From a Letter to Russell Banks on September 16, 2001

by Mary Morris

A year ago June the New York Times asked me to go to Jerusalem and do a travel piece for the Sophisticated Traveler. They said that for years now they had not done Jerusalem, but peace was so imminent, within reach, they felt that Jerusalem could soon be considered a destination again. So I went and tried to get a “take” on the city, and after a few days spent talking to people in the streets, in restaurants, to cab drivers, it came to me that Jerusalem is a kind of Rashomon tale in which each of its citizens sees the city entirely differently. Each has his own story to relate. I won’t go into how those narratives shaped themselves for each of the three major religions who claim Jerusalem as their own, but I will give you this one example: A Moslem guide at the Dome of the Rock explained to us how Jesus walked across the Dome to his place of crucifixion. As he told this, I was struck by the fact that from a Jewish perspective, Jesus could not have walked across the Dome because the Second Temple would have stood in his way. But to the Moslem guide, nothing impeded that walk. This was just one of half a dozen or more stories from Jews, Moslems, Christians—all of which contradict the stories of the others. I was proud of the Times piece, but mostly I felt satisfied that I had reached some understanding of Jerusalem. Then Sharon, despite the riots that would surely ensue, and amidst hundreds of Israeli police, visited the Temple Mount (where the Dome of the Rock rests) and the rest is, alas, deeply embedded and horribly complex history—all too sad and surreal, as we know it. And Jerusalem, according to the New York Times, is no longer considered “a destination.”

For the past year I have watched the bloodshed unfold in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. At a memorial service last week at our temple here in Brooklyn, our rabbi said words to this effect: Yesterday Americans were people who came from everywhere, but now all Americans are Jews; all Americans are Israelis. While I understood what he was trying to say (that we have now all experienced the terror), he chose what appeared to be a narrow interpretation. To some, while this was hardly his intent, his words seemed xenophobic and nationalistic. Instead of a sense of unity we were left with divisiveness. What struck me was, here is just one more myopic way of looking at the same story.

Obviously, war isn’t the answer. The problem, if I can use a medical metaphor, isn’t bacterial, but viral. I don’t see that we can obliterate anything because it will just crop up again. We have to alter the climate in which it grows. The 1967 war in Israel, the Gulf War, the ongoing struggles in the Middle East which have been exacerbated over the past year, these have led to the cells that are growing and breeding more cells. I honestly feel myself immersed in this hatred. In 1967 when Israel took East Jerusalem and annexed it, I went there with my cousins from the part of my family that fled the pogroms in Russia and settled in Palestine. These cousins proudly showed me the newly taken West Wall and West Bank and I thought to myself, This is a mistake. This city has to be an open city. And now all these years later I saw my husband come home, covered in glass and ash, having fled the collapse of the World Trade Center for his life. so now, alas, I have my own Rashomon tale to tell.

Tags:
september 11
terrorism
BOMB 78
Winter 2002
The cover of BOMB 78
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