Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jewish-Arab Politics & Love. 5 Years Later.

For Eman, Aisha and Ali.


I was 22 years old then, and used to travel every morning with the line twentysomething, to my usual spot at the library, in the Hebrew University; I wanted to write a book but the truth is that I could hardly concentrate for more than a few pages and as I looked out the enormous glass panel I was fascinated by the strong light, filtering through thin clouds - something of dust - and that in patches reached the top and the sides of certain buildings, adjacent to Zion Square.

Sometimes I sat  with Yuli outside the balcony, there were some bushes surrounding it, glittering and dazzling, and in the far distance, the kites of the Palestinian children. They flew above the little houses and reached almost the parking lot at Mt. Scopus but never flew above our heads; it wasn't flying like a free kite would, but more like blazing, jerking, stumbling. The kite seller would sit nearby, almost invisible from our distance - physical and otherwise - and offer the children an assortment of kites and strings.

The kites were not colorful, or even beautiful. They only featured flags from the countries - now at war, or always - and different shades of military stationery. I imagined his name of Mohammed, but then I changed it to Ali, because it would rhyme with my name. The young boy that flew the kite with the green military stationery, that resembled the planes that I saw once flying out of somewhere, en route to Lebanon, a year earlier. I probably wouldn't have remembered the war much, hadn't Hadar's husband died in it.

Yes, the kites. In the later hours, as I sat in Efraim's class - and the whole world was for me there in that moment - I dreamt about the kites, and I dreamt that I was not the boy flying the kite, but that I was the kite itself. A novel I had read once came to mind: "Life is elsewhere". I wanted to be flown high above, and to look into Palestine and Jordan, like I had once, from that tower in Ramat Gan across the Diamond Exchange. Thus, I kept looking for it, looking into being a kite.

On a certain way I took on a journey, and I wanted to go to Palestine, perhaps by foot. I left the Gate of Damascus in the morning and cut across Salah ha-Din street, zigzagging the veiled women selling vegetables - fresh but dirty - in between the stench of Arab pop, calls to prayer and shouts of border police. I kept venturing inside the East, and went as far as the Cafe Europa. Shabby as it was, I enjoyed the campari blending inside the arteries of the bleeding grapefruits; but even more I enjoyed Ahmed.

I wanted Cafe Europe to remind me of a text of Erich Kästner I had translated from German, about the "Römanische Cafe" in Berlin where all sort of Jewish exiles - painters, artists, writers - congregated in between the two world wars; sitting once at the Kurfürstendam until 1925 and then later on the Budaspester St. 10. And anyway it was on the Kurfürstendam that Hannah Arendt sat with Kurt Blumenfeld to drink wine and recite Greek poetry on her last night in Germany before going into exile.

It was the last of the literary salons to which Jews in Germany had access, ever since the Jewesses Rahel Varnhagen and Henriette Herz had founded the salons of the Romantic period, for those who didn't share the conventions of the world. So I felt with Ahmed, the owner, pretending that I was simply a Christian tourist who wanted to see the Holy Land - how easy would that be! - in order not to have to reveal information about my background. Just like I had done so often, in the diaspora.

I had learnt to speak like Markus, the Austrian priest I had once loved, and I imagined myself to be somebody like him: A modern Templar. We spoke for hours about the poor Christians in the Holy Land, the checkpoints, the Israeli brutality, the Christian emigration. It was a rarity at the time to find alcohol in East Jerusalem, though Shadi, my Palestinian friend, who had once come all the way from Ramallah through hours at the checkpoints, to bring me food on a day when I was physically emaciated from a bad love.

And I continued on my journey by foot, thinking that if I keep walking, I'll reach Palestine one day. I wasn't afraid, because kites do not know fear. After Salah ha-Din and the American colony, I kept on walking undear an even more fearless sun, in between the houses and the half pavimented streets, from another age. The disgruntled Arab mansions screaming out their colonial pride greeted me with joy, and the half demolished, half bombed houses, they reminded me of our wars, of our open wounded.

Reaching Al-Ram checkpoint I saw for the first time the fence, and I leant against it, still thinking that a kite could break through the concrete walls, sprayed with paint. But the checkpoint was closed on that day - even though the soldiers, obviously not Jewish, were sitting in a nearby shop, playing tabla with the Arab shopkeepers - and yet I walked in the other direction, deep inside the womb of Palestine, the entire day, until I got lost. And I wanted to get lost.

I was a kite. Kites get lost.


