Chapter Thirty-Eight

S/S/Sensitive stuff


Still more about Israel/Palestine than you
may care to know, yet will become
increasingly relevant in days ahead… 

A bit less so, Chapter Thirty-Nine 


“Just when things seem settled, 
the lines get further blurred.”

          “I’m about fed up with you two—you don’t communicate at all!”

          “No, honey…don’t start…”

          “You just let stuff fester and goddammit lay it on me when I come by!”

          “Please, Sonia, that’s enough, your mother…”

          “My mother—you’ve got that right, Mario. My mother, in our house, that my father slaved years on the docks to pay down. And don’t you go putting words in her mouth again, you greasy leech!!!”

          Disparate interests, irreconcilable differences: The intergenerational family drama featured of an irate, exasperated daughter-in-exile berating her own loco parentis, junior partner that she apparently was. Or at any rate, one of her birth parents, a second life stand-in stepping up to her mother’s side. Apparently, the young attorney had been mediating a domestic impasse between her bereft madre and a full figurative new man of the house, a pseudo patrigno with combed goatee and gray hair sleeked back like Dino off the sauce.

          Leaning against her Lexus, the daughter remonstrated with the pathos of an Angela Alioto, minus the panache and political pedigree, dressing down her bereft mother, who was shifting slipper to puff pink slipper in an embroidered floral housecoat, visibly shaken and frozen silent. Before long, the half-possessed stepfather pulled his ham hands out the red-piped pockets of his black Puma work-out suit, hooking his appropriated little landlady around her ample, pastafied waistline, staring daughter dearest down with countervailing force.

          “Sonia, I’m begging you…”

          “Mother, when are you going to speak up for yourself?! This guy’s sapping you dry…dad must be spilling over in the columbarium!”

          “Your father just wanted we should be happy.”

          “Happy?! Happy with his heart attack at barely 59…”

          “God rest his soul, dear…”

          “We’re done here, mother.” The daughter slammed the car door behind her. “Call me before your Mario beats you blind. Men!”

          “Women,” grinned a gum chewing, short-panted mail carrier toward us, sorting through his double-bag tri-push cart, separating utility bills, account statements and snail letters from the bundles of bulk junk nobody wanted. “Can’t live with ’em, can’t live off em…”

          “And one outsider’s opinion like yours scarcely tips the scales.” Reese Paulen said to me, recoiling from this Bay Street particle supercollision, as though it all hit too close to cognitive disturbances in old home week. Seemed either he was taken way aback by seeing his parents in some Italio soap opera nearabouts, or perhaps something in the more recent past. Either way, he came across as keen on redirecting the subject eastward—namely, Middle Eastward.

          “It’s not just one man’s opinion,” I spouted, as we re-turned the page in question, but not without noting as how Saturn had apparently struck again. “It’s plenty of peoples’ opinion—in Europe, Africa, even South America. Plenty of Israeli people, at that…”

          “Oh, you must be referring to the so-called Peace Now crowd,” Paulen said sardonically. “Who want to crank back the clock to April,1967—who want Israel to crawl back behind the green line and have everybody sing ‘Hava Nagila’ together.”

          “So what the hell’s wrong with that? Maybe even a little kumbaya wouldn’t hurt, too…”

          Nothing personal, but our impasse was broken by the slamming of the daughter’s silver sedan door, her screeching off, hard-turning onto Broderick Street with Bondurant abandon, her genitori waving like a military family facing deployment, then pinching one another’s bottoms into their casa.

          We simply proceeded up Bay Street past a white two-flat affair with a scrolly gated doorway and other ornate black ironwork, multiple burglar alarm lights cocked strategically above sculpted espaliers and poodle trees, black plantation shutters closed, top to bottom—signs of understated affluence though no signs of actual life. Yet there was no mistaking that this entire block skewed upper scale, albeit behind a lower profile. And as a means of keeping any semblance of composure, I resorted to a little crib spotting.

          “Well, it would appear Tel Aviv has been quietly meeting with Abbas and Salam Fayyed of late. Moreover, Israel has relaxed travel bans and removed 50-some roadblocks since earlier this spring, and released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners—even known Fatah gunmen, for Godsakes. At the same time, tax proceeds are being freed up to the PA in good faith.”

          “Money that has belonged to the Palestinians all along—am I right?” No seizure to speak of, I felt a moment of re-quanimity, however fleeting. For this breezy conversation, this meatier meet-greet small talk here was bringing on some more old, all too familiar splits. Trans-sphere tugs and tensions, spread from my prefrontal to post-parietal lobes—still with the cognitive inhibition, holding two opposing views at once. “Basically a fiscal straightjacket that has been damn near strangling West Bank’s economy. The Paris Protocol says Israel must turn West Bank taxes and customs duties over to the PA within six working days, right? But Israel witholds those revenues for arbitrary collective punishment and siphons off resources from Areas B and C.”

