Ed: Read Optional
Know More / Know Less.
More about Israel/Palestine than you may care to know.
This chapter seeks to address some pivotal historical markers—
primarily for those in the know. If you don’t care to know
more, skim on along, to know less.
“Bite off more than you
can chew, and it may
get the better of you.”
“So, she’s like, sooo the best, so really spicy. And he’s soooo vanilla most of…”
“OK, so you’re making a structural argument that’s more applicable to clean tech, which is af…”
“Omigod, I know. But she likes her beef jerky—real salty and aged, with maj…”
“Hey, it’s a one-off deal by a top-down predator, at bes…”
“Amazing how absence makes the heart go yonder, that’s wh…”
“Like a Burmese python trying to devour a live alligator. And I’m sayin’, huh, huuuh? Not a chance…”
Dangling participles, sentence fragments, fractured syntax, sotto voce, de-contextualized references, wholly disjointed conversations: We ponged through these roaming snippets of cellphone chatter, valley vernacular and techno-speak flooding our auditory canals westward out Chestnut Street. Then again, how else would these cubicle-bound brainiacs hook up without their cells and hand-helds—lovin’, fondlin’ those vibrating phallic units—heavy digital emoting and petting, breathless juicy dishing, blowing through voice-call talk time in the peripatetic pursuit of social synesthesia, texting at their fingertips should the vocal chords shred out.
So many iPhones as post-cigarette props, 3G smart phones as poses: Never in the course of human communicative history had so many striven to look so important yammering on matters of so little importance. Beyond slavish carrier contracts and onerous overages, the price of all-hours plugging-in was all this wireless radiation zapping around the transmitter towers of babble. Glioma and parotid studies, acoustic neuroma tumor rumors abounded—while frequent non-thermal cel industry denials were met with City Hall calls for a consumer health warning campaign. My ears burned all the more at the carcinogenic cacophony, evincing a latent case of personal cellphobia, and I didn’t know what to make of the professor’s ear gear.
Otherwise, the Jack’s Shop Reese Paulen had most likely remembered here was a cluttered, dust hazy news stand with stacks of local and out-of-town papers two days old—sunrise to bulldog editions, first with the five-star final Examiner, complete with late stocks and sports scores. It was a dreary, but festering hole in this Chestnut’s block of otherwise tidy family storefronts. Jack’s harked back to the Marina’s fabled longshore and trawler days, a pre- and postwar generation’s hang-out a couple of doors down from Harmony Grove, lined with sagging racks of sporting and true-crime magazines, ink-stained residue of Racing Forms, Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post—not to mention a cache of black-laced girlie rags consigned to a cramped little rear alcove.
Newshawk Jack’s cronies manned the cracked glass-cased counter, dispensing smokes to the neighborhood blokes: pipes, cleaners and canned tobacco to the retired army non-coms, White Owls and LaPalina Panatellas to landlubber seafarers/merchant marines blowing O-rings around past exploits in Sydney and Singapore, after laying down a quiet sawbuck on that two year-old filly in the Bay Meadows fourth.
“So, how do you cope with all that…Mideast geopolitical static,” I asked, picking up where we had left off in front of Harmony Grove, hewing right close to the topic line.
“It’s easy, when you know you’re right,” Paulen replied, moving alongside. “But more importantly, when you know Israel’s right…”
“You mean, as in true believing?”
“As in being true to one’s loyalties, Herbert. Look, it is clear we need get back to our little history lesson,” he said, brusquely finishing my thought. “A series of armistices had left Israel by 1949 with a little over 75% of the territory west of the Jordan River, and over 700,000 Palestinians abandoning in retreat. So be it—Israelis weren’t the ones who started the fighting…”
But that was Jack’s many deadlines and shipboard manifests ago, even though news ghosts and their slackies continued to hover about, even though it was just another designer rag shop today. Namely, the former could be seen sole dragging on canes and castered walkers, now sour, dour, tight-fisted old landlords in I.L.W.U. and decorated Naval crew caps, carping all the way to the corner savings banks that they’re getting shafted by rent control, wanting units back to raise the rents on them the very moment they leased up their latest tenants. These were salty Marina old-timers, schlerotically brain starved—bilking, though otherwise stoutly resisting, all this genderational change.
