Exodus

First, I would like to apologize to you, dear readers, for my lapse in communication. The last few days have been unusually full, and I’ve had little time to write. By the way, did you know that you can subscribe to this blog? I notice that only a couple of people have done so. Rather than tediously checking seven or eight times a day to see if I’ve sent yet another riveting report shooting across the universe, only to be disappointed once again by the stale posts of days gone by, you’ll receive an email informing you of my latest efforts. Just a suggestion.

It took some time, but I made it out of the gorgeous, suffocating, dirty fish tank of Cairo. I planned to leave on Monday, but was told that I had to get a return-entry visa in order to come back for my return flight. To get this visa, I had to enter El Mogamma, an immense, grey eminence of  a government building which appeared to have been designed for the movie Brazil. After winding my way through a labyrinth of corridors, mountains of files (no computers anywhere), metal detectors, human beings wrapped in colorful blankets mysteriously sleeping in hallways on cold, marble floors, the usual heavily armed police, and being sent from one window to another, and another, I was finally given a form and was told “come back tomorrow”. I returned the next day, paid 50 Egyptian pounds, had my passport taken away, and was told “come back tomorrow”. I returned the following day and finally got my visa. The man who handed me my passport back was a devout Muslim, as was clear from his beard, long robe and zebibah, a large, dark callous on the forehead which is the result of pressing one’s head against the floor dozens of times a day in prayer, a religious fashion statement unique to Egyptian men. With my passport, he handed me a book awkwardly entitled How My Great Love For Jesus Christ Led Me To Embrace Islam. “For you” he said, smiling.

Then I was in a cab . . . at the bus station . . . on a bus out of Cairo! Amazingly, the woman sitting next to me on the bus was the same woman who had sat next to me on the flight from America 10 days earlier. There was also another American on the bus who had been on our flight. We had not gotten into Gaza but, by god, we would visit her sister, the West Bank – via Israel, of course. Crossing the Sinai desert, we discussed potential problems with Israeli customs. Of course, it couldn’t be revealed that we had any political purpose or Palestinian sympathies, or we would not get in. I had already gotten rid of my subversive literature and torn out of my notebook all the writing I had done about the events in Cairo and Gaza. I had removed the “I Support Palestine” sticker from my accordion. I was prepared to play “Hava Nagila” (derisively known in the klezmer world as “the ‘H’ tune”) for the border guards if necessary. I was concerned about the pictures in my digital camera, many of demonstrations, and I took out the little information disk and fretted about what to do with it. “You should keester that” said Joseph, a college student who had a Noam Chomsky tee-shirt that he was going to have to get rid of. He also had gotten Chomsky’s autograph one time, for some reason, and told us so. Rather than try shove a hard, plastic rectangle up my ass, as had been so helpfully suggested, I put it in my wallet and hoped it wouldn’t be an issue. I had heard many bad stories about Israeli border guards. It is not unheard of for them to fire several rounds through your laptop computer if they suspect you might be an activist. Once again, however, there were no problems. After passing through Egyptian customs where, as it turned out, I could have gotten in five minutes the visa for which I had waited days in Cairo, I easily lied my way through Israeli customs, the bored young conscripts only half-heartedly searching my bags. Then I took a taxi into a little neon tourist-trap of a town on the Red Sea, ate a shawarma pita the size of a Torah scroll, and took a bus to Tel Aviv.

I was there to meet up with Yonatan Shapira, one of the most remarkable people I know. For those who don’t know him, his story is worth recounting. Yonatan was a captain in the Israeli Air Force, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who, in 2003, caused an uproar in Israel and around the world by instigating 27 Air Force officers, including himself, to draft and sign a letter, in which they refused to fly “immoral and illegal” missions any longer in occupied Palestine. There had been earlier Israeli refuseniks but, though courageous, they had been mainly young conscripts of low rank. The Air Force is the most elite branch of the military here, and pilots have an almost mythic reputation. Since this act of defiance, Yonatan has become one of the most informed, passionate, and wise of Israeli peace activists. He’s also a very sweet man, and a fine musician and singer, with a deep, sexy voice.

My bus was early, so I pulled out my accordion and played a little bit, standing near the cab stand outside the bus station. Oddly enough, when I had played my Jewish music on the street for the Arabs in Cairo, people were delighted. Now, in the land of the Jewish People, someone almost immediately began yelling at me to stop. Fortunately, Yonatan soon pulled up, waving a Palestinian flag out the window and grinning.

To be continued soon . . .

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2 Responses to “Exodus”

  1. Brian Perkins Says:

    Great writing. Too bad about the delays in Cairo. Say hi to Yonatan for me.

  2. Lydia Says:

    I’m subscribing to your blog as you suggested… you have many eager readers, David, please keep writing!

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