From the large picture window in the salon you can see the Jordan River, an unimpressive muddy little stream winding through the hills of Judea. Beyond that on a clear day you can see the road to Amman, the Jordanian capital less than an hour's drive away.
That is what is so frustrating to Ehsan Abu Gazaleh. "Often, when my husband was in the cabinet, when he was minister of communication of Jordan, we would drive to Amman and back twice a day. Now I only go once a year. My husband comes here three times a year."
Madame Abu Gazaleh is a Palestinian. She lives on the West Bank of the Jordan River, occupied Israeli territory since the Six Day war in 1967. She is from one of the richest and most aristocratic families in Palestine. She is the former first lady of Jerusalem. Her husband, a judge now living in Amman, was governor of Jerusalem from 1962 to 1966, then Jordan's ambassador to Spain, then to Iran.
The Abu Gazaleh family had wealth, they had position. They had a beautiful house in the hills outside of East Jerusalem. They traveled, dressed elegant, entertained lavishly.
She stands at the window now, gazing gloomily out toward Jordan, fingering her pears as she speaks. She points down to the garden, parched and brown under the sun. "It used to be a beautiful garden," she says. "But because we live in East Jerusalem we don't have enough water any more to keep it green."
She is clearly distressed, speaking rapidly. "I used to be first lady of Jerusalem," she says, "the wife of the governor. Now I am ignored. I have a friend who is a Greek patriarch. Sometimes he invites me. Another friend is the wife of the Venezuelan ambassador. She invites me too. I am rude enough to ask who will be there. If they invite the Israeli governor they will treat him as the most important person. I will be the second. I feel out of place. I prefer to stay home."
Life has change considerably for Madame Abu Gazaleh and her family since the Israel occupation. For one thing, it is very difficult to get in and out of the West Bank. For another there is no way to send a letter to Jordana, or even to telephone.
"If there is an emergency we can get a message through to the Red Cross," she says.
One of the reasons it is so difficult to get back and forth is the Israel security check at Allenby Bridge, a tiny structure which crosses the Jordan five kilometers outside of Jericho. For Palestinians living in occupied territory is a nightmare. Particularly for someone like Madame Abu Gazaleh who has been used to VIP treatment all of her life.
"The way they search you, it is too horrible," she says. "I can't stand it. They take your shoes off, they make you stand barefoot in the sun. One day the woman said, 'Take off your cloths.' I opened my blouse but it wasn't enough. She made me take everything off. I was fighting my tears. They're not even polite. They treat you like nobody. They shout at you. They know who we are, of course.You see a dirty peasant standing next to you and they treat you the same way. Worse. And of course, we don't wear our jewelry when we go to Amman. When we declare it and then come back, they say we haven't declared it and they confiscate it. Really, it is too humiliating."
Salma Abu Gazaleh enters the room carrying a small tray with tea. She is the 26-year-old daughter of the ambassador and his wife. A luscious, Sophia Lorenesque creature, Salma speaks perfect English, having been educated at the American School in Tehran, then later at the American University in Beirut. She is staying with her mother to keep her company. And she is as angry about the situation as her mother is depressed.
"You see," says Salma, "the Israelis want to get rid of us, those who know what things are about the intellectuals, the cream of the crop. They can control the uneducated, the peasants."
The Abu Gazalehs are certainly not peasants and there is no way to forget it when one is with them. Both women are elegant, stylishly dressed in the most expensive European clothes. Around the enormous living room, done in velvet brocades and oriental rugs, are pictures of the family with countless dignitaries, a testimony to their wealth, their status, their former power.
Pictures of Ambassador Abu Gazaleh presenting his credentials to Franco, to the Shah of Iran. Autographed pictures of Madame Abu Gazaleh entertaining Queen Frederick of Greece for tea at her house in Jerusalem, an autographed picture of the former king of Bulgaria, Simeon, and his family. Her grandfather was the grand vizier (Prime Minister) of Turkey during the time of Sultan Abdel Hamid. He was governor of Karah when Palestine was under Turkish rule. A picture of her grandfather with King George and Queen Mary also graces the wall. Now those days of grandeur George and Queen Mary also graces the wall. Now those days of grandeur And her memories are her life. Since she came back in 1973.
"The first two years I came back I couldn't stand it," she says, speaking in short rapid sentences as though she is going to lose her breath. "For the last 30 years I have been used to society, parties, receptions. I miss the social life. It is dreadful to sit from 6:30 at night and watch TV or play backgarmon with Salma. Sometimes I feel as if I'm going to burst. We have a few friends. I give some small parties. I do it just to pass the time. I don't really enjoy it."
Her friends, she says, are in the consulate, the Spanish, the Truks. "They are very sweet, very nice. Personally I like to meet foreigners. I like to change the conversation. When we get together with just Arabs, all we talk about is the bridge the situation in Jerusalem, the news. Sometimes you just want to get away from it."
