Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So long has passed since my last entry that I forgot how to get into my own blog--issues of memory are all around me--the death of dear friends, the dislocation of distance, a changing self in body and habits of thinking, moving.
What has been haunting me through so much of these times is the suffering of ill people behind these walls and check points and in war- torn towns. I have had colon and breast cancer--I have been able to take two Manhattan buses to get to my chemo center, to my radiation laboratory, to my surgeons. I am haunted by the image of a 14 year old Iraqi girl, thin as the pallet on which she lay, outside the gates of her family home in one of the most destroyed neighborhoods of Baghdad--her older brothers stood around her--she has cancer, she has not eaten but she can't go to the hospital, the arms of the girl waving, the translator saying she wants to go to the doctor, bare human suffering-the reporters convince one of her brothers to help them put her into their car and come with them as they try to find help for their sister. The car drives away into shadows. I do not know what happened to that young woman, but I read of the ill people in Gaza, of cancer stricken Palestinians stopped at closed gates or restricted in their travel, of treatment appointments missed or never made. Fine Israeli hospitals just moments away but not for these people--they are part of a population that must be punished, that must be exhausted as the head of Shin Bet said recently--we must make them too exhausted to engage in struggle against us. So many of us have endured life with cancer, we know how we accept poison into our bodies because that is all the doctors can offer now, we know the exhaustion of the body trying to absorb chemicals that want to kill it, and we know the exhaustion of the illness itself--if even a small number of us joined together, we who had to ask no one for permission to cross a road, who were never turned away from a departure point when we had used every bit of our energy to arrive there, if we used our human bond, stricken body with sticken body, we could break the walls that imprison all of us--those who suffer their lack of power and those of us who inflict our power down to the very cells of those we deem the enemy.
In America, politicians argue whether "illegal" immigrants should be allowed to get treatment for their cancer -- how can we who have survived because we "passed" the human requirements be silent in the face of this?

I live in Melbourne, Australia now--Australia is in the midst of an election--Liberal leader John Howard has been Prime Minister for 11 years, a devoted follower of George Bush and all things Right--today he said the most astounding thing--he answered critics of his meeting with the leader of an extreme right wing Christian group, League of Rights, by saying, "well, they are a bit anti-semitic" but refused to cut his ties to the group. The group's leader has gone on record questioning whether the Holocaust ever really happened. A bit antisemitic, a bit pregnant. I have written here of my sadnesses, angers, rejection of the actions of Israel as a nation state and its treatment of the Palestinians. That is one discourse and the other--the growing Christian fascism of the extreme right. Power, God, nationalism--and the human body, naked in its need for care.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Before I launch into my ideas about utopias for my dear now-sleeping friend, Hannah, I want to say, I know there are typos, spelling errors and sometimes errant letters that escape my delition button--sometime I will clean up all the mistakes produced by haste--this kind of writing for me comes quick and burning and so I am careless in ways writers should not be. I have only so much energy and for now, I pour it into the raw castings of my thoughts. And`another thing--I must have stifled responses after I replied directly to Wendy in my blog--or perhaps this is an act of my ego to think more then three minds have met mine. Please let me know if your read these words.

Now Hannah, why I cringe a little from "utopian" visions--and as I was thinking about this, I realized that the opposite of Utopia for me is the Diaspora--the permeable world of exchanges between differences, the yearning not for perfection or a blueprint of social conformities, but the shaping of hope from the real, from the clashings of multitudes of life. Now to write these words some 68 years after the Holocaust when Europe became a monster of exclusion unto death for all judged misfits and today, when in America "illegal" immigrants are marched away in the thousands, in the clothes they went to work in, the burly uniformed guards shepherding them away from hope, may appear naive, sentimental or self indulgent. But utopian dreams of perfected societies often carry within them all kinds of potential exclusions--I am not sure utopian thinking allows for much self criticism-- certainties of what should be, born from imaginations marked by their own time, often reflect, even in the imagining of a new state, the restrictions of the old. I think of race and class--as your example showed. In my lesbian feminist life, I have seen the workings of lesbian separatism--as expressed in the utopian--with a small u--world of the Michigan's Women's Music Festival. How wonderful--a place where women could be safe, where women's culture could be celebrated--yes, yes until the vision was challenged by a more gender complex world. What to do with transgendered woman, with women who started life as women but now live as men, with all the variations of the gender dispora, if I may say--then this radical vision of another world, to me, became a reactionary cultural geography where phrases like, "biologically born women only" stand guard at the camp's gates.
You asked me if utopias are suspect, then where do we find hope. In the mess, I want to say, in the mess. I think of the image of the Palestinian man in Gaza, dressed only in a short sleeved white shirt and pants, running towards a machine gun toting militant, trying to get the gun away from him, his civilian hands reaching out, turning the gun away--only a moment on the news covering the early days of Hamas' soldifying its power over the streets of Gaza--this man seemed almost naked in his despair at what Palestinians where doing to other Palestinians--no defenses only his out stretched arms--I almost did not breath so sure I was that in the height of the moments, with chaos all around, the wounded and dead lying the in the street, the freedom fighter would simply pull his trigger--I thought of the young Chinese student in Tiamen Square in front of the world-sized tank, of the half- naked monks of Burma, of the young and old Black Americans who marched down the streets of Selma and all over the American South, of the Jewish man who would not leave his wheel-chair bound Christian African-American work buddy on one of the doomed floors of the Trade Center, of the Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories--Hannah, this is probably no help to you at all but I will continue.
I am not a scholar, have read no books about Utopian workings in the world--except the utopian fictions both of years ago and of the feminist movement--I understand the wonder and the need to articulate dreams of perfected societies--these dreams often grow out of the depths of how much we fail each other, they are calls to rethink institutions and social and economic traditions, they grow out of the paucity of the existing imagination--about gender, about justice, about equality, about love, about cities. Certainly the English and American socialist utopian communities of the 19th and 20 centuries helped to form a more humane modernity. So why am I not more drawn to utopian thinking--is it always being the daughter of an embezzeling mother, a neer do well, who got herself thrown out of so many decent worlds. I think I fear the joining of utopian thinking and nationalisms, of utopian thinking and power over who is human enough to live in the perfected future, of utopian thinking and the free market economy. We are back now, Hannah, as you lay peacefully sleeping, I hope, to the dilemma of your paper--to the dilemma of your women who saw Israel as a chance to make their dreams of a just society live in the desert--except for two problems: they were women and an indigenous people were living out their dreams there as well.

