I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
Entirely inadvertently, I seem to be doing a lot of earwigging at the moment. I don’t set things up that way, but my experiences in Jerusalem so far have accidentally included a certain amount of overhearing conversations that most definitely weren’t meant for my ears, but which give some disturbing insights into what the Palestinian people and their sympathisers are up against – not from politicians or generals, but from ordinary Israelis and their supporters.
(For the record, I know there are some great Israelis doing amazing work with the likes of ICAHD, Anarchists Against The Wall, Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence etc. Sadly, they are still in a tiny minority).
My first interesting – and disturbing – encounter was on the Nesher (shared taxi) ride in from the airport. This used to come up the winding old road through the Jerusalem hills, but a couple of years back the route got changed and now it comes into the north of Jerusalem through various settlements. With this route change has come a new set of customers – settlers. My early memories of the Nesher are of secular Jewish Israelis, travellers and so on. Now, it’s a scary ride.
I had the joy (ahem) of sharing my journey in with two sets of British-origin settlers, both with homes in the French Hill area of Jerusalem, by the names of Wilson and Markowitz. The party appeared to consist of two older couples – in, say, their sixties – plus the son of one and a young man known to the others.
The point in their conversation at which I started to get simultaneously interested and a bit jumpy was when they started talking about the recent election of Ed Miliband as the leader of the Labour Party in Britain. “You’ve got to watch these non-religious Jews, they’re the worst of the lot,” opined the female half of one of the couples.
“But he’s not all bad, at least he hasn’t married that shiksa he’s living with,” chipped in her husband. Shiksa, for those who don’t know, is a derogatory term for a non-Jew. It’s not quite as insulting as goy, but it’s not complimentary. I don’t think they realised that I was a shiksa myself, as they had been reasonably friendly towards me until then.
This led into a discussion of the evils wreaked upon Britain by 13 years of Labour rule blah blah blah, during which the male half of the other couple shared the fact that he had been a Conservative candidate, I think in North Manchester. Which shows what charmers the Tories have amongst their ranks (not that Labour are significantly better, but at least they’re not… Tories). Mr Conservative Candidate shared with his friends the fact that he had written to David Cameron to complain about his criticisms of Israel over its assassination of nine peace activists on board the Mavi Marmara earlier this summer.
This, rather fascinatingly, led onto the other gentleman explaining how the Torah teaches that the coming of the Moshiach is heralded by various signs, one of which is that ‘punishments come closer to the evildoer.’ According to him, the recent death of David Cameron’s father was his punishment for criticising Israel. Obama had also been punished for his promotion of peace talks between Palestine and Israel by the BP oil spill, while New Zealand’s ban on kosher slaughtering methods had apparently been met with the recent earthquake and hurricane.
What a delightful outlook on life.
The rest of the conversation centred around the lifting of the ‘freeze’ on settlement-building, which unsurprisingly this little gang were thrilled about. “But we have to be careful, not too obvious,” suggested Mr Vengeful, who then seemed to realise that maybe he was being a little too open about settler tactics and that maybe the woman in the next seat was a dodgy shiksa after all…
My second, rather shorter bit of earwigging happened today in the precinct of the Haram as-Sharif. Sitting on a quiet bench hoping to make a few notes in peace, I instead found myself within earshot of an American tour group and their guide. “Having worked on two or three archaeological digs here, I can tell you that if anything is between 200 and 500 years old, it just gets tossed,” she announced. “It’s nothing.” That ‘nothing,’ of course, represents centuries of Ottoman and Palestinian culture and history. “I was here in 2003 during Gulf II,” she added, “and I was really hoping that Saddam would just sent one of his Scuds over and it would hit the al-Aqsa. They’re not that accurate, you know, and it would save a lot of trouble.”