"We don't have any Israeli friends," says Salma. "But we do have some Jewish friends of my grandfather's."
"We don't mix much," says Madame Abu Gazaleh. "And when we see them we try not to talk politics. Before 1948, we were friends. We try to talk about the old days, the good life. But when it comes to politics we are no more friends. ALthough the older generation of Jews, they don't feel at ease with the situation."
"Mother," says Salma. "You're talking about the aristocracy, not the evertday Israeli. Half the time you don't even know where they're from."
"Of course," nods her mother, "the elite. And there was no hatred then the way there is now."
One wonders why Madame Abu Gazaleh does not close down her house and move to Amman with her husband. She explains that the 1967 war broke out when he was ambassador to Iran and since they were out of the country, according to the new Israeli law they were considered absentees. That meant the Israeli government could confiscate their house and everything in it. With the help of the Turkish consul she was allowed to return and finally received her identity card which allows her to go in and out of the country. After two years she qualified under the family reunion plan which allows families which have been separated during the fighting to get back together.While she was waiting for these her husband had to go to leave the house for fear it would be taken away.
Now, she says, she is too tired.
"In Amman I can't live just a simple life in a small apartment. Because of my husband's job and the number of friends we have there, we would have to entertain, to have a beautiful apartment. I just can't," she sighs. "And besides, if we closed the house things would be stolen. And there is no real police protection here."
The other reason she does not want to go to Amman is that she has a retarded 21-year-old daughter in a wheelchair who lives at home and it would bemore difficult to take her away from her friends, her doctors in Jerusalem.
Still she worries that her husband doesn't enjoy coming home as much. For one thing none of them can stand the tedium and the humiliation of what she claims is the seven to 12-hour security search at Allenby Bridge. For another, her husband cannot bear to be stopped at Israeli checkpoints when he is home, just because he has a blue license plate signifying he is an Arab.
"My husband stayed here for 20 days," she says. "We were invited out often but he refused to go. 'I am not ready to be told to get out of my car and be checked,' he said. But that's not a life. This time he came for Ramadan. The nest feast, he said, we will go to Amman, we will go to Athens to visit our son, to Europe, anywhere else."
Madame Abu Gazaleh doesn't know how much longer she can bear to live this way. "Some morning," she says, "I get up and say, 'finished. Let's just get up and go.' But I'm in my 50s and he's in his 60s. In a few years he'll be on a pension. We have no other alternative really. Besides," she says, "in 1948 we lost all our property. My husband was one of the wealthiest people in Palestine. I have thought so often of giving up this house. But I don't want to be a refugee again. Even if I have to live under an occupation, even if I'm not relexed. I want to live in my own country."
The irony for Madame Abu Gazaleh and for many Palestinians is that they have not been made to feel welcome in Arab countries abroad.
"Everywhere you go in the Arab world they call you refugee, refugee, refugee," she says bitterly. "It's an ugly word. You don't feel at ease in any Arab country. When I applied for my card the Israeli said, 'Why do you want to live here & You have 13 Arab countries to choose from.' Well, I don't want to live in Iraq or Labanon. I want to live here. Other Arabs don't embrace us. On the contrary. They don't like us any more. The situation is becoming close to hatred."
"Well, they can't really look down on us," says Salma, with indignation. "We're much more cultured and educated than the whole lot of them."
"In truth," says her mother, "the only place we really feel at ease is in Amman. You don't feel as much like a refugee in Amman."
Neither one of the Abu Gazaleh women feels very optimistic about the Camp David agreements. "It's good for Egypt but not for us," says the mother.
"Even if they ease the borders we will still be under Israel occupation," adds Salma.
"But I don't know," says Madame Abu Gazaleh, "we are still hoping. One can't live without hoping. We live from day to day. Always hoping. Always hoping."
Ramallah is a beautiful resort town in the hills above Jerusalem, about a 20 minute drive away. It is a sort of Arab Catskills and until the six-day War was a favorite vacation spot for many Arabs from the Gulf. It is a very rich town, partly because so many of its inhabitants are Palestinians who have made their fortunes in the United States, become U.S. citizens and come back to settle.
The mayor of Ramallah is also very rich, maybe one of the richest men in the town. He is surely the most colorful. And he happen to be the PLO mouthpiece for Palestine. It's not that he has all that much power, although he is elected by the locals, or rather those who pay property taxes, which does eliminate some. But he is supported by the majority of people who understand he has the support of the people. That's his clout. All this causes his outer office to be filled with a continuous flow of journalists who make the trek to Ramallah dutifully to find out what the PLO is thinking.
