Friday, January 9, 2009

1 land, 2 stories - by b

it is cold here in barcelona. the kids are back in school. the news out of gaza hasn't changed. i am still trying to make sense of our time in israel. and i'm having a tough time letting go. sure i was born there but i only lived there for one year. in almost every way this is not my battle. i am an outsider

but i do care a lot about the people in that place

and i see that something very different has to happen there before things get better

i feel presumptuous in some ways saying what i'm about to say.. but i feel it/believe it so i am going to say it

there are two stories of that place.. it seems that so many people are so quick to insist on their story and jump down the throat of those on "the other side" and few are listening to the other story.

ok.. first story:

when state visitors or VIPs come to israel for the first time they are generally first taken to yad vashem. yad vashem is on the outskirts of jerusalem and it is kind of the mother of all holocaust memorials. one hall there is a spielbergesque hall where you enter in pitch darkness (as i's been a long time) and the images of jewish children killed in nazi camps appear on the ceiling and names are read.. it is designed to be chilling and it works. people are taken there first to set a framework, to explain viscerally why israel needs to exist

we didn't go to yad vashem for the same reason we didn't go to dachau when we were in munich a few weeks ago. the kids are too young. there is time for all of this. but we had our yad vashem moment in a much more intimate, real way when we met my grandmother ester for breakfast part way through our trip. she suggested a place called cafe tapuz, a really nice breakfast spot literally in an orange grove. arel and dorian could run around and we could talk. here are some pictures

esther was born in tel aviv in what then called palestine (which was british-controlled). she went briefly to her parents' hometown of vienna but returned still as a young child to palestine. (btw, my mom's mom died many years ago in israel and my grandfather and esther married). esther told us the story of her uncle, a communist jewish poet named adolf unger, and his wife and daughter. i found the following picture and details on the web at the documentation center of austrian resistance.

"Poet of the worker's movement, Adolf Unger (born on November 11, 1904) lived with his wife, Sobel (born on März 1, 1905) and his daugther, Annie (born on Jänner 29, 1935), at Stuwerstraße 19/7 in the second district. Whereas Annie succeeded in escaping on a Kindertransport, her parents were caught in France. On September 11, 1942, Sobel and Adolf Unger were deported form Drancy to Auschwitz and murdered shortly upon their arrival."
annie, or honey as esther calls her, came to stay with her cousin esther for a time in what was then palestine. the two remain close. and they have travelled together to vienna where there is now a street named for adolf unger

this is a truly legitimate story of israel in my view. a vast, complex, rich center of jewish culture in europe was under attack and essentially obliterated. and during the decades leading up to this, some rather plucky jews basically said "fuck this!" and did what it took to scurry up some land and create a working "state in waiting" in british-controlled palestine... the holocaust helped legitimize their needs in the minds of the powers that were and the state-in-waiting (the "yishuv" it was called) was turned into the state of israel.

AND there is another legitimate story

here is an arabic word for you: "naqba" it means catastrophe. and it is what the palestinians and other local arabs in israel consider the forming of the state of israel. i really don't think it's out of a natural hatred of jews but rather because their lives rather quickly changed. in fact, from what i understand, arabs and jews had been living sort of ok together in the region for a long time. this is likely because they kind of GOT each other... both jews and muslims had been tossed out of spain in 1492 and there were jewish pockets of culture across the arab world for hundreds of years. it's also probably because there were fewer people and less stress on natural resources then.

but rather suddenly there were a lot of jews (northern european ashkenazim, vs. the southern-european-exiled-to-arab-lands sephardim) showing up in palestine and buying land. they bought the land (they even gladly overpaid for it) from the arab upperclass (called the a'yan) often unbeknownst to the working class arabs (the felahin).

as the felahin learned "that sorry you can't be a tenant farmer here anymore".. another centrifugal force in the region came into being: that of the palestinian refugee

holocaust. naqba

there is no point in trying to do any algebra and figure out who is more of a victim. it doesn't matter. what's important is to 1)recognize that there are two victims here and 2)drop the whole victim bullshit.

ok.. here's where i start to feel presumptuous.. but anyway:

i actually think many jews in many ways dropped the victim bullshit a long time ago.. and that's why they have a state. they use victimhood as rhetoric ... but they don't act like victims.

many palestinians, it seems, both use victimhood as rhetoric and still act like victims. and it's not working.

israel, fueled by self-determination, Worked It smartly and effectively with whatever powers could help them (the first prime minister ben gurion really kept his options open with both the u.s. and the soviets, as an example)

and the palestinians just got angrier and angrier --- and quite ineffectively and quite literally painted themselves into a corner (actually two now-physically disconnected corners --- gaza and the west bank)

you can blame israel for this all you want.. but i don't think this will do anything to get the palestinians a state.

at one point the palestinians had more than enough power and resources to build themselves a state. many people were (still are) sympathetic toward their cause (me included)--in europe, in the arab world, in the u.s. a bit, even in israel. and there is a growing palestinians diaspora that is getting stronger and richer. there was/is/and would be money. i have read that per-capita, palestinians have received more international development assistance in the world than any other people

but where is the palestinian state in waiting?

the palestinians need to TAKE their state. and they need to take it effectively. by carefully looking at what very real powerbase they do have and could build.. and not wasting power by throwing some rockets at israel trying to draw them into a land incursion..... and then hoping the world gets pissed at the tank shellings so that israel tells it's soldiers to get out of the tanks... and then hoping to take hostages..

this is not how to build a state in waiting

by all means, use naqba as rhetoric. but use it as just that.. as rhetoric... build naqba memorials. bring in foreigners and get their money by giving them a tour of the naqba memorial... but don't use actual victims and actual blood and actual human shields to build sympathy.. it doesn't work.. it just doesn't. if it did there would be a palestinian state already

the israelis are far from perfect... there are forces in israeli society that are truly fucked in my view. there is no need for ariel sharon to have stuck a big lighted menorah on a house in al wad street in jerusalem. there is no need for the "city of david" to be built in silwan (see earlier post on our visit to both alwad street and the city of david") and other settlements need to stop. and the israelis could do well to own vs. deny the naqba narrative. it's real

yet the israelis can't solve the palestinians problems for them.. the palestinians need to solve it for themselves -- and actively coopt the ample number of people who would be happy to help them all around the world. and i would posit that a surprising number of israelis would want to help too.. would support a palestinian state.. would be greatly relieved for and welcome smart, creative, strong moves by palestinians

as one of my favorite israeli hip hop bands hadag nachash says in their song "misparim" which means "numbers": "one is the number of countries between the jordan river and the sea/two is the number of countries that will be here one day"

if you want to see more pictures of our time in the state of israel you can see them via my flickr account . you will see lots of smiles. but i must admit that even during these moments.. or most of them.. i felt a certain dread there.. a tension. some people don't mind it.. or don't see it.. or can compartmentalize it.. i am afraid i am not one of those people