The letters “PLO”, are sprayed in Arabic script on the rusted shutters of a shop, using aerosol paint. Underneath, scrawled in English for the benefit of the tourists: “FUCK ISRAEL”.
In September of 1992, when I wrote FURY, the intefadeh had fallen into a lull; Rabin was talking to Assad, and the newspapers, at least, were speculating that peace might break out. This was a remarkable horizon in a land that has been almost constantly at war with its neighbors since the state was proclaimed.
Fast forward twenty years. For five days now Hamas have been firing rockets into Israel and Israeli jets have been pounding Gaza. They’re still saying Fuck Israel; and Israel is still saying Fuck You right back.
Wafa strokes her kohl-black hair, and lights another cigarette with trembling fingers. She has huge brown eyes that glitter with passion. “My family are all Palestinians. I was born here in Jordan, but I am a Palestinian. A Palestinian. I cannot think of myself any other way.”
There are beads of perspiration on her forehead. Amman is a city of concrete and glass, ofheat and dust and clamouring car horns. Outside, the sun hammers off an asphalt highway, drying the body like a raisin.
Wafa pauses to sip the gritty black coffee. “This is not my country. I have never belonged here. Until our case is settled I will never be happy. All my life I feel frustrated, always I feel this way. Why does the world not listen to our case? We can never rest, don’t they understand? We will tell our children about what happened, and our children’s children. It can never be over for us.” She stares at the floor. “I try not to hate the Israelis but I know what they did to my father, and my father’s father, and there is a stone in my heart. You understand? A stone.’
The Midrachov, Jerusalem,
Isaac Ben-Zion tears the top off a Goldstar and leans on the bar in his restaurant off Ben Yehuda Street. His forehead wrinkles into a frown. “I was a major in the Israeli army. I lost a lot of my boys in 1973, fighting the Syrians. And now Rabin is talking of giving it all back to Assad. I don’t know … he says it will bring peace. But what kind of peace will we have when they are looking down their gun barrels at us from the Golan?”
Later that day I go into the Old City to interview a nurse who survived the siege ofJerusalem in 1948. Rivca Weingarten told me she had grown up here in the Old Quarter, in the house where her family had lived continuously for 367 years. ‘There were Muslims, Christians, Armenians in my street,’ she tells me. ‘We all knew each other, we went to school with each other. We got along fine. It wasn’t us who made the war. People brought it in from outside.’
When the siege ended, she was taken prisoner by the Arab Legion. When she finally returned to the old city after the 1967 war, the Jordanians had torn down the Weingarten house.
The Old City
As afternoon turns to evening I walk back through the Damascus Gate. A boy and girl stroll past arm in arm; they are like young lovers everywhere, except that the boy has an Uzi strapped across his back.
The sun sets over the white graves on the Mount of Olives. This, they say, is the biblical valley of Jehosophat where the trumpets of the Last Judgment will call the souls of all mankind to the end of the world. Christians, Jews and Muslims are all buried here in expectation of God’s final verdict.
‘Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places:
And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it.’
the Book of Numbers, 33: 51-53.
Jerusalem: the place where everyone talks about God and the last place on earth you’ll ever find Him.
To read more about it, go here.