STRANGER PLACES

It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit after his paycheck bounced. Twice.

Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed. I was willing to work for free if there was any chance to save it. Many of us were working without pay, optimists in the midst of disaster.

The newspaper was broke. No money to pay anyone, but I loved running a newspaper. It was the most fun I ever had, professionally.-speaking I had an editor, a proofreader, an art director, and a bankrupt publisher. Her money had kept us in business for a year. We hadn’t gotten the advertisers or investors. Not surprising. The economy was a disaster.

Where I used to live.
Where I lived

The lira was in free fall. 180% inflation is hard to imagine. The value of your paycheck disappears between breakfast and lunch, so your best bet is to spend every cent immediately, then spend more.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

French Hill, where I worked is a pleasant neighborhood at the northeastern edge of Jerusalem. Good schools. It’s atop a hill so you can catch a breeze, if there is one. In the summer, Jerusalem simmers as the khamsin, super-heated sandy air masses from the Sahara, turns the city into a sauna.

It was August, perhaps the 10th day of an extended khamsin. Almost nobody had air-conditioning in those days. Under normal weather condition in the desert, when you step into shade, the temperature drops 25 or more degrees. The air is so dry it doesn’t hold heat.

During khamsin, heat never eases. The air is thick, hot, sandy. Night is as bad as day. Airless. Fans make it worse. If you can’t get out-of-town, find a pool or get to a beach, your best bet is to close your windows and lie on the tile floor wearing as little as possible trying not to breathe. People get crazy when it’s that hot, even people who are normally friendly to one another.

Trying to keep the newspaper alive, there was no escape for me. Except for my car, which was air-conditioned. It was a Ford Escort with a tiny 1.3 liter engine, but the A/C worked pretty well. Which is why I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev.

All of Jerusalem sits atop a mountain. There’s a rumor the city has just one road, but it winds a lot. If you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. Not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be far.

Ramallah

I’ve no sense of direction at all. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I definitely will miss it. This is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a mini-uprising in late August 1983  I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there. I just stopped the car, pulled to the curb and sat there. I had no idea what to do.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. That’s right, I didn’t lock the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows.  Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked up a couple of words, one of them being “American.”

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You mustn’t go into dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem quite the thing to do.

Jerusalem_ben_yehuda_street

That was the end of the days when Arabs and Jews could easily be friends. Sad to think of friends I had in Bethlehem who asked me to stop visiting them because it put them in danger. There came a time when I could no longer go shopping in the Old City or Bethlehem, when Jewish children could no longer safely play with Arab children.

I lived there for nine years. There has been so much wrong on all sides for so many years it’s impossible to figure out a solution to which all would agree. I don’t see peace on the horizon. There are many more than two sides to this conflict. There are an infinite number of sides. You can argue the your chosen issues from any point of view. There is always some truth in it, and plenty of non-truths.

I arrived in Israel in 1978 believing I had answers, that I knew something. By end of 1987 , I knew there were no answers and I knew nothing.



Categories: Anecdote, History, Israel, Jerusalem

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. My parents lived in Israel ’74-’81. My Dad used to go to the Arab market in Hevron to buy sandwiches – and that was totally normal back then.

    😦
    David

    Like

  2. It is so sad that people who have existed side by side, cannot do so anymore. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It gives another perspective into the situation

    Like

    • There’s such a long history to how that happened. This book (also a really good read) explains a lot of it, but there are many others. This is why interfering in the national life of other countries rarely works out for the good of the people who really live there.

      O Jerusalem: Day by Day and Minute by Minute the Historic Struggle for Jerusalem and the Birth of Israel

      Written by: Larry Collins , Dominique Lapierre
      Audiobook narrated by: Theodore Bikel. Also available widely as paperback and hardcover.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In light of the latest round of hostilities it does seem like nothing has changed nor ever will. It is a shame because everyday people, like those you met, seem like they might have managed to be friends despite differences in religion.
    I’m ashamed to say that the British did leave a mess wherever they colonised. They always seemed to believe that partitioning solved problems. It may have solved some but just created worse ones in India, Israel and Ireland.

    Like

    • There was a day — me and a friend sitting up above the Banias which are the headwaters of the Jordan River — where I suddenly realized that it was not going to end. Everyone was right and everyone was wrong. No one was willing to compromise.

      The British made a total mess and never even considered recognizing their own part in the disaster. It didn’t have to be this bad. Later “players” just made it worse and now, it is what it is. As long as Hamas throws bombs at them, they will throw bombs right back. Do the Israelis have a better army? Yes. And will all the bombing end future bombings? No. But Israel isn’t going to just sit there and let them bomb them and Hamas will never stop the shelling because this is how they make money.

      I hope no one thinks this is happening without a lot of money changing hands. A war in the middle East is a major political tool for other Arab states and others — like Russia and the U.S. There are a lot of fingers in the pie.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your excellent post connected me three ways: remembering my way shorter and less exciting business trip to Israel in 1973, the Ford Escort I later owned, and the epiphany I experienced similar to your conclusion.

    Like

    • It’s remarkable how fast all the conclusions we reached are irrelevant when faced with the reality of being in Israel. Being either Israeli or Palestinian, there seem to be no good choices. Israel is so TINY. Splitting it up into pieces would be like subdividing Rhode Island. I understand that there have been a lot of wrongs perpetrated by a lot of people over a long period. There are a lot of bad guys in the story including the British (they always leave a mess behind), the Soviet Union, the U.S., and every Arab country who has financed terrorism because the ongoing battle in israel is making someone, somewhere — RICH.

      Follow the money and you’ll know who the really bad guys are. PLENTY of guilt to go around.

      Everyone needs to just STOP. Rethink what can be done that might actually work. Because frankly, I don’t see anything but endless war until someone gets a bigger bomb and blows the entire middle east off what’s left of planet Earth.

      That’s why I came home. Who knew that the madness would follow me here? We can run but we cannot hide.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great story….and a frightening one. Thank God for the kindness of strangers.

    Like

    • The bottom line of the tragedy is that if you took the money and politics out of the equation, I’m pretty sure that people would find peace. FAST.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m still mesmerized by all the sights and sounds from my all too brief visit to you in Israel back ion ’83.

        Etched in my sense memory — that street where past and present coincided. Bedouins w/ Camels on one side of the street, present day soldiers, touristas and locals in cars — on the other side of the street.

        Incredible!

        Like

  6. Wow! Is this a true story? What an interesting insight to the troubles and a lovely display of human kindness amidst it too. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. KL ❤️

    Like

    • There’s no single truth and if you have any version of an open mind, you can see it. There is plenty of guilt on both sides. It goes on and on and on for all eternity with everyone standing on their individual soapbox and spouting their version of truth.

      Everyone needs to forgive everything and start over. Forget about why it happened or who did what to whom. It’s all true. The good and the bad. Meanwhile, all the foreign players — the Soviets, U.S., British, other Arab nations — and who knows WHO else — keep stoking the fires. If everyone who doesn’t really LIVE there would get out, go home, and take their guns with them, that would be a good place to start.

      Liked by 1 person

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