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Notes from Limmud 2012: How an English Housewife became secretary to the peace process - Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2016-04-06 14:01
Subject: Notes from Limmud 2012: How an English Housewife became secretary to the peace process
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Tags:cool, israel, limmud

Notes from Limmud 2012

How an English housewife became secretary to the peace process

Pamela Levene

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]


The speaker was the secretary to the peace process of the 1990s. (The secretary, not a secretary!) Regardless of whatever anyone else says—[some] people in Israel nowadays call [the proponents of that peace process] the Oslo Criminals—never apologise for what we did, that we were willing even to give up part of our homeland for peace.

She went into the Foreign Office as a chicken-farmer looking for work as a typist. An important person was looking for a [lacuna]. She underwent five months of security checks. When Joel Singer, legal adviser to the Foreign Office, started interviewing her, she realised he was interviewing her for something else. She fudged and bodged it. He had an appointment set up with sonmeone else; she'd had to cancel, and so had he, and things got confused.

She went thirteen times to Egypt, just her and the first Palestinian PM, and a general, to secret talks in Turin.

She made aliyah twenty-seven years ago.

Only in Israel could a chicken farmer who ran a craft shop become a secretary to the peace process. It was her who set up the signing on the White House lawn.

Arafat didn't feature a lot in her world of talks. She was down after the thirteen times in Egypt, settled it in Israel. It culminated in her going with Rabin on his 'plane to America for the first time. (She was down at the back end with the reporters.) They did a lot of working in committees on the agreement.

Six days a week she would be down in Eilat. Somewhere along the way the top people would be informed: Rabin, Arafat, etc.

Head of the Foreign Office, Uri Savir. Southern Command head Uzi Dayan. Joel Singer was second in command to Savir. He was opposing Saeb Erekat. This is the man who came after Jenin and screamed at the camera "500 people massacred"—an absolute lie: it was fifty on their side, forty on ours. This is why we have no one to talk with nowadays.

She didn't see anything of Arafat herself.

Whenever they would get stuck, they would cross the [Egyptian] border into Taba so that Arafat and Peres could meet: we didn't want him in Israel. Also, everything was done in English, which is why she was involved: The Israelis didn't all speak Arabic or the Palestinians Hebrew.

She had a tiny laptop accompanied by a small but incredibly heavy printer, ink cartridges (after she once ran out in Ramallah), papers and so forth.

She was on a NTK basis: she had to be ready to type on the spot or bring her computer somewhere else. She's half asleep, it's the middle of the night. Suddenly, someone rushes in, "Pamela! We need you!"

They don't go to the lift; they race up the stairs. They never carried her bag. As the door closed in her face, she got through, but her dress caught on the handle and ripped right at the hip. She has to hold it closed as she proceeded.

In the room is Saeb Erekat and Joel Singer; they don't care about the possibility of seeing her knickers, but she did! (As she [lacuna])

Then they packed up again and moved into the room where Arafat was. They both disappeared; and she thought she had a minute before they reappeared. Being in a hotel bedroom, she dived into a drawer looking for a sewing kit. But then the door opened, and Saeb Eerekat came in, with her hands caught in the drawer. He says, "They've got such big egos, they'll never notice you!" And he was right.

Arafat's photos do not do him justice: in reality, he's worse.

At this stage she hadn't met Peres either. It was now 3am with the press waiting downstairs. It was the final statement of the night. She typed out everything she had to type; printed them out, and people took all the copies. Now she had to pack up quickly so she didn't get left behind (as had happened before).

She got everything packed, and a gentleman came in the door, and said, "Do you have another copy?" And she said, "No, Mr Peres."

Going over the border:

They were in Eilat. She didn't live in Jerusalem, which is where the Foreign Office was; she lived in a Moshav halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. She went straight there, but one week it was Tisha BeAv so they weren't working in Eilat on the Sunday. In her travelling back and forth she had a visa for going to Egypt. It only lasted three months, but it had run out, so she decided to get it updated in case they needed to go to Taba suddenly; so she took it in to the consular department, and got on with her office works.