Karim Khalaf adores the publicity and the attention. Forget power. He is a star. Inside his office this one morning were about 10 men, mayors from smaller surrounding villages, coming to get the latest news. Talk about smoke-filled rooms. Every time his little man-servant, ben over, gray headed, dressed in faded army overalls, would carry in trays of Turkish coffee and tea, clouds of smoke would waft out of Khalaf's office. A stream of Arabic would sound as the men in their traditional headdresses argued, ranted and raved with Khalaf over the Israelis, the Camp David agreements, Carter, Sadat, Hussein and Yasser Arafat.
Finally, the meeting over, Khalaf kissed all the mayors goodbye on both cheeks and waved a reporter into his office.
Karim Khalaf is dressed in an American brown and white seersucker suit, a Balenciaga tie, belled trousers, streamlined boots and he wears an enormous diamond ring on one hand which he waves around as he talks and smokes Kent cigarettes. On his desk is a sign in English, "Silence: Thinking Boss." On his wall, a rug of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. For Karim Khalaf is a Christian Arab.
Karim Khalaf is the consummate politician. He loves everybody. And drama is his middle name. He can out-showboat anybody. And he tries.
He has his spiel prepared and before he can be asked a question he is explaining why he did not meet with State Department representative Alfred Atherton when he was in Jerusalem recently. Only one of the myors of major towns did meet with Atherton along with a group of moderate Arab leaders. Khalaf was not among them.
"We didn't refuse because we don't like America," he says. "We love America. But they should meet with the PLO. The PLO areour representatives. We are not the PLO's representatives . . . besides," he says a bit huffily, "Atherton came here several times before. Why he didn't ask about Karim Khalaf before? Why only this time?
"We peace," he continues. "But not at our expense. But we love the Jews.We don't hate the Jews."
"The problem is," he explains, "two thirds of or people are living outside of Palestine. And Carter and the Americans are playing a dirty game." Yet he will say again and again, "But we love the Americans."
"A Jew," he will say, "living in the United States or Russia, he has the right to come here and uproot me from my home. I am the mayor of Ramallah. You are talking to the mayor of Ramallah. This is mine. There is no discussion. It already belongs to us. Why should we sit and negotiate with Jews?"
After this agitated outburst he turns quiet. Then he shrugs and chuckles, as he light another cigarette. "We are not going to throw the Israelis in the sea. They are strong. If we take military action in two hours they would occupy us again."
Karim Khalaf is 41, though the gray streaks in his black hair and the bushy Vicent Price mustache make him look older. When told he is somewhat of a celebrity he blushes and lowers his eyelids. "Oh, thank you very much," he says, "but you should know that I am just a servant of my people."
The gentle modesty disappears quickly when he gets back to his favorite subject, the Israelis, and in minutes he is explosive again. "Perhaps the way the Jews received it from the Nazis is better than what we receive from the Jews." That doesn't go anywhere so he moves on to another subject, true to farm, his back ground as a public prosecutor always evident.
"I am a Christian but you should know. The Muslims elected me more than the Christians, more than any Muslim mayor. The Israelis try to create problems between Christians and Muslims."
He's warming up again. "I say this to you. The Jews crucified our Lord Jesus. And now they are herating me?"
He moves into a few horror stories about things the Israelis have done to him, ending up with, "anyhow I'm a landowner. I have a very good income. My brothers in America are sending me thousands and thousands of dollars. Thanks be to God."
The subject rolls around to Yasser Arafat and the possibility that he might become president of Palestine some day. He nods. "I knew Arafat is Cairo when I was studying there. He's a moderate man."
The subject rolls around to whether Karim Khalaf would ever he president of Palestine.
"I don't like to be a hero but thanks be to God my people love me," he says. "I am ready to sacrifice my whole life for them."
He is outraged at the idea the PLO should be called terrorists. "The PLO have been recognized by the U.N.," he says. "They are not terrorists. What do you expect from Palestinians already uprooted for 30 years, still waiting in refugee camps. Look at Begin. He organized the first terrorist organization, the Irgun. Now he is the here of peace. And Arafat who is just fighting for people to live in their own land, he's a terrorist?
"All we want," says Karim Khalaf, "is to have our own state, our own state, our own elections. Palestine is the PLO, the PLO is Palestine. When we have our own state, maybe Arafat will be elected, maybe not. But he has got a good publicitu here."
Khalaf says several times, meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, he has told them to meet with the PLO. "I say to their faces, "Why are you afraid of them?" He laughs, very pleased with this.
As for the Camp David agreements, Karim Khalaf is disgusted.
"This was a dirty game," he says "The dirty game is to hit the PLO. To find people to replace them. To hit the whole Palestinian cause. Whythe American didn't support the PLO. Why they are always supporting Israel?"
Now he stops his rhetoric, sit back in his chair, smooths back his hair and grins. It has g one well. He seems confident that his perfomance has been a success.
"But I tell you frankly," he says finally, "I don't hate Carter. We don't hate people. We love the Americans. We love the Jews."