with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Jerusalem – A Lesson in Palestinian Politics

It is so incredibly hard to imagine that it is November and it is so freaking hot outside. I’m so tired of the air conditioning…anyway, I’m plugging away at this web page conversion. It is going fairly smoothly, with only a few glitches.

On Friday, Brent and I went to Jerusalem for the laying of the headstone on the grave of Naomi’s mother, Cilia. We ended up being late arriving at the graveyard, and were completely overwhelmed by the massive size of it. Covered the entire hillside spreading out in all directions. We walked through part of it, but the sheer size was totally daunting, so we came back to the car and waited for them to return to the main parking lot. When she returned, we all went into Jerusalem to the park in front of the Kind David Hotel. Naomi’s mother and father walked this park almost every day of the more than 50 years they lived almost next door to the YMCA and across from the hotel. After her father died three years ago, Naomi and her mother petitioned the city and got permission to have a bench placed on a slight hill in front of the hotel, overlooking the Old City. It is the absolutely best view of the Old City from anywhere in Jerusalem, overlooking the Jaffa Gate. Superb spot. Two trees intertwine over the bench "like lovers", Naomi explains. "Soul mates, just like my parents were." Beautiful. We sat around and visited and just were "there" in the moment, watching Naomi, so young and vibrant, as she played with her new granddaughter and niece, surrounded by family and friends.

Afterwards we walked through the park to the Old City and visited with one of our friends with a shop in the city. Badoin owns an antique and souvenir shop right in the middle of Kind David Street, a perfect spot for catching tourists. He has been absolutely welcoming to us over the years, inviting us into his upstairs area where the good stuff (among some junk) is stored, letting us take all the pictures we want of his marvelous inventory. We needed to buy a trinket for a friend of Brent’s, a fellow guitarist, as a thank you, and I knew that Badoin would be able to help us find the right thing, and he did. I also found some cute trinkets for my mother for Christmas…no details yet as she reads these pages. I also found a wonderful silver spoon, quite unusual in its floral pattern, for using in the spice box that Sabiha gave me. I’ve been looking for an interesting spoon for over a year to go in the box and this one is just perfect.

Brent had to run to the cash machine, escorted by Badoin’s teenage son through the Old City’s twists and turns, and I stayed and had a sit and a visit. Normally, we would be served tea and snacks but Ramadan started last week and there is no food or drinks permitted during daylight hours. He apologized, but we already knew that. We discussed the poor economy, an old topic, and moved quickly to politics. He tried to be polite, but loved it when I admitted that I thought Bush was an idiot. He laughed delightedly. "I can’t tell you how many Americans I talk to who once felt that Bush was doing the right thing but who are now embarrassed by their own president." I told him I was long past embarrassed and now into humiliated. But not so much by the president but also by my fellow citizens. Are they that blind to his idiocy? The war in Iraq wasn’t about saving the Iraqi people! Come on! "It was about the money and the oil," he agreed.

He brought up Arafat and the local politics, quickly delighted that I was up-to-date and so knowledgeable about the situation. In fact, he giggled in joy at my forthrightness. After the usual "safe" discussion about "the situation", Badoin rolled his eyes and informed me with anger that Arafat was determined to "stay put in his throne forever. He will die in that chair!" Interested in his unusual opinion, having met a few Palestinians who were cautious in what they said, but modestly defensive of their "elected" leader, I asked him what would happen when Arafat was finally gone. "He has to die someday. We all do."

"Good people are waiting to step in."

"Who? Who is there capable of leading the Palestinian people and fixing the mess?"

He sat back and gave this some serious thought. "You are right! There is no one."

"You know that Arafat has either killed, evicted, or forced out every good leader there is. He doesn’t want anyone around him to threaten his position," I told him.

He looked at me in shock. "How do you know these things?" Thinking he was questioning my truthfulness, I hesitated, but he clarified it before I could speak. "How do you, living here – what, four years? – How do you know these things? How do you know that Arafat has killed over 80% of the good people to control his power and seat? How do you know this?"

I wish I had misheard his numbers. I never said anything about those kinds of numbers. He went on, "Arafat is head of a Mafia, controlling everyone. You know when you watch on the television all those people in the streets cheering for Arafat? This is bullshit! He sends his henchmen out into the streets in the middle of the night and pulls the young men from their homes, away from their families, and forces them to carry signs and shoot the guns." This I had never heard about Arafat. I know it is true of many other Arab countries and other places where the rulers want everyone’s "good opinion" whether they deserve it or not, but I had heard a lot of bad things about Arafat, but this was news to me. "You know me. I am Palestinian, but I am Israeli, living here, proud, I do my work, I make my money, times are tough, but we are okay. We are good. Only little worries. But I am embarrassed by Arafat and how he hurts my people."

Wow, I thought, this is amazing. Is he telling me this because he thinks I want to hear this, which is actually more common than you could ever believe when dealing with Arabs I’ve learned, or is this the truth. I didn’t know where to go, he was so insistent. So I went back to my original question. "So what will happen when Arafat goes?"

"I don’t know, but there is no one good left. He had killed or ruined them all. It will be anarchy. Mafia." I asked him about Hamas. "No, no, no. Hamas is not political. It doesn’t want the position." This was news to me, too. I asked him about the two faces of Hamas and it’s impact on the situation. "Two faces? Yes, you are so right. You are such a wise woman to know these things. Yes, Hamas does such good. Do you know how many families they feed in Jerusalem alone, every day? Twelve thousand meals they deliver every day to Jerusalem. If they feel this many in Jerusalem every day, imagine what they are doing in the West Bank and Gaza? Thousands upon thousands of people are feed and recieve care from the good works of Hamas. They do such good, taking money from the rich Arabs and everywhere to take care of the people. We like Hamas. They do good work. But they don’t want the power. Yes, there are two sides to Hamas. They want revenge for the killings of Palestinians, they kill USA, Hamas kill them, but they do much good."

"So if not Hamas, then who?"

He couldn’t answer me, other than to rail against Arafat for being such a "Mafioso". Brent arrived a few minutes later and Badoin jumped up and announced, "Do you know what a brilliant wife you have? She knows as much about the politics and situation here as I do. She is incredible!"

Brent grinned. "Yes, sir, I do know." I love him even more, if that is possible.

Badion went on and on. "You don’t understand! She understands this more than anyone I’ve met, even those who lives here. How does she know all this. She is wonderful!" I finally hushed him. It was too much, even for me.

We visited some more and then went off looking for more goodies to buy for Christmas. We had dinner in a cafe with a view overlooking the Holy Sepulchre and Christian Quarter, then rushed off before all the shops closed to get Brent’s favorite Turkish sweets. We tried to do a little more shopping, but everything was closing up as dark approached, rushing home for the Ramadam evening feasting that would go on all night. We wandered the empty streets back out of the city and to our car, grateful just to be with each other, walking hand in hand, through this ancient city so filled with history. Imagine it. We spent the day inside of Jerusalem. It still overwhelms us when we stop to realize where we are.

Tel Aviv, Israel

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