An hour later that day, she got a 'phone call: "Pamela, have you got your passport?" She explained the situation. She was asked another question or two, and that was the end of the conversation.

Next day, down in Eilat, she was in the hotel, sans passport, and she got a 'phonecall: "Pamela, be outside in half an hour: we're going to Taba."  "But I don't have my passport!"  "You were told to bring it!"  "No I wasn't!"—NTK!  "Never mind, we'll take you anyway!"

So they set off, and [lacuna] Then she hears over the tannoy, "Pamela, get out!" So she's dumped at the roadside at the Taba crossing. And she's clutching this laptop with the secrets of Israel. She's got to wait—and without a 'phone: in the mid-nineties, it was only the bigwigs who had mobile 'phones. Two hours in the blazing sun when you don't know what's going to happen is a long time.

Eventually, they came for her. Which made her the first person other than some head of state's wife to cross the border without a visa. This was not of interest to her: she was hot, sweaty and furious. But they needed her.

Eight hours later, without having even opened her laptop, they returned.

That said, the generals never made her feel like just the woman with the laptop.

The following day her passport was rescued on the way to the Egyptian consulate, brought to Ben Gurion [Airport], flown down and sent to her by personal courier—better treatment than she herself ever received!

The security guys had evidently seen American films, and were emulating them, running alongside the car and jumping in. "Why the hell are you doing that? Just get in the car!"

Another abandonment story: She could sit in the office for days, whenever anything happened, it always happened at great speed and reduced her to a nervous wreck. She's in the office and she gets a call. "Pamela, come talk. Do not come in the front door, come in the back. Do not speak to anyone." It's the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

It's after four, and she's hot and sweaty. She walks in, goes up the stairs and knocks on the door. Uzi Dayan enters in a state of partial undress. She walks in and there's others in a similar state.

Time ticks on. It's ten o'clock. She said, "Sorry, look. I live on a moshav. I've een here all day. I'm not prepared to go home tonight; what if I break down? And I'm not going to be fit to drive. You need to book me a room here." So they booked her a room. But she wanted a shower.

If you need a ballgown or a beautiful Gore-Tex swimming costume, you can buy it in the King David Hotel, but if you need underwear, you're completely stuffed. She ended up washing her undies and drying them with a hairdryer.

At about 3am she gave up waiting and went to sleep. In the morning, she was told she could go home. Two hours after she got home and fell straight asleep, she got a 'phone call: "We're leaving from Sde Dov [a small military airport] at twelve." It was eleven o'clock then, and she was an hour's drive away, but she needed a taxi, which would take twenty minutes to get there!

So she went berserk trying to persuade the taxi company of the importance of getting there on time. And she had her big heavy machine. The taxi driver took it to heart and decided to get her there in record time. She kept saying, "Better to arrive late!" There's a Timex factory in Dundee with the slogan [lacuna]

With ten minutes to go, she reached the edge of the military airport; there's still fifteen minutes still to do—and taxis can't go into the military airport. But the taxi driver is an Israeli, who doesn't take no for an answer; and he takes her to the door.

And she walks in to an empty room. Not one of them was there.

She waited an hour and a half for everyone to turn up for the 12pm helicopter, which ended up leaving at 1:30.

They go to the Erez crossing with Gaza. Not having eaten for so long, she sees a table groaning with food. Just as she reaches the door, it slams in her face, and she's on the outside.

Eventually they come out, hours later. She's all organised. "Pamela, pack up!" She thinks they say, "We need you." So she bursts into what she thinks is a small room; actually it's a large hall with Arafat and Peres and lots of journalists. It ended up with her visible on national TV.

She was just worried they would abandon her.

