Ain't it good to know that you've got a friend
When people can be so cold
They'll hurt you, and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh, but don't you let them
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there
You've got a friend
Such a schlocky theme song for the 60th birthday bash. Oy veh. George Bush and Ehud Olmert made lame duck squawks at one another in front of a gathering of world leaders,who were also subjected to what analyst Calev Ben-David of the Jerusalem Post described as "inappropriate homo-erotic interpretations of Carole King." (hmmmm...a bit harsh, Calev.)
Yesterday, after a sweaty day-trip to the ancient fortress Masada, one of the ultimate Zionist symbols, Bush addressed the Knesset about how peace is nigh in the 'hood, give or take another sixty years. "You have raised a modern society in the promised land," Bush told the legislators, minus the Arab MKS. "And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on America to stand at its side."
Next the Bushes hosted their own grand reception at the Israel Museum. (Somehow Izzy Bee got snubbed and received no invitation. Sniff.) A fragment of one 2000 year old scroll at the museum reportedly was shown to Dubya, and on it was penned a famous line from the Prophet Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.” Not that Israelis desire any American plowshares, mind you. On their birthday wish list, under perceived threat from a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran, Israelis definitely want more weapons.
Focusing on that verse is no more ironic than, say, when the New York Slim-Fast tycoon, S. Daniel Abraham, was hauled in yesterday by Jerusalem police for questioning about donations to the fat-cat politician, Olmert. Abraham denied any wrong-doing and insisted Olmert is "one of the best prime ministers we have ever head." Right. Just about as credible as Whoopi Goldberg's endorsement of his Creamy Milk Chocolate shake. So many centuries out of Egypt, but still in denial (d' Nile), as Ms Goldberg might say. But I digress.
Israel's official birthday festivities have continued for three days, with bloated presidential convoys of 30 cars clogging the narrow streets and a spy drone similar to the one from Erez crossing tethered in the sky above the King David Hotel like an albino guppy gone astray. It took five transport planes from the states to bring in Bush's miscellaneous paraphernalia to one of the most security-conscious countries on the planet.
To many Jerusalemites, there is something off-putting and unsettling about gorgeous fireworks booming overhead on the very same day an Iranian-made Grad rocket struck a shopping mall in Ashkelon, maiming 15 shoppers, and five Gazans were killed by IDF actions. Save the pretty booms til the conflict is done. These triumphalist ceremonies may come back to bite us. It is insensitive: they coincide with what the Palestinians call their "Naqba", or catastrophe. SOme 700,000 men, women and children were uprooted from their homes during partition - some fled, some were expelled. So Arabs released 21,915 (to represent 365 days x 60 years) black balloons over the skies of Jerusalem; my Orthodox Jewish neighbor joked that this symbolizes that their grievances are just so much hot air. Amongst them, we spotted a trio of storks gliding on the upcurrents. These big birds might even have been displaced by the presidential helicopter sortie to Masada, where hundreds flock. They appeared mightily confused, and just going in circles. What's the symbolism there, folks?
Bradley Burston, a commentator on Haaretz, acknowledged the Palestinian take on the six decade milestone in a characteristically contrarian style:
It was, all in all, a day to consider what we owe the Palestinians.Israelity bites.
Before all else, we owe the Palestinians our respect. They could have rolled over long ago, packed up and headed for Australia, given up. They know that their leaders are execrable, their institutions corrupt and impotent, their ideology self-destructive, their economy in ruin, their international prestige at a nadir.
Still, they are here. Still, they are our occupiers. After 60 years, powerless, in disarray, they occupy our imagination and our politics and our nightmares.
We owe the Palestinians for keeping us honest. We owe the Palestinians for reminding us that we were never alone in this place. We owe the Palestinians what we expect from them: the recognition that they deserve, as a real people.
We owe the Palestinians a state.
Check out the special report by the Economist's brilliant Jerusalem correspondent, Gideon Lichfield. One of the finest summations of Israel at 60, it is available here.
The prolific Lichfield also blogs away sporadically at fugitive peace.