Perhaps I hadn't seen enough. And at night, such a warm night, that day I was so afraid, afraid of losing sight of the land that had just disclosed its secrets to me, I was afraid of coming back; I wanted nothing but to merge with that land, to be one of its walls with bullet holes, to be one of its graves. But I wondered if kites knew love, if kites knew forgiveance, if kites could write books. Every time I dream a dream, it is always incomplete, too verbal, too sexual, compared to being a kite, a kite in Palestine.

And in my anonymity, armed with nothing but a scrapbook, one of which was lost and the other was sent to a friend in Vienna, where there's a Cafe Europe nowadays, I kept walking to Palestine by foot; sometimes simply going down the Old City, into the villages, watching the lives of the men and the women, trying to understand their gestures, imagining that once I lived there, in those houses that were older than God. Again, I had to make up a new story each time, of who I was, of what I was looking for, of what I really was.

This was long before hate. Long before I knew death. And I had escaped the bombs by a few minutes about five times, and had buried my friend Dan who had died in one. But I was unable to link it to anyone in specific. I always said, yeah, the terrorists, "that" people, "those" groups, and looked the other way. Anyway, you need to understand that living in Jerusalem is being part of graveyard anyway. Tourism in Jerusalem is going from place to place, seeing who died there, beginning with God.

Who knows if what I was lacking is loyalty. But that's not important. Not even the hate is, which I learnt a lot later. It is but the disgrace and the scorn what I learnt then. I used to teach an old woman, from Poland, and a Holocaust survivor, how to use the computer. She somehow reminded me of myself; the yearning for Christianity, and the utter despise of Judaism as something vulgar, and unsuitable for beauty. I used to spend hours in her home, listening to her professor husband, and being properly fed.

She came from Bedzin, it was also from this town that the parents of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Jew turned Cardinal of the Catholic church, were born. I knew Kela and him had met once, in some Holocaust remembrance. They were secular Jews, and not those who stopped believing in God, but rather, were never given an opportunity to believe in him in the first place. I guess it doesn't change the passion, the concern, the longing: Change the world. Change the world. Change the world.

It was through her that I joined the "Women in Black", mostly socialists and communists, very old Israelis from the upper middle class bourgeoisie, mainly East European, who assembled every Friday morning at the square across Terra Sancta college, which I think is called Paris Square. There people dressed in black and protested for half a day every Friday against the Occupation. There I met again David Neuhaus, the South African-born Israeli, Jew turned Catholic, and now a priest at a seminary in Beit Jalla.

Of course I had no political ideas or agenda, and it's not that I wasn't mature enough to have one, for after all I was a philosopher and philosophers are supposed to have interesting opinions, at the very least. My friend Moshe, who was with me at the religious school told me a few weeks ago - after many years of not seeing him - that he had seen me once there, and felt pity for me. Then came the tomatoes, the slurs, the insults, and once the guns.

I guess that there's nothing in the world that can explain with precision what I was trying to do, since I had come to this country because it was a land of freedom, it was a land for Jews, where we could be free, where being a Jew would be nothing but a fact of life, rather than an obstacle in it. I can't remember exactly what I thought then. Was there space for other people? What did I think of the Arabs? I remember my first time in East Jerusalem, by mistake. I was paralyzed by fear. I thought I would die.

But I guess today I understand that fear and hate and love are largely part of one and the same feeling. That is the only reason why I am writing this. And it the was the curiosity of fear what led me to want to be a kite in the first place. And to go beyond being a kite. What is it that I want and fear from the other? What is it that I want and fear from love? That's what I wanted to find out. What was lost was the ideal of the home. Could one be ever had? Could it be had once it was lost?

The battle is no longer mine. And I guess that's what embitters me. I can no longer fight a battle in which I don't believe, and of which I've never been part. Of course I wanted justice, like everyone else. But what kind of justice is this? For peoples? Some at the expense of the others? There was a time when I was proud of "us". But I can't be proud of what I didn't myself make, I merely belong to them, it's sheer presence. I no longer think that peoples can make peace.

Only individuals can. By obliterating themselves from the group. Like a heresy.


And like it was 5 years ago, on that summer, when I met Bader, without even knowing or thinking that he might be an Arab. It was him who asked me if I minded being someone who wasn't Jewish, and it was me who said that I did, without even knowing that he wasn't one. The first in a long series of auto-productions and auto-destructions that have run unmolested through a history that clenches its fists against me, sometimes with humor, and sometimes only with cruelty.

