Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Personal Reminiscence: Vignettes from Jerusalem the Golden

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Personal Reminiscence: Vignettes from Jerusalem the Golden

Article excerpt

A Personal Reminiscence: Vignettes From Jerusalem the Golden

Jerusalem Is A Golden Bowl; Full of Scorpions -- Attributed to an American Consul early this century.

A young journalist whom I've never met asked me over the telephone recently, "Was Mrs. [Bertha Spafiord] Vester an anti-Semite?" Mrs. Vester, born into a wealthy Chicago family and resident in Jerusalem from 1880, when she was two years old, until her death in 1971, was the dominant personality of the American Colony Hotel group and perhaps the most famous American in the Middle East for several decades.

How to answer? "You will have to consult her shade, but not according to my definition." But I do know she resented the fact that a chapter in her book, Our Jerusalem, recounting Israeli brutality against Palestinians, had been deleted without her knowledge when it was published in London. And she found it impossible to understand the malice that led the Israeli Embassy in London to buy up all copies of even the truncated version from the publisher before it could be put on sale.

Do small vignettes from more than 35 years ago when I was U.S. consul in Jerusalem have any relevance today? How many of these dots, as it were, on a piece of paper would constitute even the dimmest portrait?

Yael Dayan

Yael Dayan, daughter of Israeli Gen. Moshe Dayan, might make up several dots. For she could be likened to a flaming ember in the late 1950s and through the 1960s. Her life seemed an exciting drama both before and after the appearance of her racy autobiographical novel, New Face in the Mirror.

Yael was Dorothy Parker's famous candle:

"My candle burns at both ends.

It will not last the night.

But ah my foes and ah my friends,

It gives a wondrous light."

Rather than dissolute, however, Yael was glamorous, with her mass of red hair and her "French" personal style. In those days she seemed to symbolize an Israel liberated from fear after vanquishing the Arab enemy (in 1956) with ridiculous ease, and with all the old restraints on Jews, and women, gone forever.

This is the same Yael Dayan, now middle-aged and a liberal member of the Knesset, in whose face a hateful Jewish "settler" at Kiryat Arba near Hebron threw a cup of scalding tea because he feared and hated the former symbol. Is this the culmination of the journey of the Israelis, whom the Lord guided with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night on their exodus from Egypt?

International Military Observers

During my sojourn in Jerusalem the military officers came to the Holy City from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, Italy, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Belgium to observe and police the boundaries between Jew and Arab. Assigned to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), they arrived with stars in their eyes for Israel and profound empathy with the plight of the Jews, especially so soon after the Nazi holocaust.

Usually within two months, sometimes sooner, all of them changed as dramatically as the mood had changed in Ireland when Britain executed the leaders of a puny revolt against British rule, captured so unforgettably in William Butler Yeat's magnificent poem, "Easter 1916."

To the surprise and concern of these truce supervisors, their personal sympathies shifted from pro-Israel to pro-Arab, and especially pro-Palestinian. Each had seen with his own eyes a totally unexpected phenomenon, Israel's brutalization of the Palestinians. And the common decency lurking in every human breast demanded sympathy for the Palestinian victims and resentment against the Israeli victimizers.

Important, too, although rarely voiced, was the knowledge that in 1948 the Israelis had assassinated the first U.N. mediator, Sweden's Count Folke Bernadotte, because he had made recommendations on Palestinian refugees that the Israelis didn't like. Since UNTSO officers almost always found Israel at fault in their reports about shooting incidents along the truce lines, in their minds lurked the fear that one of them might meet with an Israeli-engineered "accident. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.