Crossing into Israel: ‘two highly-charged narratives’

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Yesterday my wife and I left Jordan and entered Israel at the southern border crossing, Aqaba-Eilat. We were in the Israeli baggage inspection hall when my wife said, “Who’s that handsome guy?”

On the wall was a very large black-and-white photograph from the 1940s of a young Israeli with a strong chin and light hair, alongside a darkhaired laughing woman. To the left of that photo was an older photograph of a happy jumping boy, and to its right, pictures of a soldier, a general walking through Jerusalem during the 1960s, and a full-on official portrait of Yitzhak Rabin in his 40s, when he was chief of staff.

I remembered that the crossing is the Yitzhak Rabin crossing. I told my wife who he was. She looked at the uncaptioned photographs of him getting his cigarette lit by King Hussein and standing with Bill Clinton, and the photograph of him as an old man with Leah Rabin, the woman in the second picture, in their house, likely months before his assassination.

My wife’s face was flushed. “I find this very moving,” she said.

When we were waiting for the cab a half hour later (getting through was a breeze, in spite of all my apprehensions), I asked what had upset her. She said, “I get the story, and it’s compelling. You can see it all there. You see him when he’s young and with that beautiful woman and so full of hope to save his people. They were being slaughtered in Europe and here he is in this rough tough land and trying to make a place for them. I’m moved by that. The world was all culpable in what happened. So I think I just clicked into the two-state solution.”

I nodded and didn’t say much. (It would have been preachy to tell her about Rabin’s role in ethnic cleansing Lydda in ’48.) The main reason I wanted to bring my wife here is that I trust her judgment so much and wanted her unfiltered impressions of a place I’ve been very judgmental about.

We got a bus in Eilat to go to Jerusalem via the Dead Sea, a 4-1/2 hour trip through the Negev and then the occupied West Bank. You don’t really know when you enter the occupied territories. Near Qumran, where a Bedouin boy found the Dead Sea Scrolls, we rumbled without pausing through a small checkpoint and I’m pretty sure that’s when we entered the territories. We didn’t see any Palestinians, there were no Palestinians on the bus. We were surrounded by an American or two on cell phones, and several young and slightly slothful Israeli kids, one carrying only a pillow to stretch out across the back seats with. They were indifferent to Masada, indifferent to the Dead Sea scrolls; and I could see how they normalize the occupation. There’s nothing to see. Now and then some Bedouin shacks near the road, but mostly you’re on a superhighway with a lot of fancy cars headed for Tel Aviv, and passing by settlements and countless signs for Ahava factories, the beauty products line that mines Palestinian lands for international profit. 

So the 3 million Palestinians living around you are tucked safely out of sight, and then you come under the extended fortress that is Ma’ale Adumim, the settlement of 35,000 people or so on hills far east of Jerusalem, and after that it’s East Jerusalem and the naked structure of separation is more apparent.

You see the wall curving down past Abu Dis, separating a neighborhood that is supposed to be the capital of the Palestinian state from any connection to the Old City and its religious and commercial life. You see the new modern highway that the Israelis are building so that the occupied Palestinians can get from the north West Bank to the south West Bank without having anything to do with Israelis in settlements. You see Israeli roads built right alongside Palestinian roads with a high wall in between them. You see the wall. You understand why liberal Zionist Charney Bromberg, who loves Israel, came back from his last visit after a tour of the West Bank and said with torment that it reminded him of apartheid. Myself I was struck by the desire to keep the Jews and the Palestinians apart and drive the Palestinians away.  

At dinner I asked my wife what she thought and she said, “There are two highly charged narratives, right alongside one another.”

I’m glad she’s here. I know that she’s right, that there is a compelling story to be told about that belief in Israel, but it feels historical to me; and when it was my turn, I told her my impression of the ride through the occupied territories. They have always wanted land and now they are taking much of the rest of it. You see why some people have given up on the idea of the two state solution. There’s no place for the Palestinians to even have a state, because the Israelis will never give up any of that real estate that we saw on this trip– the Ahava factories and the hilltops and the water and the roads.

“And that’s why some people are for a one state solution. Because it’s all under one state’s control right now. And then everyone would get to vote on the leadership, Palestinians and Jews.”

My wife said, “Why would someone be against that?”

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