Monday, February 07, 2005

Condi and Me

Condi Rice was staying at the same Hotel in Jerusalem that I was. I did not really see her, though I did watch a bit of the Superbowl with a member of her security staff. One of the largest fellows I have ever seen, I actually thought he might have had a professional interest in the game, as a former NFLer, but it seems that he was not. He was in the Marines though.

Yesterday morning I was in Yad V'Shem, the holocaust memorial. It was very moving to see all the Israeli soldiers walking through there. The phrase "never again" has some more meaning when you see how we are ensuring that a holocaust will never again happen to us. I was shocked by one of the displays, that simply noted that there were 3,000,000 Jews in Poland before the War. Ten percent of the population. And yet essentially helpless to defend themselves. The displays of hand made weapons made a startling contrast to the Glions and M-16s in the hands of the young Israelis.

I had a lunch meeting at the offices of the New Israel Fund, where I enjoyed an interesting conversation with some of the staff there. I was able to continue that with them today, and to see some of the areas of concern to them, of which more in a bit.

Dinner was at Darna, an amazing Moroccan restaraunt. The quantities of salads was unbelievable. I was not really hungry, but somehow managed to eat a great deal. The highlight was possibly the sweetened tomato salad, that was almost like a tomato jam. Unreal.

A short nap followed by a bit of football, followed by a bit more sleep, then a breakfast I really did not need.

Took a tour of the fence this morning. Leaving the hotel noticed Condi's motorcade preparing to depart. Headed off to Gilo, a very good spot to observe the fence, in both its "fence" and "wall" incarnations. The rain made standing outside looking a bit uncomfortable. As we headed back to the car, we noticed Condi's motorcade coming to the exact place we were. Decided not to stick around and try to overhear the presentation that she was receiving.

Went to a few more places to look at it, talked about the different parameters that go into locating the fence:
Human rights
Other (religious, etc.)

In some places the fence deviates from the established municipal boundaries of Jerusalem so as to exclude a Palestinian neighborhood, even though doing so might lessen the security benefits. In one place it deviates outward from Jerusalem, into Bethlehem in fact, to include Rachel's tomb, a point of religious value to Jews. Of course the loop into Bethlehem inconveniences the Palestinians who live near the fence at that point. Is it worth it? I don't know. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it was acceptable, and that is good enough for me at any rate.

The saddest part of the fence is where it walls off a road in the middle of Abu Dis, a Palestinian village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. For years noone noticed that the village straddled the municipal boundary, as it was nothing more than a line on a map. Now that there is a concrete wall it is a different matter. Is the inconvenience to the Palestinians acceptable? I was arguing that the creation of an international boundary where previously there was none is bound to cause problems for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the fence. I think Sarah (who was showing me around) agreed in principal with that statement, but felt (as does her organization) that the fence should be placed between the Palestinian and Israeli populations, rather than along the more arbitrary Jerusalem municipal boundary, where it in many places seperates Palestinian from Palestinian.

I felt that her preference for a rather complicated arrangement of dual sovereignity over the old city was unworkable, and thus prefer the simpler, if harder on the Palestinians, solution of a united, Israeli Jerusalem. The Palestinians who find themselves inside Israel would of course be offered Israeli citizenship, if they want it, or a chance to move to Palestine if they prefer that. The ones who remain in Israel would of course have easy access to the holy sites within Israel, including the Al Aqsa mosque and Haram al Sharif, which would remain under Muslim religious control (as they are now). Those in the Palestinian state would of course have to cross the international boundary to access Jerusalem, but that is nothing more than I had to do, and could presumably be made as easy as the security situation allowed.

In short while I was upset by the ugliness of the wall in the middle of the road, I could not say I found it to be per se unacceptable or a violation of human rights. Of course the final lines of the boundary need to be decided by negotiation with the Palestinians, and I look forward to that.

The visit continued with a trip to Deer Valley, where I saw small antelope and Chukkers (sp?) a sort of quail or partridge. Very unusual, as it was right in the middle of Jerusalem. A plan to turn the who valley into apartments has apparently been stopped, but it is not clear if that is permanent. I certainly hope so. A park with wild animals in it would certainly add to the attractions of Jerusalem.

We then went to a beautiful park in the West of Jerusalem where we saw the hills that are threatened with development. I was really upset by that, since the drive to Jerusalem from the West is one of the most beautiful experiences in Israel. The ground rises from the coastal plain, and becomes rocky and hilly, and covered with trees planted by the JNF (and the collected nickles of my youth). Then as the road winds around the hills the western neighborhoods of the city itself become visible. It is sad to think that those beatiful hills would become just another neighborhood.

One very interesting thing however is that that the NIF is on the one hand suggesting that territory to the East of Jerusalem be given to the Palestinians for their state, while on the other hand that same exact land is what would best be used to build new houses, as it is close to the rest of the city, ripe for development, and not nearly so attractive as the western reaches. Interesting problem (though not for me, I would use the current fence line as the boundary, and put the new neighborhoods where they would both connect the current Jewish neighborhoods to each other, and facilitate the development of public transit).

The last visit of the day was a foundation for Judaism as culture. The conversation with the director was one of the most interesting and thought provoking I have had in a long time, but I think I will have to wait to blog it, as I tire.


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