The 777 Thai Airways took off from Sydney more than a
quarter of an hour late, but the crew made up for it with an
abundance of solicitous courtesy and exemplary service. It
would be a 9-hour flight to Bangkok and then another grueling
11 hours aboard an El Al 767 bound for Tel Aviv. For the first
time in 15 years, I was returning to Jerusalem, the city of my
birth, on an odyssey fraught with expectation and a modicum
It would be a journey of rediscovery and reacquaintance.Idislikeflying,buttheoffermadetomebyaNorthAmericanfilm company—togotoJerusalemandactasanadvisor,guide,andconsultantto the producer—was one I could not refuse. “I’ll take a knockout pill and sleep throughout the flight,” I said.Withthisthoughttobuttressme,andsomeZentrainingtoboostmy courage, I got aboard the plane.Thankfully,airturbulenceputonadesultoryperformance,andImanagedtoputupwiththeoccasional buffetingoftheaircraft.Therewasevennoneedforasleepingtablet:Thelaptopkeptmeoccupiedfora fewhoursandthefinein-flightcollectionofnewvideoshelpedwhileawaythetime.Thelanding,whichI had thought of as a dreaded passage to purgatory, was smooth, as if choreographed by a maestro.The Old City from the Mount of Olives.IwastravellingonmyAustralianpassportbutasIhandedittobordercontrolattheTelAvivairport,the word “Jerusalem” seemed to jump out of the page, piquing the interest of the Israeli officer on duty. “You are a Sabra?” he asked with a broad smile, using the popular appellation for native Jews. His fingers were flying over the computer. “Actually, I am not Jewish,” I told him. His fingers paused for a minute, and a frown creased his face.“Pleasetowait,”hetoldme,motioningmeaside,asotherpassengersstreamedby. Theirpassportshardly merited more than a cursory inspection.Ihadheardofinstancesofreturningnon-JewishJerusalemites,whohadobtainedforeigncitizenship, beingsubjectedtowhatamountedtothethird-degreeuponarrivalatIsraeliportsofentry.Therehadeven been reports of people being forced to give up their Israeli IDs in order to enter or leave the country. But I had a different agenda. “Is there a problem?” I asked. “No problem. Just one minute.” It was taking longer than that.“Look,”Isaid.“Iamaforeigncorrespondent.Ihavebeeninvitedhereasanadvisoronafeaturefilm aboutJerusalemwhichwillbemadebyaNorthAmericancompany.Ihaveameetinginanhour’stimewith the producers. I need to be there.” “Wait please,” he said again.“Icannotwait,”Icountered.“Ifthereisaproblem,takeitupwiththeGovernmentPressOffice[GPO].I am supposed to be driving to Jerusalem now. You’re going to make me late.”TheGPO,anadjunctofthePrimeMinister’soffice,wastheofficialbodycateringtotheforeignpresscorps in Israel. “Just one moment, please.” He picked up his phone.Iflippedopenmymobileandstartedtomakesomecallsofmyown—totheproducerstoexplainthedelay and to old contacts within the GPO and other governmental departments.Iraisedmyvoicetomakeapointandnoticedtheofficerwatchingmeintently.Suddenly,hegotupand hurried out. A few minutes later, I was called back to another office by a policewoman. “Welcome to Israel,” she said with a coquettish smile, handing over my passport.Icheckedthepages.TheyhadissuedmewithaB2touristvisa,validforthreemonths.Iwasn’tstaying thatlong,twoweeksatmost.Sometravelers,particularlythosewholaterintendonvisitingneighboring ArabcountriesorplacesnotfriendlytoIsrael,usuallyaskthattheirpassportsnotbestampedtoavoid problemsatbordercrossings.Instead,theyareissuedvisasonaseparatecardorpieceofpaper,asthereis genuineconcernthattheimprintofanIsraelistampontheirpassportswouldautomaticallybarthementry into Syria, Lebanon, Iran, or other blacklisted spots. I thanked the girl and made my way out.WedrovetoJerusaleminasherut,asharedcab,aconvenientwaytotravelifyoudonotmindthe runaroundandhassle:Eachpassengerhastobedroppedoffathisdestinationinandaroundthecityoneby one. You have to sit out your turn.Andforgetaboutroadcourtesy.IthasbeensaidthatIsraelisdrivetheircarsasiftheyaretanks,tothe dismayofpedestrianswhohavetoracethemacrosszebracrossings.Givingwayseemsanalienimposition, blithely ignored.Thedriverhadhismobilegluedtohisearwhilemanipulatinghiscarwithhislefthand,signalswere neither used nor acknowledged, and he made lavish use of the horn to punctuate a point or argument.Parking,Ifoundout,isoneluxurythatisalmostuniversallydeniedJerusalem’shaplessmotorists.OldCity residentsinparticulararesodesperatethattheyarewillingtopayupto$100amonthforaspot—somea brisk 10-minute walk from their homes.Onbothsidesofthehighway,stuntedolivetreesjuttedoutinhesitantexultationoverscreeandboulder astheysoughtpurchaseinrockypastures,whileoccasionalpatchesofgreenerygavepromiseofabundance in the politically troubled land of milk and honey.Myfellowpassengerswerealoquaciouslot,bubblingwithexcitementattheprospectofseeing “Yerushalaym”—a few of them for the first time.“I’vebeenaway14years,andhavecomebacktorechargemybatteries,”onereligiousJewfrom Baltimore, Md., said, adjusting his black kippa (yarmulka).Aswenearedtheapproachestothecity,anunsettlingsightgreetedus:hugefurrowsintheroad,gouging outapathforaproposedrailroadthatwouldserveJerusalemandoutlyingsuburbs.Itwasaneyesoremany people I talked to detested.“Thisismadness,”oneIsraelilatercommentedtome.“WhoneedsatraintoPisgatZe’evorFrenchHill [two Jewish suburbs minutes away from the city center]?” Many Arabs call it a desecration.AtthethresholdtoJaffaGate,anewtunnelhadbeenchurnedoutoftheearthtochanneltrafficaround the Old City, but the hole is regarded as further perfidy by purists.“TownHallhaslostitssenses,pilinguglinessuponuglinessonourbeautifulJerusalem,”mournedan elderly Jew.InsidetheOldCityitself,however,theplannershadkepttheirpicksandshovelsunderwraps,and desisted from tampering too noticeably with its ancient hallowedness.ThesherutcrawledupJaffaGateandasitdisgorgeditslastpassenger,Iwasstruckbytheteemingcrowds oftourists,interspersedbythepervadingpresenceofsecuritymenandwomen,bristlingwithfullriot equipment.Theyhadstakedclaimstoeverystrategiccornerorroad,theirappearanceintendedtobe reassuring to visitors, but a cause of mute and bitter anguish for the city’s Arab citizens.IdumpedmybagsintheprivateapartmentIhadrentedintheChristianQuarter,andhurriedtokeepmy appointment with the film producers.