One time they met them on the tarmac with taxis, but not her. When she goes back, the helicopter doesn't go back to Tel Aviv. It lands in the military part of Ben Gurion Airport. So she jumps out. Three seconds later, the doors close and it takes off again; and the only people who have got out are Shimon Peres and his lady.

A car pulls up and they get into it, and as she tried to get in they slam the doors in her face. And then a police car sweeps down on her, and say, "Who are you, and wheere dids you come from?" And she says, "Gaza!"

By that stage she's such a nervous wreck it's very evident she's not an enemy agent; all she could say was, "I want a taxi; I want to go home!"

They take her in the car, and suddenly there's red carpets everywhere.

The reason Peres had got out was because [US] Secretary of State Warren Christopher had come to meet him. All she wanted was to go home, but she ended up waving with the rest to Warren Christopher.

The signing of the peace contract in America: Everything was so hectic she didn't have a chance to learn how to use Word properly, and she was doing all kinds of things manually that she could have done automatically.

When they landed in Washington, they had a few hours sleep, and then it was the signing. She was not at the signing. Her clothes never came off the 'plane. Nor did her boss's. Him they bought a brand new suit for; for her they never thought of it. But at the time she was so exhausted she just thought, "What a relief!"

Later there was a reception, in which her view of the bigwigs at the front was blocked by a tall man in front of her. This turned out to be Jesse Jackson.

Arafat's wife looked like a slab of dead meat. By contrast, Queen Noor, also very blond, was very beautiful with pearly skin. The contrast was really striking.

We have a member of the Knesset who is a gynaecologist. This man denies Israel and yet is a member of the Knesset. He was one of Arafat's men.

In Tunisia Arafat always had his coterie of boys and he never married. When he came back and the world was watching him, suddenly he produced a wife, and eventually they produced a child too. But he did always have this gynaecologist always by his side.

Because of the secrecy, it was always better to have meetings where no one knew where they were. When you come out of a meeting and the press is waiting, it's one thing, but if you come out and you have your own intransigent youth waiting, it's "I will never give up a single inch of..." Hence the preference for secret meetings.

So, she flew to Italy, via Germany. Being her, she has to show she's proud to be Jewish to these very nice Palestinians. She's also the only one in the Israeli delegation to keep kosher. On the El Al 'plane they got little bottles of wine, so she puts hers away for her Friday night meal.

Come Friday night meal, she says, "We must make kiddush". She'd printed it out, and everything.

Uzi Dayan, it turned out, when he's not working on Shabbos, goes to shul.

She had invited the Palestinians in, and said it's about the Creation of the World, something we all believe in. They came in and hung around the edges.

She asks Dayan to make kiddush. He's messing around with the stapler. She thinks it's bad enough Joel is pooh-pooh-poohing it. Turns out Dayan is not messing around: he's making a capel, out of paper.

She remained around until it all fell apart. She started in '94; the peace agreement was signed in '95, but then in November of that year, Rabin was assassinated. (She was there.) Between then and January they worked flat out along with now-His Excellency Daniel Taub to make sure the Palestinian elections were fair. Arafat won; he was running against a seventy-six year old woman. They haven't had an election since. [Huh? What about the election of Abbas (who is now into the thirteenth year of a four year term)?]

They negotiated too with the Syrians. After the elections, it moved. Because it was Shimon Peres as Foreign Minister, the whole infrastructure of the Foreign Ministry was involved. Once he lost the election, it was moved to the Prime Minister's office.

After that her involvement gradually decreased. It wasn't like it was; Joel Singer went off to America.

She left in 2000, as she had an ambition to be a tour guide. She thought to herself: enough, move on.

She left in September for a course in October. This is when the Intifada started. Thousands in Israel were killed and maimed. Someone told her: Pamela, you were in the peace process, and there was no peace; now you're training to be a tour guide but there's no tourists. Do you think someone could make you head of the army, and then there'll be no more wars?

[An audience member asked whether there was anything more they could have done regarding the peace process. The talk got political at this point; and I did not transcribe it.]

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