October 13, 2003
Subject: A dispatch from Jerusalem
Monday, October 13, 2003
This morning I got an e-mail from a good and trusted friend of many years, Stuart Leiderman. The report he sent me is from an American woman, an Ivy-League college graduate, an engineer who considers herself so apolitical that she concludes her letter with “It has taken me the week to get the courage to send this. I'm that resistant to politics. So don't think me a soap boxer. So if you don't want to read it, you can erase it. And if you have something to say on either side [of the Israel-Palestine conflict], I would LOVE to hear it!” Here’s Stuart’s brief introductory note, followed by the forwarded message.
Subject: a dispatch from Jerusalem
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 01:10:40 -0400 (EDT)
From:Stuart M Leiderman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To:George Salzman <email@example.com>
hi, George. it's nice to be in touch with you, and I'm glad to hear of your attention to the Middle East. I'm sure my old friend Sherman Teichman at Tufts would like to hear from you. his EPIIC program there specializes in getting students into the thick of the fray and I bet they'd like you to come over to Medford [Massachusetts]once in a while.
also, I've been in touch with a young environmental engineer who until the UN bombing was working on community projects in Baghdad. then her employer pulled her back to, of all placed, Jerusalem. here's her latest report and struggle to understand things there.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
OK, this is going to be a very long email. Sorry about that. Grab some popcorn or a mug of cocoa and settle in.
**CHAPTER ONE - Mundane I'm getting more homesick by the day. I'm tired of eating out am, noon and pm. Hard to believe I've been gone less than 4 months.
We moved into new offices this week, and still don't have email, phones, etc. It's nice though. I have my own space and a great view - apartment buildings and hill sides stretching off into the distance, a blue sky with puffy clouds. The countryside looks a little like New Mexico, but the houses are whitish instead of tan.
**CHAPTER TWO - Day Off Last week we went to the Dead Sea. There is so much salt in the Dead Sea that people are extra floaty. You can lie on your back and read the paper. You can pull your knees to your chin (ok, _I_ can pull my knees to my chin) and still float upright. But it is so salty that if you splash your eyes at all, they BURN.
The Dead Sea is also famous for its restorative mud. So, being game, I plastered myself with the stuff, legs, arms, face, back, got it all over my swim suit. I walked back to where my un-game co-workers were sitting, and they didn't recognize me at first. Then I washed myself off in the water, and got all salty again - you get so salty that you can hear it when you rub your fingers together, even when you are still wet. Rocks by the side of the water are covered in an inch of salt just from sea spray.
Then we went to Jericho for lunch. Jericho is a cute little town, the oldest (10,000yrs) and the lowest (850' below sea level), in the world, with the Mount of Temptation right next to the town. You can take a tram up, but we didn't. I'll have to go back. The town reminded me of Taos, believe it or not. A lot out here reminds me of New Mexico - so, no surprise that I like it. Anyway, Jericho has a cute little city-center with stores around a square park. We ate falafel. Wait... I just noticed how strange it is that checkpoints are so normal to me that I don't even mention them... The checkpoint to get into Jericho is rather irritating, of course nothing near an Iraq checkpoint, so I didn't care.
I saw on "Middle East Today," a tv show, that there used to be a big casino in Jericho, but it closed because of the unsettled situation over here of late.
After lunch we went to Hisham's Palace, about 750AD, with this great mosaic floor of deer and a lion. THere is also a big stone star. I was glad I saw these things, because I see the patterns repeated a lot, and now I know where the originals are. The mosaic is available on mugs, trivets, etc. The stone star is on "Jericho" brand bottled water.
We were back at the hotel by 2pm. Even after I accused my co-workers of being "old", they insisted on getting back to the hotel to take naps - can you believe it! I guess the salt air really does take it out of you.
**CHAPTER THREE - Unsolicited Observations Usually I am very unpolitical, but the climate over here is such that being unpolitical is very difficult. I really want to try to give a little of a sense of the atmosphere over here, to show what makes it different from Iraq - but still very tense and even less comfortable, even though maybe it is safer. Let me try to explain it this way.
Imagine if Massachusetts decided that it had the right to be larger I won't get into the history of it. Maybe it has a good point. But in any case, Massachusetts takes over Rhode Island.
There are now armed checkpoints to get into Rhode Island cities and towns and armed checkpoints to get out. If you have Rhode Island plates on your car then you are given a thorough check over, sometimes pulled out of line to wait by the side of the road for an hour. It is hard to get to around if you have a Rhode Island drivers license.
Ambulances with RI plates are given just as hard a time as other vehicles such that every now and then a woman is forced to give birth by the side of the road because the ambulance is stuck on the other side of the checkpoint. In the most recent case, the baby died. Other terrible acts are sometimes attributed to checkpoint soldiers - and those are just the ones printed in the Massachusetts paper.