“Abandoning? Fleeing for their lives from Haganah and IZL expulsions, right? Isn’t that why Palestinians call it their Catastrophe?” I was a bit taken aback by the stridency of his take on the whole Mideast thing. Were there actually signs of hostility here? “And wasn’t there some U.N. provision for land compensation and right of return to the territory Israel seized?”
“Hmph, the legitimacy of Resolution 194 is still in dispute,” Paulen countered, appearing somewhat off-guard curious that I harbored these little factoids on matters Middle East. “At any rate, the region calmed down uneasily amid Cold War politics, as nascent Israel went about the business of building a modern democratic state. Return, rebuild, restore to the Biblical prominence evidenced in so many archological discoveries. Even though unrest continued simmering at the borders, and among resentful Israeli Arabs.”
“Israel’s salad days, huh?” Yeah, rally time, gotta hang loose here, gotta hang lucid—gotta hang with him, come what will.
“Glory days. For a while there, everybody seemed to be pulling for God’s Chosen People,” he continued, visibly perplexed, as though he still couldn’t quite nail down whether he was speaking to the palm of my hand or preaching to the choir. “And how is it, might I ask, that you seem so…familiar with these issues?”
“I dunno, guess I read things…” So there, I read the tea leaves, checked my notes some, kept track, boned on up. It was show and tell time, all right. I could still be just as discerning and analytical…I could handle this bilateral feint and parry—didn’t want to wade into all the think pieces and clip files I had culled for that geopolitical client, all the lefty ops and tracts. Cramming for the exam, just like olden times…
“What things, Herbert—what bloody things?”
“Rags, mag—all sorts of sources. I kinda make it my business…” Not that I wanted to spill the overheated vitriol I’d been overhearing up in MeccaJava either, much less mediating between Rachel and Roya up at the house. “Oh, I overhear stuff out and about, and guess maybe I have a sixth sense about these things. I’m sort of a jack of all charades that way…”
If it wasn’t the old mopes mulling about the remodeled storefront remnants of Jack’s yesterday’s news, it was their progeny, genetically and socially suspect as they appeared to be. By and large, the Marina’s inheritors constituted an oddball lot, off-kilter weirdo/eccentrics I had seen many times before. Mixed-up misfitting, dissociated, detached faces, out-of-synch body language, disproportionate reactions, seasonably inappropriate rethreads: This society of broken men haunted Chestnut Street like the shining Overlook Hotel’s security guards. Some were lost-soul sad sacks with MIA father figures, arrested developing under their dominating mommas’ aprons, marking time in clueless oblivion until the genitori croaked and willed them the money markets and deed to the ol’ Marina home.
Or they were the muttering, marginally homeless, climbing back to some semblance of civilization by scrubbing sidewalks and squeegeeing store windows, bitterly earning their nightly doorway keep—the difference between trendies gabbing on cell phones and loonies just talking to themselves—as if I didn’t know from that my own self. In any case, they seemed squirrelly as some geezer’s motley, overfed mongrel, and no match at all for the fitter, faster crowds shunning them along their way.
“Business, you say, in that Arab cafe of yours,” Paulen probed. “Then more than likely you’ve a sense of how exalted Israel had largely been until…”
“Yeah, except by every country right around them, who mostly never have recognized Israel’s existence in the first place, right? Guess they never bought into the postwar guilt.”
“Look, they all but erased Jewish history from Arab lands. Still, Suez didn’t help, Britain and France conning Israelis into attacking Egyptian terrorists in the Sinai after Gamal Abdel Nasser expelled 65,000 Sephardic Jews in 1956, then grabbed the canal and shipping lanes back from Egypt to save their European corporate interests. Took Ike and Khrushchev to push through a U.N. cease-fire. Dirty business, that…”
“Yeah, but in return, Israel won the Sinai and France did give it the bomb. And then there was the false-flag Lavon Affair in ’54—funny Mossad business, that…”
“Bomb? What bomb,” Paulen huffed, watching a graying neighborhood man-child finger fishing a string of newsboxes for his candy allowance—coming up dry, yelling and pointing at his imaginary playmate as he steamed down Chestnut to other, better-jimmied coinslots. “And for its trouble there, the only thing Israel really got was 1967.”
