Sand, sun and a gust of balloons Israel, Jordan vow peace CLINTON VISITS THE MIDDLE EAST

October 27, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

WADI ARAVA, Jordanian-Israeli Border -- In the desert where Lawrence of Arabia waged war, Lawrence of The Happy Balloon prepared for peace.

Lawrence Kusman, 25, and nine other employees of the Tel Aviv business determinedly pumped helium into thousands of colorful balloons yesterday. They were planned for the end of the ceremony of the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

"It's great. About time," Mr. Kusman said of the treaty between the two old enemies.

The balloons were a final touch to an extravaganza created amid nature's own dramatic setting. The wadi -- Arabic for "valley" -- is the broad floor of the Great Rift Valley that sweeps from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and northward along the Jordan River.

Its red hills and stark prairie rival those of the American Southwest. Camel caravans used this corridor for millenniums. T. E. Lawrence, as a British officer, urged the Arab tribes to fight the Turks here.

And yesterday the modern leaders of two ancient tribes -- the Hashemites and the Jews -- pledged to end five decades of enmity.

They celebrated the event with spectacle and pageantry. In the barren desert along the border, they made a stage of red, rolled out carpets and marched in military bands, and ushered forth royalty and celebrity from a huge Bedouin tent made of goat's hair.

It looked good on television, the technological replacement of Arab storytelling over a teapot on the fire.

Only the actors in the drama had to suffer in the hot desert wind. President Clinton broke into tears -- not from the emotion of the moment, but from sand, or suntan oil, that got into his eyes. Local residents know the toll of the sun. Israel and Jordan distributed free hats and thousands of bottles of water to the crowd before and during the ceremony.

Mr. Clinton and other dignitaries declined the hats, but Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, not one to pay much mind to pomp, wore a baseball cap through part of the ceremony.

The speechwriters could not resist desert analogies. Mr. Rabin said that relations with Jordan had been "an arid desert" and vowed to "overcome the barrenness." Mr. Clinton spoke of the "bleached desert" and said that peace was "no longer a mirage." King Hussein pronounced it "a beautiful part of the world."

Meanwhile, the dignitaries sweated on the stage, sitting stiffly in Ethan Allen chairs. Perhaps the worst duty was that given the Jordanian soldiers, posted far out into the stretching prairie, on guard amid the sagebrush.

Artillery from both Jordan and Israel -- operating side by side for once -- let loose with explosive salutes as military bands from both sides played national anthems.

And behind the bleachers, the black nylon tent where Lawrence Kusman worked grew with the inventory of inflated balloons. From the toil inside came the hiss of helium, the occasional burp of a burst balloon.

In the tugging wind, the whole tent began to buck and heave like some strange desert monster until finally, the ceremony and signing and speeches finished, the tent was opened and the joyful results raced free, thousands of bright spots of color over the place where peace was made.

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