Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Pad

"Just go to the brown door," instructed Naim, my landlord, when I phoned him last week telling of my readiness to move into the main floor apartment in his home in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. I had been before, a few months ago, and, eventually, I did find the brown door.

Naim remembers coming to this now-150-year old home of his grandmother with his seven siblings and parents in 1948 - needing to vacate their own home a few miles away in what had become, by virtue of the war, territory that the new State of Israel controlled. The Old City, despite repeated attempts of Jewish forces to take it prior to and during the war, remained under Jordanian control. Now, it's status is as vague as Jerusalem is complicated. (More to come on that complexity)

There are three apartments in the home - the one I'm renting on the entry level, and two upstairs - Naim's, and another one waiting to be rented. All open on to a central, interior courtyard - small, but a lovely enclosure that is cool, relatively quiet, and beautiful, thanks to Naim's restorations down to the original stone.

This is the bench that I do my morning reading on (see Montefiore book on the bench). It's especially quiet in the early hours of the morning and til now the weather is perfect. The fountain has a couple of goldfish in it, but Naim says he's going to take them out - too much work caring for them. Windows to my apartment are behind the bench.

Then looking straight across from the bench is the narrow kitchen and bathroom on the right and the entry door (the "brown" one from the outside)and the entry hall.

Steps leading up to the upper floor (actually there is a roof top that could serve as a third floor - "just $35,000 to finish", says Naim with resignation.

Here another angle from the bench, to the upstairs apartment for rent and the corrugated "roof" sheets that protect from the rain but let the lovely light through. Not a bad spot to read from, eh?

So, here's the pad - yep, that dark without lights.

But, presto! Advantages are how temperate it stays beneath the stones, quieter than upstairs. Natural light is a problem, but it also encourages me to get out and explore.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Curriculum

Wanting to maximize the extended experience here (beyond the study of Arabic), I've set myself some reading tasks. For HISTORY, I brought with me the recently released tome "Jerusalem, the Biography" by Simon Sebag Montefiore (SSM). I've not read him before, but apparently he is a prized biographer (e.g, of Stalin and Catherine the Great). The hardback version came out when I was in London recently, so I picked it up hoping that it would be a worthy source to study. Fortunately, by now some reviews are out, giving it high praise for its scope, detail, impartiality, and method (portraying life stories of key individuals and families that have dwelt here).

For CONTEMPORARY POLITICS, at the Educational Bookshop on Salah El Din Street - the popular commercial street in East Jerusalem leading to the Old City - I noticed and bought a recent double issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal (Vol. 17 No. 1 & 2, 2011) titled "JERUSALEM: In the Eye of the Storm". It is an anthology of contemporary essays by Israeli, Palestinian, and other authors highlighting why Jerusalem is at the forefront of, and will be the hinge of, any peace negotiation and agreement.

For DOMESTIC ISSUES, I've decided to read the Jerusalem Post daily. Reasons are several. The JP, widely viewed as a right-wing newspaper, will be a good guide on pro-Israeli (i.e., Zionist) orientations and perspectives. This will help balance the more liberal Israeli (i.e., non-Zionist) perspectives I read via the NYTimes, and its affiliate the International Herald Tribune - which, locally, includes an insert from Haaretz, a more left-leaning Israeli newspaper. As well, the JP will orient me to the issues of concern in Jerusalem that are apart from the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. This is critical because the complexity and severity of social, ethnic and domestic political issues and problems here are rarely given treatment outside given the preoccupation with the conflict-related issues.

I will share insights from these sources as I progress through them.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Once Proud Flag, Drooping and Lonely

Feeble is the word that has come to mind repeatedly today - the day after; the day after the UN speeches by Abbas (and Netanyahu), and the formal submission of the request to be recognized as a State. At least in E Jerusalem, the energy is very low. There were times - not too distant - that the child above waving a symbol of Palestine would have energized a large crowd expressing the passion of decades of struggle. But here, he drew more photographers than supporters.

The pic was taken just after Friday prayers had been completed on this street corner just opposite Damascus Gate by those men younger than 50 who aren't permitted by Israeli security to pray at Al Aqsa mosque inside the city walls. The scraps of cardboard on the pavers were used just minutes before to cushion the kneeling pray-ers. The 200 of them had already left the area, however, defying expectations that there would be confrontations - particularly because of the disappointment (disgust?) so many felt in Obama's UN speech the night before.

The intersection was stocked with all forms of IDF and police, including cavalry. I stayed the whole time watching, but was never able to feel that the forecast for troubles would eventuate. As R. Fisk - who apparently was doing just what I was doing, but inside the city walls - noted in the Independent, there is just a pervasive depressive feeling here, as if life is too heavy to spare any energy for hope.

News reports from Ramallah seemed different: boisterous demonstrations, placards of Abbas. Indeed, following Abbas' speech last night, there were rounds of fireworks I could easily hear from the apartment in the Old City - and today walking through E Jerusalem, it was easy to hear pride expressed about his address. His surprising determination and conviction do appear to have broken through the malaise here - but it still feels fleeting and feeble.