Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gaza and Us

Sunday, January 27, 2008
Hannah speaks: And here is what I wrote as I came back from our one day trip south to Gaza. Of course, we were not allowed in and we could only demonstrate in front of an amazing grey wall with dogs of the guards barking at us. There were about 1000 people, men and women, Palestinians and Jewish.
"I have just returned from our demonstration near the northern part of the Gaza strip. The food we brought over was of course only a token, but for those at the demonstration, both Jewish and Palestinians in Israel, it was important to convey our protest against "our" government. Anyone should ring the alarm where ever they are to the situation by which Israel is cruelly disconnecting a million and a half Palestinians from their basic facilities such as electricity and water. The story of a friend who gave birth in Gaza where she could not stay in the hospital a minute longer after the birth itself and when she came home, there was no water nor heating demonstrates beyond everything the utter stupidity and cruelty of the situation. Let us tell these stories, let us talk to anyone who cares to listen, let us say out loud that this is a terrible punishment for the Palestinians and it does not serve any useful purpose for Israel.
When you take a shower, when your house is warm and you have food and your refrigerator is working and your food can be cooked, when your computer is working and you can hear music, think about those in Gaza who cannot do all this just because Mr. Barak, the defense minister of Israel, decided to disconnect all this area from the pipe line. Think about the people of the Israeli town of Shederot who have been bombed by Kassam missiles for such long time. Does it make their lives safer because Palestinians do not have electricity or water? Because they are living on 2$ a day? Call a politician in your area, write a letter to the editor, collect donations. Spread the stories. Don't let this happen because Israel, the fourth largest military power in the world, has to defend itself. The only defence for Israel is to get back to its original size and let the Palestinians achieve freedom.

There are many ways to achieve peace, none of them is violent.
Yours, Hannah

I have not written--I have watched and read and listened. I have seen the same images many of you have--women, men, on foot, on donkeys, pouring out of the prison of their home, into the streets of Egyptian border towns, frantic moments of human desire, for sweets, for cabbages, for medicine, for cigarettes, for breaths of air that seem like freedom. "Ameera, 24, texts her husband to ask if there is anything he wants brought back from Egypt. 'Oh!,' she says suddenly in a quiet happy voice, surveying the pretty vista of open fields, without walls or boundaries that cannot be crossed without risk. 'This is my first time out of Gaza.'"(The Guardian, Sunday, January 27, 2008) Never before has it seemed so important to me to carry voices, to call attention to other stories, to other faces of nations, to other bodies. I am so tired of the one conversation, the one image of men in suits, of the armored or punishing national body.

I think of Hannah and her friends, on that rainy trip, standing for hours outside the wall--"at some stages in the preparations for the aid convoy to Gaza, it was proposed that the Israelis would stand on a hillside overlooking the Gaza strip and the Palestinians come to a nearby field on their side of the border, so that people on both sides could see each other; this creative idea was foiled by the army declaring this same hill 'a closed military zone' and surrounding it with barbed wire" (Adam Keller, The Other Israel, January 28, 2008)--of the body of Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor, stripped searched by the Israeli airport security forces in the hopes she would not return to the Jewish homeland with her embarrassing politics, now on her way to Gaza aboard a relief ship. "I would like to dedicate these words to the children of Gaza, whose parents cannot protect them or send them away to safety as my parents did when they sent me to England in May 1939 on a Kindertransport." ("An interview with Hedy Epstein, "What is the Lesson to be Learned from the Holocaust?" by Silvia Cattori, January, 11, 2008). I have all these papers, all these articles, telling of other bodies, other voices, organizations, groups of people, Palestinian, Israeli, American, falling over my computer--thousands and thousands of people trying to be heard, to break through the walls of media silence, of national and community assumptions, of old opinions and teary nostalgias--but only you and you and you can end this one way conversation. Just know that when you do, when you start to ask where are the peace makers, where are the rooms where Palestinians and Jews sit together and talk and plan for another kind of day, you too will find the vista broad and full of promise.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Fem Body: A Break in the Wall

