By PETER NOLAN
For Israel, a third of whose population is Arab, withdrawal on the Egyptian front, even if followed by agreement with Syria, can hold no promise of permanent peace.
On my second visit to the country as a guest of the Israeli Government last month, I found the mood of many of those I met depressed and apprehensive — in sharp contrast to the buoyant confidence experienced there after the Six Day War in 1967.
One soldier just hack from Jordan said he expected another war, if not in a few months, then in about five years. National confidence has not been helped by British and French trade negotiations with Arab countries since the oil embargo.
Our tour of the country — in a Mercedes which was part of the continuing German reparation repayments— revealed few signs of war.
In Jerusalem. the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, formerly crumbling because the many Christian denominations sharing it could not agree about its repair, is almost totally and very tastefully restored.
At the Sion Convent, whose community was founded by two Jewish converts with the aim of improving Jewish-Christian relations, the lithostratos, or pavement, on which Jesus may have stood as Pilate sentenced him, is well preserved.
Two other Jerusalem sites which impressed me were the egg-shaped "Shrine of the Book" containing .beautifully displayed parts of the Qumran Scrolls, and the Yad Vashem Memorial Shrine. perhaps the most emotionally disturbing display in a city that the psalmists called the "Light of the World."
The memorial contains a pictorial record of what the Nazi regime and its quislings did to six million Jews. There are. photographs of naked women about to he shot, of mutilated bodies of children after Nazi medical "experiments."
It is an illustration of what Christian Europe was capable of, and the source of the negative side of the inspiration for the re-establishment of a Jewish State. I was surprised to see that this "X" certificate display was open even to young children.
Since the Israeli acquisition of the whole west coast of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth can no longer he described as the deadest. Beside the
newly-built road the' soil is literally being washed free of salt with water pumped from underground wells and springs.
The soil. sterile for centuries. is already yielding crops of purple egg plants and green courgettes, with fruit trees taking root --behind barriers protecting them from the saltladen winds.
The work is being done by Nahal settlements. where young men spend the third year of their compulsory military service and we saw them, their guns temporarily laid aside, tilling the soil.
Apart from the longestablished phosphate industry. the mineral-rich waters have made the Dead Sea a health spa, and impressive new hotels have sprung up in the last few years to cater for the trade —which is encouraged, we were assured, by the highest medical authorities.
In Cialilee, below the Golan heights, we Mere shown the
hunker homes the settlers resorted to during 19 years of sporadic Syrian shelling. We sampled the large and bony St. Peter's fish, unique to Galilee.
The sea. now known as Lake Kinneret, is used to irrigate the Negev Desert through 200 miles of pipeline.
The recently completed Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth is an impressive structure. the dome modelled on an inverted lily, flower of the Holy Family.
The Church contains Marian mozaics donated from all over the %, odd, including the Polish Virgin of Czestochowa and Our Lady of Walsingham. The lovely ceramic Stations of the Cross have inscriptions only in Arabic, and our Israeli guide had to hand over to a Christian Arab one when we made the visit.
The vast majority of Christians in Israel are Arabs. and 1 have noticed before, visiting Catholic shrines with a parts from the kibbutz I V■ oiked
on in 1967, that we were made to feel almost trespassers. The incredible six-point notices outside the ruins of Capernitum and in Jaffa, owned by Italian Franciscans. warning against unnecessary shouting and the like. are also unique.
To some Jews, Catholicism is "the murder religion." It would surely he a good idea if the friars made some attempt to explain the significance of their shrines to the population of the land they are in. The hostility one experiences towards an Israeli group is quite chilling. The Convent of Sion has run courses in Arabic for Jews and in I lebrew for Arabs, with some success. There are also a number of ecumenical ventures, but these. like the ecumenical college at -lantur, seem limited to the intelligentsia.
A prominent quality of life in modern Israel is its abrasiveness. The. country has been at war since it was founded in 1948. and the niceties of
civilisation have suffered a little.
People can be curt, without meaning to be rude and if, for example, you presume Israeli drivers share the same respect for pedestrian crossings as British, your illusion is not likely to last long.
Life is no picnic there, the war effort making the Israeli the most highly taxed citizen in the world. The cheapest car costs about £2,000 and holidays abroad are subject to the payment of a hefty levy and tax on your air ticket. All work a five and a half day week and last year the cost of living shot up by year
Arabs are second-class citizens. even more than Catholics in Northern Ireland before the end of Stormont.
On January 17, a small item in the Jerusalem Post, Israel's English newspaper, recorded that near Nablus "another house was blown up by security forces this week.
"It was the fourth building in the district to he destroyed in a two-week period. It belonged to Attallah Abdullah Ismail, who was arrested a month ago on suspicion of belonging to a hostile organisation."
A Foreign Office official informed us that Israeli policy about the "administered" territories is that "all is negotiable." One hopes so.
There is no such thing as the average Israeli, though almost half the population have now been horn in the country. They are from many different countries, and if you praise, say. a Moroccan to a European Jew, you will be quickly told they have only just stopped living in caves and are pretty handy with a knife.
The Rumanians, who have a, reputation for dishonesty, are a favourite butt of jokes. We were told of the man returning from Beersheba, "Town of the Seven Wells," who referred to it as "Town of the Six Wells." Told there was no such place, he replied: "There is now — the Rumanians have moved in and they took the seventh."
Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar, in Galilee, was packed with troop when we dined there. Pretty girls, many of them new immigrants. darted about serving the soldiers with a speed and efficiency money cannot buy. Behind me, a young American in Reservist's uniform, explained how he felt he had never quite fitted anywhere until he came to Israel two years ago.
Many there had had comrades killed. some of them after being made prisoner, in the recent fighting on the Golan Heights. But the essential atmosphere was one of cheer and hopefulness. There may be another war and another and another. But the People of God have come home to stay.