Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Walls of Jericho Now Harbor Newlyweds, Thieves, 'Crazies'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Walls of Jericho Now Harbor Newlyweds, Thieves, 'Crazies'

Article excerpt

Except for that incident with the walls a few years back - when Joshua, his trumpeters, and his troops clamored so loud that this town's walls came "tumblin' down" - Jericho has been rather quiet for the past 10,000 years.

Armies from the Jebosites to the Israelis (in both their present and more distant incarnations) have come and gone, but beneath Jericho's palm trees, quiet afternoons and taking time to talk to the neighbors have remained priorities.

These days, however, something is afoot. Jericho, placid Jericho has become haven for all sorts of characters: car thieves, affianced Jews seeking refuge from religious discrimination, and gunmen on the lam from the Israeli secret police. Even two families of fundamentalist Christians from Detroit, chased from everywhere else they've pitched camp, are welcomed by tolerant Jericho.

When the intifadah, the Palestinian popular uprising against Israeli occupation, broke out in Gaza in 1987 and quickly swept the West Bank, it largely bypassed Jericho, where scenes of stone-throwing and tire-burning were few and far between. And so the Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement was "Gaza-Jericho First" - these two tiny areas were the first to be put under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The local joke was: Gaza, because the Israelis are thrilled to get rid of it, and Jericho, because they're not sure where it is anyway.

With the advent of the PA, the rumors about Jericho began. First, Israel said car thieves in the West Bank were driving stolen Israeli vehicles inside the borders of the little autonomous enclave where they couldn't be pursued by Israeli police. Indeed, today many of the cars on the streets of Jericho sport the pink license plates that the PA, frustrated by the sheer volume of ill-gotten vehicles, gave out to the owners of stolen cars.

Then came the accusations of harboring terrorists. In July 1995, Israel accused the PA of giving Islamic militants who had planned a bus bombing in Jerusalem shelter in Jericho. The PA strenuously denied those accusations, but more have followed. In June, two gunmen believed to be part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an antipeace-process group, crossed into Israel from Jordan and shot two Israeli soldiers on a Jordan Valley patrol. The gunmen, both Israel and Jordan suggested, then hid out in Jericho - and perhaps they're still there.

There's no sign of them now, though. Jericho has a fine new mosque, paid for in part by the emir of Kuwait. It has some terraced restaurants with impressive growths of bougainvillaea. It has some rather sun-bleached but still winsome murals of Yasser Arafat. But the only guns in sight are the Kalashnikovs carried by the ubiquitous PA police - and they usually leave their guns stashed under their chairs during card games in the shade.

It's a romantic little place, Jericho. …

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