Palestine, yes, but Israelis draw the line at Jerusalem

Mahmoud Abbas's call for a return to the 1967 border cuts through the heart of the 'eternal capital'. Robert Fisk reports

They wear their wounds well, the buildings of the old "green line". Forget the new Jerusalem hotels across the road, the state-of-the-art tramway that glistens down the highway; just take a look at the bullet holes on the walls to the left, the shell gashes in the preserved façade of what was once an Israeli army bunker and is now Raphie Etgar's little art gallery.

You can still peer between the rusting iron shutters, across the road. A hundred metres away was the Arab Legion. Just 300ft from here was the Jordanian frontier.

For this is the 1967 "border" to which Mahmoud Abbas insists the Israelis must retreat, the "frontier" which Bibi Netanyahu regards as too "vulnerable" to return to in any peace treaty. Allow an Arab army back to the land over the road and Jerusalem is again divided, no longer the "united and eternal capital" of Israel. Allow the Israelis to maintain their illegal annexation of this same land and East Jerusalem can never be the "capital" of Palestine. The quotation marks are essential; as in "peace".

The art inside the "Museum of the Seam" – "seam" is a kind of substitute word for the "border" which Israel will not acknowledge, rather like "settlement" is a necessary substitute for "colony" – is about war and peace, about Baghdad and 9/11, about suicide bombers, a weird and highly effective collage of arms and legs, plastic and neatly severed, even an AK-47 rifle, and a Charlie Chaplin factory of cogwheels of Islamic calligraphy.

And somehow it's not surprising to find its art director and chief curator perched on the roof, a small, plumpish man in tiny, thick-framed spectacles who breathes heavily as he speaks unstoppably about the subjects which seem nearest to his heart: art, missed opportunities, hope and potential despair, mixed in with some stubborness. Raphie Etgar was a former tank commander, fought in two wars – in 1967 in Sinai, in 1973 in Golan – and in the bloody battle of Karameh (of which, perhaps, the less said the better) and "saw death very close to my eyes and lost quite a few of my friends".

But hark to his thoughts on war and peace. "The fact that our museum is located on the 'green line seam' is significant, no doubt – but it's more a conceptual 'seam'. It's not an accident that we are located here, but we mean to pass on some message. We prefer to keep the 'seam' in a wider context. In the exhibition, we deal with the clash of civilisations – I would expect visitors to see this in the context of East and West."

I'm not at all sure that the 1967 border, just outside the window behind Raphie Etgar, does contain lessons about the world. Europe is not claiming all of London or Paris for itself. Israel surely is claiming Jerusalem for itself. But it turns out that the ex-tank commander believes that we Europeans share these cities with our Muslim immigrants without handing over our capitals to them.

It's hard to place this man. Leftist definitively. Moral, absolutely. Haaretz reader, I suspect. He certainly bears no love for his Prime Minister after last week's speeches at the UN on Palestinian statehood. "I was sitting in front of the television and tried to hear two leaders speak a little bit less 'from above'. Netanyahu was the best actor. He knows how to give his show and unless you know that he is always playing this game, you would be tempted to believe what he says. He is the best acrobat in the Middle East.

"Then came the Palestinian President, who didn't leave me an inch of hope that he would open the door and not repeat his accusations. Here we were with a chance, where people could sit together and try to find something new. But it was just a repetition of the same old game, Netanyahu with his gimmicks and his playful voice. I could believe in a Shakespeare play more than I could believe in these lectures."

I ask which Shakespearean character Netanyahu would play – he thinks Brutus, I suggest King Lear but forbear to suggest that a lot of the Likud leadership treat the Palestinians as Calibans. "It seems there is a lot of tiredness which brought many people in this region to give up their hope," Etgar says. "So strength comes instead of hope."

His point – so far as I can project it – is that Israel should prepare to share its land when it is strongest, not delay until it has less "strength". There are "rules of negotiation" – other people should be treated with respect.

So would Etgar allow the Palestinians to have a capital in east Jerusalem, Israel's in the west of the city? There is no hesitation now. "If I was in charge," he suddenly says, "I would not share Jerusalem – I would not. I think the Palestinians are touching a very, very sensitive point here.

"They should get 'Palestine' as a country, as a place for living. Give them the West Bank – but remember a few things that are also very sensitive and basic and meaningful to the Jewish nation. They should recognise the Jewish identity of this land [Israel]. I don't think they would do less well if they ran the whole business from Ramallah."

I'm aware that somewhere in our conversation, we've slipped over a precipice. Etgar talks about sharing "a sense of human rights" but Jerusalem has too many "bleeding stones". The Palestinians and Arabs might have to accept a Muslim-Arab "quarter" in east Jerusalem. "There are many cities with 'quarters'. But to come out with a declaration that 'this is going to be the capital of Palestine'! The history of my own family demands this. You won't be able to take it from the bones of all those buried in this place."

I climb to the watchtower on the roof where I can see Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives. It might once have been a good idea to go back to the "green line", Raphie Etgar had said before I left him. "But things were changed by time."

Ah, history – always to blame, always lying like a rug over Jerusalem. I tried to close the old iron shutters on the stairwell. But they had been congealed into the wall in the years since 1967.



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower