Inside the Whale

September 12, 2006

Israel 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — noahsimblist @ 1:43 pm


This photo was taken just inside the muslim quarter, at the entrance to the Western Wall. It strikes me as odd that there is a need to mark a space with Jewish stars that is already within the power of the Jewish Democratic state of Israel.

I’ve been in Israel since late Sunday night. The first day was mostly spent seeing old friends and gathering contacts, making appointments, etc.

I started this morning in the Old City of Jerusalem making audio recordings. I heard the Mouazin, church bells from the Christian quarter and the muffled prayers heard at the periphery of the western wall. One highlight was a stop in a storefront that sought to educate the public about the rebuilding of the third temple. In Jewish tradition the third temple replaces the last temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. An orthodox Jew with a faint British accent who didn’t want to give his name or have his picture taken gave me an account of how the third temple would hasten the coming of the messiah and can only be built if built by man. “It is only once the temple is built, that the Messiah will come.” he argued.

The Temple Mount (, the site of the destruction of the last two Jewish temples, is currently run by a Muslim Council because it is also the site of the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the rock where by Muslim tradition, Muhammed ascended to heaven. This place was at the center of my recordings.

Later in the day I met with Daoud Kuttab (, a Christian Palestinian journalist. He talked about Palestinian identity as being defined by absence. Their sense of home, he said, had to do with an empty space. This is symbolized by the keys that many Palestinians still hold from the doors of their houses that they locked in 1948 or 1967 when the Israeli army invaded. He said that Palestinian houses have art, lik ethe keys, that looks symbolically toward this lost home. At the same time, he spoke of how Palestinians are defined by Jews, by the Israelis. He talked about how many Palestinians are like the anti-Jew, it reminded me of a kind of doppelganger.

Then I spoke to Stuart Schnee a Jewish American immigrant to Israel, who is religious and supportive of the conservative Likud policies overall. He lives in Jerusalem and is very articulate and spoke about His sense of homeland in religious Zionist terms. But he was careful to show a certain degree of skepticism for his own beliefs. He told me a story of going toa protest against the peace process and then walking home to the car and talking with his friends that maybe they were wrong, not enough to change their minds but at least to consider the possibility that the “peace process” might actually work.

I then talked to Rami Elchanan, a seventh generation Jerusalemite who lost his teenaged daughter to a terrorist attack in 1997. He works with The Parent’s Circle (, an organization that brings together Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children to the Israeli Arab conflict. He spoke about the profound change in his life that the loss of his daughter began. He now lectures in schools and does advocacy work on behalf of dialogue between Israelis and Arabs.

A long and full day…



  1. The image of the Palestinians holding onto to their keys for more than half a century in some cases. A very powerful and unsettling image.

    Comment by Katie Taber — September 13, 2006 @ 7:54 pm

  2. I wish you had access to a copy of this week’s New Yorker….it contains a very disturbing article from the Hamas and Hesbollah point of view….
    What is your goal in talking to these people? The third temple guy is a little frightening. I hope he is not representative of a large group…

    Comment by Louise — September 14, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

  3. It’s always amazing to me to see and hear about Israel through the eyes and ears of friends from all different phases of my live. Noah, it seems like you are getting such a fabulously rich and multifaceted view of what life is like there now.

    Thank you for bringing this insight to us here waiting to go home again.

    Comment by Rica — September 19, 2006 @ 3:41 pm

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