Tag Archives: Middle East

Back in the Middle East

In the past few weeks, I packed up my belongings, got rid of a lot of them, and put much of them in storage. On Wednesday, I boarded a flight to Israel, with a suitcase bursting at the seams and a large backpack almost as full.

I’m back in Israel now, and plan to be here for a while. I left Germany just as winter was starting in earnest, and arrived just as what is called “winter” here is starting – which has a lot in common with late summer or fall in Germany, and nothing at all with German winter.

I’m thrilled to be back, and wondering how long the euphoria can last. I will finally resume posting in the coming days, and hope to be able to share with you some interesting thoughts and experiences.

If there’s something in particular you’d like to hear my take on, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

Moriel Rothman: “10 Things I Really Like About Living in Israel”

Moriel Rothman, activist par excellence, poet, and blogger – whom I was glad to get to know during my last visit to Jerusalem – wrote a post much like one I’ve often considered writing:

10 Things I Really Like About Living in Israel (Note: This is Not a Sarcastic Title)

[…]

I do not have a positive vision as to what should be here, in terms of political “solutions,” arrangements, et cetera. I do, however, have a very strong sense of what should not be here (for a more detailed list, see: Rothman, Blog About Things That He Thinks Should Not Be, Everyday, All Pages, www.thelefternwall.com). Here’s a metaphor I made up for this friend: let’s say Israel is a garden. There are some people who will try and plant flowers of solutions, of development, of progress here in this garden, and I think that is a good thing and I support them. However, I see my role not as planting flowers, but rather as weeding, weeding out violence, weeding out racism, weeding out oppression, weeding out hatred, et cetera. The weeds here have grown quite powerful, and probably by the fault of no single gardener or even group of gardeners but rather by the breezes, rainfalls, insects and chemicals of history and political circumstance. Someone needs to take them out so that there will be room for others to plant the flowers. If you try to plant a flower of “solution” in a garden overrun with weeds of violence or racism, the flower won’t have much of a chance to grow.

[…]

I can only imagine good coming out of my articulating for readers what it is I love about living here, whether to complicate the picture for those who are overly-excited about Palestine/Palestinians (if you will notice, I don’t often write positive things about Palestine/Palestinians either, and I am not a Palestinian Nationalist, even as I support Palestinians’ right to live in freedom, like everyone else), or to clarify for readers who find my work too critical that I truly do what I do out of love and concern, and a desire to build and improve, even if I think that building needs to come from weeding dangerous phenomena (phenomena, and never people […])

[…]

I will indeed make a list of things I really like. Which is fun for me too.

1. The people. In general I really like Israeli people, even if I disagree with many of them re: politics/Palestine. I like their directness, I like their humor, I like their warmth, I like the diversity of history and of journey and of identity and of belief, I like the way we all share a sort of nutsness, especially Jerusalemites.

Read the rest over at Moriel’s blog, The Leftern Wall »

I love the garden metaphor, and I also love most of the things on Moriel’s list. Many of them really capture why I miss Israel and care so much about what goes on there. This post, like many on Moriel’s blog, is well worth reading.

 

Meta note: the lack of posts lately was mainly because of some drama I had, which I won’t get into here. The important thing is that everything’s fine now, even better than fine, and once I’ve finished catching up on some things, I expect to be posting again, for real.

Book Review: The Source, by James A. Michener (1965)

Cover of "The Source"
Cover, via Amazon

I recently finished reading an amazing book about Israel and Jewish history, written over 20 years before I was born. The Source, by James A. Michener, is a thick tome spinning an intricate web of fictional stories spread out through the realistic history of a fictional tel1 called Makor (Hebrew for ‘source’) near Acre, in what is now Israel. In retrospect, I probably should have kept a reading diary, because there are so many things in this book I would like to comment on. Continue reading Book Review: The Source, by James A. Michener (1965)

Footnotes

  1. A tel is a hill composed of layers over layers of civilization; these things are everywhere in Israel. []

Word Thieves

Three hundred translators watched transfixed as an assortment of colleagues, speaking from their isolated studies across the globe in their respective languages, faced the camera and opened a narrative vein: out poured their stories of how they got interested in the Hebrew language, the years they spent cultivating their peculiar passion, the emotional relationships they maintained with the dead and living authors with whom they spent their waking hours, the daily warfare they waged against the Hebrew language’s obstinate refusal to fit its rhythms and archeological layers to the structural and cultural molds of their far-flung nations.

The film was “Translating,” by the Israeli filmmaker Nurith Aviv, a series of in-depth monologues by translators from Hebrew into other languages, and the occasion the annual conference of the Israel Translators Association in Jerusalem. The audience, whose linguistic gaps were filled by Hebrew subtitles, could identify with the speakers’ singular strain of obsession, their solitude, and their implicit surprise at being for once in the spotlight instead of the shadows wherein they normally lurk. The symphony of the dozen or so languages in which these unsung laborers told their stories, all referring to the one language they shared and revered, was mesmerizing. Continue reading Word Thieves

Words cannot express this shame

I have been wavering between the brink of rage and the verge of tears since I got up this morning. Basic details on Ynet; more info on +972.