Massachusetts gives big tax breaks to Mass residents who move to Rhode Island. The MA "settlements" inside Rhode Island are given new roads, new water supply systems, and government subsidies to build their homes. Roads to Rhode Island native villages are allowed to turn into giant pot holes and the RI villages are not served by the Mass-maintained water supplies, even though the Rhode Islanders have to pay Mass taxes. Some RI villages rely on water brought in by tanker truck from "filling stations," while all MA settlements in RI territory have running water in their homes, and some grow such water hogging crops as bananas and cotton in the desert.
Holes are occasionally blown into the side of RI houses by MA forces. If the residents try to patch the hole, they are shot at. Eventually, the residents move out, and the MA army bulldoses the house because it was "vacant." In addition. if someone who lives in a house is suspected of planning a criminal activity, or belonging to a certain political group, the house is bulldosed. In RI culture, unwed sons and daughters live with their parents. So this is like bulldosing the parents' house for the planned crime of the child. If the child does commit a crime, the parents' house is also bulldosed. The residents are lucky if enough time is given for THEM to get out of the house (people occasionally die because they didn't get out before the house collapsed) let alone move anything important to them.
There are periodic "closings". Maybe all of RI will be closed today. Sorry, no one in or out.
There are periodic "curfews". This is a period where 24 hours a day people aren't allowed out of their house - it is really more like "grounding" than "curfew". It's not like you need to be back home by 11pm, it is more like you can't go to work, you can't go to the market, your kids can't go to school, you can't even visit your neighbors. I have driven through a town under curfew and it is spooky. You see faces at the window, but no people in the street, no cars, silence. This can go on for weeks. How can you expect to run a viable economy if everyone's under house arrest?
The amazing thing about all this is that the RI residents take this with such grace and calm! The majority seem to just want to know what it will take for MA to leave them to their lives.
However, a few RI residents have had enough. Over the past 3 years, 101 RI residents have decided that it would be better to die than to live and watch their families and friends live like this. They have decided to blow themselves up and take as many of the MA residents with them as they can. This is a horrible thing. What an awful thing to decide. It is terrible, terrible, terrible. But is it worse than having the state-sponsored army bulldose a home for a crime not committed? Is it worse than letting a baby die while an ambulance is 100' away? I'm not sure.
Anyway. In response to the 101 incidents, the MA government has decided to build a big fence between MA and RI. There is a logical place to put such a fence, along the previously agreed upon border between the two entities. However, now remember there are all those MA settlements in RI, and MA wants to protect them too. So the fence is built windingly and expensively through RI. Going around settlements,THROUGH RI villages, through farms and groves. The MA government mows down ancient olive trees, separates homes from their fields, separates villages from their filling points, etc.
There is a dispute now in the papers about a village that will be completely cut off inside a one way loop, because the MA residents need protected access to a holy site (Ruth's grave). The villagers are suing to change the path of the wall, but of course they are suing in a MA court, so who knows what chance they will have.
The supposed reason for the wall is protection. Protection is needed because the RI residents are angry with how they are being treated. The wall is making them angrier.
Oh, and the head of state of RI... I think the best analog for that is the US president. Imagine if a foreign power bombed the white house or camp david, and had trapped the president inside. It wouldn't really matter if he was popular before, or even if he was a great leader, he would become popular and the people would be incensed at the situation. Can you imagine the US president being trapped for months? US citizens wouldn't stand for it!
And here is something that should hit the hearts of all Americans.
There are so many other aspects of all this. The US gets into it by giving loan guarantees to the MA government, but not recognizing the RI govt.RI residents can't compete in the olympics because their country isn't recognized.
How can this happen? How can people be up in arms about what the US is doing in Iraq, but NOT up in arms about what is going on here. The US in Iraq is "occupation" but Israel in Palestine is "despotism." I see a lot more correlation between what Saddam was doing in Iraq than what the US is doing there now. The US is trying to improve life in Iraq and for Iraqis, whatever the motive. Isreal is just trying to make life miserable enough so that the Palestinians vacate the area. I don't expect that is going to work.
Anyway, I am really trying to meet more people here, because I'm hoping to make the acquaintance of people who can justify or rationalize the situation, and help me see both sides, or at least help me avoid stereotyping. I'm generally MUCH more comfortable with my usual gray political outlook than with choosing sides. The news in the US is very odd from this area. You rarely hear about closings or curfews or water supply or taxes/voting, etc. Just like how in Iraq the news doesn't cover school buildings or soccer games.
Anyway, sorry again for the diatribe. I'll try to get back to my usual travel-log type writings with the next installment.
CHAPTER FOUR - Addendum The above was written before the latest Haifa bombing. I had to go and change the "100" to "101" in number of bombings. How awful. And just getting worse. It has taken me the week to get the courage to send this. I'm that resistant to politics. So don't think me a soap boxer. So if you don't want to read it, you can erase it. And if you have something to say on either side, I would LOVE to hear it!
from this "mass" mailing list, just let me know.
All comments, corrections, criticisms are welcome.
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