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May 13, 1988 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-13

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Jerusalem Re-Divided

The wall around the Old City is, once again,
a wall. It protects the differences
that the unification of Jerusalem
— which occurred 21 years ago Sunday —
was supposed to have overcome.


Special to The Jewish News



erusalem — The first thing
you feel, in Jerusalem in the
period of the Palestinian up-
rising, is the new role of the
wall. Not the Western Wall; its
odd position as the most direct access
to the Jewish godhead is probably set,
well, in stone, except that Jews are
not streaming toward it anymore,
because the Palestinians have come,
once again, between the Jews and
their sacred geography.
No, I refer to the wall around the
Old City. It has been transformed ut-
terly. It was, since June 1967, no wall
at all. It spoke not of politics, but of
history, of a distant, florid past that
was a kind of resort area for Jewish
historical consciousness. The wall
held the Jewish treasure (and not on-
ly the Jewish treasure) in its un-
breachable embrace.
The monstrously durable rock
seemed to be doing our work, protect-
ing our riches. No more. The wall is,
since December 1987, once again a
wall. It keeps you out, it wards you off,
it bars passage between peoples,
cultures, traditions. It protects the dif-
ferences that the unification of
Jerusalem was supposed to have over-
come. As I stare at the Old City across
Gehenna, it seems to have turned its
back On me.
From afar, the silence of the
precincts within the wall is deafening.
The din that used to be heard from far
away, that seemed to signify a happy,
anarchic, congested mingling of
Israelis and Palestinians, a noisy fac-
similie of peace created by commerce,
is gone.
I was advised by acquaintances

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of The
New Republic.


FRIDAY, MAY 13, 1988

not to venture inside the wall, but
after a week of fear I rejected the ad-
vice. I strode, on an appropriately
cloudy afternoon, with a nervous
Israeli friend, through the Jaffa Gate.
The streets and alleys of the Old City
were deserted, except for some deter-
mined haredim, befuddled tourists,
vigilant soldiers. The casbah may as
well have been under curfew.
The shops were all shuttered, ex-
cept a few hours a day, so that Palesti-
nians will not be forced by their own
economic boycott to buy their basic
commodities from Israelis. The hours
are determined by the clandestine
leadership of the intifada, as the
Palestinian uprising is called, which
changes the schedule as it wills. The
new schedule travels swiftly through
the Palestinian community: only one
of the many signs of the unprece-
dented self-discipline of that
A few old Arab women hawk a few
small pieces of Arab embroidery on
the low steps leading into the market.
Israeli soldiers patrol in pairs, and
Israeli security officers walk alone, in
smart leather jackets just tight
enough to betray the outlines of a
I struck up a conversation with
one such security officer. He surprised
me with his insistence that we discuss
contemporary Israeli literature. I'm
afraid I was a little too rattled by the
ghostly surroundings to stick to the
subject. I was struck by the weird, ex-
traordinary cultivation of Israeli
society; I don't imagine that a securi-
ty officer in, say, Chile would care for
my views on Neruda, or have any of
his own.
But I was not allowed to bask long
in my admiration. I was becoming too
animated, he warned, and Hebrew
heard in the Muslim quarter was an
invitation to trouble. He suggested

that I repair to the Jewish quarter, or
better still to the lush safety of Yemin
Moshe, where I was lodged.
Before I traveled to Jerusalem last
month, a friend who had recently re-
turned tried to re-assure me that in
Jerusalem "you wouldn't know" what
was happening in the West Bank. She
seemed to consider the absence of that
knowledge to be some sort of consola-
tion. I failed to see the consolation in
the denial. My friend was wrong. It
took only a few days in Jerusalem to
grasp that the city has been effective-
ly, existentially, re-divided.
This is not to say that life does not
carry on "as normal." Ben Yehuda
Street on a Friday afternoon is brim-
ming with life, with drink, with flir-
tation, with youth. The spirit of
Jewish Jerusalem has not been
defeated. Still, it has been profound-
ly vexed. There is anxiety
everywhere. For example: the intifada
has penetrated every Jewish home
that houses a teenager.
If the teenager is a boy, the talk
in the kitchen is about the morality
of the son's inevitable service as a
soldier in the territories. If the
teenager is a girl, the talk in the kit-
chen is about the morality of the
boyfriend's inevitable service in the
territories. Ethical theory has become
a family activity in Israel. (There is
a kind of renaissance of left-wing
political activity in Jerusalem now, a
sincere, impotent renewal of middle-
class protest against the govern-
ment's policies in the territories.)
Or consider the predicament of B.,
one of Israel's most prominent men of
letters. B. lives in Abu Tbr, in an old
Arab house that he rescued from rot
in 1965, when Abu Tor was a no-
man's land between Israel and Jor-
dan, and you had to be crazy to settle
there. (As I said, B. is a man of letters.)
B.'s house is the first Jewish house

in the Arab village. In his little cor-
ner of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
he IS the border. Abu Tor is a placid
village, facing the placid defile of Mt.
Zion. Its goats graze listlessly be-
neath the gaze of B. and his family.
He has lived in friendship with
the people of Abu Tor for more than
20 years. A few months ago, he began
to build a garage beneath his garden,
the work of a handyman called Ara-
fat. But the work of this Arafat was
interrupted by the work of the other
Arafat. One night in March, B.'s car
was torched; and a few nights later,
it was torched again.
His wife now lives in fear for her
small children. She insists that they
get out. B. is himself not immune to
fear; he sleeps lightly now But he
loves his house, and he stands on his
right to live where he lives, and on the
decency he has demonstrated in his
conduct with his neighbors. He has
chosen to continue work on the
garage for the car that was the victim.
Life goes on. And he has chosen to
take advantage of the work on the
garage to move his family away from
the front line of the uprising. Life does
Many Israelis in Jerusalem exist
in precisely this sort of suspension
between the normal and the abnor-
mal. There is a new geography of fear.
The roads through East
Jerusalem are no longer used on the
way to the university on Mt. Scopus.
Families rise earlier in the morning,
because the short cuts to school are
out of the question. The Saturday
afternoons on Saladin Street, whither
secular Israelis used to flee from the
restricting sanctity of Sabbath in
Jerusalem, are over. The favorite
hummus joint is Jewish again. The
black market is Jewish again. The
Jews have been forced back on

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