          “So the Palestinians respond by not paying their taxes or service fees. That is what they do.”

          “Yeah, well I can kinda see why Palestinians are flipping their checkered lids,” I said, bracing to push a button expressly too hot to the touch. “All along they’ve been holding out for a land of shared justice and equality, not wall-to-wall apartheid and military annexation of Area B.”

          “Security barriers, Herbert, security barriers. Oslo designated Area C for full Israeli control, essential security responsibilities to B. And say what you will about Israeli housing policy, some settlements legally fall under sacrosanct national sovereignty. Israel has a fundamental right and obligation to defend itself and its assignations.”

          “Security? Israelis occupy almost 40% of the West Bank, four times more than a decade ago—more and more Area B effectively becoming Israel by the day,” I replied. “Many settlements are unauthorized, illegal under international law—with the Yesha Council, rabid ultra-nationalist ‘blacks’ in streimel fedoras and refuseniks and their kids riding roughshod over property that has belonged to Palestinians since Ottoman times. Just do the damn ABCs.”

          “Look, the majority of Israelis do support IDF withdrawal, outpost demolitions and prisoner exchanges—not to mention other peace overtures being made quietly off the Road Map. We see what we want to see, Herbert, hear what we want to hear…”

          All that earthquake devastation was so near to where we stood, but oh, so long ago. Of course, the Marina wasn’t Katrina. This wasn’t the French Quarter, no properties as yet under water, and it certainly wasn’t the Lower Ninth Ward. Insurance companies had paid out homeowner claims; the Feds had allocated disaster aid—no trailers attached. Curious to be sure was how some District stretches had sustained little or no Loma Prieta damage way back in ’89.

          How in some cases single addresses such as that ‘banana boat’ had arbitrarily survived the earthquake unscathed. Otherwise, walls had since been braced and bolted, heaters strapped, I-beams retrofitted, foundations rebricked, steel pilings driven deep into geologically more sustainable ground—liquid cementing, sheet rock compounding, pressure grouting everything back in place.

          Yet the Rolling Stoney flamboyance of that banana yellow abode yielded muted to a low-key mud tan two-flat with a legal in-law, non-descript by contrast and design. Which is what made the very next digs so comparatively shocking: a faint pink four-floor with those creamy white scroll crests to match its window frames, flaky teal trim around resprung garage doors. Then fade back to beige, six flats worth, nothing notable save a richly stained wood doorway—broker-leveraged income property at its absolutely blandest, most buttoned-down sense. So much for post-quake Marina District dramaturgy.

          “Damned if I know about that,” I replied guardedly. Note to self, after the fact: his temper is there, all right—so is his grip. “But the land seizures and seam zones do seem to be killing Israel, little by little. Even Sharon himself tried to shed the outlaw territories. But settlers have tripled since Oslo in 1993, politicians winking and nodding all along. Now they maintain they arent leaving for anything, no matter what anybody says. The whole settlement policy is like a self-inflicted wound.”

          “Oh, puleeze, stop with the double standards. Israel is simply looking after its national interests, like any other healthy nation on the face of this earth.”

          “Then why do many call it a cancer in the region?”

          “Au contraire, my friend,” doc chafed at my decidedly harsher words, again scoping me out, as if to gauge how I knew or cared so much. “Must I remind you Ariel Sharon and Israel have granted them Gaza. And what has it gained from that? More rockets and cross-border attacks from a terrorist state.”

          “Maybe because, the way I hear it, Gaza is like an open-air prison,” I pressed, cranial muscles vise-clamped down further, tighter again on the old dome. Maxillary facial nerves clenched around my cheekbones like welterweight fighting fists at a televised weigh-in, skull heating up like a convection oven, pounding at the crown. “Million and a half Palestinians penned in, air-tight controlled, barely able to move freely in and out. They’re bound to strike back anyway they can, fearful that the Israelis are poised to take the Strip back any minute, for any reason.”

          “Wrong, Israelis have never really wanted Gaza—even biblically. In fact, they’re concerned Palestinians will storm the borders to escape their own hell-hole. Hamas is already planting operatives in Ramallah, with Iran’s help, of course. Sunni-Shia split, be damned—as in the Sunni of my Shia is my Sunni, Shia-wise, that is.”

          “But Israelis did scoop up the best farming and beachfront early on, remember,” I said, overran and mined the Gaza Strip until it wasn’t worth the hassle anymore, leaving Palestinians to fester in the ruins…”

          “Their ruins, their cesspool, Herbert, product of their own terrorism. Good god, why can’t they just get on about their business, build their own lives, not threaten ours. Like…”

          “Like…good Israelis,” I asked, somewhat sarcastically, for someone like me. “Anyway, who says they wouldn’t, if freed to work through opened crossings? It’s kinda economic warfare, you know? Barely keeping the crippled Gaza statelet on a lifeline.”

