Peace Kills

Free Peace Kills by P. J. O’Rourke

Book: Peace Kills by P. J. O’Rourke Read Free Book Online
Authors: P. J. O’Rourke
Unless, of course, scanty olive-wood-crèche-set sales are spoiling your enjoyment of earth and you’ve decided to attain to heaven.
    The owner of an upscale antiquities store back in Bethlehem did not look as if he meant to attain any sooner than necessary, even though his store’s air-conditioning unithad been knocked out by Israelis firing on nearby rioters. He arrived in a new Mercedes with three assistants to open his business especially for Dave, his first customer in a month.
    The antiquities dealer was another friend of Z’s. Z told us that this was the man whose grandfather was the Palestinian cobbler to whom the Dead Sea Scrolls were offered as scrap leather by the Bedouin shepherd who found them—a story too good to subject to the discourtesies of investigative journalism.
    The emporium was new, built in the soon-dashed hopes of millennium traffic. The antiquities were displayed with the stark, track-lit modern exhibition drama necessary to make them look like something other than the pots and pans and jars and bottles from people who had, one way or another, given up on this place long ago.
    Dave collects antiques, but by profession he’s an iron and steel commodities trader. He has also lived in Asia for years. I sat on a pile of rugs and drank little cups of coffee while Levantine bargaining met Oriental dickering and the cold-eyed brokerage of the market floor. The three great world traditions of haggle flowered into confrontation for two and a half hours. Folks from the Oslo talks and the Camp David meetings should have been there for benefit of instruction. Everyone ended up happy. No fatal zero-sum thinking was displayed as banknotes and ceramics changed hands at last. Dave could make more money. And the Arabs could make more antiquities.
    Why can’t everybody just get along? No reasonably detached person goes to Israel without being reduced in philosophical discourse to the level of Rodney King—or, for that matter,to the level of George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Santayana said in one of those moments of fatuousness that come to even the most detached of philosophers. In Israel and Palestine, as in Serbia and Kosovo, this goes double for those who can’t remember anything else. And everybody
get along, after a fashion. Muslims and Christians and Jews have lived together in the Holy Land for centuries—hating one another’s guts, cutting one another’s throats, and touching off wars of various magnitudes.
    The whole melodrama of the Middle East would be improved if amnesia were as common here as it is in the plots of imaginary melodramas. I was thinking this as I was looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls in the solemn underground Shrine of the Book, inside the vast precincts of the Israel Museum. Maybe, I thought, all the world’s hoary old tracts ought to wind up as loafer soles or be auctioned at Sotheby’s to a greedy high-tech billionaire for display in his otherwise bookless four-thousand-square-foot cyber-den. Then I noticed that Z was reading the scrolls, muttering aloud at speed, perusing an ancient text with more ease than I can read Henry James. What’s past is past, perhaps, but when it passed, this was where it went.
    Z dropped us at the King David Hotel, the headquarters of the Palestinian mandate administration when the British were trying to keep the peace. In 1946 the hotel was blown up by the radical wing of the Jewish Resistance Movement, the Irgun. Some of every group were killed—forty-one Arabs, twenty-eight British, seventeen Jews, and five reasonably detached persons of miscellaneous designation. The Irgunwas led by the future prime minister Menachem Begin, who would make peace with Egypt in the 1970s but, then again, war with Lebanon in the 1980s.
    On the way to the hotel Z explained why there will always be war in the region. “Israel is strategic,” he said

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