Yale alums in Middle East reflect on conflict

Janina Frankel-Yoeli ’80 had coffee in a cafe on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv with her husband on March 29, 2002. The next day, a suicide bomber blew himself up in that same cafe, killing one person and injuring 30 more.

“There is a sense that life has become very narrow,” Frankel-Yoeli said. “You try to go only to the places you have to go.”

As the violence in the Middle East has escalated over the past 18 months, about 240 Yale graduates in Israel are encountering every day what the rest of the world sees only in the pages of newspapers and on television screens.

For many Israelis and Palestinians, the current conflict has had a impact on their lives that is impossible to ignore. In countries with populations smaller than that of New York City, many Israelis and Palestinians know victims of the terrorist attacks or recent military campaigns.

Sarah Kreimer ’77 lives two blocks from the cafe bombed on Allenby Street. Kreimer knew someone killed in an attack in Haifa, as well as a soldier who died in the Israeli siege of Ramallah.

Fadia Rafeedie’s LAW ’03 uncle lives in the West Bank with his wife and two toddlers. In mid-March, Rafeedie said, the Israeli army stormed the city of El-Bireh and shattered the glass in the sitting room of her uncle’s house.

The family moved to the basement of the housing complex, but because the home is near Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s complex, the Israeli army was firing missiles into the area, Rafeedie said. The family relocated to a relative’s house in southern Ramallah.

“One night, more than three weeks ago, the army stormed into the house ostensibly looking for weapons (found none), and rounded up my uncle while he was still in his pajamas and slippers, blindfolded and handcuffed him, and effectively abducted him and took him to an unknown location,” Rafeedie wrote in an e-mail.

Currently, Rafeedie’s uncle is being detained without trial for the second time since 1994. His first such detention, Rafeedie said, lasted four years. His family is worried that he will be moved to Ansar III, a prison Rafeedie said is notorious for its inhumane conditions.

According to Frankel-Yoeli, the violence in the West Bank is affecting relations between Jews and Arabs within Israel proper.

Frankel-Yoeli lives in a mostly Arab neighborhood of Jaffa, the southern portion of Tel Aviv. Although she has good relationships with most of her neighbors, she said the tension in her area has been growing.

“Virtually every Arab home in Israel gets satellite television of Arab television stations, most of which are filled with very hard-hitting anti-Israel propaganda,” Frankel-Yoeli said.

The New York Times reported last week that 88 percent of Jewish Israelis polled support Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s recent military incursion into West Bank cities. Orrin Persky ’70 is one if them.

Persky has been living in Israel since he graduated from Yale. He said he moved there because he wanted to take part in building the Israel that he first visited when he was 19 years old. Persky has five children and two grandchildren, all of whom live in Israel.

Persky, who fought with the Israeli military in Lebanon in 1982, considers himself a centrist. Persky said the only way to effectively root out terrorism from the West Bank is to forcibly dismantle the terrorist infrastructure there.

But some alumni in Israel remain staunchly opposed to the current military actions.

Aaron Levin ’43 is the president of the Yale Club of Israel. He has been living in Israel since 1978, and at almost 80 years old says he is the oldest Yale alumnus in the country.

He said he thinks it was shortsighted for the government to invade the West Bank, and that such actions will only lead to more resentment.

“It’s like what Metternich, Napoleon’s Kissinger, said: ‘What’s you’re doing is worse than immoral, it’s stupid,'” Levin said.

But Persky said Israel has acted more responsibly than the United States did in Afghanistan by refraining from bombing the Palestinian cities in order to limit Palestinian civilian casualties — even at the expense of its own soldiers’ lives.

“The U.S. bombed Afghanistan and killed thousands,” Persky said. “We haven’t done that, by giving the blood of our sons and daughters.”

Nonetheless, Rafeedie said the effects of the military campaign have been disastrous for the Palestinians.

“The 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are under siege by Israel’s military occupation forces,” Rafeedie said. “My aunt tells me that over 1,300 women are in her position — bereft of their husbands, who were taken in massive sweeps to concentration camps without trial.”

For Israelis, bombings in the cities have become a part of everyday life.

Frankel-Yoeli’s stepdaughter lives in an area of Jerusalem where bombs go off on a regular basis.

“Every time a bomb goes off in her neighborhood, everyone is frantic,” Frankel-Yoeli said. “This is part of Israeli life — the flurry of phone calls that takes place after every attack to make sure that everyone who is close to you is OK.”

Persky said his American friends ask him if he ever considers moving back to the United States.

“We have never looked back,” Persky said. “Security is the kind of thing that when you run after it, you don’t find it. We think that we have to create our own security, and that’s why we’re here.”

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