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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Software Tester

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Tester is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The Company sells mobile video advertising sol...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have a vacancy within our ra...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - 1st Line Helpdesk - West London - £25,000

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - 1st Line Helpde...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project