          Today, Bay Street stucco radiated in the afternoon sun, red tile gleamed salsa caliente: Everything no longer upended and uptight, but squared off, stabilized, comfortably upright. Seemed for all the shake-shocked quake victims who wrote the Marina off as a goner, hardier loyalists and opportunists made sure the District bounced back from Loma Prieta with an upgrade and vengeance. Soon to follow came the newcomer regeneration—short on fearful memories, long on time horizons, credentials and credit lines.

          “Look, who can deny Israeli road blocks and border incursions may be a mite on the draconian side, but dire is the threat Israelis face, from Judea-Samaria to the Golan and Gaza Strip…and god knows what’s going on in the Sinai…”

          “Draconian? I’d say ham-handed—like Ginsu carvings, along with gunship diplomacy. In world opinion Gaza’s on the verge of becoming Israel’s Guantanamo. The U.N.W.R.A. even likens the blockade to an illegal medieval siege.”

          “And I liken the U.N General Assembly and Security Council to ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Durban’s hate-a-thons.­­­­­­ Point is, Hamas’s Katyusha potshots and Arab rejectionism just have to go, if they know what’s good for them, as Israeli patience is wearing very, very thin. Particularly since Palestinians could all be but formal recognition and a workable truce away from autonomy…”

          “That and about 350,000 Jewish settlers. And autonomy to what? Looks like the best Palestinians can hope for is a ‘Hajj-podge’ of isolated Bantustans connected by smuggling tunnels and rutty backroads.”

          From here out, we strolled a wavy, well-swept sidewalk through strictly two-to-three story territory, exuding a Signore Levittown conformity, gold toe socks rather than flip-flops. Take the eggshell and beige bungalow we just passed by, the cocoa-on-latte single right next door: both were 1920s-vintage Mediterranean to a fault, once-modest abodes tricked in so as not to give pause nor show invasive cause. Not that there was any hiding the X5 Beemers or ML 350 Mercedes SUVs on approach. But garage doors closed behind them before any catalytic emissions could clear their snug, car-length driveways.

          “I get it, all right? These are tough calls in a very dangerous neighborhood. I can understand how some people are down on Israel’s rigorous security measures in the face of demonstrative Death to the Zionist Entity rubbish. Just not why you would be one of them…”

          We squeezed between a fulsome magnolia tree and the plastic garbage and recycling buckets being wheeled by a Disneyland-aproned Mexican housekeeper into the half-opened garage of a sherbet green bungalow with evergreen detailing. Inside, I could spot a burgundy 7-series BMW, along with what was labeled as an earthquake emergency kit. Such household preparedness stashes were designated to be outfitted with dry food, flashlights, first-aid supplies and the like—water bottles, duct tape, medicine/toiletries, heavy gloves and sturdy rubber-soled shoes—all prescribed for maximum seismic inoculations/indemnification; that is, a little solid grounding for the next Big One.

          “One of what,” I groused, making way for a wool-vested senior, half-dead walking his matted mongrel on sidewalk’s edge, all clenched up and grumbling as the dog sniffed around a shrinking knee-high shrub. “One of those who tries to look both ways before laying blame?”

          “Not so as I can tell,” doc replied, keeping pee-shooter distance. “Alas, what’s done is done. I’ve learned enough to appreciate that Israelis must dig in there and survive, no matter what. I’ve never known of an Arab who favored a Jewish state there, nor heard of an Israeli Jew who knew an Arab who favored a Jewish state. Still, they are where they are, with nowhere left to go, and have always just wanted to live in peace.”

          “And you get there with a policy of huge, snaking walls and spongy borders? With barbed-wire barricades, roving roadblocks and creeping settlements that turn permanent overnight? Corralling Palestinian protestors, night raiding their children, burning and raising their family homes? C’mon, there has to be a better route, there has to be enough homeland for the two tribes…”

          “Right, the good ol’ two-state illusion. Gad, if it were only that simple.”

          “Meanwhile, the Russians keep coming, the Russian Jews keep coming to settle things in their favor, for good—from Hebron to Nablus,” I shrugged, as we negotiated a couple of little hombres in bright mariachi shirts and baggy black jeans, peddling toy guitars and boxed berries on the streetcorner, begging to monetize before spoilage set in. And that’s not even taking into account East Jerusalem—where Israel keeps building Har Homa housing, let alone Givat Hamatos or E1.”