I have been thinking, and writing, for many years about what it has meant to move in the 20th century as a fem woman, perhaps a laughable way to pass time to some, such a small thing in such a dense time. But I had very little to carry with me from the 50s on, other then this source of my desire, this then strong sturdy body that did not want to be a "woman," did not understand how to be a "woman," who knew from an early age I would never marry or have children--perhaps what I only really knew was that my life was going to be of my own making from the bits and pieces my mother and brother allowed to survive and always work, work and always learn, learn. And always want.

"One summer afternoon, I noticed a new time card, another part-timer like me. Sheila was a year younger, and as physically different from me as she could be. Slim, with sharp, clear features, honey-touched hair drawn tightly back in a ponytail--she was half cheer-leader, half ballerina. Athletic and seductive in her white blouse and slim black-and-white skirt cinched at the waist with one of those wide elastic belts that were so populat at the time, she bounced through the aisles, flirting with us all. I took her up on it, at first wanting only her friendship and enjoying so much the girlish horsing around we did, wrestling behind our counters, stretching our breaks together, me being on the lookout while she sneaked a smoke. We laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. I went home each night tired in a new way, tired with the joy of her physical challenges. We started to have late night telephone talks; it must have been from these that she discovered I had "ideas," and that she too wanted to talk about love and loneliness and freedom. She told me all about her boyfriends, and there were many, and never asked about mine. Then one lunch break, I was lying on the bench my head in her lap, the whole expanse of the parking lot stretching out in front of us, looking up at her as she stroked my hair. The sun was hot, but I was in heaven. "Joan, I don't think you will ever marry," she said right into my eyes, all the wisdom of our play in her fifteen-year-old heart. Here in mid-fifties America, where marriage was a national edict, two young women looked into another world." (from my short story, "Novelities," in A Woman Like That, ed. Joan Larkin, 1991)

In each succeeding decade of my adult life, being a fem carried me into new territory: into the lesbian bars of the late 50s where I had to find ways to make my body speak loud enough to be heard above the songs of Johhny Matthias and Teresa Brewer, my breasts pushing into the alcholic haze of my dance partners. Take me home. Mine or yours, take me. On the weekends was the time my body could speak--all the hours of night and day could become one on these holy days when the deepness of touch was the center of all things. Monday brought with it the tightness of work, the body dressed for competence.
Before I launch into a decade by decade description of how my fem body lived in the world--how it marched in the streets, how it sat at endless lesbian feminist meetings, how it fought for itself in the face of definite ideas about what a woman is, I must listen to my dear wise friend Karin, saying in her Danish-French voice, "Joan, you are always writing about the same things, all these years. Do something new!" And because so much of my earlier writings do explore the movements of our fem-butch bodies, I will refrain from toching the past body once again, but these times, the first decade of the 21st century, do push at this fem body with new ideas. All this talk about borders, boundaries and walls, all this talk about exclusions, deportations, detentions and the rich discussions of lesbian masculinities that have flourished for the last ten years and the always nagging feeling that fem discourse is too limited, does not seem to know how to enter the world in a larger way, even while young and not so young now fem artists are dilineating the curiosities and colors of our world, set me thinking.
Before we left for Israel in 2007, we visited with Liz Kennedy and Bobbi Prebis in Tucson, Arizona; walking the canyon hills with old friends is very conducive to thought. And even more so proved the night at the university when I was asked to host a discussion of the film "FtF: Female to Female" (Kami Chisholm and Elisabeth Stark). One young woman in the audience commented on how cerebral the discussion of the fem body had been, that fem sex was never really part of the fem's witty visual conversation, what is fem sex to you, she asked. A lot had been going on in the large room already that night, much charged discussion of the old question, are fems betrayers of feminism, and I was free floating a little, the night was late. Always in Arizona, the question of borders seems to be present--workers slipping in along the border, workers beckoned and then punished. I don't remember exactly how I started my answer, but I know my love of being fucked was part of it, and then I heard my voice saying, I wanted my fem body to be a break in the wall, a point of entry. I gloried in being a port of entry. A fem discourse about our bodies as symbolic interruptions to guarded national barriers, a fem discourse about inclusions into the interior. I will leave this with you tonight, a beckoning thought.

