A history lesson in Jerusalem

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My wife left Jerusalem two days ago after her first visit here. It meant a lot to me to see this place through her eyes. So what did she think?

She fell in love with Jerusalem and vows to come back here soon. It wasn’t just the antiquity and the architecture, but the spiritual resonance of the place. Jerusalem calls to people whose values are not strictly materialistic. My wife reveled in that. We spent one day in Tel Aviv and she wanted to get out of there quickly. She told me that Jerusalem is in her roster of favorite places in the world, along with Rome, Venice, Mysore, and Antigua Guatemala.

She preferred East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, and Palestinian life in the Old City to the posh, middle-Europe flavor of West Jerusalem. Of course there is a political component to these feelings; she saw the injustice of the political arrangement here, and she took greater interest in the people whose culture is indigenous. She enjoyed the company of Palestinians and European intellectuals, seekers, and eccentrics who flock to East Jerusalem.

She shocked me by saying she would consider converting to Judaism. I am pretty sure it was notional, but she said that she has never been excited by the Christian theology in which she was raised, she prefers a more ancient wisdom tradition, and that tradition is alive here. She loved the western wall and walking through the Jewish Quarter. There was a political component to this declaration. During a conversation with a Zionist friend, my wife was offended that she doesn’t get to register an opinion about Palestine because she’s not in “the club.” She has a mind to join the club so she can speak out.

The conventional wisdom is that Israel/Palestine is a tough place, and my wife shares it. Everywhere you go you sense hostile feeling, and it all comes to a head along the dividing line. “Jerusalem is haunted and tough,” she said.

I said, “It’s always been tough. It’s a jewel of civilization and three religions are focused on it. It’s always been conquered by one power or another, then occupied and ruled. The Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the British, the Jordanians, and now it’s Jewish. I don’t know that this will ever change; and frankly [I channeled Jeffrey Goldberg] maybe this occupation is less oppressive than earlier ones.”

My wife said, “Then you’re giving up hope. This problem can be solved. We’ve seen worse problems solved that people thought would never change. South Africa, and slavery and segregation. Women couldn’t vote in our country till 100 years ago. When our country started, it was all for men. Black people didn’t even count as human beings.”

I wonder what she thinks about the two-state solution, I look forward to discussing this when I get home. I have a feeling she’s for one state, because of the understanding that the Old City is the beating heart of this country, and it cannot be divided or monopolized.

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