Jewish-Arab politics. That I thought - and written - back then. Where are we today? I know. We are in that place I visited in 2007: Where everything is so political that nothing is political at all. Politics has conquered every corner of life, every feeling, every sentiment, every space, even love. How many generations ago did we say that if there would be peace, we could live in the Middle East? How many times did we say it about ourselves? How much peace is there?

It seems to me as if we're sailing on a sinking boat, and my great teacher Agnes always said that one doesn't leave a sinking boat. We've done this all the way wrong, defending ourselves as Jews or Arabs or as members of humanity and mankind and what not; establishing an infinite gap that cannot be crossed by any human being in the flesh. It's only transmission of knowledge and ideas. There's no possibility of any dialogue in terms of what happened to your people, what happened to my people.

Simone Weil always said: "There's no such a thing as we". Human beings of flesh and bone, like ourselves, do not embody the dynamics of goodness in such a way that everything is excluded. There's no such goodness. The reason why love is the extremest experience for human beings is precisely that we're capable of so much goodness as much as we're capable of such cruelty. The human experience - and history attests to this - makes them both coeval. There's no love without cruelty; there's no love without grace.

My friend Michael, once upon time, told me that when he was in the army, he had found a beautiful young boy in Gaza - that long time ago - who was starving, and he had thought that it would be funny and interesting to trade food for sex with him. And two years later they were living in Tel Aviv, after the young boy had fled from his village, and then both fled the country into European freedom. And I thought, would I have acted differently? Probably not.

The whole point of civil (and world) responsibility is not to find that anyone or anything is universally guilty or universally innocent - and both ideas are identical in their consequences - but that we are all averted with the same mission, the victims and the perpetrators and with nothing but "this should have never happened". Reconciliation is a mission that can never come to peoples, it never comes to faiths and it can never happen more than once. Forgiving destroys equality; this only God can do. It establishes an infinite distance.

The battleground of ideas, in which we argue each other about the truth and the lie of everything, the exposures, the crimes, the rights; it is not our right to do so. Only those who were wronged personally must be confronted with those who wronged them. It is outright seditious to fight battles in the names of peoples. Especially in the name of dead peoples. Never before (even as a Jew in the European context) was I personally so exposed to the condition of hate than under the aegis of the Palestinian struggle in the name of freedom, liberty, rights and values.

I never saw my role as that of a mediator - for I had excluded myself from Jewish society as well - but rather as a critic, in which of course the mere givenness of my political and social status has weighed over any possible contributions and the defense of the life of the mind between both Israelis and Palestinians (and other Arabs) has been the most costly crusade. Because I was independent and never politically attached, I never had a position, and accepted everything in good will in the name of PERSONAL sentiments.

But to be averted with a mission alone is a task more than difficult. This being said, of course I've failed in my misson not just a couple of times, but every time. And personal relationships between Jews and Arabs have - at least in my case, with the sole exception of the people to whom this lecture is dedicated and that's not even certain - have always become a battleground in which political disputes are meant to be solved whenever something, that is, something strictly personal, goes wrong. And so it goes, for many others.

Since I can no longer participate in battles that for me are imagined, I can only conclude by saying that politics will never solve any of our conflicts, instead it will only enlarge their scope - that now includes our personalities as well. I no longer sympathize with what my people, as much as I don't sympathize with the Palestinian struggle or with the Arab revolutions. This doesn't mean that I've opted for Nihilism or its social and moral equivalent, a-politia.

All what I am trying to say is that I shall never participate in struggles that do not belong entirely to the radical needs of individuals, who are the only recipients of freedom and the only ones able to act upon, should this be ever achieved. Every friendship and love - political and otherwise - between Jews and Arabs AS Jews and Arabs is not only not a sinking boat, it's not even a boat to begin with. Peoples can never make peace as peoples, and interfaith dialogues (of any kind) should always bear in mind what a teacher from older times said to me always in reference to the Holocaust: "How can you teach the Germans about Judaism if you haven't forgiven them for what their parents did?". It's all in your hands, individual, friend, enemy.

All I can say is, I'm sorry Palestine, I'm sorry Lebanon.

1 comment:

Hyphy Slacker said...

There was music playing at the back of my head, the more I read, the more it gets intense. This is like a dream of a mad philosopher. Not that it's unreal, but coz it's out of this world. Ideal, approachable, yet overlooked. The sad thing is I wanna share it badly with someone, but I already know the parochial perspective they have beforehand. All I can say is, it's as beautiful, candid and real as a vivid life experience which it sure is. God bless you, my friend ( I mean it )