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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Two West Bank Mayors: Two Visions of Israel

Last week had I known the bus stop used on my blog was one Hamas obliterated, the photo would not have been there. Today I am thinking about something that happened during a visit to Israel in June 2013. Mike and I had gone there to attend the wedding of our friends’ only daughter, their youngest of four children.

The wedding was the grandest and most festive one we’ve ever attended, and despite parental exhaustion after such an exciting event, Avi planned an excursion before we left for home. At the time Avi was the mayor of Har Adar near Jerusalem and wanted us to visit a sector of the West Bank, which included meeting two mayors there.

The first, a cordial man in a business suit, met us at a winery. We had watched a film about this new business venture before he arrived. Then this mayor spoke about what was happening in the area and a small “mall” developed with the idea that West Bank Israeli settlers and local Arabs would have a place where both could be sellers and buyers. The winery, he explained, was intended to bring tourists into this accessible area of the West Bank, with commerce as a way to create employment & encourage coexistence among people living there.

After that we drove to a Jewish settlement from which Ramallah could be seen from a hill. Initially a spokesman told Avi the mayor was in a meeting and too busy to see him. Avi did not accept this and soon we were standing in the mayor’s office, one of several pre-fab & tan-colored buildings. Irit later told me she was afraid I would put out my hand, given we had shaken hands with the other mayor. But this mayor in glasses and a yarmulke was ungracious, humorless, and so unlike persons I’d met in Israel on prior visits. He begrudgingly took us on a short tour of the settlement. I recall a comment he made in response to something Avi asked about this mayor’s recently deceased wife, his many children, and the woman he would soon marry. At one spot this mayor pointed to a tree and said without jest that it had been there since biblical times. I don’t recall the story associated with it. Then he led us to the elevated area, one of neglect as I remember it, where we stood at a cement wall. He pointed to the city in the distance and said, “One day Ramallah will belong to us.” What a stunning declaration, this blatant belief was Ramallah and the West Bank belonged to religious and righteous Jews, the chosen ones. In this man, no separation between his faith and a God-given certainty that greater Israel belonged to them.

Thinking about this memory today, I reread a November 8, 2004, New Yorker article I found folded in a book by Amos Oz, an Israeli writer I much admire. Strangely., I read the article’s title as “The Split Level,” when the title is, “The Spirit Level.” Perhaps my mind read it this way because I’d written about the two mayors and was thinking about the war occurring now. I read all that I’d underlined In the Land of Israel, a 1983 non-fiction work by Amos Oz, a book my friend Irit gave me in 1986, six months before my first visit to Israel in May of 1987.

Religious blindness is one thing. Terrorism and hatred another. And I cannot fathom what is happening now all over, with demonstrations against Israel, which was savagely attacked. I again open the book from 1986.

Next week: Amos Oz “On Light and Shade and Love.”

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