Friday, August 27, 2004

The world in a (very large) grain of sand

Back in my first post, I think I mentioned something about my reasons for staying in Jerusalem this trip. Basically, I wanted to look at a piece of the conflict in depth and over time, trying to understand and explain its roots, rather than reporting (and attempting to treat) some of the worst of its symptoms.

So I focused on Jerusalem, and walked around, and talked to people, and read a lot. I spoke with Amira Hass (author of "Drinking the Sea at Gaza" and "Reporting from Ramallah"), Palestinian shopkeepers and observant Jews, senior South African diplomats, the BBC's chief correspondent, and Jewish and Palestinian Israeli activists and organizers. I picked up materials and web-site tips at the American Colony Bookstore, and PASSIA, and the Alternative Information Center (intelligent neo-Marxist analysis, of all things). I explored the Old City, locating buildings that have been 'redeemed' and 'requisitioned', and the sites of grand demolitions. I wandered the sites of destroyed and depopulated villages now covered by, or included within, 'West Jerusalem'. And I visited the many circles of Israeli settlements around Jerusalem, from French Hill in East Jerusalem to Mitzpah Yericho, just off the Jordanian border. I began to pick my way through the maze of zoning codes, building regulations, and allocation of government funds and benefits that have shaped the lives and prospects of people in and around the city.

Ultimately, I tried to piece together the story of Jerusalem since 1948. What the Israeli Jews have done, how they have done it, and, hopefully, why. How the many details, none sufficient to draw international attention in itself, when taken together, weave a tapestry that has led to the current conflict. Of course, I only had two weeks, and I was limited by my inability to communicate in Hebrew, or Arabic (although I did use my rusty French on a couple of occasions). Still, I managed to fill in some of the gaps in my own knowledge and understanding, and a picture did take shape, even uglier than I had imagined. I look forward (to use a hopelessly inappropriate expression) to sharing what I've learned with the West End community. I suspect that the story will be nearly as unpleasant for people to hear as it was for me to discover, but it will be true, and truth is a beginning.

Shabbat shalom,