Friday, September 30, 2011


Gilo is not a settlement nor an outpost. It is a neighborhood in the very heart of Jerusalem about five minutes from the center of town. 
--  Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defending last week's decision to build 1,100 homes in Gilo 

Sitting on a bookshelf in my office at home is a small stone, about the size of a large olive. It's limestone. Not the whitish-green kind we see here in the Midwest, but with a glint of gold. It's angular. Undoubtedly broken off from a larger chunk, the type that is used for building homes in Israel, especially in Jerusalem. I've also seen it in buildings in Bethlehem and Ramallah. But its association is with Jerusalem and it's called "even Yerushalmi" - Jerusalem stone. Reflecting the setting sun is what it does most spectacularly. Especially as Shabbat approaches.

I was 25 in1990 and looking for an apartment in Jerusalem. I pulled a few numbers from the bulletin board at Hebrew University where students had posted notices looking for shutafim or roomates to split rent with. I really only remember looking at two apartments. One was just off Jaffa pretty close to King George. The location was ideal - right in the center of the city and walking distance to Migrash HaRussim where the Supreme Court was located at the time - and the price wasn't bad - I think about $250 or $275 a month. When I went to check it out, I met the woman who had posted the notice. I liked the idea of having a female roommate. The apartment was decent enough and I could have been had, but let's just say the woman wasn't the warmest person I've met. She started in right away. No smoking, you must keep the room clean, and a few other admonitions that I either can't remember or don't care to. I could tell that bringing my girlfriend over would pose a problem. My guess is she never found a shutaf.

The second place I looked at was a distance away. I must have been staying at the King David at the time with my mom and sister who were on a JUF mission visting Israel in the leadup to the Gulf War. What I remember is after Shabbat ended on Saturday night taking the No. 32 bus to the apartment. This apartment was considerably newer and bigger than the first. It was also cleaner. (If you're going to clean, clean, don't talk so much.) And it was cheaper - $200 per month. The guy who owned it was a student at Hebrew University. He had immigrated from the Soviet Union when he was eight. We got along well. He liked that I was American and believed that portended well for his rent roll. So we shook hands and I had half an apartment.

The apartment was on the top floor of a four story building and overlooked a terraced valley lined with olive trees. Its small balcony had a magnificent view to the west. There was no better place to be in love than on that balcony. It was there that one girlfirend broke up with me and where I found my next one. Once I started my clerkship, I would, with my gas mask in tow, take the 32 bus to and from the Midrahov, a few blocks from Migrash HaRussim. At night when the winds or the pounding winter rains weren't too strong, we could hear the siren sound, warning of incoming Scuds; although we didn't bother going into a sealed room. We hadn't even prepared one. We were in Jerusalem and we felt safe. Eventually, a friend of mine from home came to stay for while. Like almost everything in Israel I loved that apartment. Four years later when I returned for my roomate's wedding, I stayed at the apartment for a few days with my wife and 5 month old daughter.

I can't remember how it came to be exactly, but shortly after I moved in, my friend Ayelet came to visit with her brother, Shlomi. I can still hear Shlomi as he looked west from the balcony saying, Ooo-ah, aizeh yofi shel nof. What a beautiful view. There was something that struck me about this line, how he phrased it. I really liked it. Aizeh yofi shel nof. I thought it was cool. I thought it was very Israeli. I later repeated the line to Ayelet and we broke out laughing at my weak impersonation.

You know this is a settlement, Gilo, he said to me. No it wasn't - it's part of Jerusalem I told him. Ayelet agreed with me. Take out a map, he said, not really caring if I believed him or not. It's beyond hakav hayarok.  The green line - hakav hayarok - is the line that was drawn on a map at the end of Israel's War of Independence in 1949. That's where Israel ended and the West Bank began. At least until June 1967. After those Six Days in June, Israel was in full possession of the West Bank and eventually annexed land around Jerusalem, tripling its size, and bringing Gilo within the borders of not only Israel, but of Jerusalem.  At least according to Israeli law. The rest of the world incuding the US refuses to recognize the annexation. And so Shlomi was right. Gilo was and is still today a settlement. And that made me a settler. You read that right. Zahav was once a settler. Ignorant of the fact at first, but all the same.     

Here, see for yourself. Gilo is near the edge of Jerusalem's southernmost border - what the Prime Minister's spokesman calls Jerusalem's heart - and certainly south of the armistice line. I guess it's a good thing Mr. Regev chose bullshitting over medicine.

Jerusalem's Municipal Boundaries

It's also a lie that Gilo is five minutes from the center of town. Unless of course you are driving on Yom Kippur when there are no cars on the road. Although even then you'd have to time the lights just right and drive about 60 miles per hour.


As I was getting ready to go to Israel this past spring, one of the thoughts that most excited me was the idea of running from the King David where I would be staying to my old apartment. In the past twenty or so years, I've often poured over my pictures taken in that apartment, like a kid studying the back of  a baseball card, hoping that a re-reading would reveal some unoticed detail. Back when I lived there I wouldn't have dreamed of running the 4.5 miles from the King David to Gilo, much less the 9 mile round trip. Now I can cover the distance without breaking too much of a sweat. The nice wrinkle is that Gilo is elevated a good bit so running there involves a fairly challenging climb. As I started my run I was very pleased with myself for knowing the way, and aside from the tremendous amount of early morning traffic, it was a great run out. The climb was quite a bit longer and steeper than I had remembered noticing on the bus. It took me somewhere about 40 minutes to run to Habosem, the little street-let that was home to my apartment. I went right up to the entranceway to the building at No. 4 Habosem and it seemed for the most part that time had stood still. Though the building didn't seem quite as new. Across from the front steps leading into the building was a small garden area with a bit of landscaping and I walked over looking to take home a souvenir. I found one and now it sits on my bookshelf, next to a picture of me shaking hands with Mahmoud Abbas.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, Zahav. And I won't hold it against you that you were once an (unintentional) settler :)