I woke to sun, blue skies, and a light breeze here in Jerusalem today. My first appointment was with Daphna Golan, a veteran leader of the Israeli peace movement who runs human-rights education programs at the Hebrew University. We met in the cafe linked to the Wise auditorium at the university’s Givat Ram campus in West Jerusalem. “Come to where you hear the piano playing,” she said; and indeed I heard the lovely chords of the piano as I approached the building.
What a beautiful idea: a university cafe with a huge grand piano in the middle! Given that the music school is right nearby, Daphna said there’s always someone who wants to sit down and play. As the kippa-ed young guy got his hands around those flowing arpeggios, a security guard by another door was swaying back and forth saying his prayers. The cheerful Palestinian guy behind the counter served me a large cappucino, and Daphna and I sat in a sunny spot and talked.
Like most of the conversations and interviews I’ve conducted since I came here, the tenor of this one was very gloomy. She was reading a couple of Hebrew-language newspapers as I arrived, and informed me that Avigdor Lieberman would almost certainly be in the government, where he was asking for (though might not get) no fewer than five seats… With for himself, either the foreign affairs or finance portfolio.
She talked a little about whether Livni is just hanging tough in the coalition negotiations to try to get a better deal for herself and her part– or whether she would be happy ending up in the opposition, instead.
“Not that it makes much difference,” Daphna said. “Sure, Livni talks about a two-state solution. But what she means by it is not what you or I mean.”
I asked about what had happened to the Israeli left. “There is no Israeli left any more,” she said bluntly.
She noted that Meretz seemed to have shot itself in the foot in the recent elections, in a number of ways. Firstly, it had come out in favor of the war– “So people on the left were asking, ‘So why is Meretz any different from anyone else?” Meretz had also tried to present itself as “new and improved”, but had completely failed to do so. As for the Labour Party, she said that though it still probably has a stronger core of support than Meretz, that support is ageing and is seen as linked to much earlier generations when kibbutzes were still important in Israeli life.
The one good thing about Israeli public life is that people seem to want to vote for women, she said, adding that she thought that was a big reason for the amount of support Tzipi Livni got. “But then, look at Labour and Meretz: no women made it high enough onto those parties’ lists to get elected. What are those parties of the so-called ‘left’ thinking of?”
The only portion of the left that she saw as having much good life left in it is Hadash, the former Communist Party. Though Hadash has been mainly supported by Palestinian Israelis in recent years, she noted that one of their most interesting new MKs will be Dov Chanin, an explicitly anti-Zionist Jewish Israeli who ran for mayor of Tel Aviv last November and amazed everyone by winning one-third of the votes there– more than Meretz.
Golan talked a bit about how isolated she and her pro-peace friends had felt during the Gaza war. She recalled there had been huge pro-war mobilizations on many Israeli campuses. One day during the war she had arrived at the Ramat Gan campus of HU and found large, very belligerent posters calling for the bombing of all of Gaza hung up around the entrance. (She tried to tear them down, herself, right then, and was then threatened by a group of young students who stood around her and called her filthy names. Perhaps some of the same nasty, misogynistic names that get thrown my way from time to time…)
I was deeply moved and personally delighted to catch up with Daphna. She needed to bring the interview to a halt and invited me to walk with her to her home in a leafy nearby neighborhood, where she was engaging in an ingenious bit of civil disobedience. A while ago someone she knows started a project to import organic produce into Jerusalem from the West Bank– defying the whole forest of administrative and financial obstacles with which the Israeli occupation authorities try to prevent or minimize that from happening. So Daphna knows a group of people who form one of the distribution nodes for this cross between a regular veggie coop and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project. When we reached her front yard the friends had nearly finished the sorting. Before us were a dozen produce boxes brimming with beautiful veggies: cabbage, lettuce, green onions, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, etc., all ready to be distributed to the members of this node.
They gave me a crunchy little cucumber to snack on, and I went on my way. I love walking around Jerusalem. My next walk took about 40 minutes: back past the HU campus, up around the new Foreign Ministry building, along Rabin Boulevard to a little park, then up the steep and intimate confines of Bezalel Street, across King George V Blvd, along to the Government Press Office at Beit Agron.
There the cheerful young English-Israeli, ‘Jason’, who’s been sitting on my application for a press card for four days now, told me once again that he’s “on top of it”… But that for some reason The Nation, who have commissioned some of my writings from here, has never applied for a press card here before, so the Israeli consulate in NYC has to do a bit of additional paperwork… Or something. Most strange: I mean, I am in their computer already from the last time I was here, in 2006. On which occasion, yes, they did let me into Gaza.
I asked Jason whether there are any particularly interesting press conferences or other media opportunities coming up. He said no, but tried to sell me on doing a story about the horrors of the “politicization” of many western-based NGOs. I took the brochure he was handing out about this, and proceeded on my way.
I usually enjoy the Jaffa Road/ Ben Yehuda shopping and pedestrian area, but there was ways too much construction there today, so I didn’t linger. I made for Helena Ha-Malkha Street, one of my favorite ways to go– and not only because of the name. (Actually Queen/Saint Helena is a bit of an embarrassment to Quakers and members of other peace churches. It was through her possibly lunatic importunings that her son the Emperor Constantine became a Christian… and a large chunk of Christianity became transformed into the state religion of a huge empire… Among other distortions of the old faith, that whole theory called “Just war” was thereafter introduced. Heck, maybe I should even change my name…)
On the right as you walk along HHM, the ghastly bricked-up windows of the cells in the Moscobiya prison in which the Israelis hold– or certainly have held, in the past– many longterm Palestinian political prisoners. I made a point of singing cheerful songs in English about liberation as I walked past, so maybe people inside those cells could hear me through the few tiny holes they have for ventilation and know that someone was thinking about them.
On the left, the “Sergei Court”, a beautiful large courtyarded structure built by the Russian royal family in the late 19th century to serve as a hostel for high-class Russian pilgrims visiting the city.
After the communist takeover of Russia, the Brits expropriated all the Russian state’s holdings in the city; and after the Brits left the Israelis took them over in their stead. But in recent years the post-Communist Russian state has been working hard to regain control of these lovely pieces of Jerusalem real estate. (Which include, as I’m assuming from the name, the Moscobiya itself?) Anyway, I see from today’s paper that the Israeli government has greed in principle to let the Russian government regain control and ownership of the Sergei Court, though its actual control will start in the first instance with only one wing of the building.
The paper (J. Post? Haaretz? I forget which) said the Israeli government had been reluctant to accede to the Russian demand for its buildings since it was afraid that other countries might also seek the return of city buildings expropriated from them. H’mmm…
Anyway, on down Helena Ha-Malkha to Nevi-im, past the Nablus Road “Arab” bus terminal, and back to my hotel. Made a few calls; and now here I am.
(I have to say I have so much material from the past three weeks that it’ll take some time to sort it all out and write it up. Tuesday I did an interview with Salam Fayad which was pretty interesting. And yes, I’m still hacking away at a broader “mood” piece about Ramallah but it ain’t ready yet… )