Monday, October 8, 2007

--The conservative American Jewish stance on crtiticism of Israel is fast becoming a totalitarian mindset. A university disinviting Bishop Desmond Tutu because a group of reactionary rabbis said they should? Since when do university heads go to religious leaders to get permission for campus debates? A friend hearing about my blog says, "she better be careful, she's going to get hate mail." Professors being fired because they do not toe the Derkowitz line on Israel's actions in the world, the need for a Jewish internet cite, Muzzlewatch, because so many who want to raise the vision of other roads to take in Palestine and Israel are being refused speaking platforms and loosing jobs, the refusal to allow the word "intifada" to be used with respect in a New York school, Jews telling other Jews do not speak, do not question, do not infuse new information, do not give Palestinians name and faces, do not honor another people's need for self respect in the face of decades and daily restrictions and humiliations. As dissenting American Jews, we cannot use words like racism or apartheid--we cannot assert that a police state that isolates and constricts one group of people is akin to other police states we have known in history--while in Israel itself these conversations are publically possible. This is all meshugah--this is Bush's America where some of us think being righter then right will make us safe--while the Christian right solidifies its behind-the- scenes hold on power, its control over mercenary soldiers and electoral politics. Oh how sad, how stupid, how familiar--historical shame lusts after military might, we will be the best soldiers in the world, we will be famous because of our toughness, governments will court our expertise on interrogations, torture, no nonsense, no sentimental respect for the humanity of our opponents, we will run Bush's military errands for him into Syria, into Lebanon, men like Sharon and Dayan will be our national heroes--we have risen from our ashes and now can conduct our own incarcerations, our own killings, our own nationalism swelling with religious permissions--my words must stop--it is the madness I see all around me--million dollar right wing think tanks churning out plans to expand the cleansing of the middle east--the free market economy marries the military and kisses the religous right and all I see are the people of Katrina standing on their roof tops, the people without oil, or powerful geographic positionings--no think tanks for them--not even a decent wall to keep out the flood waters--and my queer self, this sex writer self--what is she doing swimming in these waters of international concern--this Bronx Jew who is part of the generation romanticized in public interest stories of now famous men who grew up playing stick ball in the streets of the Bronx, the little pink ball that bounced so high, who first saw history inscribed on the wrist of Jerry, the delicatessen owner, the blue numbers one by one showing themselves as he reached to wrap our pickles, way back in 1949--this Jew raised by an embezzeling mother who told her Paul Robeson was a great man after a teacher's tirade against this "enemy of America" in PS 94 again back in the old days forbade any mention of his name. There are many American Jews like me, who refuse to non-think, who remember not the centers of power--oh how good it is to live there, says the Harvard woman professor--but the smaller places where people joined hands, all kinds of people and caught each other's sighs in their own breaths and turned their backs on the obscenity of a safety built on the sorrows of others made nameless, made lifeless.

