My Word: Blurred Borders

Blurred Borders

In the November 23 edition of The Jerusalem Report, New York-based writer and feminist icon Anne Roiphe moans, "I am concerned that the Israel I love appears to have abandoned hope of reconciliation, and is now behaving like Britannia when she was the ugly, undisputed colonial mistress of the known world. I worry that the decision to continue settlement building in the West Bank creates more facts on the ground. It blasts the prospect of an honorable peace into a distant galaxy." And, indeed, Roiphe and I seem to be living on different planets. While we both desire peace, we obviously have different opinions on what blew the possibility of a decent diplomatic solution to the Middle East so off course. From the outset of the Oslo Accords, I was skeptical. I found the very phrase "Jericho and Gaza First" ominous. It seemed obvious to me that Jerusalem, if not second, was not far down the list, perhaps just after the Etzion Bloc and the Golan Heights. At what point we were meant to get the actual "peace" part of the "process" was not so clear. Roiphe admits that the view from her New York progressive world is different from the one that many Israelis have. About as different as the view from her window and what I see from my tenement in Jerusalem's Katamonim area, I expect. "Of course 'honorable' is a preoccupation of the safe, the luxury of those out of range of rockets and of enemy armies, regular and irregular," writes Roiphe. "Knowing all this, I still say more is at stake here than military control of a restive people or fulfillment of biblical edicts. What matters here is that Israel survives with its moral center intact and its democracy vibrant and its people able to look in the mirror without shame." Well, when I look in the mirror, I see - like most of my middle-aged friends, I suspect - a face with a few more worry lines and gray hairs than used to be there. Most are attributable to normal aging. I don't know how many I can blame on motherhood, but giving birth at the height of the "second intifada" maybe left its mark on more than just my psyche. SOME PEOPLE I know might have aged this week for a different reason. Some of my best friends, as they say, are settlers. Suddenly a lot more of them, it seems. The Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee's approval of a plan to build some 900 units in the capital's southeastern Gilo neighborhood has caused ripples way beyond the confines of City Hall in Jerusalem's Safra Square. You might have thought Iran had dropped a bomb. Leaders in the US, the UK, Russia and the European Union immediately condemned the plan as an obstacle to returning to the negotiating table. I can't help but wonder, however, if Israel is forced to freeze building in the capital as a prerequisite to resuming negotiations with the Palestinians, what price are we expected to pay for yet another promise of peace? An environmentalist, I have definite reservations about massive construction in the area, but my major concerns are about green zones, not the Green Line, which is particularly blurred at this point. While it is convenient to blame the lack of peace on "settlers" - a term frequently spat out in the foreign media as if it barely referred to human beings - most of the settlers I'm proud to call friends defy the stereotype. They are not religious fanatics. Some aren't even Orthodox. And nearly all them moved because of the lack of affordable housing in Jerusalem rather than a desire to live over the Green Line and infuriate the Palestinians and the rest of the world. The latest "settlers" of my acquaintance are the families who moved to Gilo positive they were remaining in Jerusalem - to which they pay municipal taxes. They still send their children to schools within walking distance of my own apartment - in a part of the capital being more hotly contested by realtors than the Arab world, although I suppose I could wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and find I, too, have suddenly turned into a "settler." One acquaintance last week pointed out that her family had lived in Gilo for close to 30 years and, if they were suddenly to be separated from the rest of Israel, then Jordan should be at the receiving end. "This area was never Palestinian land. Before Israel took it over, following the Six Day War, it was Jordanian," she noted. This woman - the sort of optimistic person who sees laughter lines rather than wrinkles when she looks in the mirror - is not unduly concerned by world opinion. Or the thought that even if she can carry on living in "occupied" Gilo, her children have no right to grow up expecting to buy apartments in the neighborhood. "There are some 40,000 people here," she said. "Where are they going to move us to?" She is in the minority among my new-old settler friends. She has been living in Gilo for decades. Others moved there more recently, many of them when prices were particularly low for a particularly Israeli reason. In 2000, in what we now realize was a well-orchestrated response to Ehud Barak's peace overtures, the Palestinians launched a heavy barrage of nightly mortar and shooting attacks on Gilo from nearby Beit Jala. The residents of my neighborhood - the majority of them Jewish refugees from Iraq and Kurdistan - could hear the explosions as if they were in their own backyard. And, indeed, they weren't that far away. We realize that if the Palestinians shot from Beit Jala into Gilo, then without Gilo we're next in the line of fire. TALK OF a settlement freeze is not popular in my neck of the urban jungle, where families tend to be large and close-knit. People here understand the desire of parents to build homes for their offspring, where they can still walk over for Shabbat meals. In Binyamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister one of the biggest hurdles to peace in the Middle East (and possibly in the world) was the construction of the Har Homa neighborhood. Netanyahu stood his ground and thousands of families now live there, most of them, again, motivated by the relative affordability of the housing rather than colonialism. Netanyahu has recently indicated he is willing to show "restraint" in construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem. Where do you draw the line? I recently had a conversation with a moderate, well-educated Muslim man from a Gulf state. Discussing the similarity of Hebrew and Arabic, I mentioned the name Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew. "Yehuda," the man burst out. "Yehuda was the one who betrayed Yousef [Joseph]." And there you have it. The explanation for the Middle East dispute. Jews have a long memory; Muslims have a long memory. There is one story, but many narratives. The trouble did not start because of the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948, but millennia before. Even the terms Judea and Samaria, it seems, carry significant emotional weight on both sides. The view from my window is of the biblical Judean hills. I am woken early in the morning not by fear or an uneasy conscience. I awake to the sound of the muezzin blasting out his call to the faithful of the nearby Arab neighborhoods. I can live with it a lot better than the sound of explosions from Beit Jala.