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145. Approach



When I arrived in Israel from Jordan, unloaded from a minibus on the Allenby Bridge, I knew that I had entered America. I went from a world where there was hardly a woman on the street to a world where the border guards were all women holding rifles; they shepherded the Arabs through the bus terminal, a few—including me—they took to a holding pen. It was nothing too oppressive, just the standard airport arrangement, low metal bars and seats. They thought, perhaps, that I was some young leftist come to stir up trouble in their territories. In years before, they would have been right; now, however, I was an indifferent tourist.


So I had left the Arab—drunk on whisky, a former professional football player for Oxford United—who wanted to talk to me about “English Christmas”; and how much he loved a real English Christmas—a real English Christmas seemed very distant under a Jordanian sun. I had left him and the posters of Saddam Hussein in the shop windows, the guns on sale in the same windows, and the Palestinian protests in flatbed trucks. I had left to enter colonial America. Somehow the frontiers had become confused: America’s destiny was meant to be in the far West—in China. Instead, her frontier had transplanted her to the Middle East. Somehow, everything had become mixed up.


An Arab woman looked and me and appealed: “See! Do you see how they treat us? Do you understand now? Do you understand?” I have to say, it was not so bad; it was hardly unbearable cruelty. The security staff processed us quickly enough; and, only a year later, I would be detained in about the same way by the British border police: the reason was simple, what happened to me over a decade had changed me so much I no longer resembled my passport photograph. The photograph before was from when I was still at university, a soft boy; the replacement photograph, taken in Jerusalem, showed the harsh lines of a man.


“Do you see how they treat us?” It was the appeal: “You are a white man. What are you going to do about this?” But I have no authority here and my empire faded long ago. Still the Arabs—the Jews, too—expect the white man to do something. Later, in Israel, I would visit a museum and be lectured by a Jew about the evils of the British—how our soldiers would place a hostage in a wagon in front of a train to stop the Zionists from blowing up the line. Then, quick as lightning, there is the appeal to the white man: “Help us! The Arabs are murdering us!” The Arabs were just the same, of course. They half love you and want you to save them, but then they want a war of liberation and you are the devil—you are too much for the Jews or too much for the Arabs. Could we compromise and spray the Middle East with nerve gas? Too much?


I pass the inquisition from the Israeli Shin Bet man, very thorough it is too. It helps that I am going into Israel to meet a girl; an Australian nurse, fed up with her post treating Aborigines and with no illusions: “Do you know what they’re like? Disgusting.” She has a house now and so she travels. Out to Israel, to see gun-toting Brooklynites on the settler frontier who tell me about how the Arabs gunned down their children on the playground carousel one day. At the Wailing Wall, I hear the Orthodox curse Obama: “He gives tanks to the Arabs!” Later, among ultra-nationalist lesbians, exiles from San Francisco via Texas, I hear about how the Arabs must be driven from Judaea and Samaria. “We vote Obama, of course,” they say—good San Franciscans even on the Eastern frontier, where Arab and Jew stick to their sides of the street as if repelled by static.

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