Such social amentics certainly didn’t amuse the late, lazy brunchers crowding and carousing outside Angie’s Café. Between this local fave and the Toast & Giggle Crepery across Chestnut Street, the aroma of wheatcakes and slab bacon overwhelmed us, even this deep into the afternoon. Sun-baked young couples and confabs spread across a front row of fold-out tables and collapsible wooden chairs that stretched from Angie’s plainly modest storefront, halfway across the sidewalk of a dry cleaners one door down, Asian seamstresses staring out upon them, hunched over their steamy sewing machines.
The place was just that ‘it’ around then, Angie’s faithful prattling classes devouring broad oval platefuls of Spanish and capers omelettes, rimmed with over-easy hashbrowns, fat link sausages—red-edged china platters spiced with orange slices and honeydew cantaloupe wedges. Little wonder the solar-powered social networking, the open-source relationships, tarried over oatbran muffins and bottomless coffee, even with the scent of fishy sewers and stale bar barf coursing through the curb gutters before them—much less the Marina mooncalves, God help ’em, creeping every which way about.
“67—you mean, like, the Summer of Love…” At the same time, I was savoring images of long ago Boulder breakfasts on Pearl Street, two farm-fresh scrambled with steaming homefries and bacon strips, on a converted filling station’s gloriously sun-drenched patio, at 5,200 feet above the sea level we see today. “Ah, takes me back to Dot’s…” That’s it, lay a little common Rocky ground on him.
“Love? Hardly,” Paulen replied, with something of a nod to Dot’s Diner, to slathering nine-grain with marmalade in full sunny view of Boulder’s foothills and soaring Flatirons. “Turns out that while I was sneaking over to the Matrix and Avalon, Arabs were ganging up on the Jewish state. Palestinians raided from across Jordan’s border. Syria was sniping at Israel from the north while Nasser was stacking Egyptian troops along its southern border, and began shutting off its shipping lanes again.”
“So, what was it Israel did to deserve that?” There, back to the harder tack.
Adding to the frowzy nosegay, a yellow-blue ‘The City’ jerseyed Warrior fan treated Angie’s brunchers to his bob-tailed Border Collie squatting beside a parking meter, downloading some earlier Dog Chow on the sidewalk immediately before them. No matter, as the Brioche French Toast was too yummy, the quaky weather still too fair to much care: Consensus was the jolt couldn’t have been but magnitude 2.5. As the hoops fanatic stooped to scoop up after his brown-black herder, an aging woman—pulling toward us a pair of red two-wheeler shopping baskets of what appeared to be her folded worldly possessions—paused to scowl at the dog walker.
Visibly outraged, the ruddy, head-scarved scold mumbled that she was fed up with all this canine shit, all the barking, growling, yapping, snapping and whimpering mutts in her troubled path, the lot of them eating a whole lot better than she. Sulphurous stool stench notwithstanding, Angie’s dog lovers were less amused by her cursed diatribe, returning to their brunches, soft stroking the teacup Yorkies and pocketbook Pomeranians curled on their laps—clingy, uptight fluffs nibbling here and there at scraps of their masters’ comfort food, occasionally snapping at nearby women domineering their own sniveling male Pugs and Chows.
“Simply being there, being who and what it was,” doc said, as we stepped gingerly around it all. “Sovies goaded the Arabs, Egypt drove the U.N. out of Gaza, blocked Israel’s trade access to the Straits of Tiran and Gulf of Aqaba. Egyptian MIGs strafed Dimona as Nasser sought to push Jews out of Israel, the PLO and Syria joining in. The Jewish State was feeling thoroughly surrounded once Jordan started rattling its sabres, in mortal fear of a second Holocaust, Israelis fighting for their very lives…”
“So they’re thinking sucker punch…”
“To put it crudely,” he sighed. “Rather, make that a surprise pre-emptive strike on Egypt, destroying much of its MIG air force in an hour’s time. They went on to capture everything from Gaza to Golan, with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to boot. In six short days, yet. Shocked the world, even themselves.”
