all his life. "In 1967 I am small and I see the fight. I see Jewish people in the Old City with guns. Mother, she afraid." He has one Jewish friend, so close that "he spend the night at my home."
He says the Israelis will have to give back the West Bank: "If they do not, we will not have peace."
He asks the man and woman if they would like to see the Dome of the Rock, the gold-domed Mosque built by Caliph Omar after the capture of Jerusalem in 637. She nods yes, and soon they are winding through Asman's shortcut in even narrower alleys. The stalls are no longer there. The tourists have disappeared. the Moslems have just been called to prayer and all the houses are shuttered and silent.
Asman tells of the trouble there the day before. A small riot began and the Arabs "stoned a Jewish man. He was trying to pray on the Mount. We want Jews to look, not pray."
Now, deep in the Arab quarter, she looks down the street and knows a sudden fear. Irrational, she tells herself. Down the steps are about 50 young Arabs, some holding rocks. They are not letting a car pass. She stops.
Asman beckons: "It's okay. You Christian. Please, come." She says, in a small voice, "But my husband is Jewish." Asman looks behind up the stairs to the husband and childre. There is an almost imperceptible narrowing of the eyes - a reappraisal.
"No matter," says Asman. "I get you through. I know these men. They are my friends."
Feeling immensely foolish, and yet too scared to go further, she says no, and turns to move back up the stairs.
The sudden fear Asman sees in this foolish American woman's eyes causes him to up the ante. He holds out his hand. "That be $10 for you," then looking at the husband, who has been trailing too far behind to hear any of this, "and $10 for your husband."
It was, of course, no place to argue.
After winding through a labyrinth, they suddenly come upon the entrance to the Wailing Wall from the Moslem quarters. In the time it takes to cross Connecticut Avenue, it is like being in a different land. Several khaki-clad soldiers, some wearing yarmulkes, guard the entrance. They are strikingly young. It is mandatory that they join the army at 18 for three years. But many look barely 14.
Now instead of hundreds of Arabs, one lone Arab, hurrying through, is checked closely.
Behind is the Jewish quarter, gleamingly new, picked clean of its antiquity by wars. Much was destroyed in the fires that billowed there in 1948 and again in 1967.
The scene at the Western Wall of Solomon's temple, destroyed in 70 A.D., the most sacred place in the world to religious Jews, is almost surreal. The Wall has been in Jewish hands since 1967 - for the first time in 2,000 years. Ultra-Orthodox Chassidim, the youngest of boys wearing long payis or side curls, the men in black frocks, prayer shawls and round hats, bob up and down and lean into the wall.
Women are separated by a partition, and they too keen and mumble their prayers.A soldier rests his forehead and one arm on the wall as he prays. The other hand holds a machine gun.
The facade of huge uneven stones reaches about 75 feet high. The lower portion has been polished to an alabaster sheen by the caresses of thousands of hands, lips and foreheads. In the crevices between the stones are thousands of scraps of paper - paper prayers to God. Ofter the prayer is for peace. Birds chirp in the sunlight as eyes follow up to the sky and the Israeli flag. Next to it stands a sentry with a machine gun.
Twice in two weeks, Jews and Arabs have collided in rock-throwing incidents near the wall. But it has more to do with fanaticism than unrest over the peace treaty. Mike Asman, the Arab, does not know the name of the man whose supporters were involved on both occasions - but the Jews do. He is Meir Kahane, head of the radical Jewish Defense League, whose followers, for reasons inexplicable to other Jews, wanted to pray on land near the mosque, which is sacred to both Arabs and Orthodox Jews.
"He is a troublemaker," says one disgusted Israeli soldier. It is a week after the first stoning, and the second is about to begin.
The entrance from the Wailing Wall to the Temple Mount is blocked by soldiers. Peering through the entrance, a jammed milling crowd is visible - with staves, iron bars and stones.
(The Jerusalem Post will later report that 2,000 Arab youths had gathered inside against the possibility of Kahane's supporters or yeshiva students trying to pray on Temple Mount, and that the Arab youths subsequently closed the area to all but Moslems.
