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Israel, Day #6: Face-to-Face with The Enemy (Sort Of)

I've been in Jerusalem the last few days engaging in a combination of traditional tourism and what you might call political tourism (others might call it research, but I'm being honest, or trying to be).

Traditional tourism in Jerusalem has always been fascinating, but it has reached another level in the intervening twenty years since I have been here. The archaeological excavations in and around the Old City have grown exponentially and now are as interesting as the Roman Forum, more so if you're Jewish. They are also extraordinarily well presented. You can spend a lifetime studying them and obviously people do.

But you can read about this a million places online and I have no special insight to add to what is already there -- except to stay out of Hezekiah's Tunnel if you're claustrophobic and not to miss eating at the Mahneyuda Restaurant off Jerusalem's Mehana Yehuda market, world class food in a raucous, fun atmosphere.

Now to the political tourism. Some of this had been arranged in advance. Through the offices of friends in the Israeli diplomatic corps in Los Angeles, a "briefing" was set up for me in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was quite cordial and flattering to be there.

But what did I learn that I didn't already know? Nothing. If I had, something would have been wrong. Who was I? And besides, I have trouble keeping secrets about the most minor affairs. You would have to be nuts to share something of an important confidential political nature with me.

Well, I'm not dead certain of that. I've never actually been told anything of that nature that was any more than gossip. Maybe I'm more trustworthy than that. In any case, I learned at the Ministry that Israel thinks the Arab world is going through a tumultuous period of change with no clear end in sight. (Are you surprised? How could they think otherwise?) Also, they are generally loathe to get involved unless they deem it absolutely necessary. (Again, not surprising.)

Still, it was fascinating being inside an Israeli ministry. The foreign affairs building is attractive and made of translucent stone, a modernized Jerusalem look. The most impressive modernized Jerusalem look, however, is Moshe Safdie's design for Yad Vashem, the Holocaust history museum, a prism-like triangular structure.

My second foray into political tourism was, let us say, somewhat more exotic. I was taken to the Israeli equivalent of Guantanamo to observe terrorist trials.