Well, I did it. I agreed to meet a BBC team to show them, from the point of view of an Israeli, what our lives are like. Specifically, they were interested in the point of view from Maale Adumim, a beautiful city just minutes to the east of Jerusalem. Some, including BBC, would call it “occupied territory” or, being diplomatic, “disputed territory.” I don’t think it is occupied or disputed and this would be my chance to tell them that.
I was given the chance to tell them the facts – that there were never Palestinian homes on the land I call my own; never a Palestinian village. It was governed by the Turks, then the British, then the Jordanians. Jordan decided to ignore a plea made by Israel in 1967, choosing to attack. They lost, and lost big – including the area on which my home is built. There are those who might say we were occupying Jordanian land until 1988 when they chose to renounce any claim. Without question, it has been under Israeli sovereignty since 1967 and the only people to build on these barren hills – was Israel.
In the van that I met near the local mini-market (makolet), were a seasoned BBC reporter with over 25 years of experience, a cameraman, what I believe is the producer of the show, the aide that first contacted me, and an Israeli escort. It took a while to get the cameras set in the car, to check the microphones – it was the non-glorious side of television and I found it more fascinating than boring.
The BBC reporter walked to the staged park to greet me as I gazed off to the far hill where another neighborhood of Maale Adumim glistened in the sun. The reporter crossed into the line of the camera – take 1. We spoke too long – take 2. We finally got it right and move to get into my car for the journey through Maale Adumim. We didn’t open the door at the same time and worse, as I pulled out, a car came down the hill and so I had to either crash or stop. I stopped – take 1. Back outside, leaving the car running – coordinating the walk to the car, open the doors at the same time and get in together – pull away and put the seat belts on while driving – success.
BBC came to Maale Adumim to see, to listen and overall, I think they did. I expected so much, feared so much. Instead, it was mostly what I wanted it to be – here is my home, here is my city, here is my life. Here is where my sons work, where my children go to school. Here is where I have chosen to raise my children. Yes, I have five children and even two adopted sons. No, I’m not an extremist. No, I don’t have much hope for peace.
“Why did you choose to live here?” The answer was easy – for the quality of life and yes, for ideological reasons. Some choose for economic reasons, but not me.
Many of the questions were sensitively phrased – “How do you answer the claim….?” and “What do you say to those who say…?”
I searched for the bias BBC is famous for; I waited for the agenda to come through. I have to be honest and say they were fair. I think they were even pleasantly surprised to see that Maale Adumim really was a modern city with all conveniences close at hand. As they gazed at the apartment buildings, the grassy children’s park, the buses traveling in and out of our neighborhood and people walking the streets, I think they even got the message that Maaleh Adumim is a permanent fixture in the Israeli reality. One question was why I didn’t choose to live in Israel proper, and I answered that I most definitely do live in proper Israel.
I took them to Rami Levy to see what it was like in an Israeli supermarket. They seemed to be impressed by the size of the place and how Palestinians and Israelis work together, shop together. They kept asking me if that person was a Palestinian, and him, and him…and in each case, the answer was yes.
Am I a settler? I was asked near the milk section of Rami Levy. I am, I answered – all Israelis are settlers, all Americans are settlers too. All Brits, all of us – it is what humans do – we settle in a place and make it home. Not the answer that they wanted, but the one that is in my heart.
They said the world sees settlers as gun-toting religious Jews with beards and yarmulkas. I don’t have a beard, I answered. I’ve never fired a gun and I don’t wear a yarmulka. “The world is wrong,” I said. We are people. Men and women, adults and children. Religous and secular. We are Israel, that’s all. Just people.
I showed them the barren mountains around Maale Adumim and said – as those hills are now, Maale Adumim was before we Jews came and built here. They took pictures of the mountains and I think I showed them as people, as well as reporters or BBC employees.
I showed them the TEREM emergency center and the ambulance squad, the silly but charming lake, the parks and the schools. I pointed to the flowers we plant in abundance and the palm trees. Palm trees! I said to them – and we’re in the desert!
In the vegetable department, some Arab workers asked why we were filming and I answered them, and then later we took some still pictures of the TV host and me (I didn’t even have the nerve to ask them to send me a copy by email and I don’t know if they’d give me permission to post it here anyway). In the chicken department, the Arab workers smiled. At the checkout, the Arab packer told me where he lived and asked about the cameras. They filmed me walking out of the store and then asked me to take the cart and walk back in…three times!
And when it was all done, I came home and pondered what I would write here. I get the first chance to post about my hours with some BBC employees and a seasoned BBC reporter. They and he will get the last word when the documentary airs. It will be an hour in length, covering hours and hours of footage shot all over Israel – the Negev, the north, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah. From all the hours of walking and driving…a few short sentences will be taken.
I told them that Israel wants peace – that it has always been ready to meet the Arabs at the negotiation table. What will happen there, I refuse to guess. We are ready, without preconditions. Land for peace has never worked – let’s try peace for peace. Name the day and we will be there. That was one quote. Maybe they’ll take it; maybe they won’t.
Maybe I didn’t say it on camera – I don’t know anymore. There were conversations on tape and others off. I know that I was not being recorded when I admitted that I just don’t see how there will ever be peace. I don’t. On tape, I spoke of this being a normal city – buses, gardens, many schools, city hall, shopping, synagogues, pizza, medical centers and even a bowling alley…wait…did I mention the bowling alley? It’s all a blur – so much to tell them about our city. They seemed surprised by how big the mall was. They liked the Skippy peanut butter being sold in the store (I bought two – it was on sale!).
After a while, it’s hard to remember what I said and even if I remembered. I got a glimpse of what it was like to film a show – I can’t tell you how many times I walked into the supermarket; how many times I strolled down the front of the store. I put the milk in the cart twice.
What I’m left with is a feeling that I did all I could do, shared all I could share – we are people, not settlers. We are humans, not creatures. We care about our lives here. We have made GOOD lives – for us, for our children, and yes, for the Arabs who work among us, for us, with us.
I can’t know now which seconds of the hours I spent today they will select. What I can say is that I provided them with a palette filled with colors but I have to accept that what painting they will produce is up to them. A masterpiece of honesty or a crass image of distorted life can be weaved from the same colors of the rainbow. It’s what you do with the colors once you have them that leaves a lasting image. I have given them the colors.
They said they wanted to show their audience the real Israel, the side the media doesn’t have a chance to show. I tried…I hope I succeeded in showing them that we aren’t fanatics, maniacs, strange beings from a different planet. We are simply people who live in a beautiful city, a beautiful land.
You can paint so many pictures with words, with images, with pieces of conversations. I hope they will choose to paint a masterpiece of life in Israel, an image of how we have built such beauty. Of the kindness we offer our neighbors – those across the street, and those across the valley and yes, even those who live across borders.