Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian territories through a month of trial. And today: from the family home to Hamas valley.
Saturday begins with a visit to my folks. They live in an outlaying eastern suburb of Tel Aviv named Ganei Tikva. From their 13th floor window a huge chunk of central Israel can be viewed: from Tel Aviv’s rich-only towers to the troubled region of Bil’in across the Green Line. In the middle of the tableau is the airport, our way to escape from all this, and also our gate of return.
And we do return, because we love the family. Here’s my sister Tamar and her boyfriend Ari with the children of my other sister, Michal, and her husband Noam.
My parents own an unusual piece of furniture, kept in their home since the days we all lived in Jerusalem. It’s made up of tiles of the sort one finds attached to doors of private homes around these parts. During the 1970s and ’80s, everyone in Jerusalem, whether Jewish, Palestinian or foreigner, would buy their door tiles from the Armenian Balian family, whose workshop is situated not far from Damascus Gate. The Balians have a long history of decorating tiles in traditional Armenian fashion, but even experts make mistakes. Whenever a typo would occur, the tile in question would be added to a display of flawed tiles, from which customers could pick a pattern.
When my father noticed the display and asked whether it was for sale, Mr Balian told him: “Don’t take the one with errors, I’ll make you one without errors.” It is precisely the errors, however, that make this into such a treasure, from mismatched Hebrew and Arabic names to more historical stuff. Author David Grossman, for one, spells his first name with a “yod.”
My parents made the display into a coffee table. Around this object infused with the spirit of Jerusalem and with unintended humor, we sit for coffee and what is destined to be a difficult conversation. My parents are still angry at me for the act that led to my arrest near Hebron: Walking through territory “swarming” with people who seek to mercilessly disgorge me. At the same time, I myself am cross with them for making me feel like a 15 year old.
Miraculously, the issue isn’t raised at all, and thus I avoid divulging the fact of my invitation for police interrogation in Qiryat Arba tomorrow. Conflict, however, seems unavoidable. We end up arguing about the tent struggle and the committee put together by Netanyahu in response to it.
My father puts trust in this committee, while most members of the younger generation do not. He also comes to the defense of the Ofer Brothers’ company, a conglomerate that suffered many of the protesters’ arrows. It now surfaces that the Ofer Brothers were helpful to the Mossad, sailing their cargo ships into Iranian ports in defiance of an embargo in order to transport and rescue Israeli agents. The rest of us think this too meager a price for what the Ofers got in return, namely: The majority of Israel’s natural resources and previously state-owned chemical industries and shipping line, which were all sold to them for a fraction of their monetary worth.
In this country, security interests justify everything, including the paving of an “Israeli only” road, running through the heart of the West Bank, the one which carries us east after lunch.
To be fair, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered that this road be open to limited Palestinian transportation, whereby my tax money quickly constructed a heavy duty checkpoint on each converging road, making travel such a hassle for Palestinians that their presence here is sure to remain extremely limited. I’ve never personally seen any Palestinian car on Route 443.
We are taking this road to Ramallah. If I get a serious warning tomorrow at my interrogation, travel into Area A will become even more unwise, so Ruthie and I take a chance and head for a spin on the wild side. September is still going on, and this travelogue can’t be limited to one side of the line. Not yet.
First we reach Ramallah’s buzzing downtown,
…which is decorated with the flags of full-fledged UN members, as well as with countless bilboards advertising Fatah’s UN initiative.
We don’t stop here, though. Ruthie has a dream: to visit the ancient city of Nablus, 50 kilometers to the north. Nablus is the stronghold of Hamas in the West Bank, and is the frequent target of IDF incursions. While all of this interests my adventerous girl, she’s also going there to explore another issue: stuffed chicken.
Nablus is known as the culinary capital of Palestine, which is enough of a reason to take a rickety bus through surreal Samaria, where settlers mark Palestinian houses as warnings of doom,
And tiny amusement parks grace the hillsides.
Nablus is beautiful. Sandwiched dramatically between two steep ridges, the Biblical mountains of Grizim and Ebal, it receives us with the drama of vertical urbanity,
with its magnificent, endless qasba,
with old fashioned shops such as this spice den, all of them offering fantastic goodies, be it state-of-the-art halva to dream coffee,
and finally, with good conversation. At a small shopping passage near the bus terminal we meet Marwan, a retired lawyer. He asks us where we’re from. As all good Israelis would when visiting Nablus illegally, we pretend to be from elsewhere. “America,” we say.
Alas, wrong answer. Obama’s failure to support the Palestinian UN bid caused great disappointment here. We see it reflected in Marwan’s eyes, but he shares a word of optimism too: “I think Obama has a plan, but it’s not a simple plan. When you are the President of the United States and you want to pray, you first must first wash your hands with Israeli water.”
Marwan assures us that no one will take offense at our being American, since Ruthie “looks like an Arab” and despite the fact I look like “an American cowboy.” We of course have somewhat bigger worries. After strolling through the old town, we end up in a neighborhood extremely rich with posters depicting martyrs of the struggle against Israel. We quickly learn to distinguish those who died by Israeli actions, like this young man.
from those who died committing violent acts themselves. They have been photographed and filmed before leaving for the operation.
A bunch of young guys seated on the street call us over for coffee. They don’t fully buy the American story and use occasional Hebrew words to see whether we’d react, exposing ourselves. No go. The images on the walls keep us alert and nothing breaks the harmony of the encounter.
We’re talking about the previous night’s speeches. Ruthie and I are overwhelmed by the support expressed for the bid. Aljazeera reported last night that Hamas authorities in Gaza were deeply opposed to Abbas’s efforts and that police were stopping cars and confiscating any Palestinian flags found therein, in the best fashion of IDF soldiers. “However,” the reporter said, “what we sense from the population is that they are very much pro.”
Even here, in what seems to us a Hamas-leaning neighborhood, everyone appears to be excited about the President’s speech and distraught about the U.S.’s apparent determination to let the Palestinians down. We can’t help but feel that Abbas dealt Hamas a decisive political blow over the weekend, and we can’t help but be happy about that.
The guys, who forgive us for whatever we are, show us the way to a wonderful nearby restaurant where we feast and watch a dramatic series about the Nakba on a Tunisian television channel. Having cleaned our plates, we head for one last, lovely Nablusy walk.
In many respects, I could have just as well remained in Spain. The streets are lit in the same pleasant yellow as those of Harvas, where the members of La Karamba walked, singing beautiful Sepharadic Jewish songs.
And the spirit of Iberian football is present here, as it is everywhere in the West Bank. Everybody loves F.C. Barcelona.
Our night ends over a pint in Ramallah’s Beit Aneseh, a wonderful pub that, but for its nargileh smoke, could have been found in any of the more fashionable quarters of Madrid.
But this isn’t Madrid. I just walked through streets from which assasins rose to kill the likes of me, streets that have seen countless assassinations committed by those claiming to protect me. Tomorrow in Qiryat Arba I am to be interrogated for having committed a criminal offense – that of meeting with the occupied face to face, on their turf, and hearing their views. After 35 years on this soil, I still can’t get used to it at all, how close things are to each other and how far. How near my parents home is to those posters, how distant that amusement park on that hill is for the kids who dream of Tel Aviv’s Luna Park, how scary the checkpoints at night.
Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you.