For those of you in Melbourne, I just want you to know we will stand our Women in Black vigil the first Saturday of every month in 2008 in front of the old GPO on the corner of Burke and Elizabeth, from 12-1. Come say hello.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cello and LaProfessora in the Exhibition Gardens, one shining early evening last week. You can see clearly who is boss.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I have taken to interspersing photographs I have taken of this world in which I find myself--so pleased with what my friend Pat has taught me--as she has taught so many older women throughout her working career. Here is an image taken on the hill walk above the cove of Apollo Bay. Looking into the bush, not out to sea.

First, thank you to all the readers who have been pushing through my outpouring of words--when I write I see you, even those who shake their heads in disagreement. Some of you are old friends, some new, and many I do not know at all, but for this 67 year old writer having what feels like this immediate moment of words finding listeners, without an exchange of money, is a
great gift. You ease my sense of displacement, and most of all, you give me a forum to say no to such great wrongs, such great misthinkings, sometimes willful, some simply foolish. You give me a public space to say, while I am alive as a Jew, as an American, as a queer, as a woman what I cannot live with because to do so is a crime against the humanity of my time. And one last thank you--here I can dream with you, share the wanderings of an aging body with a lustful memory.
Mike, in answer to you question, I would be honored to speak with your class. You know, I am an Honorary Fellow in the English Department of the University of Melbourne and I have spoken in classes on gender studies. If you write me via my website and give me contact details we can talk more or if you have my number, just call. Again, thank you all.
Now I am off to join my sisters in Women in Black to stand vigil-- in front of what was once the old Post Office and is now an up market shopping mall in downtown Melbourne, from 12-1-- to protest the mass punishing the people of Gaza.

Women in black--Melbourne, Australia
We stand today as Jewish feminists and our allies to protest the inhumane violence that endangers and degrades the lives of the peoples of the Middle East.

We stand to renew our commitment to actively oppose our government's strong support of policies which have maintained Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.

Following the Annapolis talks we call on Palestinian and Israeli leaders to take steps towards peace that have not been taken before.

We stand to challenge the ongoing carnage being inflicted by the US military upon the Iraqi people.

We stand to examine the fears that drive us to separate from, blame and dehumanize one another.

We stand to protest the use of all forms of violence: terrorism, collective punishment, militarism, suicide bombings, targeted assassinations and coerced population movements--to resolve conflicts between nations and peoples.

We stand to reject the cyclical cries of aggression and retaliation: justice will never be achieved through the seeking of venegance.

We stand to reject all forms of racism, including anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism.

We stand in recognition of the peace activists in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, Iraq and Lebanon.

We stand to embrace our common humanity, to build bridges of mutual respect.

We stand to remind ourselves that small actions can lead to hope.

We ask all of you to find one act that will honour the dead, wounded and vulnerable of all sides.

One conversation you didn't think you could risk

One letter you didn't think you had to write

One meeting with people who hold a different view

One resounding No when you would have remained silent

One act. Each day. For a different world.

http://www.coalition/ of

We were few--but we gave out all our leaflets and talked, talked with passerbys.

