My sister took me to get another covid test before flying home on Wednesday night. We drove close by to an outdoors testing site that’s just 100 yards away from a Palestinian village, either in or close to East Jerusalem, with two drive-through bays where you’re tested without getting out of your car.
By the time we left the house, we already knew about the demonstrations in the Old City. It’s Jerusalem Day, as it’s called here, celebrating the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. A loud, inciting mass demonstration was scheduled to begin at the Damascus Gate (the gate to the Old City most usually used by Palestinians, unlike Jaffa Gate used by Jews) and making its boisterous way through the Muslim quarter to the Wailing Wall. They’d be going up to the Temple Mount if they had their way, but police had already said that was out of the question.
They finally canceled the demonstration and told people to get to the Wall from the Jaffa Gate.
We found the testing site quickly, manned by three Palestinian men, one dressed like a spaceman to administer the test while another examined documents. They worked quickly and efficiently, we were out of there in some 5 minutes flat, but not before a group of young, rambunctious Israeli boys, holding Israeli flags, came down the hill and into the site, going through the second bay. Just moments earlier we’d seen them at a big memorial that I’d never seen before, and now here they were, proudly holding their flags as I shot their picture through the car window.
“Take a good picture!” they yelled, posing. “A good picture!”
I clicked. On the other side of the car the Palestinian medics said nothing.
“It’s like a fist in your face,” I told my sister.
But everything here is in your face. Israel is a very small country, no room for polite maneuvering. Elbows and backpacks into your sides, old Jerusalem alleys masquerading as streets. You have coffee in a café at a table near the cashier and are hit half a dozen times by a skateboard held by kids on line. There’s no reason to take it personally; there’s simply little space.
An old friend of mine used to get furious with the Israeli occupation of Palestinians. From his small, far-away house in rural California, he’d inveigh angrily at the Israeli army and government, the complacency of those who didn’t care.
“Mitchell, I’m not defending anything,” I’d tell him on the phone, “but the country is so small. Everything is so up-close and in-your-face there, it makes a big difference. It’s hard to understand that from here.”
Bernie, too, used to get furious. In all the years I’d seen him, the Israeli behavior towards Palestinians triggered him in the way very few things did. He’d turn sarcastic, which he rarely did, starting with sardonic comments about Bibi, the prime minister, and then getting into serious anger. People learned not to bring up Israel because once it entered the room, it didn’t leave for a long time.
Once I, too, would get into a rage. Inside the family we’d argue and bicker. Most of my family was right-wing, and especially my mother, who long ago was put in jail for putting up illegal placards against the Israeli return of the Sinai to Egypt.
But outrage and indignation no longer find a home in my heart. Anger was a regular resident, but now less so. Upsets, yes, but they’re one-shot deals and fade quickly. I feel like I’ve lived through a lifetime worth of outrage and indignation, kept on that diet by daily devouring Israeli and Palestinian media, not to mention Al-Jazeera, and I’m not clear what good they did.
I think the Trump years, too, emptied me of those things. I knew from the election of 2016 that I could stay angry for at least four years, or I’d find another way. Helping indigent undocumented Latino families was one thing I decided to do with the beginning of covid. And there were other ways, too.
Mostly, I sharpened my listening rather than my all-too-acerbic tongue. Here, in particular, the country is so small. It’s so easy to get ignited; it’s so easy to explode.
Here is an update full of small contradictions:
Last night I actually took my mother to the local synagogue where they held special services in honor of Jerusalem Day.
Yesterday, my niece, Noga, walked to her car after teaching in the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University and was hit by a rock. Physically, she’s fine.
At 6:00 pm this evening I was out in the dog park with my sister and her Anatolian Shepherd, Molly. Suddenly loud sirens went off, and then several loud explosions. “It’s the first time I’ve heard alarm sirens like this in Jerusalem,” my sister said. Everyone took out their phones to listen to what’s going on, and yes, a number of missiles had been shot by Hamas in Gaza towards Jerusalem.
Hamas promises more rockets at 9 pm, another 20 minutes. “We do have a shelter, you know,” my sister says, but no one makes any move to go there.
My nephew, David, facilitates a meeting between Jewish residents of his town in the West Bank with the Bedouins who live in the valleys. He invited me to join, warning me that there’s no real road, we’d have to climb down. I was going to join up, but he canceled the exchange due to events this week.
Everything is up close and in your face.
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