Running from the Siren, Biking the Green Line

The siren last night caught me backing up my hard disk. I’d planned to be at the neighborhood ceremony or upstairs with my family at the beginning of Memorial Day, but I kept procrastinating. When I got upstairs, the television broadcast of the official ceremony was just coming to an end. I had something to eat and watched the segments about fallen soldiers and their families.

“I need to talk to Asor,” Ilana said. So I called him on my cell phone, figuring that he wouldn’t answer. He did. “We needed to hear your voice,” I told him. Ilana tried to take the phone but started crying. Asor was impatient, said he had to go. Should we be thankful that we’re watching the Memorial Day programming rather than being part of it, or brood over the possibility that in some future year we might be on the screen?

When this morning’s siren went off at 11 a.m., I didn’t even hear it. The same unconscious repression mechanism that was at work last night did it again-I was in an elevator in the Malha shopping mall. The door opened and everyone was standing stock-still with their backs to me. For a second I couldn’t figure it out. Then I realized that I’d again tried to avoid the moment.

This afternoon I went for a bike ride. I needed to get off and be alone in some peaceful surroundings But my mind contrived to send me on a route that lay mostly in the no-man’s land along the Green Line, which runs just a few hundred meters from my home. I sped down the hill into the East Talpiot well, then slugged up the steep new road to Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. I circuited the kibbutz to the east, riding into the little park where olive trees have been planted on tall pillars. It’s a memorial to the soldiers who fell when the kibbutz, which now lies within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, was a border outpost. It faced off against the Palestinian village of Tzur Baher, just on the other side of the park. The kibbutz cemetery lies here, and people were just filing out after the day’s ceremony.

I took a dirt path that plunged down into the valley to the south. It used to be wild and untrodden; now the road to the new Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa runs through the gray-green scrub brush and terraces with crumbly yellow spring soil. Har Homa was built on this spot deliberately to separate Bethlehem and its environs from the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, another fact on the ground built to be an obstacle to peace. Before me I can see the homes of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, pale in the mist; Herodian, the flat-topped mountain where King Herod built a palace and fortress, lies beyond. On the hill behind me, masked by fig and pine trees, are the ruins of a fortress built in the time of the First Temple. Men have been fighting here for centuries, millennia, maybe more-stone tools from the middle Paleolithic-200,000-50,000 years ago-have been found at Ramat Rachel, too.

It’s all so close, so tightly built, so densely populated; the Green Line long ago ceased to mark the boundary between Jew and Arab.

I think the line should not be forgotten; if there is any hope for peace it is in reviving this line and allowing the Palestinians of Tzur Baher, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour celebrate their own Memorial Day and their own Independence Day in their own country.

But I’d be dishonest if I did not admit that it’s a risky policy I advocate, offering great dangers and no guarantee of success. My political opponents, if they’re honest, will also acknowledge that holding on to the West Bank is risky and offers no sure future.

It comes down to a question of which way we want to risk our children’s lives.

Traffic was heavy on the Hebron Road as I headed home. Israelis on their way back from cemeteries, or from the supermarket, where they’ve bought meat for their Independence Day cookouts. I bought my meat yesterday, and I asked the Palestinian guy at the counter-half in jest, half-seriously, “Why are you doing this for me?”

“Just have a good time,” he insisted.