Testing the Waters—
Palestine & Israel, 2006
Journal, April 5, 2006—Jerusalem
Photos: Jerusalem—Al-Quds, One City
Wandering around Jerusalem—Silwan and Mordechai Vanunu
I want to go home, where it is clean, dry, warm, and springy. Currently the weather here is wet and windy, thundery as well, fog rolling in during the night, after a relatively bright sunset. Strong winds flapping the shutters prompted me to get up during the night and close them. Now, morning time, grim, leaks in the veranda (but I know where they are, moved my shoes just in time to prevent another soaking), thinking, today I'm to meet someone at an office far from home, plus gather students for a photo trip, I'd rather ditch all this nonsense and get on the next plane home. This is my state of mind.
I went to Jerusalem yesterday, overnight, to meet RT of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information. An intern from France, the young woman MB, joined us. R was a wealth of insights and contacts, promising to send me more when he gets back to his office and notes. He pushed for an even handed approach to the issue of water, suggesting that if he were to give me his Israeli leads and they were to discover that I was strongly pro-Palestine, this would jeopardize his working relationship. He'd earlier suggested to me that I try to reach beyond the immediate conflict and dive into the larger issue of water globally and mythically. Here I heartily agreed.
He told me that before the Roman period the main water supply was a set of springs in Bethlehem, Solomon's pools, and that someone (Romans?) had created an aqueduct to transport the water to Jerusalem. I need to look into this. He also strongly suggested including Gaza, a certain wadi (valley) there that is the sole source of freshwater but now is heavily polluted. In fact, no wastewater in Gaza is treated, other than what the Israelis did when in settlements there. He had ideas about rivers and lakes that I'd dimly heard about, one near Tel Aviv. Oh, if only I had a guide, could afford a guide, who was both water savvy and could drive me. Of course, he discouraged me from simply renting a car and exploring on my own. This is something I might consider--after doing sufficient research--in my home country or a relatively stable place, but here, not too smart.
M, by long distance, did her research and what she calls her dissertation (for a BS degree) in France about water in Israel-Palestine. Now she's here for 5-6 months on the ground and needs a quick start. She or R asked if she might accompany me on some of my site visits. Of course, and today might be the first as I'm scheduled to meet Abdel Tamimi of the Palestinian Hydrology Group in Ramallah.
After the meeting which ended in the late afternoon, I tried to scout more of Silwan, but, carrying a recently withdrawn 1500 NIS and the light rapidly disappearing, I thought getting stuck in the Kidron Valley at night would not be proper. So after a short sojourn thru the Jewish quarter of the Old City, marveling again at the huge menorah built to specifications from 2 nd temple times (suggesting that the 3 rd temple will eventually rise) and the remnants of the Cardo, I rested for the night at the Faisel. To sleep early, probably the first of my number to do so, awakened several times by latecomers to the room, shuffling about their luggage, wheezing and snorting, someone, some bastard, turning on the light. And then, getting my revenge, I arose early and did my own shuffling about.
Off to Silwan, hopefully to find the area of demolished homes, new Israeli settlements, more about water. Yes, I did find a pile of rubble, and in talking with local people, seemed to confirm that this was once a home. But whether Israelis smashed it or just because it was old, I'm not clear. I found settlements and I confirmed, both from maps and later web work, that the pool I'd seen earlier was indeed the Pool of Siloam. And now I believe I know how to find the Spring of Gihon--where I'd met the boys last year who offered to guide me.
I managed to reach the lower part of the valley, in what I understand to have once been the King's Gardens. Not very lush at this point, a few orchards and groves, nothing spectacular. Rain threatened, the sky released a few sprinkles, but no heavy rain. I bused back to Damascus gate.
Being in Jerusalem, walking past St George's guesthouse and cathedral, remembering Mordechai Vanunu lives there, entrapped there by the Israelis, I dropped by and found him in. His trial resumes in May--he is not hopeful. His annual review by the Israel government about letting him leave the country comes up in 2 weeks--he is not hopeful. No country has offered him asylum. When I asked him what I could do for him back in the States, other than try to keep his story alive, he replied, "Help me find one Congress person, just one, who will take on my case. Who will see that we all have a right to free speech. The Israelis are denying me this, and my message about nuclear weapons is an important one for the world to hear."
He is considering moving out of the guesthouse, two years there virtually imprisoned, and finding a private apartment in East Jerusalem. "Do you have money for this?" I inquired. "Not exactly, but what St George's pays for my lodging could be applied to an apartment. Or maybe I can find donors or a foundation."
As before, he looks healthy and strong and handsome, but with a heavy spirit. And why should be light hearted? In prison for 18 yrs, 11 of those in solitary, kidnapped from Italy, and now under severe and unwarranted house arrest. Israel claims he has secrets that threaten the state. The response is--from 20 yrs ago? Israel claims he is opposing the rules of house arrest, to not speak with foreigners, especially those from the media. He replies--"I have a right to speak. This is a democracy, supposedly."
He bemoans what has happened to the United States, its principles contorted so that it is now a vicious empire, harming itself and much of the world. I mentioned Chomsky's idea of the US being a failed state. He nodded in agreement. When I mentioned this to L--another of her suggestions--she thought maybe Vanunu would like a copy. I also mentioned that I was facing trial with the Cambridge Seven for opposing the war on Iraq. I noticed a smile flicker across his face.
Coming home thru Kalandia I was shocked to learn much had changed in less than 24 hours. The taxis leave now from the Jerusalem side--for how long I'm not sure, and why also fuzzy, but in the taxi folks were chattering about it and pointing--and simply skip the checkpoint. Tomorrow, this might be all different. The Israelis are making rapid progress with their new "terminals," thought by the unwary to be temporary but looking more and more permanent.