Today the Israelis are celebrating their 57th Independence Day and flags are flying from apartment balconies, from cars and taxis and from flagpoles all over the city. A few days ago, just to make sure we knew what was expected of us, our morning paper came with large free flag tucked inside.
It has been a joyful day for Israelis and tonight in my quiet apartment I hear music and cheering and honking horns float across the neighbourhood. Just a few minutes ago popping and whistling noises began outside; when I went out on the terrace to investigate I saw that a block away fireworks had started.
Last night was quite different. It was a day of remembrance, to mourn the dead of the Intifada and other wars. A horn blew for a long time and the whole city stopped.
Late last night I took David to the airport in Tel Aviv to catch a plane home to Canada for some meetings. As we drove down the mountain highway to the flat plains of the coast, we passed the shells of the tanks, trucks and army vehicles destroyed in the 1947 effort to take Jerusalem. The Israelis leave the vehicles there near the side of the road, many almost invisible behind bushes or underneath trees, as permanent memorials to those who died along this highway. Unless someone points them out, most tourists don’teven notice them as they come up the moutaiuns from the airport.
But last night these trucks and tanks were wrapped in white paper with the Israeli flag hung over each one, each brilliantly illuminated with floodlamps, each a disturbing reminder of violence.
Our months here have been quiet. The Intifada is indeed over but the tragedy is that people have not lost their fear and anxiety. They are not afraid of Palestinian attacks; instead they fear their fellow Israelis.
The settlers, right-wing, well-armed and well-trained in the Israeli army, many together in special units, have made it clear they will do whatever it takes to oppose the planned pullout from Gaza. Our close friends are expecting violence. They expect settler attacks on the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City. They are talking about civil war. They are even talking, very cautiously, about moving to Canada or the United States.
In the meantime, settlements continue to grow and spread in the East Bank. Last week we spent time with friends in Bethlehem; they are Palestinian Christians and invited us to share a family celebration after a little boy’s first communion with a hundred other children at the Church of the Nativity. As we drove around the towns in the area, we saw vast new settlements sprawling over confiscated Palestinian land and we saw the wall being built to divide the two communities.
Another big story here is Jaffagate in which well-financed settlers are believed to be behind the purchase of some extraordinary pieces of property in the Old City’s Christian Quarter, hotels and buildings at the Jaffa Gate worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
This is the gate most tourists use when they enter the Old City; this is the gate everyone knows. It seems that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Patriarch Irineos I, cut a secret deal with a Jewish company to sell the land, his excuse being that it proves he doesn’t hate Jews or Israel and that he doesn’t sympathize with the Palestinians as has been stated in the past.
An offshore company registered in the Bahamas now appears to own the land. Patriarch Irineos I has just been fired.
What Irineos did isn’t new. The Armenian Patriarch did the same thing not long ago with church-owned land just outside the Old City; now it is occupied by a new, and huge, Jewish-owned hotel. The Armenian community is seething.
But you know, I do love it here. I love this country and I love this city. It makes me crazy and angry and sad but I do love it.