Thursday, June 02, 2011

Tiptoeing through a minefield

We have been in Israel for nearly a week. Between hosts and tour guides and exploring a bit on our own, we have seen old cities and ruins and religious shrines of all sorts. There were places we were not permitted to go, though. When a gesture asking a guard if we might pass is answered with the barest shake of a head, the meaning is clear. It would be rude to argue, particularly when the guard is visibly armed, as nearly all are. There are guards, both uniformed and plainclothes, and gates and locks and security checkpoints everywhere, as is understandable.

We have had interesting conversations about souks and taxi drivers and food and ancient history and farming and geology. As polite guests, we have not brought up any topics of modern history or politics or living in the middle of what some might think of as a perpetual war zone. But neither has anyone we’ve spoken with. We learned, for example, that most farmworkers are from Thailand, but we knew not to ask why.

On a bus tour a couple of days ago to visit some archaeological sites, the guide, a smart, knowledgeable, and articulate person, provided a running commentary about communities and land features and crops as we drove past. (Guides are licensed and must pass a rigorous exam.) But whenever we approached a cemetery—and some that we passed appeared to be quite old—she diverted our attention to something on the other side of the road, often something banal. In the course of the day, she made no mention of any deaths more recent than the eleventh century or of any extant graves anywhere.

I am reminded of three wise monkeys.

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