By David Kattenburg
On a trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories back in the summer of 2012, I took the opportunity to stroll through several West and East Jerusalem neighborhoods, on both sides of Israel’s Separation Wall. The latter were hard scrabble and unkempt, though filled with charm and character. So were the former, European-style — scrubbed, tidy, efficient, busy, cafe-filled.
It seems to please immigration people at Ben Gurion Airport when you tell them you’ve got family in Israel. Always good to be part of the tribe. After a few busy days in Tel Aviv, I met up with a 75 year-old cousin at Rehovot train station, just south of town, who drove me to a kibbutz on Jerusalem’s western margin, where his 71 year-old brother has lived for years. Both cousins were born in Jerusalem, of a Dutch mother and Austrian father.
From the kibbutz, Itamar took us into Jerusalem. Conversation turned to politics. Itamar hadn’t voted for Bibi but largely agrees with his approach to Palestinians.
Palestinians should not have a real state, Itamar says. “Autonomy,” yes.
On the one hand, settlements should go … but how are you going to remove 300,000 settlers???
There never was a real “Palestinian” polity. Itamar prefers to call them “Arabs.”
Jerusalem should not be divided.
Anyone who can show they actually own land should get it back, but an absolute No to 1967 borders.
As our conversation rolled on, Itamar drove us through Gilo — population 40,000 — one of five big Jewish settlements encircling occupied East Jerusalem, southwest of the Old City. Itamar described the bombardment Gilo received from across the valley during the Second Intifada (2000-2002). Today windows are made of reinforced glass — something Itamar knows a lot about.
I pressed Itamar: Arabs constitute the overwhelming majority in East Jerusalem. Why not let them have it as a capital? It will never be, he gently but firmly insisted.
Having driven into the heart of Jerusalem, Itamar dropped me off at a hotel right across from the Damascus Gate, where I had made an Internet reservation. Helpful older cousin that he is, he had contacted the hotel on his mobile phone to confirm my reservation — in Hebrew of course. There’s no reservation under that name and the hotel is full, a voice over the phone had told him.
But everything was fine. A room did indeed await me.
A few days later I strolled up Jaffa Road to Jaffa Center rail station, stopping on the way for a spicy ‘Syrian’ kebab sandwich and a Tuborg. Both went down exceedingly well. From there I headed up and over to the offices of the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions — ICAHD.
For some reason it felt like a clandestine mission. Confused by West Jerusalem’s streets, I engaged with a middle-aged guy from Chicago, who’s been in Israel since he was about five — fifty years all told.
He asked where I was going on Hillel Street; said he had worked once in an office at #12.
“A group,” I said.
“Which one,” he asked?
“Oh, an environmental group,” I lied, wondering why as I did so.
He asked if I was Jewish. Yes, I told him. I’m often mistaken for something else, I say. Spanish, he suggests.
I told the guy I thought it was amazing he’s been in Israel for fifty years. Why is that amazing, he asked? I groped for an answer.
When we reached #12 Hillel Street, I noticed an ICAHD plaque out front. I bid my inquisitive Israeli companion adieu — wondering if he too had spotted (certainly he had) — and paused for him to cross the street before venturing through the door of #12 Hillel street.
I ascended to an upstairs apartment, there to meet a young woman named Chesca. Originally from Haifa, Chesca doesn’t “get” Jerusalem, although she’s been here for years. It’s too crazy, intense, political, she told me.
Chesca took a couple of European visitors and myself for the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolition’s tour of East Jerusalem, where the Jewish State is busily exercising its demographic management skills. Listen up.