The Election in Israel
The election in Israel this morning, Tuesday, is a place that especially speaks to me and brings me much sadness, frustrations, and not a little anger. Netanyahu publicly came out saying he would not allow a “two state solution”, that is– he would never allow an independent Palestinian State.
Most people don’t understand the beginnings of Israel, even less the facts that Jews and Arabs lived in a mutual respect once back in the 1930’s. Most people also don’t know that it was the Water War that started the hostilities we are seeing in every increasing border wars. Originally, because the Jews in Israel needed water and Syria blocked any chance they could have to create a water route, the border skirmishes, long ago were about what was later called “The Water Wars”. Only Transjordan would allow the Israelis to have access to the abundant water wadis.. But Transjordan had the old city under their military control in (1963, the era of my novel _no Jew was allowed passage into the ancient city, not to the Wailing Wall or other Jewish holy sites, and not to the Jewish graves on Mt. Scopus where my own grandfather is buried.
I am not good at expressing my feelings in non-fiction or essays so I very much want to offer the last few paragraphs of the novel I wrote called “Edges. “Edges” tells a story of a young American girl, Liana, taken by her native Palestinian mother’s birthplace during the Cold War. These years were right before the 1967 war in when Israel captured old Jerusalem and began the refugee issues that still are a haunting violence between two groups, Muslim and Jewish, who, during her mother’s time in Palestine, were once working together in business, living together as neighbors,
The question of why we write looms again large in my mind. I wrote “Edges” thinking all this Palestinian/Israeli history was not known by the world at large and now reading about the current election it feels like the historical context has been buried for good. Apologies if this sounds arrogant on my part, my own mother’s Palestinian family goes back to my great-great grandparents in Jerusalem and my grandfather, thinking business would restore old Jerusalem into cooperation between Muslim and Jewish families started the first department store in ancient Jerusalem in the 1920’s. His brother, Reuben, brought over the first “primus”, a small stove, to sell to the people of Jerusalem. Before and under the British Mandate except for some fanatic Islam groups and fanatic Zionist Jewish groups, the neighboring Jews and Muslim families lived in peace and mutual accord with one another. Business interests and doings like my grandfather brought them together as partners,
I wanted to share a part of Edges, which, I think expresses Liana’s bewilderment at the modernization of Israel in the 1980’s. Where she had run away and lived in secret with a lover in 1963, on the West Bank, she now sees only a faint shadow of what was once TransJordan and Israel.. In the novel, she witnesses an innocent Arab boy killed in crossfire between the Arab and Israeli militia. All he was doing was climbing a tree in a vacant spot on the West Bank. This truly was the symbol I used to create the horror of the contemporary divide between Palestinians and Israel now.
This section I hope brings some fictional life to these ideas and memories. Liana, struggles to understand the modernization of the city she had loved so dearly, Jerusalem.
From Edges, O Israel, O Palestine:
“IN 1986, I WENT BACK TO ISRAEL WITH MY HUSBAND. I wanted to show him the land that had formed me. My mother lived in New York City by then, but she went back every few years to visit Doda Esther and attend various occasions with her old friends. Jerusalem had been cold that February day.
My husband and I took a sherut from Ben-Gurion airport, following the glistening route which passed new- sprung Jewish settlements and towns full of jerrybuilt apartment houses. New gray buildings were everywhere, renovations in progress—teams of back hoes and bulldoz- ers lay in wet mud. Israeli checkpoints were now bullet- proof closures with reinforced steel doors.
The highway through the Judean Hills was unrecog- nizable, except for the rusted tanks and Fords from the War of Independence that were still cradled in heaps of shrubs and rocks. The sky that morning looked bruised by the lowering winter clouds, my mother was no longer here to enchant the stonescape and clay; the lavender was dark. Soon, the gardens of Jerusalem appeared outside our window; crocuses and Jerusalem roses drowned in floods of thawing ice. The air was raw and cruel, scratchy, the biting wind didn’t flag, and there had been more rainfall than the land could soak in. Vapors fumed from the sodden fields, drenched city benches. Some blue Arabic villages lay behind blocked hillocks on the West Bank, closed-off, their rickety watchtowers overlooking the barren soil I remem- bered. The borders were marked only by yellow warning road signs in English, Hebrew, and Arabic which pointed towards Jordan.
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The monastery still existed somewhere, I believed, in the far away, impoverished vista of limestone and dust. I brushed my hand against the window to clear a vision of a ravaged distant land.
Entering the center of the new city, a light snow began to fall. The snowflakes looked like mixed salt and pow- der. The old tailor shop and one pharmacy were deserted hovels in rubble, the places I remembered walking with my mother to buy toothpastes that smelled like lemons and aspirin pills the size of playing dice. The harsh metal- lic feel I remembered in the Jerusalem air was gone, the snow melted in the sand and stone heaps, it drizzled into the abandoned alleys, a white liquid painting shapes and ghostly forms. I sank into my seat, wondering if it would have turned out different for me had I known long ago what the war for the water would become. If I had known the border skirmishes as different than the rage and struggle inside me. Would I have decided to go to the Israeli police station instead, in my old army shorts and sandals, report- ing the death I still saw in my night dreams with the young Arab’s face? He had my own face back then, my physical confusions, my formlessness. Soldiers in olive uniforms still guarded the bus stops with heavy rifles. They walked in groups on the new sidewalks now, clicking against each other. It was rush hour on King George Street. The boule- vard was filling with cars and red buses. Lines of Israelis were forming at the kiosks to buy lotto tickets, municipal parking tickets, chewing gum, and stamps.
Ahead, the King David Hotel shone as if rebuilt into polished white steel.
My eyes blinked, spotting a Thai restaurant in a strip of modern boutiques.
…I tried to remember it as it had been to me in 1963—a geography, undifferentiated, hungry for definition, wanting water. I peered out at the dun-colored terrain, at all the bor- ders and boundaries still so explosive and fragile. The view towards Jordan was obstructed as it was from my aunt’s room upstairs, apartment houses in the way of my vision. “