Sunday, March 20, 2011

Not A Walkway

I was leaving the Wells Fargo Building where I had gone to withdraw money and to use the pay phone when the traffic barrier bounced down on my head. I see the parking attendant in his little glass booth looking at me, say to him politely, "Thanks a lot." A pedestrian offers his opinion on what is and what is not a walkway.

I hobble on. At the corner I say hello to the Persian man I'd talked with the day before. We were both looking through the free books set out in boxes in the lobby of the library. We'd had a vigorous discussion on wars in the Middle East, and I thought he would still be angry at me. I was going to Israel, I'd said, and a book of interest to both of us was a theoretical study of war. I'd told him I wasn't interested in actual politics, only theory. But he got right to the point, did I think what Israel was doing was right? It went on from there. This time I say,

- Hello again, let's have a calmer discussion some time soon.
- Calmer? It was calm.
- I guess by Middle East standards. No one died.

That reminded me of another conversation. I was waiting at the Israeli consulate to get my visa. The Israelis waiting along with me were each and all soon in vigorous protest with the officials behind their bulletproof windows. The father of the family I was talking with gave me this advice: when I get to Israel, don't get angry.

Here in Los Angeles I lead a spoiled life. The only danger I face is parking lot barriers falling on my head. But that is not really true. Leaving the bank building I was thinking about hatred. About why the Israelis I was dealing with in trying to go to Israel hate me so much and were putting up so many barriers.

At the telephone in the Wells Fargo Bank building, visa in my passport, I had only to arrange my flight to Tel Aviv. The day before I had been told by the Israeli Agency to contact NbN, an acronym for Hebrew words meaning Soul to Soul, the organization specially set up to assist North Americans going to Israel. I wrote to them, they wrote back to me. They said it would be irresponsible of them to assist me going to Israel because I would need too much help. That was their conclusion, there was no need for further meetings or questions, therefore the next step was to call their Jerusalem office and arrange my flight. I had even taken the step of buying ten dollars credit on my own disused mobile phone so the office I was calling, which rarely answered their phone I had found in dozens of calls the day before, could call me back. Today luck was on my side, and the flight coordinator himself answers. He checks his computer, finds my name, and informs me I have not been approved for the flight. Why not? I have to contact the Israeli Agency. But they told me to contact NbN, which is his organization. No, he says, they arrange the flight, but only with permission. Is this a mistake, or do they ever deny permission? Only when they have already arranged the flight before. I call the Israeli agency. I can hear the hatred dripping in the silence after I tell the official who I am. I had already gone through a year long series of demands for documents and information in which my moral qualifications were stated to be in doubt and to be under examination. She says I had to complete the process with the second organization, NbN, and I had not. I told her I had, and they passed me on to the flight coordinator. The Israeli Agency officer says send her the correspondence.

Next stop Starbucks cafe where there's wireless and I can send email. As some of you know the Starbucks I frequent seems to have developed a FBI presence. I tell the staff the story of meeting there a few days before with a man who claimed not only to work for the FBI but to be also watching me.

- Oh. Hope you aren't doing anything wrong.
- Well, I'd say I am at war with the world, if you understand that I mean I am not cooperating with people who don't cooperate with me. No violence. That might be too subtle a distinction for the government. Do the FBI come here?
- They come here all the time.
- Oh. What can I do? I am a suspicious character. Traveling half my life. Often in trouble, several times have asked American Embassies for help, twice have actually been helped, once by an Ambassador in Cyprus and once by a Consul in Hungary.
- Wow.

I'd finished reading the book on war theory the Persian man who was not angry at me had forfeited. It said war had three causes: people were bad, states were unfair, and there is anarchy in relations between states. People could be made better, at least a little, states made more fair, at least a little, and relations between states more fair, at least a little, by international government. Neglect any one of these tasks and the risk of war increases. Peace is productive, war is destructive. People work together, cooperate, only where there is some fairness that makes it profitable for them all to cooperate. When for even one person or state it is an advantage or thought to be an advantage not to cooperate, there will be violence and war. Since this is how we think about war, we prepare for war, and so do others. And that makes a dangerous world.

A good book, a good theory. Nations go to war, individuals fail to cooperate, hate and try to hurt one another, because it is or seems not to their advantage to cooperate.

I am a suspicious character because I am often as they say "at war". That is I am (FBI note: non-violently) not cooperating with people who aren't cooperating with me.

I follow the theory. In personal relations, in national, in international: make the deal, keep to it, and so will I. Break the agreement, and or make none, and I will not hold myself to an absent agreement. There is a third choice between forgiveness and hatred, and that is the purely practical, the theoretical response. Issue a declaration of the war of words, working to repair unfairness. And then move on leaving the words behind. Your nation is unfair, go somewhere else. Family unfair, look for new family. International relations in a state of anarchy? Watch your head.

P.S. The Israeli Agency later put in writing to me that it was their judgment that I should not go to Israel and that it would be "immoral" for they or the NbN organization to help me go and consequently they had instructed the NbN organization not to help me. I didn't go.

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