Friday, January 26, 2007

Israel and Palestine and Jimmy Carter's Book

In the Spring and Summer of 1998 I whiled away hot afternoons in the tony suburbs of Tel Aviv, the night clubs and beaches there with Israelis and Americans on vacation. I stayed in Jerusalem's Old City, in the Arab Quarter, and walked out through Damascus Gate to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, where I was invited to a school and sat in on a class with schoolchildren and their teachers. I also travelled to the West Bank town of Ramallah, visiting its hospital and the Al Amari refugee camp there.

I dined with Israeli Holocaust survivors, smoked with Israeli teenagers, and stayed with Israeli families whose children had all moved to the US to get their piece of America. I also dined with Palestinians who were born in Ramallah, and who had raised children for twenty years in the US before returning to the West Bank to build businesses with American-backed loans in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords.

I travelled through Gaza, crossed at Rafah, and continued on through the Sinai by bus to Cairo with both Israelis and Arabs. I saw what occurs when crossing those borders with people from both sides, and the great disparity of water use between the green farms of Southern Israel and the brown desolation of Gaza.

I talked to American Jewish proselytizers at the Western Wall, transplants from Brooklyn or Manhattan, waving their Torahs in my face. I walked the Old City's narrow streets and watched as West Bank citizen settlers, armed with American military rifles, swaggered their way back outside the gates, harassing Arab market workers, kicking over their apple carts, and generally behaving as only armed thugs above the law can behave. I saw the disgust on normal Israelis' faces at this conduct, as well as the cowering fear on the Arab faces at their feet.

I was verbally assaulted by Arab guides at the Dome of the Rock, who called me "rubbish and trash" and "a spy" for not giving them any money simply to be there.

I was accidentally caught in the middle of the annual confrontation on Shavout, when religious Jews stream through Damascus Gate by the thousands, back toward their neighborhood after morning prayers at the Western Wall -- fourteen-year-old Jews trading insults, rocks, broken bottles, and punches with Arabs of the same stripe.

I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian. I am an anonymous American who simply sought some firsthand observations in this conflict by going and meeting people on both sides. My visit was in 1998 — the year without any suicide bombings, when there was hope on both sides that some kind of functional co-existence could be achieved. Even still, the scenes I saw there will always remind me that Jerusalem is a place full of hatred.

I direct MY enmity toward the absolute injustices perpetrated here by the governments involved, not toward either of the peoples. My voice, however, I'm sure will remain my own, because as it is crystal clear to me that Jimmy Carter essentially approaches the truth of the matter in his recent book, it is also clear why there exists such quibbling and delusional criticism of his work — moneyed interests combined with religious zealotry, both here in the U.S. and in Israel.