Excerpt of It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street by Emma Williams
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Tel Aviv was bright in the Mediterranean sun, as bright as it had
been buzzing when I had seen it the night before, the clubs pounding
music and the people filling the streets, gathering in the balmy
night air. Now, out of the morning rush hour, I drove cautiously
through the security procedures into the Kyria, an awesome complex
in the center of the city. I wished I had stayed the night in Tel Aviv
instead of heading back to Jerusalem, but the two cities are less than
forty miles apart and the pull of Jerusalem is strong. I had submitted
all my details to the ministry and been given clearance for my visit.
That same week an Israeli-Arab* journalist had also been given clearance
to visit the Kyria to interview an official; the soldiers on guard
were jumpy and when he reached into his pocket for his ID they
thought he was a terrorist and beat him up, breaking his legs. I was
glad General Gilad had sent one of his uniformed assistants to escort
me through the complex to his office.
I had first met the general at a party in Tel Aviv. Guarded by
security men, all shaven-headed with coiled listening pieces in one
ear, he was talking to Norways ambassador,Mona Juul, who introduced
me. He was genial, relaxed, telling me about female pilots
in the Israeli air force and the militarys worries in case they were
shot down and captured by Arabs. You dont want to know what
they do to women if they capture them. And Im not going to tell
you, he said slowly, looking straight at me. But these girls insist
on being pilots, and we are, he laughed, a democracy. Sometimes
too democratic, I think.
Now, in the Kyria, a girl in khaki fatigues was leading me
through the complex of buildings and corridors. She handed me
over to the general in his office; he smiled and shook my hand
firmly. He was charming: You know, I was in New York, but I
came back because I wanted to see you. We both laughed at his
flattery. Why dont you sit here? the palm of his hand offering
the corner in an elbow of sofas. Coffee? He glanced at one of the
uniformed girls in the outer office.
His office was small, unpretentious. Israelis are not particular
about putting on a show; they are informal and unstuffy. Nor did
the general need any trappings to give the impression of power.
He sat at the protected heart of a vast army, equipped with the
latest, most invincible land, sea, and air weaponry, conventional
and nuclear. Ursine, solid, and gray-haired, he radiated power: it
hung off his civilian clothes. His unraised voice was frank as he
laid out Israels policy toward the Palestinians.
You have to understand the deep motives in this situation.
He leaned back. It was Rabin who sent me to Arafat, the general
said, and eventually I reached a deep insight of the Palestinian
leader. We developed a chemistry. But we got him wrong, in a
way that doesnt contribute to the image of Jews as geniuses. One
of our most critical mistakes.
A young woman came in with cups of coffee. She set them
down on the low table between us.
General Gilad thanked her and carried on. One of our most
critical mistakes was dealing with this guy.My assessments irritated
some politicians.He chuckled, but went on more seriously, explaining
that, tragically, the Palestinians dont recognize Israel as the
homeland of the Jewish people. He looked down at my notepad,
pausing while I wrote, and then explained that Arafat believed
demographic trends dictated that Israel was temporary, and accepted
Israel on that basis only. The general added his resentment at
Palestinians making no attempt to understand Israelis, how we feel,
what our concerns are.
His words conjured up the image of Arafat, the short man in
his military gear, keffiyeh placed painstakingly on his strange
head. I tried to picture the two men together, working out each
others deep motives.
Excerpted from It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street
by Emma Williams. Copyright © 2009 by Emma Williams.
Excerpted by permission of Interlink Books. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.