ISRAEL & PALESTINE : An Unequal Struggle

Article excerpt

On a recent (November) visit to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Hebron, Tiberias, Ramallah, and other points in Israel and the West Bank, I heard it said that a reporter who spends a week on such a tour can write a book on his return. If you stay a month, you may be able to do an article. A year, and you get a major case of writer's block. Too much complexity, too many contradictions.

Well, I arrived on a Saturday and left on the following Saturday (starting at 2:30 a.m.!), and I could indeed write a book, but only by making unashamed use of all the handouts from various sources that I picked up or were thrust upon me. It might even be a pretty good book, but partisan: All the handouts were pro-Palestinian. So was the sponsor of the tour, the American Committee on Jerusalem, founded and run by Arab-Americans, their answer to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. And so also most of my companions on the tour: a writer from Sojourners magazine, a TV reporter/producer from PBS's "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly," an editor of the Christian Century, complete with spouse, a reporter from the Voice of America, an Arab-American retiree from the U.S. State Department, and a former engineer who spends his retirement organizing in Chicago-area churches on behalf of a shared Jerusalem. A most congenial group. Most of us talked mostly or exclusively with Palestinian sources: among others, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, a representative of the Latin patriarchate, a Lutheran bishop, the minister for tourism of the Palestine Authority (PA), the editor of the largest Arabic-language daily in the region (based in Nazareth), the pastor of a Catholic parish in Bir Zeit, an Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset, a Jordanian author/journalist often seen on network news shows in the United States. We were free to make our own contacts with Israeli sources; but, I have to confess, I didn't.

To complete this acknowledgment I will mention that I was pro-Israel during and after the 1948 conflict, known to Israelis as the War of Independence, to Palestinians as the Disaster, and also during and after the Six-Day War of 1967. My bias suffered a switch during my first visit to the Middle East thirty (yes, thirty) years ago. It was a moving and at times enraging experience. So now you know where I'm coming from, and some of you may wish to stop reading.

Here are some of my 1999 observations:

The Holy Land is a hilly land. The holier the hillier-or so I felt-after our first-day walking-walking-walking tour of the Old City, site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, the Western Wall, and the Dome of the Rock, among other sacred sites. For me it was not a wholly edifying experience, because of new evidence that while my left leg, along with the rest of me, is a mere seventy-seven years old, my right leg is ninety-four and aging fast. I was the group laggard.

In my eyes, and those of partisans on all sides-Jews, Muslims, Christians, in all their varieties-the Old City is Jerusalem. That is a principal (not the only) reason why Israel annexed it from Jordan, along with all of East Jerusalem, after the 1967 war; why Palestinians reject Israel's action as unjust and contrary to the law of nations; and why the status of East Jerusalem will be a major sticking point in the "final negotiations," if they ever get final. It is not cynical but realistic to conclude that a major factor in the struggle for control over Jerusalem and other hallowed places is revenue from tourism, in dollars, euros, pounds, francs, deutschemarks, etc. We were told that tour groups led by Israeli guides are warned that it's not safe to stay in Palestinian-controlled areas (not so, in our collective experience; two young women in our group walked anywhere they liked, night or day, feeling secure), and/or that accommodations are inferior (true, they're not posh, but our hotel, the Meridian, was clean, comfortable, and well-run (free plug). …