Warm and breezy night in Jerusalem. I am seated at the back of the terrace restaurant, so the breeze doesn’t come my way, but I have the perfect observer’s field of vision. At this hour, about 8:00, I am surrounded by houkas and Arabic; clearly this spot is favored by locals. I linger over my dinner of tabbouleh salad, chicken mousakhan (cutlets smothered with spiced, grilled onions and toasted almonds), and more than one glass of the house white. I’m rewarded by a parade of internationals around 9:00. I suspect there must be Americans among them, but English does not rise above the din. Instead, I hear Spanish and German, and spot a young Asian couple silently texting over their meal. The elder gentleman of a French-speaking party asks for the extra chair at my table — in English. English! It must be the white wine and lack of houka smoke that gives me away. An Anglo-looking man with many cameras arrives and also partakes of the houka; I read in my brochure that The Jerusalem Hotel is “favored by media and creative types.” I think I have spotted one.
Jerusalem generously rewards the attentive observer. On my extended sherut ride here (that’s the shared taxi), I saw more than expected; the Israeli driver either forgot or didn’t understand where I was headed and I was the last to be dropped off, though we’d passed my hotel 30 minutes into the ride from the airport. He apologized profusely when I finally inquired about my fate, and even offered to buy me a coffee, after we stopped to refill the gas tank. (It was a long ride.) Along the way, I spotted a neon sign atop an otherwise undistinguished building; it read “olive trees will be our borders.” At first read, this was an ambiguous statement, at least to my ears. Knowing the history of the Isrealis’ destruction of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian olive trees over the decades, I supposed it could be a provocative statement. But back in my room, I googled the saying and found this, the “neon peace” sign on flickr:
Perhaps for some the conventional symbolism of the olive branch still holds, however tenuously. I go on to read today’s news of the peace talks. Abbas is in a corner — will he find a way to proceed short of a full Israeli freeze on settlement construction? An announcement is coming, says his spokesperson; I await the morning’s headlines.