Jerusalem - a City Redivided
OVERCOME by her desire to see once again the view of the Judean desert from East Jerusalem denied her for three years by the intifadah, an Israeli woman recently swallowed her trepidations and drove across the former border in a remote part of the city. Her plan was to top the rise at the entrance to an Arab quarter and halt as soon as the view opened up. She would then turn and speed back with her memory rejuvenated. When she topped the rise, she saw not only the view but a car with Israeli plates parked at the side. Inside was a couple necking. They were risking their necks by parking there but not their reputations, since no sane Israeli could be expected to drive there these days.
Young lovers may risk ignoring the dangers of the intifadah, but for most Jerusalemites even before the current round of shootings and stabbings, the Palestinian uprising had effectively redrawn the border dividing the city.
A week after the Six Day War, which I had come to cover for an American newspaper, I stood in an ecstatic crowd of Israelis at the edge of the Israeli half of Jerusalem. We stared out at the domes that lay beyond the crenelated walls of the Old City across the narrow vale. On the far slopes, unnamed Arab villages were draped across the edge of the Judean desert. Engineers were clearing a safe passage through minefields to the Western Wall. The next day the way would be opened to the Israeli public. A beaming man stood next to me with his hand on the shoulder of his young son. ``It's all ours now,'' he said.
Israelis stand once again these days looking at Arab Jerusalem across an invisible divide. It may still be ``ours,'' but Israelis daren't set foot, or motor vehicle, in much of it.
Never has the humous at Abu Shukry's restaurant in the Moslem Quarter tasted so good as it does now that I never go there. Never has the view across the Kidron Valley from above Absalom's tomb seemed so beautiful in the golden light of late afternoon as it does now that I never see it.
Since the intifadah began in December 1987, those of us living in the Jewish side of the city have rarely ventured into the Arab quarters. I have not once in this period sat in the sweets shop in the Arab souk where I used to go for knaffeh, a dessert made with goat's cheese. That sweets shop was one of the rare places where I had occasion to see Arab society at eye level, as it were.
I have not once been back to the elderly Arab gentleman who operates a car-radio repair shop in a back street of East Jerusalem. I visited him first toward the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War when I returned from the Golan Heights. He saw the dust on my shoes and my car and the journalist's sticker on my windshield and guessed where I had been. We had a fine elliptical talk about war and history, a talk which we would in one fashion or another continue whenever I had to replace a snapped aerial. Despite our political differences, I was always glad to see him and I had the feeling he was happy to see me.
In the Lebanese war, I had spent heady days as an Israeli journalist wandering through West Beirut immediately after the PLO had been expelled but before Israeli troops entered. From time to time, I would confront somebody with the fact I was from Israel to test their reaction. In the wake of Israeli bombing, those reactions were sometimes pointed. I later entered the Shatilla refugee camp following the massacre, with bodies still unburied and enraged Palestinians milling about. Off duty, however, on my home turf, I seek no such experiences. My rule of thumb since the intifadah began has been not to enter Arab areas in Jerusalem unless there is a need.
The chances of something unpleasant actually happening while wandering through East Jerusalem are probably far less even today than the chances of worse unpleasantnesses on the streets of many American cities. Israelis can still go anywhere in East Jerusalem if they so choose, and some do choose. Some parts of East Jerusalem, like the old Jewish Quarter in the walled city, are firmly Israeli. The Arabs, for their part, continue to come to their jobs in West Jerusalem and to do shopping as well.
For all that, the redivision of the ostensibly reunited city is real. An invisible line through Jerusalem's center has restored to it a mystical dimension lost when the city was united in 1967 - the dimension of a forbidden city. Once again, there is an ``over there,'' as close but unapproachable as a mirror image. I look at it these days from a new promenade in southern Jerusalem offering a stunning view. I know the names now of those Arab villages on the far slopes and I know now what lies inside those crenelated walls. I know too many of the faces I would see if I walked there. But a wall of emotion separates us now as surely as the barbed wire once did.