In Israel, bumper stickers arent just for cars anymore

Some people collect bottle caps. Or baseball cards, stamps, T-shirts, telephone calling cards. Israelis collect bumper stickers.

They stick them on their shirts, their caps, foreheads, baby carriages, briefcases and pocketbooks — and then on their cars. On the windows, the doors, and on the bumpers.

Israel is a bumper sticker society.

Nearly everyone in the country has at least one, if not two or 20 stickers, plastered on their cars or vans. Even official business and company cars, city buses and taxis are adorned with bumper stickers. I have even seen them on police cars.

The Israeli bumper sticker is much like the political button was in the '60s and early '70s in America. I remember I used to wear a jacket covered with buttons such as "Save Soviet Jewry" and "Russia Isn't Safe for Jews & Other Living Things." Others were in Hebrew, like the blue-and-white button adorned with the peace sign, proclaiming "Shalom." My friends and I even wore classic peace buttons. We were cool. We had buttons with smiles and buttons boasting the faces of political candidates. And then there were the buttons announcing to the world that the wearer had made a donation at a blood drive. Even before the term was coined, buttons served to announce the wearer's political correctness.

That's the way it is in Israel today — only with bumper stickers. Every sticker has a message. Some are profound, others poetic. Some are simple and come straight to the point. Some turn a phrase, while others are downright insulting.

Bumper stickers are dispensed by teens, often wearing T-shirts carrying the same message as the bumper sticker, at street corners and busy intersections. It's a dangerous occupation, and not just because the stickers are usually political in nature. Israeli drivers drive quickly. But when you're stopped at a traffic light or stuck in traffic, they've got you. Bumper stickers are stuck on the car at your request, most of the time. What is unusual is that these modern-day town criers won't just hand you a sticker, they insist on attaching it to your car themselves. I guess they don't want their message falling into the wrong hands.

The most popular and often the most powerful bumper stickers are slogans that are reworked and reworded, parodied and spun and then take on a life of their own.

The best and by far the most famous of these slogan/bumper stickers originated during the eulogy that President Clinton delivered on the White House lawn after hearing the news that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. In a moment of poignancy that reverberated around the world, Clinton bid farewell to his good friend and partner for peace by saying, simply, in Hebrew, "Shalom Chaver, " (Goodbye My Friend.) Those words live on in a variety of themes and variations, political responses and rebukes that are as emotionally charged today as they were on the day they were first spoken.

Within hours, cars throughout Israel carried the message. It was the bumper sticker du jour. For a few moments, at least, the country was united. Then came an Israeli version of road rage, waged through bumper sticker warfare.

At first, "Shalom Chaver" was transformed into "Chaver, Ata Haser," ("Friend, You Are Missed"). A simple statement, but in Israel, a political statement. It continued. The next version to attain bumper sticker status read "Chaver, Ani Zocher," ("Friend, I Remember"). These bumper stickers can still be seen on Israeli cars.

Another popular bumper sticker theme revolves around the use of the term "Ha'am," a form of ("We, The People"). This genre gained prominence with the sticker "Ha'am im HaGolan" ("The People Are With the Golan"). Three simple words conveying the message that the body politic supports the residents of the Golan Heights and rejects territorial compromise with Syria.

This, too, has its spin-offs. And one of the more famous Hebron stickers is "Ha'am im Hevron," ("The People Are With Hebron"). These are, obviously, political slogans of the right.

But in Israel, a theme can easily swing from one side of the spectrum to the other. The Ha'am theme has made its way, very effectively, into the vernacular of the left. Today's bumper stickers proclaim "Ha'am Rotzeh Shalom," ("The People Want Peace"). In essence, these cars are voting with their wheels.

The dialogue continues. One sticker has bullet holes in it, and reads, "Clinton Pressures, Arafat Shoots and Barak Crumbles." The signature shouts, "Barak is Destroying the Country." It was immediately countered with a bumper sticker proclaiming "Barak, We Are With You."

The people of the book have become the people of the bumper sticker. One look at your chosen slogans and immediate assumptions can be made about your lifestyle and voting patterns, not to mention your driving habits.

But we are in Israel, and all bumper stickers are not political; some also advocate morality and responsibility. The most famous of these bumper sticker/quotes is from the Bible: "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself." It's either a kind thought or a messianic dream. And social reformers have also taken up the tradition. The campaign against violence, for instance, now has bumper stickers shouting, "Don't Raise Your Fists: Fight Violence." In fact, I saw one on the back of a police van as it was rousting some young men the other day.

So what bumper stickers adorn my car? Well, I just installed a new muffler, so for now, I am advertising quiet on the roads.