When will attention be payed to those, on both sides, who speak for peace, when will the media, when will so many more of you ask to hear the other voices, those who "refuse to be enemies."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Yes We Can and Blind Vanity

Yes, we can. Here it is almost four in the afternoon--we are on the verge of terrible heat for the next two days, but I have another kind of heat in me--the heat of possibilities. America is warming up. I have followed the voting results, the speeches, the analysis of the New Hampshire primaries. How far are we from the death head speech of Dick Cheney, the repetitive mumblings of Bush , the lost son, from all those miserable vision less corporate patriarchs--Romney, Ashforth and Rice, so carefully controlled in the service of her bosses, running herself ragged trying to sort out the sore spots of the world, trapped in the dead ends of her party's smallness. Candidate after candidate calling for change--the biggest looser Bush and all he represents--as the speakers scroll down the things that need to be fixed, Republican and Democrat, one point screams out--what has this President been doing all his years in office--so much is wrong, so many believing a door has opened--and as the candidates chant the fineness of America in all things, they also list the losses.
Here I think that America is not unlike some Jews; a friend just e-mailed me a sermon by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, "Are Jews Too Powerful? The Vanity Fair Perspective" with the words she would go to his schul anytime. I read his words and cried out loud with their wrongness. I have not read the original Vanity Fair article and I will, but whether Jews have too much power or just enough is not the crucial issue. What is is what we do with this power, what anyone does with the "power," the opportunities, they have to influence their fellow humans and the conditions in which they live. The triumphant rabbi tells us we should be ecstatic about our "new" power: " But just one generation ago there was no Jewish lobby! he says, and there was no Israeli Air Force!" And now there is, and hundreds of Palestinians are injured or killed by this power every month. The rabbi poses our choices as "lay low or flaunt it." And we know what this Godly man thinks is our best path.
"Helping others won Abraham no worldly praise, It was only now--now that Abraham has pursued the terrorists....and in the words of the Torah 'Smote them and pursued them."...only did the world show respect. For what impresses the world is not saintliness as much as strength, not character as much as courage, not piety as much as power." These words the rabbi puts in bold letters in case we miss them. And courage for him is the courage of military might, not the courage to find another way, the courage to see another group of angry and sad people as possible allies rather then as targets. He goes on to say that all enemies of Israel and the Jewish people will be punished by his God. A wisdom the Evangelical Christians know so well, he says, and that is why they are such good friends of Israel. If we are truly the chosen people, a most pernicious myth, as the rabbi makes a case for, and the avenging god is just waiting to smote our enemies, why do we need nuclear bombs in Israel, all that erotic military power. Once again, we move between the Messianic and history, invoking either one when it serves to justify the loss of our human hearts. "Yes, let the Arab world think we are all powerful. That's the only way they may somehow come to the realization that they're going to have to learn how to live with us." And us, what do we need to learn--perhaps how to live with a displaced people like we were once, perhaps how connected we are to those who have lived in the lands of the middle east for thousands of years, perhaps that blindly replicating America's over bloated sense of self in the world, is not the best future policy--especially when so many dead people lie at our feet--can any god have ordained the extraordinary suffering of the Iraqi people? The rabbi ends his celebratory calculus of Jewish success in this time by quoting again from the Torah, "The Lord has given strength to his people," and adds "may he now give us peace," but where in his delirious ode to the multitude of Jewish names in Vanity Fair's lists of the movers and shakers of America is the recognition of Jews who work for peace, for another kind of Israel, for another kind of America, for another kind of human contract.