(Some Arab youths, the Post will report, climbed high on the turrets of the city's old walls. Seeing 20 yeshiva students walking toward the gate, and suspecting that they were going to pray there, the youths hurled stones down from the walls above.)
Now down the sloping path from the gate come three Israeli soldiers, two of them holding onto a young Arab who is perhaps 16. He is crying, and as they start to put him in a truck, he pulls back. One of the soldiers slaps him across the face. About 20 other soldiers are standing around. Some jeer. As the police take him, an Israeli soldier from Poland talks of how the youth threw a large stone and makes a gesture about the blood and wound it caused.
The wounded man is in first aid, says a soldier. "He could have heen killed." Asked what would happen to the youth, the soldier said the the police would "probably keep him overnight." His face is impassive. "If it were up to to me, I'd shoot him."
A vistor is assaulted by a flood of conflicting emotions. The nationalism and ingenuity of the Israelis are as stirring as their role as occupiers is troubling.
Plaestinians have sometimes been moved to squalid refugee camps. Car and taxi licenses are coded so that one can tell at a glance an Arab from a Jewish taxi, a West Bank car from an Israeli car.
One West Bank Arab town has been under curfew for two weeks since a rock-throwing incident. People are allowed out of their homes only one hour a day. Journalists are kept from interviewing these people, as they would be in any police state.
The Israelis are bitter and sensitive over United States press accounts of alleged torture of Arabs detained on suspicion of terrorism. One cab driver, born in the year of independence he proudly tells you, speaks of being a paratrooper in the Yom Kippur war. "We started with 45 boys and three days later, ended with 22. I do not have to tell you what the Arabs do to you with their knives if they catch you."
Despite the hostility, in daily negotiations, there are some communal exchanges and tradeoffs. In Bethlehem, a Jewish taxi driver hands over his sightseers to an Arab guide. The Arab knows all about Texas, he says as he not too subtly guides clients to his brother's trinket shop after a quick tour of the church built over the manger site. As the tourists wait impatiently, the Jewish taxi driver speaks in Arabic and drinks Turkish coffee with his Arab compatriots.
One employe at the five-star King David Hotel, with its kosher food and Jewish clientele, says, "Some of the Arabs who work here even take Jewish first names. They even date some of the Jewish girls from America. Those girls never know that they are dating Arabs."
Dancing in the Streets
On the eve of the peace signing, Jerusalem, that special fortress high on the hill, glows in the moonlight. All the centuries of sacking and pillaging and blood-letting seem forgotten. Workmen are putting up bleachers for the next day's celebration and for ceremonies when Begin returns from Washington.
The night of the signing there is dancing in the streets and more joy than in the days leading up to the signing. But it is nothing like '48, recalls one woman, as if it were yesterday. "There was real dancing in the streets then. We were up all night, singing and laughing - even though we knew the next day we would be at war."
Much of this country is a memorial to the dead - "to remind" - from the Holocaust museum to a West Bank memorial made of old burned-out tanks.
In some ways, the prospect of peace means trying to forget, not remember; it is a journey into the unknown.
One Israeli says: "I hate to say it but Israelis in a time when we are not at war are - how you say? - egoists? Each one for himself. But in war you find the true Israeli. Everyone is kind, everyone cooperates and pitches in and helps one another."
Abba Eban, a member of the Knesset and former ambassador to he United States, talks of the ramifications of peace.
"Conflict has been the sustaining myth of the Israeli society" - though Israelis prefer its absence. He says conflict has forced Israel to find sophisticated solutions to its problems, to develop its own internal commercial system and to make sacrifices: "In fact, you might say, if the conflict has helped us to be strong and cohesive, how are we going to live without it?"
Another member of a moderate Israeli political party said, looking across from the King David to the Old City: "Peace? We don't KNOW what is peace." CAPTION: Picture 1, The uniformed presence at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, by Yossi Hadar; Picture 2, Praying at the Wailing Wall, by Yossi Hadar