Tomorrow, when apricots come

Quite a few unfortunates have been bitten by the pernicious Jerusalem bug. Unless dealt with firmly at an early stage, the infection can lead to too much time spent fussing over the seemingly impossible problem of how to split the land that has Jerusalem as its capital between two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, who each know themselves to be the rightful owner. Kai Bird, infected as a small boy, clearly tried to take remedial measures (living in south Asia, producing several biographies to do with atomic warfare) but has now given in, writing a book of childhood memories embedded in chunks of historical narrative.

With so much injustice in the world, why does the injustice done to the Palestinians still rank so high? Partly, of course, because it contributes to Islamic anger and, consequently, terrorism. But also because of the cruelty of the irony: Palestinians are plain unlucky to have Jews as adversaries, a people who have suffered a more awful tragedy. For Israelis, as Mr Bird remarks, "the Shoah [the Holocaust] always trumps the Nakba [the catastrophe, or dispossession]". The author himself, though deeply sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, is aware through his wife Susan, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, that there is another side.

He was too little to have many direct memories of Jerusalem, where his father was America's vice-consul for a couple of years in the mid-1950s. He recollects being driven each day from his family's house in the Palestinian-Jordanian east through the Mandelbaum Gate, a grim, heavily guarded passageway in no-man's-land, to his school in the Jewish-Israeli west. He remembers the ringing of bells, the call to prayer and the braying of donkeys in the street; his best friend, Dani, had a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother.

But mainly he draws on his parents' letters, particularly his mother's. They came to Jerusalem as innocents from Oregon but the unfairness hit them and soon she was writing "I now find it difficult to understand the refusal of the Israelis to regard themselves as the aggressors". They had several aristocratic, cosmopolitan Palestinian friends. But many Palestinians resented the American government, not in those days because of its tight links to Israel, but because of the support, together with fat CIA brown envelopes, that it gave to their ruler at the time, Jordan's King Hussein.

... contd.

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