Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Story of the Prickly Pear Cactus

June 18, 2007
Immediate engagement is called for. I have just returned from my first visit to Israel--and saw first hand, in that country, the cruelty of nationalistic arbitrary power. I have seen the wall, the checkpoints, the growing constrictions that choke the life of Palestinians and Israeli citizens who are Palestinians. I have seen the well-constructed block of flats that consititute a settlement in the middle of Palestinian East Jerusalem and the roadblock and soldiers dedicated to maintaining these illegal settlers at the heavy expense of another people who just want to get on with their lives.
For many in America, I am a bad Jew, a traitor, because of what I will write on these pages. I am used to these accusations--I lived through the McCarthy period as a sexual deviant, as another kind of traitor--with so many others, demonstrating through the Vietnam War years, traitors all. I heard these accusations from whites who spat at us as we marched in civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s--"a traitor to your race," they said. No more of this--America and American Jews who votede for Bush have blood on their hands, it is as simple and as horrifying as this. If we as a community had demanded through the last years that Bush and the Right use their influence over Israel to end the occupation, to release humanitarian funds, to stop the myriad of life-killing dispossessions, if we had honored our own Jewish history in its wariness of nationalistic restrictions enforced by military presence, of the championing of divine and racial imperatives, if we saw with Palestinian eyes as well as with our Jewish ones--thousands of lives would have been spared. I think of those who still support Bush and his regime after the massacre of lives and hope that was Katrina--those who say, "but he is good for Israel," and all else falls away. Not for this Jew.
What finally pushed me to blog was my reading on my computer my daily New York Times--I now live in Melbourne, Australia with my lover--my reading of Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, these men of power who make huge pronouncements about how things should be in the world. I am not in their league, but I have stood with the Women in Black peace demonstrators in Haifa and Jerusalem, I have visited with women who run the Nazareth Women's Center and its sister, the Haifa Women's Center, I have met the women who founded ASWAT, the first human rights organization for Palestinian lesbians. I have seen Palestinian, Mizrachi and Ashkenazi Jewish, Christian and Ethopian women meeting together in the same building. I have sat late into a Jerusalem night talking with a young butch-fem community, most of whom are peace activists, about how the body and its deisres live in such a place at such a time. That night, our last in Jerusalem, one young woman said, "Come back to us when the occupation is over."

The four of us--Hannah, Dalia, founders of Women in Black in Haifa, Joan and Dianne

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June 22, 2007

Our friends in Haifa made us see with their eyes and so we saw through landscapes to deeper histories. When we first travelled the roads between Tel Aviv and Haifa, our eyes fell off the scrub hills, but Hannah asked us to look again. "See those prickly pear cactuses"--and she slowed the car down so we could focus our gaze--"every time you see a cluster of them, you are looking at the ruins of a Palestinian home." The farmers used the plant to form natural corrals for their grazing animals and also ate the fruit born at the tip of the rounded leaf. We started to look deeper, longer and soon we could see the tracings of another people, not a long gone people, but a displaced people. Stone foundations started to appear, buried in the uninteresting scrub. May you all have friends who make you look again. But when you see, there is no return to blankness, to cruel triumphalism.
July 2007

In a recent op-ed column, Thomas Friedman celebrates Israel's bright and shining future by
extolling Israel's new generation of venture capitalists: "...this country has a culture that nurtures and rewards individual imagination--one with no respect for limits or hierarchies, or fear of failure." I read his words and gasp at his tunnel vision. What is the enforced daily suffering of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and Palestinian-Israeli citizens, what are the cascading restrictions on the possiblities of life for Arab-Israelis other then a failure of the imagination. Friedman must know the communities just beyond the green line--I am no one and I saw the despair, the anger, the gray wall covered with the graffiti of resistance. Freidman is a man of power--he talks with the powerful, he writes books about what the whole world should do, about the shape of the future and yet he cannot lift his head high enough to see the children who scrabble in the dust, who live on the outskirts of their own homes, who must move off their own streets when the settlers want to go to market with their machine guns over their shoulders. He knows what makes this romance of entrepreneurship so possible--billions of dollars of American military aid. Freidman, man of the world, seems to see no connections between these "student innovators" he so champions and the dispossessed surrounding them. What kind of smartness is this, what kind of world is this--the imposed disparities are too great, for any celebration. This is success built on another's peoples' suffering--and it does not have to be. Jews are smart--so they have always said--our smartness was how we survived when the gates closed on us. Now in this strange land, so freighted with prehistory, we close the gates on others and say how wonderful we are.

In a follow-up article, Freidman calls support for the boycott of Israel "rank anti-semiticism." He lauds the fact that a few Arab names were included in the graduation ceremony of a major Israeli university--think--since when did having students of other backgrounds become something so unusual that it singles out a univeristy as something special--like the white colleges who accepted one or two black students in the old days. He doesn't tell his readers that any instruction in Arabic is illegal, that some Israeli universities work very hard to keep their number of Arabic Israeli students at a minimum. Or how much does he get paid for his speeches at these gatherings. Yes, the imagination grows and asks good questions when it is valued, when so much is dedicated to nourishing it--then think of soldiers holding a gun to your head and asking to see your papers because you want to walk down another street. This too engages the imagination--first in humiliation and then in rage. Perhaps one or two of those Israeli young people so busy developing their individual imagination will look in another direction and start thinking about the injustices that make their success so possible and like so many Jews before them, hold their country to another vision, one of just inclusion and a national celebration of the possibilities of all of its citizens.