On the borders of cultures


Israel is a fascinating place, a hot house of domestic and international pressures. The cities we recently visited in Italy are more peaceful, and the wine good and not expensive, but I''m too old to learn Italian.

We recently experienced incidents on three of the cultural boundaries that are always on call: with Palestinians, settlers, and the religious, all inclined to be more feisty than is our preference.
Part of the fascination is an edge of danger.
Those enamored of Apartheid must reckon with the French Hill post office, where the mixture of population is intense.
Relatively little of its business deals with mail. For some years now, most letters and bills come digitized. Israel''s post office, like those elsewhere, has taken on the tasks of providing a venue for other government agencies and non-governmental services. If you want to transfer ownership of a car, buy or charge a cheap telephone, or pay a bill for taxes or utilities you haven''t organized through your bank, you go to the post office.
In French Hill, it''s also a place to rub shoulders with neighbors from Isaweea. 
It''s an opportunity to be avoided unless required. We buy our stamps elsewhere, but the French Hill branch is the place we must go if we aren''t home when the mail person comes with a registered letter, and leaves a slip telling us to pick it up there.
Isaweea has no post office. Reports are that residents burned their branch as a symbol of Israel. 
Moreover, many residents of Isaweea have no internet connection or bank accounts.
The morning I went to the post office, almost all of the people crowded into the site were Palestinians.
"Rubbing shoulders" is what happened when I came a few minutes before opening time, in the hope of getting a number that would allow me to do my two minutes of business with less than two hours waiting.
When the guard opened the door and prepared to pass out the numbers, the jostling was serious, with competitive claims in one language or another of, "I was here first."
I pitied the young man, armed with a wand to check for explosives, but unable to use it amidst those of us cheek by jowl with one another and with him.
A great place for someone intent on mayhem, but it passed without noticeable injury.
While clients might go postal, there seems little danger that the staff will do so. They work deliberately, and hopefully accurately, not apparently pressured by several dozen people sitting with numbers in hand, waiting for the electric sign to show that their turn has arrived.
Googling the French Hill post office turns up complaints that the residents of Isaweea have limited mail service.
They are also short on fire protection and ambulance service, insofar as the crews won''t enter the neighborhood without police protection.
Yet another cultural border is between intense settlers and the rest of us.
The evening after my visit to the French Hill post office there was TV coverage of continuing fall out from the end of the Kerry process.
Settlement leaders said it was time to absorb all of the West Bank into Israel.
The interviewer asked, "What to do with the Palestinians?"
The response, "Legislate autonomy for their cities and towns."
My comment from the couch: How do you say Bantustan in Hebrew?
It didn''t work in Afrikaans, and is not likely to survive domestic and international criticism here.
Better would be to do nothing but leave Israelis and Palestinians to deal with one another outside of the political spotlight, and let John Kerry along with the rest of the international community get used to the Palestinian anomaly. 
Kerry, Isaweea, and settlers are not the only sources of recent excitement. Things are also heating up on the front between Christians and Jews.
It concerns "David''s Tomb," the "Room of the Last Supper," and the pending visit of the Pope.
The Room of the Last Supper is on a floor above David''s Tomb, in one old building on Mt Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City.
Quotation marks around the designations are appropriate, insofar as it is unlikely that either site are what they say they are, but both have been venerated as such for centuries.
If David or anyone else really was entombed downstairs, the Jew Jesus would not have eaten upstairs, due to the area made impure, and forbidden to food, by a nearby body.
A gaggle of ultra-Orthodox Jews has been demonstrating, led by a Rabbi still angry with the Christians for what they did to Jews in the Middle Ages. He is firm in his opposition to what he describes as the pagan ceremonies of Christians and the display of crosses on the floor above what he says is David''s Tomb.
Officials of the Rabbinate and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have denied reports and sought quiet the commotion by asserting that Israel will not  transfer ownership of that holy place, or part of it, to the Vatican as part of the Pope''s visit. 
Hopes are that the Mass the Pope plans to perform in the Room of the Last Supper will pass peacefully.
Maybe God will help us.