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.
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