Medium Rare, in the War Zone

I’m in a little town in Israel near the Lebanon border, full of reporters. They’re flirting, over their expense accounts, as the shells are fired nearby, and the rockets land. At dinner, the restaurant’s dog shoved in under my table, afraid of the explosions. Reminded me of home, where the dog is thrown by fireworks and thunder. You tell yourself it’s thunder and you acclimate pretty fast.

This is, to be sure, not the same as the experience in Southern Lebanon. Who is eating a rib steak with a Stella a few miles from the border there, sending it back because it’s too rare, needs another minute on the grill? I stayed at a place in Jerusalem staffed by Palestinian Christians and it really is true they watch al-Jazeera day and night. And al-Jazeera provides tape, over and over, that we wouldn’t see back in the States—children’s bodies being pulled from houses, handled like oversized dolls. In East Jerusalem the Arab street is unhinged. Every conversation you have soon rises in decibels with repetitions of the word “justice!” I nod and smile and agree. The hatred in Jersualem is mutual and scary.

The bus I took north was full of soldiers, their rifles dangling off their backs. They throw these things around a little too casually for me. But you get hardboiled in a hurry. This is my first time in a war zone so forgive a little Hemingwayesque allusion. You see normal village life going on but with only a few hard cases doing so. A kid on a tractor, a boy riding a bicycle, some old people having dinner on their porch, a man tilling his fields. Mostly this pretty (and affluent) town not far from Kiryat Shemona is shut down amid the banging. Soldiers and reporters move past one another on their cellphones in the restaurant with the same abstracted air. Not a lot of laughter.

Nearby’s the Golan Heights. I can see legendary places, Mt. Hermon, Shebaa Farms, the Golan. How many times has Israel been fighting its neighbors here? In my hotel lobby there are photographs of Jewish lands lost to Lebanon at the drawing of the ’49 armistice line. And a photo of the IDF arriving at the Wailing Wall in ’67. Able to pray at last, after years.

Now Muslim men are prevented from praying at the Al-Aqsa mosque on Fridays, because soldiers restrict access at the Damascus Gate to the Old City, so they pray in the street outside the walls of the city. Cycle of violence. Not that I’m pulling for Hizbullah. I want to sleep tonight…