          “But primarily in the New City, West Jerusalemall with the Knesset’s full blessing, I remind you, as well as that of Israeli jurisprudence.”

          “Yeah, a blessing that gets hatefully cursed throughout the surrounding world,” I glanced back at the elderly man, how he reminded me of the sickly looking guys on public television, pledge-drive preaching on healthy minds and bodies. “So, what about Jerusalem?”

          “Don’t even go there, Herbert. The Holy City is the very cradle of Jewish prayers and visions,” Paulen lectured, nose to the skies. “Jerusalem is the biblical home of Jewish temples, its Old City site dates back 3,000 years to King Solomon The Wise, traced to the Old Testament City of David. Jerusalem is Hebrew down to every last inch—Wailing to Western Wall.”

          Across Bay Street was barely different by degrees, pretty Prada shoeboxes all in a row. One two-flat might be avocado, another sandstone, the next four-unit came in filigree or cobalt blue—but most all bore black iron balcony railings, and obligatory Spanish mission tile rooflines. Nevertheless, several slight variations did stand out. For one, I was distracted by the industrial leaf blower of a Salvadoran landscaping crew, heaping rear garden clippings onto their grass-stained Toyota pickup outside a white masonry Moorish midblock two-flat over there with tall cathedral windows and terra cotta cornice—centerpiece of this short, tidy stretch—accented with a poster-sized inlaid tile portrait in its recessed portico: A sun-bonnet maiden twirling her parasol, painted in bright blues and yellows, Toulouse-Lautrec style.

          “Yeah, but don’t the Palestinians claim it as their capital, too?”

          “So do some Christians, and Israel has striven to ensure freedom of worship and access to holy sites for all,” doc insisted. “A freedom, I might add, denied to Jews before the Six-Day War.”

          “Trouble is, Jerusalem’s not actually been totally a Jewish City, right? I thought it was designated an internationalized area way back to Balfour. And it was Israel annexing East Jerusalem in 1967 that upset that olive cart.”

          “Only after Jordan’s long campaign to eradicate the Jewish presence there, my friend. Look, Arabs would have had no qualms tearing asunder Temple Mount in the name of the Noble Sanctuary or such nonsense—they, too, want it all.”

          “Whoa, but isn’t that where their Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven?”

          “Putatively,” Paulen said, pointedly above the blower racket. “Nevertheless, tell me, how often is Jerusalem referenced in the Koran?”

          I turned away, holding my ears, focusing instead on a weathered wood-shake box of a home—brown stick modern, misplaced entirely, likely heir to a prime lot cleared of a Loma Prieta teardown, now sucking up all the sunlight beaming off a yoke yellow and egg white two-flat right next door. Its Rustoleum black ironwork matched that of an olive green home butting against its other, western side.

          Sporting twin bay windows, cozy dormers poking through a gray slate mansard-like roofline, this was more of a Bel-Air style with Tudor touches, found anywhere from Burlingame to Beverly Hills below Wiltshire—not at all unlike Her old place over on the Fillmore Street side, only a bit larger and better tended—what was left of her place, anyway—couldn’t bear to dwell upon that again right now.

          “Haven’t a clue, doc…not so much up on these religious things…”

          “Who can? It’s essentially not mentioned at all. My point is it took Israel to tear down the barbed wire and reunify the city, because Jerusalem to Jews is a divine biblical calling, not merely a red flag or convenient rallying cry.”

          “Oh really? And that gives right-winger Israelis license to push the ’67 green line and storm East Jerusalem neighborhoods? Rigged evictions and forced excavations—Palestinians getting ousted from their capital-to-be, getting barricaded from their holy sites, saddled with a molasses permit process. Can you blame them for taking to the streets?”

          “No question these are issues to be addressed should any final-status negotiations ever supplant Palestinian recalcitrance. Alas, if only there were a more stable, reliable, bankable partner for peace than Abbas or Khaled Mashal.

          “Stable? Hasn’t Israel had, like, nine different governments since Oslo? I’m seeing a little double here, doc.”

          “But that is the product of the democratic process—by the regions sole Western-style democracynot blatant corruption. And as a wise guy once said, democracy is messy,” Paulen said. “But whos counting?”

          “Hamas, that’s who,” I said, distracted some by the shrill squawking of a flock of wild parrots over from Telegraph Hill, enroute to the tasty eucalyptus leaves of Presidio trees. “And why did Israel help foster that ski masked Frankenmonster in the first place?”

          “That’s hitting PLO the belt, don’t you think?”

          “Just sayin’, cant live with em, coulda’ lived without em. But I guess that’s just one outsider’s opinion…”

Care for more?

Chapter Thirty-Nine. The element of surprise
strikes all too familiar a chord, jolting equilibrium
off the proverbial radar screen…