Jerusalem Artichoke

“Sanity and insanity are two sides of the same sheet of paper,” or so it is said.  It took my first trip to Israel, last Wednesday, to fully appreciate the wisdom of those words.   For 60 years, the Palestinians have been sending their children (their greatest wealth, some would say) out to try to kill and harass Israelis, but sacrificing them at the same time.  For what?  Doing the same thing over and over again, with exactly the same results, is a kind of insanity.

I know a story:  Once upon a time there was a man who wanted to take a short cut down a certain street.  He took the short cut despite the fact that he knew there was a hole part way down the street.  Regretfully, he fell in the hole.  The next day, he decided to take the same short cut, but knowing that the hole was there, he decided he would be very careful.  Regretfully, he still fell in the hole.  The next day, he decided to take the same short cut, but this time he would be smarter.  He would walk down the other side of the street.  Regretfully, the street was undermined by the hole, and he still fell in the hole.  Finally, he decided to take another street in the future.

Before I left the United States, I told my friends that I was going to Egypt, then Saudi Arabia, then Israel (in the opposite direction of President Bush—indeed, I passed him going the other way driving in from the airport in Riyadh), then Saudi Arabia again, followed by India, Japan, and home.  My friends are used to my form of insanity, so they took it in stride, though some asked whether I needed another passport, so as not to show the Arab nations that I had been to Israel, and not show the Israelis that I had been to Arab countries.  Did George Bush have to worry about that?  I don’t know, but I called Travel Documents Systems, Inc., which handles my passport matters quite ably, and learned that the Saudis stopped worrying about Israeli visa stamps 9 years ago, and the Israelis are in any case willing to give you a loose leaf page for your passport, rather than permanently imprint your travel document for all to see.    In the event, this proved to be true.

One can’t fly directly to Tel Aviv from Riyadh, so my ticketing was via Amman, Jordan.  When I arrived at the ticket counter at Riyadh Airport and was asked my destination, I said “Tel Aviv.”  The counter agent looked up at me as if I were insane, and then asked his supervisor whether he was allowed to create a baggage tag, with “TLV” as a destination.  The supervisor simply nodded and said of course he could.

Upon arrival in Tel Aviv, I was impressed by the beautiful new (seemingly—how would I know?)  air terminal  at Ben Gurion Airport.  I am a longtime student of Jungian Psychology and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which refer to how “anchors” in your psyche fire certain memories, when they are activated.  Through the rest of this piece, I will mention occasionally how certain sights and sounds proved to be “anchors” to some of my experience—it turned out to be quite a ride.

When I got down to the immigration room, the first thing that struck my eye were huge posters, which showed entry/exit visa stamps across a hand and arm.  The tattoos of Auschwitz came immediately to mind!  Justice Thomas Buergenthal, the American Justice on the International Court of Justice in The Hague, was my professor for International Law and International Protection of Human Rights, while I was in law school.  He also has the distinction of being the youngest human being to survive Auschwitz (for some 2 years—but that is another meritorious story).  Justice Buergenthal has on his forearm the tattoo, which was inked into his forearm at Auschwitz.  In my law school days, he pointedly wore short sleeve shirts to class, so that we could all see it.  So the visa stamps across someone’s forearm at Ben Gurion Airport quite naturally fired off this Auschwitz remembrance in my psyche, even if it was not intentionally there to symbolize just that.

Once I was thinking of Auschwitz, I was also impressed that the immigration booths were cubes, arranged in a claustrophobic “V” with the narrow part farthest from me, which reminded me of the fact that at The Holocaust Museum in Washington some of the passageways are intentionally arranged in narrower and narrower passageways, to give the visitor some of the claustrophobic sense that the victims of Auschwitz experienced as they were herded through their checkpoints.

Driving into Tel Aviv, I was immediately stuck by how much more built up the skyline was than I expected.  Based on 50 years of western media harangue, I imagined the Israelis not having built so much, but this was clearly a modern city, reminding me more of Chicago, by the lake, than Baghdad.   In the morning, from the picture windowed breakfast room of the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv, I was immediately reminded of Beirut, and my visit to “The Paris of the Middle East” just two days before the London bombing, in July of 2005.  In any case, the feeling of the Mediterranean on the shores of both cities is identical (at least to this outsider).

That morning I went to visit a colleague high in one of Tel Aviv’s many office towers.  As I drove through the streets on that sunny day, it dawned on me that the waste of all of those Palestinian children has been entirely in vain.  While the Palestinians live as they do in Gaza, the Israelis of Tel Aviv don’t even notice a bombing or the rocket fire.  They are out of the range of the rockets, and a bombing is viewed like we view one of our traffic accidents in the USA, regrettable, but just bad luck.  While the newspapers are filled with the conflict stories, both in Gaza and in the Knesset, the average Israeli doesn’t seem to notice—they go about their business.

My Muslim friends will tell you that God guides their lives and everything in the World.  For my part, I wonder if the Palestinians are listening.  Another favorite story involves a man whose house is inundated with a sudden flood.  He has to climb up onto the roof of his house to save himself initially, but when the roof disintegrates under him, he jumps to a tree, which is still high enough to be out of the water.  He says to himself, “I have been a worthy man, God will save me.” The river is rushing past him, but he is able to cling to his tree for 12 hours.  After sunrise, a large crate floats past him.  He could grab it or not, but he decides to stay with his tree, thinking “God will save me.”  Another three hours pass before he sees a helicopter coming.  He waves to the pilot, but then is frightened by the prop wash and the prospect of hanging from the jungle sling under the helicopter, so he waves it off thinking “God will save me.”  Near dusk, 24 hours into his ordeal, a man rows by in a leaky boat, and offers to take him aboard.  He considers the boat’s seaworthiness and his tree, and decides to stick with his tree, thinking “God will save me.”  Just at dark, another big push of the flood comes down upon him engulfing his tree and he drowns.  Suddenly, he finds himself at the gates of heaven, and St. Peter says to him, “Why are you here?”  He says, “I thought God would save me!”  St. Peter said, “We sent you a crate, but you did not take it.  We sent you a helicopter, but you waved it off.  We sent you a man in a boat, but you would not climb aboard.  How can God save you if you will not save yourself?”