A letter from Alex, Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors, a tireless advocate for respect for all in Israel, September 19, 2007:

Hi all,

Just a quick note to let you know what I have been up to--yesterday I went with a 75 year old woman and a 60 year old couple to the occupied territories to meet and listen to Palestinian stories.
Dorothy is amazing, she came to live in Israel from America years ago and has raised a family and is not a grandma. She never in her life thought that at the age of 75 shewould begoing to women's demostrations n the occupied territories and getting beaten up and gassed by Israeli soldiers, her story alone is amazaing.
What amazes me most about the women I meet herr is how much of their lives they give toward making this a better place, but I have to say every time I come here things just get worse for everyone--more Israeli Jews who were Zionists are now becoming anti-Zionist--they are realizing that most of the history they learned was at best distorted --for those who are interested read Ilan Papel or Benny Morris.
So off I was to Mas Ha, a Palestinian village not far from Tel Aviv. It took us 20 minutes to get there. Our first stop was to speak with Honey, a man that owns some land and a well with water, is house is 100% surrounded by the wall and barbed wire fences, the Israelis could have built the wall around his house so that he could still be a part of his village--Honey supplies water to many of the village people but because of the wall and the settlers, it now costs him more money to deliver the water then what he brings in. He tried to set up chicken farm, but soldiers destroyed it, he tried a hot house and they destroyed that too. He is trapped with no way to make a living. What the Israeli government has done is surround Mas Ha with a settlement which ultimately means all of the land has been stolen by the Israeli government for the settlement. In Mas Ha, families grow but there is no way they can expand their village.

Another man, Nizha, has olive trees outside the wall and it can take him from a few hours to a day to get there depending on whether the Israeli soldiers at the check point lets him--a couple of years ago when I visited him, I went from his house to his land, it took us 15 minutes. The policy is not to let them move freely or far, not to let them grow food, to make it difficult to access water, to earn a living or expand their buildings. The wall is more about making their lives difficult and in all of this the settlers harass the Palestinians and never get punished for their violence.

Dorothy was telling me how one settler hit her car once and another one tried to run her off the road.
This was just one village. In the next village, I met a man who was shot in the back and now can not walk. He does not hate, he just wants freedom and an end to violence like all the other Palestinians I have met. The ones I have spoken to have given up hope on a two state solution because when one looks at the maps and all the settlements I srael has built, it is no longer viable, They just want the right to be free to live and work and raise a family like the rest ofus. It is amazing how things have changed for the worst.

The next stop was a house with a family of 8--the Israeli army took over the top floor, the young girl in the family is doing year 12 and wants to study but her books are upstairs and they won't let her get them and they won't bring them down. They even had the chutzpa to stick an Israeli flag out side the window of the top floor-You should all know that I was on my best behaviour. When I leave it is the Palestinians who will pay the price fdor whatever I do or say.

Needless to say, I finished the day by going to visit Lina, who some of you know. She is a 5 year old Palestinian child who had a kidney transplant and need medication. We have been raising money to pay for her medication which keeps her salive. From Farid and Amena and her family, thank you to all those who helped.

I must say, I met the most amazing people yesterday from all sides, people who care enough to do something to make this a better place. I have only told you a little about what I did, there is always a lot more. Hope you are well,

We cannot say we did not know what was happening--people have names and lives no matter what the military and right wing governments and fanatic religous movements would have us believe-as Jews we know this on our bodies.

Friday, October 5, 2007

"Salah's answer summed up to me what we were all doing. We were all struggling to achieve for our children a future without roadblocks, tanks, tear gas, or administrative detention. A future not shadowed by a pervasive sense of our being wronged." Words of Sari Nusseibeh, from his book, Once upon a Country: A Palestinian Life (2007) speaking about his liberation work in 1990

In my head through my days here in West Brunswick, days marked by health worries and now, the death of a dear friend, Joyce Warshow, film maker and lesbian activist, I keep writing letters to Wendy. How cold I must seem to her and perhaps to others when I say, we cannot let our historical and cultural empathies be walled in by the Holocaust horror. In every word I write lives the realization that once almost the whole of the Western world found Jews an expendable people, fit for extermination, and in a clear headed and at times, joyous way, in between eating a cup of fresh summer blue berries with cream, fired up the gas chambers or turned away the ships from their safe harbors. In a recent Nestel family history--my father's family, my father whom I never knew, his sudden death in 1939 six months before I was born taking his voice and body from me forever, I found the names of the women, men and children who died in the Belzec camp--among them Zippora and her husband Henoch and their two children, Aron and Eidel. I also found survivors who now live in Israel. We carry this knowledge of the deadening of the human heart in almost biological places as well as in our food and in our jokes, in our tears and in our life's dreams. But it is because I know how easily the heart can die when it is convinced that another group of people threaten already fragile geographies or how easily it can be convinced that some are so different from us that they must become shadows. And if these people have been reduced by circumstances and our power rises above them like a looming mountain, then we do not even see their diminishment. We just do what we have to and enjoy our morning coffee in a pleasant Haifa cafe.

