At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, settled in with free wifi after pizza and a diet Coke. (Today will be my first day in over a week without hummous! The Palestinians have it with every meal, including breakfast.)
I did manage to visit the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem. A small but wonderful mecca of beautifully produced books, including a wifi cafe with coffee and sweets. Clearly the place to be for bookish internationals and laptop cosmopolitans. Purchased a few irresistible volumes, including Roger Shahada’s brand new memoir The Rift in Time. I was only one of several shoppers looking for it this morning — everyone we have met from Jenin to Jerusalem has been talking about it. I felt like one of the cognoscenti.
After one last cup of Arabic coffee with Mohammed, Jean, and George, I boarded the shuttle for Ben Gurion and got a tour of the Hasidic neighborhoods between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as we picked up passengers (apparently no secular Israelis were traveling today!). School was just letting out and the streets were alive with blue-uniformed children, some as young as five or six who seemed to be walking home on their own. The universal backpack was well represented, though many little girls were pulling two-wheeled versions.
The traffic throughout Israel and the occupied territories is seriously chaotic, particularly as vehicles and pedestrians weave through the many round-abouts. There are sidewalks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but there seems to be an aversion to using them, unless your cab driver really needs to get around someone who is too cautiously entering the flow — then the empty sidewalk comes in handy.
Before leaving the guest house this morning, Jean and I spoke again about yesterday’s meeting with the settler. According to Jean, the themes I heard in the first twenty minutes of the visit — before I stormed out in high pique — held sway for the entire conversation. The whole thing reminds me of the mock interviews that Jon Stewart’s pseudo-correspondents conduct. My gut reaction is, WHY on earth would this man want to talk to us? Does he not hear his own self-serving rhetoric and half-truths? If so many lives weren’t at stake, wouldn’t this interview be just another late-night comedy segment?
On the one hand, it was disappointing to learn that this particular settler had nothing more convincing to present than what I had already read about settlers’ rationalizations for claiming Palestinian land.
On the other hand, I had to admit a sense of relief, too. If I’m being perfectly honest, I have to say that part of my emotional outburst in the settler’s house was the result of having worked myself into something of a tizzy beforehand, hoping that I would not hear anything that actually made sense. I did not want to have to integrate a new perspective into my pre-formed understanding of the settlers — alas. What does that say about my own spirit of inquiry? Given that there appeared to be nothing new under the sun in this particular settler’s world, what does it also say about the predictability of the extremist mentality?
For that is what we’re talking about after all. Extremism. The Israeli government (and, it has been claimed, American Christian Zionist groups, also extremists), provide ample incentive to entice desperately poor immigrants to the settlements, not all of whom necessarily have an ideological agenda. But much like the Tea Party movement in the U.S., the extremists seem to be stealing the show, at least for the moment.