In my view, if God created everything, then He created all of the many ways to worship Him.  He has spread his bounty upon the Earth, but it is not the Palestinians who are benefitting from that bounty.   If He plays favorites at all, He surely has shown a predilection for favoring what we call “the first world.”  A Palestinian might do well to ask himself, “Why is that?”  A quick read of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution might help there.

My first American ancestors came to “The New World” in 1625 from Holland, to escape the 80 Years War.  They just wanted to be farmers.  Every summer for 80 years, the Catholic monarchs of Spain sent their henchmen up to Holland to force my poor ancestors to become Catholic, which these hard headed Dutchmen had rejected.  When they came, the Dutchmen would flood their fields, it would get cold, and the Spaniards would return to sunny Spain, only to return in the following spring and go down that same street.

In the law there is the concept of “The Eggshell Skull Rule,” which says that if you hit someone, even lightly, you take responsibility for the consequences.  If you tap someone on the skull, who has an “eggshell skull,” and break his skull, then you must pay the consequences, even though the damages were much more than might reasonably be expected in the instance.  I recall classmates flicking my thick skull in school—no problem; but if I had had an “eggshell skull,” I might have died.   Finally, after 80 years someone got a Spaniard and a Dutchman, each with an “eggshell skull,” cracked them together  and made the omelet of peace.   But I digress …

Later that same day, I went to Jerusalem.  I was struck by many things.  Firstly, I hadn’t realized that Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level, and that it is really a natural fortress—obviously since Solomon’s time.  For whatever reason, even though I had heard of the “city on the hill” from the Bible, I never imagined the ruggedness of the terrain, nor the distance from the sea.

My most striking impression, though, was how much I wanted to vomit when I saw the Via Dolorosa and The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have carried his cross, been crucified, was buried and rose from the dead.  My reaction was to my feeling of how badly the many churches which claim a right to those sites have truly desecrated them, beyond recognition.  If Christ did rise into heaven, it surely could not have been through the ceilings of those dark dank churches.  And I have to agree with my Israeli guide, who said that the very idea that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy merchant, had his personal tomb within steps of the place where robbers and murderers were crucified on a regular basis is entirely laughable.  Nonetheless, there were all of these Christian pilgrims there, ducking into the supposed tomb, saying “Golly Gee!”

My other surprise was how truly barren “the wilderness” is, within clear view of The Mount of Olives, between it and the Dead Sea.  I could not believe that in this modern time, with so much strife over every acre, there still could be so much land that is actually still a barren desert, as it was in Jesus’s time.   I will upload some of the pictures I took, to back up my story.

I must say, though, that I continue to be in awe of “the ancients,” whoever they were.  The structure of the Temple of Solomon is worth the trip, even if you’re down on the desecrations by the Christians.  Whoever they were, they certainly left their mark.  One wonders if we will leave ours.

I had a quiet dinner alone in the hotel in Tel Aviv that night.  My waitress was a 21 year old girl, Ruth, who proudly told me that Ruth was the first convert to Judaism.  She said that she carries Canadian, American, and Israeli passports (I guess she is hedging her bets), and though she has loved her 1.5 years in Israel enough to become a citizen, she and her boyfriend are going to move to Boston, where she wants to be an event planner.  Thinking of my farmer ancestors, I know what she means.

The next morning I walked on the beach, and was reminded again of Beirut, just to the north, or of practically any other civilized beach I have ever visited.  Could it be that the media creates an image of Tel Aviv and Israel (completely different from my experience in the event), which is designed to keep hordes of tourists away from this idyllic shoreline?

Returning to Ben Gurion airport, the counter clerk for Royal Jordanian Airlines took no particular notice of the fact that my destination was Jeddah, again via Amman, as if the stop would wash away the taint—in both directions.  Perhaps he was an Israeli Arab, a Palestinian working in Israel (there are many), or even of Jordanian, who would think it only natural that one would want to go to the Arab World after visiting Israel.  The immigration officer removed my loose leaf visa page, and I was admitted to Jeddah without comment by Saudi immigration.

For my part, I find not a dime’s worth of difference between the Israelis and the Arabs, between their cities, their religions, and their cultures—all descended from Abraham, as they are.  What is happening now amounts to surface tension.  This is how politicians and media moguls keep themselves in power and influence.  When can the insanity stop?

I entitled this piece “Jerusalem  Artichoke.”  Aside from the metaphorical aspects of the words themselves, the foodstuff is a metaphor for what is wrong here.  If you asked an Indian Jain whether they would prefer to eat an artichoke or a potato, they would surely say an artichoke.  Their reasoning would be that despite the Buddhist teaching that “all life feeds on other life,” one should feed on as little other life as possible (according to Jainism).  Potatoes contain millions of microorganisms, which the Jains feel have greater merit than a foodstuff that contains many fewer living beings.  When my waitress asked me which I would prefer, a baked potato or a Jerusalem artichoke, I asked what the latter was.  “It’s a kind of potato,” she said.  I ordered it to try the experience.  There is just that much of a difference between the desires of the Israelis and the Palestinians.  When can we begin the search for the Palestinian and Israeli with eggshell skulls, so that we can cook up the omelet of peace?

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