“And let’s see,” I stirred mildly, still searching for better entrée. “That worked out for them how?”
“By the time the U.N. brokered a cease-fire, Israel had virtually tripled its territory, with another half-million Palestinians thrown in and on the run. Alas, that’s when the country’s troubles really began—starting with the Arab League saying ‘no, no, no’ to any peaceful resolution.”
“B-but Israel won the war, right?”
“In some respects, they still lost,” Paulen fixed his blinders to the ruckus around us. “For amid all the victorious nation’s flexing and growth—its culture blooming and shtettlements expanding on captured land, the worms began to turn, however unjustly so.”
“You mean the Arab variety?” I instead took notice of a familiar, perpetually happy smiling face, lost in his meds, habitually playing the over-under, attire-wise: tee shirts in a cold snap, bundled up in parkas at 80 degrees; bareheaded in January, wide-brim bonnets on a sultry afternoon. Mommy dear always knew best, and still dressed her noddy, middle-aged milksop accordingly.
“I’m referring to the left-winged variety…”
Comparatively more palatable to behold was the essence of mercury-free bluefin tuna and teriyaki from the Nigiri/Makimono sushi bar just ahead. Hemoshima’s Katsu and Donburi offset set the chemodor of nail varnish and polish remover swirling among a glut of Asian and Paisan salons, Ciao Amore to Satin Touch, each filled to the styling chairs and rinse tubs—chicks in the shop, up on the rack for a weekly nail fix and file job, sharpening their Saturday night game.
The works: French Tip and Brazilian waxing, fish or double-mint pedicures, staff aestheticians on both the sunny and shady sides of Chestnut busily trimmed cuticles, scraping callouses, oxygen exfoliating away, undoubtedly gossiping under their sanitary masks about the Petite Salonkeeper up the street, stabbed by some hooded petty thief. Up near Van Ness and Chestnut—that deuced intersection where I so long ago turned the corner—wonton violence had struck once more, after all this wasted time.
“Remember, for a good long time there, Israel and the Jews were progressives’ darlings,” Paulen said, eyeing down a calculating street beggar coordinating with a colleague across the street via his Crackberry. “It was genuinely cool to identify with Israel.”
“Like, Dylan, Streisand, Leonard Cohen—and all those stand-up comics…” Even today, I had trouble processing a grown guy getting a mani-pedicure, and polish, as a well-gelled coxcomb was doing, here in the Finishing Touch Salon.
“Just to name a few,” he continued. “Everybody wanted to bury Auschwitz once and for all, to worship at the altar of philo-semitism. Even the French and Germans wanted to join a kibbutz.”
“So the Euros did go on a nice guilt trip, huh?” Once again trying to keep things divertingly glib, as we sidestepped a hunched-over homeless mook, scraggly as some camouflaged British sniper deploying to the Afghan tribal regions. Say, didn’t I used to see him stripping endive and artichoke hearts at Harmony Grove? Hell, couldn’t have been…
“Whatever. Those six fateful days started chipping away at that cool, sociocultural equity, conquest by conquest.”
The district’s underlying Italian flavor lingered in a linguini sprinkling of spots: The working gals’ accessories boutique, a flat-iron bang and trimmed, cellophane tressed hairstyling shop we had just passed by; that Moda Roma Fashions outfit across Chestnut, tucked between the chain mail and nail shops. All were pretty much anchoring the two and three-story tan and gray Victoriana facades packed upstairs with cosmetic dentist and holistochiropractor office suites, and traffic noisy two bedroom flats. We paused at the Scott Street corner to windowshop a photo-framing gallery displaying sepiatones of pre-war Marina trolleys and Model Ts, inhaling the garlic and pastrami-mortadella from an old-line Lucca corner deli across the way.