May each of the 37 “parliamentarians” who voted for this thing die slowly, and alone. Preferably of thirst, in the desert.1

 

Footnotes

  1. Note: I am strongly opposed to any action intended to cause any person to die in such a manner, and this is not to be interpreted as incitement to murder. It is merely that I would find it a fitting fate if they were to suffer that way, especially if they had nobody to blame for it but themselves. []

A response to Max Blumenthal: Social justice for all, even settlers, is a good start

A neighbourhood in Ariel.
As much as settlements may remind of us of evil death robots, they are nonetheless home to human beings, many of whom are victims as well as criminals. (Image via Wikipedia)

Max Blumenthal has been raging against the official inclusion of the massive, strategically placed settlement of Ariel in the #J14 housing protest movement. (See Max’s Sunday post and Twitter stream.) I have to strongly disagree with his position, and I would argue that social justice for all, even the settlers, is a good goal and a good start.

I should preface this by saying that I’ve been following Max’s blog for months and this is the first time I ever strongly disagree with him; I think Max is an excellent journalist and activist and I believe we share many core values. I also agree with his assessment that the settlements, Ariel in particular, are unacceptable on multiple levels: they are built on stolen land, make people’s lives miserable (to put it mildly), and have done much to intensify and prolong the conflict.

However, the fact that the residents of Ariel are part of a horrendous crime does not mean they are not the victims of the Israeli socio-economic and political system along with the rest of us. No doubt, any person who knowingly makes the choice to move there is making themselves part of the occupation. But the fact that the settlements have grown so slowly despite massive government support, and the fact that only about a third of the West Bank settlers are ideological, tells me that the West Bank is hardly anyone’s first choice for location. Since stolen land tends to be the cheapest kind, especially when it’s also subsidized, there has always been a strong economic incentive to move to the settlements. The people who end up making that choice are people who, like the rest of us, were not able to achieve the standard of living they aspired towards, but made a dubious choice (one supported by many vocal members of society and government.)

Let me be clear: nothing can justify the choice to be part of the colossal crime of the settlements. But making that wrong choice does not make a person or their family less of a victim.1

But making this about the wrongs perpetrated or perpetuated by different parts of Israeli society is the wrong way to go. I’d say it plays right into Netanyahu’s hands, and goes along perfectly with the economic and social system of Israel, pitting sectors of the populations against one another. If Netanyahu had his way, J14 would exclude the settlers (alienating big parts of the right), it would exclude non-Jews (alienating big parts of the left) and it would be almost entirely a movement of spoiled young Ashkenazis whose parents and grandparents were part of the old elite (alienating almost everyone else). With that kind of movement, Netanyahu could just sit tight and wait for it to blow over.

But since the movement is radically inclusive – going both against mainstream prejudice (e.g. that the Arabs are not part of this society) and the prejudice of many activists (e.g. that all settlers are the enemy) – it is able to actually achieve something, and so far has not made an enemy of any major sector of society. Only the government and some far-right nationalists seem strongly against the whole thing. And this openness is undermining vital underpinnings of the occupation – whether J14 acknowledges the connection or not.

How? First and foremost, it has ended the prevailing apathy in much of society and made it possible to discuss almost anything. People are very publicly talking about racism, the division of resources, even the use of “security” to silence social movements, and many people are actually listening. This won’t end the occupation tomorrow or in a month, but then nothing else could, either. In the longer run, it sets the stage for major changes to happen, and we may find many more people willing to listen than we did before. The movement  seems to be redefining “left” and “right” so that for many people, being a “leftie” isn’t the absolute worst possible thing ever anymore.

Moreover, the movement’s focus on the division of resources will make it very difficult for future governments to act as if the settlements are the only part of the country worth their attention (as this government sometimes has). The movement may well work against the interests of the settlement movement while at the same time working in the interests of individual settlers. These interests are not identical.

Finally, with general welfare now at the center of the public agenda, and general disillusionment about the government’s narrative, many people will be reminded of how peace is in their own interest and refuse to buy excuses for maintaining the current line of policy.

I think it is unrealistic to expect immediate solutions from J14 – whether for social issues or political ones. There’s a lot of work ahead and absolutely nobody can predict how things will go. But looking for excuses to distance oneself from J14 plays only into the hands of the status quo.2

Footnotes

  1. In the same way, the generation that started this country was both victim and perpetrator, and the two do not cancel each other out — the victimhood does not cancel out the atrocities as the right would have it, and the atrocities do not cancel out the victimhood as some in the far left would have it. []
  2. And anyone who doesn’t see their position or background represented in the movement should stop whining, go out and make their voice heard. The only thing stopping you is you! []