15 April 2011 9 Comments

Taking Refuge

Some people are always expecting or hoping for a war. They’re even working towards that end. When you live in the Middle East, you come to such a realization eventually.

Most people are like me, however. The wars sneak up on them. They notice the signs, then they bury them because they think they’re being unduly negative. Or they’re simply afraid to see what’s in front of them.

There might even be a war going on a short drive from where you live and it can more or less escape your attention. For example, over the weekend there were 120 rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army killed 19 Palestinians. I could’ve been down there in 45 minutes drive. But I was eating chocolate muffins with my son.

I can feel the war coming, just as you might sense someone creeping up behind you. Without hearing or seeing anything. Like an icy hand touching your back.

When a bomb went off in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago, killing a British tourist, the icy hand had a grip on my guts. This was different to the intifada of the first half of the last decade. Then I was a journalist; I had to be here and I buried whatever trauma I felt under a thick layer of professionalism or duty. Now I’m a writer and a father, and I could be anywhere I want.

I’m still here in Jerusalem. It’ll be 15 years in six weeks. I keep trying to think of somewhere else to go. Somewhere less hostile and aggressive. I haven’t figured it out yet.

For a while, I’ve thought it might end the way it started—with someone else more or less deciding for me. In 1996, I came here because I met a woman who had taken a job here. That got me out of a job in New York I hated but was unable to bring myself to leave.

Maybe this time the impulse will be an increase in violence in Jerusalem. Reading the signs, I’ll take my family right to the airport. (Thankfully, after a lawsuit some years ago, my wife initiated the “two suitcases rule,” under which we should have few enough significant possessions that if we were ever again unreasonable sued, presented with an outlandish tax bill, or just scared of the violence, we could pack a pair of suitcases and head for the plane.)

If the bombs start, we’ll either head out on the first flight on which there are seats available (and which isn’t going to the former Soviet Union; I have to draw the line somewhere) or we’ll receive some other impulse. Last week, for example, my friend Monika Trapp (who runs the Buecherhaus Jansen near Frankfurt with her husband Hans-Juergen Jansen) kindly offered the apartment above their bookshop for me and my family should we wish to get away from the growing trouble in Jerusalem.

To Monika things looked rough here. There was a bomb. On the street. Someone died. Not far away, lots of people were dying. And she was right.

It’s only because I’m unnaturally inured to such things that I didn’t scream in panic and refuse to let my son out of the door. Or just head off to Frankfurt airport with him.

Of course, my mother might like to think we’d go to her before we’d head off to Frankfurt. But she doesn’t have a nice apartment above a bookshop.

9 Responses to “Taking Refuge”

  1. Catherine (aka Roman Policier) 16 April 2011 at 4:28 am #

    I know solidarity is not of much help in such circumstances, but yet…

  2. Andy Reynolds 16 April 2011 at 6:58 am #

    When you get bored of Frankfurt we’ll find a place for you in the shallow South. But I don’t think you are actually leaving Jerusalem, really…

  3. Matt Beynon Rees 16 April 2011 at 8:27 am #

    Aaggh, Ren, don’t say that! It’s hard enough for me to believe I’ll ever get around to leaving without having it pointed out by a man with your acute reasoning powers… And a little “solidarite” from une francaise is always much appreciated, Catherine…

  4. Andy 16 April 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    and another thing…I was bored enough to search the sales ranks of the latest books from all the John Ruskin alum I know (ie., you and me).


    Reynolds: 824,697


    Rees: 545,092

    Not even close….well played Sir.

  5. Gail Bentzinger 16 April 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Comforting pats on the back from me.

  6. Matt Beynon Rees 16 April 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    Thanks, Gail, consider me comforted. And, Ren, it’s hardly fair to compare a novel’s ranking with a fine political science tome like “Designing Democracy in a Dangerous World.” Perhaps if you can find an alum who’s now a published poet or let’s say the author of “The Croydon Cookbook”, you’ll be sure to outrank her…

  7. Annah Foden 18 April 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Hi Matt, I have a better offer. What about a place above a wine cave in Anjou?

  8. Matt Beynon Rees 19 April 2011 at 8:38 am #

    You’re right, Annah. That’s much better. I can always bring my own books…

  9. annah Foden 21 April 2011 at 6:29 am #

    However I doubt Anjou will inspire you as much as the Holy Land. But you are still welcome.

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