“B-b-but the Israelis got so much more land, didn’t they—their Biblical land, reverting to the Old Testament mean…”
“Yes, well—let’s consider what else they got in the bargain,” Paulen said, soaking in the old Italiaroma, albeit on his father’s side. “The young country was in the doldrums politically; its economy was in the tank. So it responded in kind to external threats by some power-grabbing Arab leaders who naysayed Israel’s existence and aimed for their united Caliphony with a desperate roll of the dice. But after taking Egypt’s Sinai Desert, the Israel military really smelled blood, blew Jordan out of the West Bank, then East Jerusalem—Jews taking over some of the holiest Christian and Muslim sites in the world. Add the Golan Heights from Syria, and Israel had ended up with all this territory, having no clue what on earth to do with it.”
“Still, it was the Arabs who’d guessed wrong in the first place,” I pivoted to a bit of a back-door approach. “Israel got more of its Promised Land. So what’s the beef?”
“The beef is, all this gorging has caused Israel a bad case of indigestion.” He gazed up Scott Street to an off-white thicket of apartment houses, the old stomping grounds perhaps, bunching up to meet Pacific Heights.
“To the victors, the spoils, right? Or was it just too many spoiled olives?”
“No, too many displaced Arabs,” Paulsen snapped, for a moment appearing to reckon back to his father’s prosciutto salad days, perhaps his own rug rat Malt-O-Meal and Maypo childhood. “Suddenly 200,000 more Palestinians abandoned the West Bank alone, roiling and hostile, at that.”
“No, no—I’m more or less an operations guy, not an R&D guy…” Overheard was one of those local dabbler consultant types leaning against yet another bus shelter, blotting out its consternating Catholic Radio advert, burning up his cel in relentless hustle for the next contract job. Neatly packaged in starched and creased Land’s End, his wind-mussed locks glistened in the sun as he spieled his macro overview from the margins of the techno-financial arena, peripheral visions culled from the latest Business Week, Fortune and Dobbs. Nothing new here, this ops guy was pitching his puckered ass off on a regular, workaday basis, meeting varying degrees of resistance from the roster on his speed dial, beckoning a fuming bus strandee. “Say, pal, can you come here, and validate to my client where it’s at I’m callin’ from? Not Bangalore, or…”
“That’s the thing about phones these days,” I digressed. “Who really knows where a call is coming from? Or where it’s going?”
“Yes, well, these little buggers are getting smarter all the time.“ He felt about his vest for his.
“But wasn’t this all about the land?” I sensed, rightly or wrongly, that Paulen was now a tad bit conflicted. “Israel wanted territory, not those people, so…”
“That’s not the point, Herbert. They got those people, whether they wanted them or not. The Palestinians had been getting orphaned by their supposed Arab supporters since they were conned into rejecting the U.N.’s ’48 plan. And now they would become Israel’s burden, as well.”
“I saw somewhere that Palestinians consider ’67 their Alnaksa…losing even more ground, ending up with, like, 10% of colonial Palestine.”
“Well, Israel soon saw it as something of a setback, too,” Paulen turned toward me. “After the right-wingers started flexing their chauvinistic muscle, the liberal world began perceiving spunky little Israel as Goliath, and the Palestinians as victimized Davids—the new Mideast cause celebre.”
“You mean, like Palestinians became the Jews and Israelis became the jackboots?” I stepped lightly around a nippy Shiba Inu, trying to picture Israel sliding along a cool-to-cruel continuum, yearning once again for better graces, going for a little exploratory pick and poke—time to re-click into action, make it actually pay.
Not far away, a sweat-soaked, hyperventilating jogger steadied himself against an ACT-postered corner utility pole, ritualistically stretching his bare, reedy legs off the edge of a MUNI red-zone curb. Between groans and grimaces, he broke into something of a post-run lament, over the fading strains of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High”, that sidewalk jazz combo commencing to strike their set for the day.
“Oh, for shame, Herbert—only Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin and the extreme lefty fringe go that far,” Paulen continued, ignoring the runner’s plaintive crooning for moment to press his point. “But once it became evident that Israel was (quote) choosing settlements over settling matters (unquote), even many moderates turned. De Gaulle, for one, rescinded all support—this after Israel backed France in its colonial struggles with Algeria, no less.”
