Last night my wife (pictured in occupied Bethlehem a week ago) and I went out to dinner with another couple here in New York. They asked her what she thought of the situation in Israel and Palestine, and I heard what I’d been waiting to hear– the story my wife always produces of an important experience days after the fact.
“The conditions you see there, if they were happening in America, we would never accept them, we would all be up in the hills with guns.
“You go into the West Bank, and the landscape is like the religious pictures I looked at in books growing up, rocky hills and desert and fig trees and low prickly bushes, you feel like these are the hills that Jesus walked going to Jerusalem. It is ageless, and then going back to town you have to take the shitty little roads for the Palestinians with billboards on the side saying US AID because the Palestinians can’t drive on the big Israeli highways. So it takes an hour and a half for Palestinians to get to Jerusalem from Ramallah going all the way round through these checkpoints, but for the Israelis it’s 15 minutes.
“Then there’s this one traffic light where if you’re on the Palestinian road it’s green for 12 seconds and only a few cars get through, and then the light changes and the Israelis get 2 minutes.
“The day before, Phil’s friend took us to the tomb of Samuel, he’s a prophet to both Muslims and Jews, and I went down into the tomb and it was very moving, I was with the Jewish women, and there are inscriptions everywhere and you put your hand on an embroidered cloth over the crypt, and everything is neat and well-lit, and there are tons of Jews worshiping, and then you go up to the Muslim part, two floors above the crypt, and it’s unlit and the door is chained and there’s no one there. You’re just overwhelmed by the unfairness.
“We stayed in East Jerusalem–that’s Palestinian– and you see these big Israeli flags flying on a house where the settlers just decided to come in and throw the Palestinians out of the house, and no one stops them. Then you go past these old Arab houses from before 1948 that the Israelis now live in, and we were driving by a palace and Phil’s friend just goes, ‘Oh that’s a friend of mine’s house, his family has never been back.’ And now it’s an Israeli museum and the family has never been given one cent for it. (Museum of the Seam, pictured below). Phil’s friend is this completely sweet guy and his mother is a professor and the Israelis dumped them out of their house in 1948 and now they live in Jerusalem and they wake up one morning and there are bulldozers in the back yard, taking more of their land to make a road for the settlers.
“We went to Bethlehem (Christmas graffiti, pictured below) and it was the worst. It’s basically a walled city and when you come in and you’re walking around, everyone is selling these olive wood sculptures to the tourists. It’s the most aggressive souvenir culture I’ve ever seen, it’s worse than in Jamaica. It really bugged me at first. They’re pushing these crosses and statues and cups made of this olive wood everywhere, in every doorway for sale, and then you realize that they have no jobs and they can’t get out, this is the only work they can get, so the olive wood is like making license plates in a prison. So at the end I was saying fine, take my money. They treat the Palestinians like animals.”
I was just sitting there listening and nodding. Our friend looked at me and said, “Are you for the two state solution or the one state?”
I started to answer, my usual careful balancing. My wife said:
“I’m for the one-state solution. The Israeli settlements are already all over the occupied territories. And the division is completely unfair. It’s like if there was a will and it said, Ok we get the house– and you get the toilet in the garage.”