Haaretz editorial, 03/10/2007

The occupied territories and the Palestinians living there are slowly becoming virtual realities, distant from the eye and the heart. Palestinian workers have disappeared from our streets. Israelis no longer enter Palestinian towns for shopping. There is a new generation on each side that does not know the other. Even the settlers no longer meet the Palestinians because of the different road systems that distinguish between the two populations; one is free and mobile, the other stuck at the roadblocks.

While the politicians argue over dividing the land between two peoples, the public is apathetic. The people feel that the division has already taken place. The disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the evacuation of Gush Katif, the construction of a separation barrier--the problem is solved to our satisfaction. The settlers are conducting a settlement policy of their own., taking over new areas, expanding settlements, anything to prevent a permanent solution. They are also satisfied with the status quo that relies on the Shin Bet secutiry service and the Israel Defense Forces.

The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side--determined by national, not geographic association--included people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind walls surrounding their community, who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement and have no chance to plan their future. The economic gap is only getting wider and the Palestinians are wistfully watching as Israel imports laborers from China and Romania. Fear of terroist attacks has transformed the Palestinian laborer into an undesirable.

There have recenly been reports of a further "upgrading" of the occupation. Sixteen crossing points between the West Bank and Israel are now being controlled by civilians instead of soldiers. On the face of it, this is an act of normalization, similar to the situation at international border crossings. But in this case a country exists on one side. In the absence of an agreed border, there is only a security border that Israel has unilateraaly established. The frustrated and frightened soldiers checking every Palestinian have now been replaced by contractors hired by the Defense Ministry.

Their job is check people holding permits; in other words, people the civil adminstration, under the Shin Bet's quidance, has allowed to enter Israel. The checks are being carried out, in reinforced, blast-proof structures. The new method has removed a burden from IDF soldiers but has created a distancing. The contact between the soldiers and the Palestinians at the crossings, precisely because it is so traumatic, has driven the Israelis and Palestinians to seek a political solution. The stories the soldiers brought home fueled public debate. Now the soldiers are stationed only at roadblocks in the West Bank, and there is less friction. So the discourse is minimized.

Can this situation continue indefinitely? The more Israelis see less of the occupation, the easier it becomes to ignore. In September, 33 Palestinians and one soldier were killed in operations against terror and Qassam rockets. Only in the next intfada, or after missiles are fired at Israel from the West Bank, will we once again be reminded of the occupation.

From Sari Nusseibeh's book: "'Baba,' said my youngest boy, Buraq, from the back seat of the car as I drove him to school one morning. (He couldn't have been more then seven at the time.'I'd like to know something. Was there ever life before the intifada?' The question cut through my heart like a knife."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dear Wendy--Yes, I remember our visit together to the Holocaust museum and the silver necklace of my name in Hebrew letters that you and M. gave me--I remember it very deeply--and that is why I must write these words--how do we honor such a history, how do we hold each other accountable for such catastrophic failures of the human heart? For such cynical politics that uses the tragic displacement of one people to create another kind of homelessness for another--there is so much I want to say--and I will later in other entries--but this is a letter to a friend--a lanceman--perhaps the most important moment of discussion--Israel while it is a home to Jews is an occupying force to the Palestinians--it is a colonzing power in that strip of land---all the Arab Israelis I met and many Palestinians all spoke Hebrew--the language of those, now, with power, but seldom did I hear Israelis speaking Arabic--and when even the 10 year old Palestinian seller of corn beside highway along the Jordan valley neogotiated with us in Hebrew, I saw the cultural displacement that colonization always brings--I thought of the words of Albert Memmi, the Tunesian Jewish writer, describing the one way cultural street colonial power creates. We can melt in our hearts, Wendy, about the sorrow of our people--but this is a different time, and Israel is a nation-state that calls itself a Jewish state and it must be looked at with the same eyes we look at all nation states--the fear you speak about that your relatives live with--is a fear encouraged by the military men we both rail against, just as Bush and Cheney use fear here to allow the unthinkable to happen. It is the same fear that keeps Israelis and Palestinians, every day people, from living in each other's lives--shopping in each other's markets, working for each other, speaking each other's language.
You speak of the time we can have falafel on King David street in Tel Aviv--and I know the comfort of sitting in a Haifa cafe in the late morning, having a breakfast of chopped cucumber and tomatoes with humus lining the plates and then I look behind our comfort and I wonder who will own the falafel shop and who will work in it and who will have the money to buy the wonders of King David street--and then will we walk over the green line into the West Bank and see the same affluence, share the same good food, ordered in another language--or will we stand looking up at the gray wall with its barbed wire forcing us each back into a history constructed of the most terrible suffering for both peoples. How do we say no, Wendy, a Jewish no to cruelty in the same of "safety"-- we will loose dear connections in this discussion, I have no doubt--but this is how I honor those who did not have the chance to live in the fullness of their humanity.