“R-r-right, nations only have relationships and arrangements—all that rot. But at least Israel now had the U.S. fully behind them,” I said, rather more tuning in to the jogger’s scratchy, yowling refrain. “Billions of dollars worth every year…”
“Enlightened occupation’s what Israeli termed it,” Paulen said. “However, ‘Occupation Deluxe’ resulted in fractious Palestinians fleeing to caves and refugee camps with little more than ‘residency rights’. Israeli generals reclaimed their ancient Judea and Sumeria in the hills outside East Jerusalem enroute to all of the Holy Land. And plucky Israel started being called an outlaw pariah state.”
“Yeah, well anyway, I guess the Arab League learned Israel could defend itself—long before getting an Iron Dome —and wasn’t planning on getting kicked out of the ’hood. So what’s with the complaining?”
“Look, that only got them as far as Y-K 1973…”
“The Yom Kippur War,” doc wagged his finger like a lecture pointer. “Before the ink was really dry on U.N. Resolution 242 for the release of all ’67 conquered territories , Egypt and Syria were ganging up on Israel again, aiming to seize back lost land. Their troops built up along Golan and the Suez Canal, catching Israeli intelligence and a fat labor government napping. Jordan had even warned them, before SAMs from Egypt hit the IAF, its missiles destroyed meager Israeli tanks on the Egyptian front. But within days, Israel miraculously rallied, with U.S. support, deeply counter-striking Syria and across the Suez, taking out thousands of tanks and aircraft of Egypt’s Third Army. Then the U.N. again negotiated a cease-fire, Resolution 338. Yet the Jewish State was shaken by its ill-preparedness and the existential threat.”
“Whoa, 242, 338—I’ve never been much good with numbers.”
More clearly now, with the passing of a 30-Stockton MUNI bus, brakeline farting its way toward a Jefferson Loop terminus, that jogger’s Jolsonesque tune went along the lines of:
“Hammie…my little hammie.
The road runs east
the road runs west…
But my sore hammie
needs major rest…”
“Just think of it as ‘Land For Peace’, Herbert,” Paulen interjected. “With every state in the region having clear, defensible borders. Trouble was, the Arabs got humiliated in the process. And even though Israel did give Egypt the Sinai back, the world got a Saudi oil embargo. Little wonder Israel hedged its bets, with settlements for security.”
“Boots and blocs on the ground, with no peace in sight…” My eyes soon wandered from the runner’s rendition, feeling that a westerly breeze was gradually kicking up. I could see a thin band of silvertone fog drifting over the naturally ragged Presidio treeline up ahead. Above that, the red Saturn airship glided respectfully over the brickfaced Fortress Lucas Digital campus.
“No, no—facts on the ground, courtesy of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s new coalition.”
“Yom Kippur…say, wasn’t that also called Kissinger’s War in Washington?”
“Yes, Nixon’s ‘Jewboy’ did in fact finally direct America’s support, airlifting gear and supplies to the IDF, reputedly while Tricky Dick slept off his drunken binges,” doc said, earphone blinking, his Rare Silk’s ringtone suddenly going off.
“Then again, guess it could be argued that Israel’s Likudniks and settler movement have been drunk with militant power ever since,” I said, digging for more of a temperamental inroad. “Whew, workin’ up a mighty powerful thirst here. Getting thirsty?”
“A trifle…but you can see what I’m saying, can’t you? Security is paramount there, you must agree,” Paulen shook me off warily, reaching into his vest pocket, then up once again to press the green button on his headset. “Hold it, I had better take this…”
“Yeah, tell them hello for me, won’t you,” I quipped, thinking Christ, get me another wizz pass out of this class… “Or ciao, shalom, whatever…”
“How utterly catholic of you, Herbert,” Paulen cocked his head to turn his Jawbone 180-degrees away. “Hello? Hello, what…”
Care for more?
Chapter Thirty-One. Now the plots begin to
thicken, the gaps begin to widen. All told,
matters become nearly operatic in tone…