The Breakfast Table

In Hebron, They Eat Every Part of the Animal

How is Judy? Has she walked the little dog yet? Have the doormen seen anything more of the mayor?

The front page of the New York Times really brought me back this morning. How about you?

I’m sure you, who were an actual correspondent for an actual paper when you were in Jerusalem (and you still are now, I know, I know), are quite blasé about scenes like the one yesterday in Ramallah, but I only went through one big violent demo when I was there, and it was the one four years ago in Ramallah at the same place, when the Palestinian security forces first dared to shoot at the Israeli army.

Which was quite a shocker for this correspondent, because I thought I only had to watch my front (we were facing the Israelis) when suddenly, it seemed I also had to watch my back. (When the Palestinians started shooting, I retired within the cool four walls of a nearby photocopy shop to wait out the war.)

I was reminded though of how one does become foolishly accustomed to the action. Obviously, the Palestinian “youths” are used to it–unflinching is the word that comes to mind when you think what they put themselves up against. But the journalists, also. Yesterday, a friend of mine who is a correspondent for the L.A. Times was ducking out of the gunfire for a second with her Palestinian fixer when the fixer was hit in the back by Palestinian fire. The L.A. Times correspondent was about a foot away. Her fixer was okay, but only luck–or as they believe over there in Holylandia, God’s will–saved him.

I love Yitzhak Herzog, an adviser to Prime Minister Barak. Debbie Sontag of the N.Y. Times–who seems to have allowed her husband, Bill Orme, to cover the dusty, bloody fighting in Ramallah, while she went to the air-conditioned, bomb-proof Knesset–heard all day long about how Palestinians were expressing their frustration in the streets, how there was a miniwar, how hundreds were being injured, and the violence was spreading and intensifying. When she told Herzog about this, he lifted his hands in the air, made a gesture that encompassed all the prime minister’s stubborn colleagues and rivals in the Knesset, and said: “Talk about frustration! THIS is frustration!” Shows how little the Israeli government is able to understand how Palestinians feel, even when it is trying.

I remember too how you can spend three or four hours in something very like a war zone at that Bet El Junction in Ramallah (when I was there, Israeli helicopters were shooting down into the crowd), and then drive for fifteen minutes down into Israeli Jerusalem and have a smoked mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich and a fresh lemonade at Aroma on the corner of Hillel and Rabi Akiva Streets. It’s an unusually wide disjunction for so small a space.

Glad the Israelis are finally conceding Abu Dis to the Palestinians, which, like Gaza, is the kind of place that makes you wonder why they bothered holding  on to it for so long.



P.S.: In fact, I really like both Gaza and Abu Dis. But that’s me. I’m still begging Condé Nast Traveler to let me do a travel piece about the West Bank (hard for them to exactly wrap their minds around it: dining in downtown Hebron??? Last time I was there I was eating liver when my fixer looked at me and said with an evil grin: “We eat EVERY part of the animal”). The only piece I’ve proposed to Traveler that they seem to like less is a piece on the Amtrak train from New York to Monmouth Racetrack in New Jersey. Oh, well.