Jerusalem — Israel today is outwardly a model of business as usual. The cafés are crowded, buses inch nose-to-tail towards the tourist sites, GDP rose 7.8 percent in the last quarter of last year, the Italian writer Umberto Eco is the star at the Jerusalem Book Fair. This determination to be normal is all the more striking now that revolution is spreading throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and the Middle East of the past century appears to be vanishing. The sense of being on one’s own is part and parcel of the Israeli national psyche. The daily news indicates emerging forces, a new balance of power, but nobody can be sure where, or even whether, Israel fits in. Anything is possible.
Like everybody else, the Israelis have been surprised by the suddenness and extent of this revolution, and the immediate response is to welcome it. The Arab masses — or at least enough of them to fill central city squares — are rebelling against conscienceless dictators who have ignored the interests of everyone except themselves, their families, and those whose loyalties they rely on. The people can be heard calling for freedom and democracy. For a long time, the general consensus has been that peace will be possible only when the Arabs rid themselves of authoritarian rule and Arab states are able to meet Israel on equal terms as democracies. Some Israelis take what is happening at face value, as though the French Revolution of 1789 were dawning all over again and a Golden Age were about to usher in progress and liberation for all.