While I read the rabbi's words, I kept thinking of my uncle Murray, husband to aunt Mimi, who took me in when my mother ran out of money and hope. I would sit at the feet of this orthodox Jewish couple, in 1950s Bayside, Queens, while we watched the 6 o'clock news. Murray was deep in his newspaper, but every time a criminal was paraded on the small Dupont black and white screen, he would lift his head and ask the only question whose answer mattered to him, "was he Jewish?" Uncle Murray taught me so many years ago that there was such a thing as Jewish eyes. The old generation's question according to Alan Derschowitz--but it seems to me the question has remained, only now the head is lifted and the eyes focused to count the names of the powerful--"are they Jewish?" It gives the rabbi great pleasure to note that so many editorial columnists are Jewish. I, like him, was reading the International Herald Tribune, only in my case it was in a Haifa cafe, not a London one, when the same thought struck me, Friedman, Brooks, Cohen telling us over and over again what they thought of the world. I thought of the lone words of Bob Herbert of the New York Times who always makes his readers look in another direction, the one less taken, to people suffering from the abuses of power. In my head he sees the world with Jewish eyes, eyes large enough to see the struggle of so many different kinds of people being ground down by "victors" of all sorts. Our choices of how to be in the world as Jewish people cannot be limited to victim or triumphalist, we are not the best of the world's people or the worst, no gods keep special watch over our journeys or put special weapons in our hands or knowledge in our heads. We are simply and grandly part of the great complex and always changing human world, with our culture of thought and feeling one of many. How poor we make ourselves when we count the lists and the weapons and the armies that shrink our human hearts.
I started all this by repeating Obama's words, "Yes, we can," and when I think that more and more Jews are turning to the Right because they fear a more open balanced world, voting for what they think is best for Israel to the detriment of all other concerns, I sing yes we can find our eyes that see our connections, that see things must change, in Israel, in America, that dispossessing one people from their homes and their lives and then celebrating their suffering is not the Jewish way, not our human way and certainly not the way of lasting peace.
Two projects I want to share with you, one you already know about from my earlier entries. Isha L'Isha, the Haifa Women's Center, needs our support to keep going. Think of all the separations between Jewish and Palestinian and Ethopian women in Israeli society--then think of Isha L'Isha where women from all these backgrounds, lesbians and straight and bisexual and trans, work together, think together and plan for a fuller life for women. Even the smallest donation would help and you would know that you are supporting one of the few unifying communal spaces in Israel. Isha L'Isha's website is Or just google it.
From Hannah--Isha L’Isha, established in 1983, is the oldest grassroots feminist organization in Israel and one of the leading voices of women’s rights in the country. Isha L’Isha is based in Haifa and works primarily in the northern part of Israel. However, many of our projects—past and present—focus on implementing system-wide solutions to problems of women. As a result, Isha L'Isha has a national influence, reaching target audiences throughout the country.
Our current projects include Women, Peace and Security, fighting against trafficking of women for the sex industry, achieving economic empowerment and advancement for women and, our most recent project, Women and Medical Technologies. We are active in raising issues onto the public agenda that affect the lives of women through conferences, public awareness campaigns, demonstrations, and coalition work. Isha L'Isha is a multi-cultural organization, and all of our activities reflect our devotion to achieving equality for all women and promoting peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jewish women.
Our mission is to advance the status of all women in Israel by:
empowering them and encouraging them to become leaders in their communities;
campaigning for full civil rights and equal opportunities for women;
opposing all forms of violence against women;
developing and encouraging new projects to address women's needs; and
promoting collaboration between women’s organizations.
Our vision is an Israeli society where all women—regardless of religion, ethnicity or cultural background—enjoy equal rights in all fields, including economic, social, and political; a society without gender-based violence; a society in which women's voices are heard, and in which women have full and equal access.
While our mission remains constant, over the years the focus of our activities has varied to include a range of projects and issues. Isha L'Isha is also a social change incubator. Over the years numerous Isha L'Isha projects have evolved into independent organizations, among them the Hotline for Battered Women, the Kayan Arab Feminist Center, and the Women's Economic Empowerment Association. Isha L'Isha also serves as a resource center that provides information to women over the phone and maintains a feminist library that serves the entire community.
Isha L'Isha has 25 years' experience in running grassroots projects and has earned a national reputation for professionalism and dedication to feminist causes. Our staff members and activists are frequently invited to participate in coalition and Parliamentary meetings to provide the input, ideas and know-how that result from our experience. We are repeatedly called upon to lecture and provide comments on social events shaping women’s daily lives.
For further information, ways you can support or contribute to our work, or to subscribe to our newsletter, please contact Khulud Khamis at

The other project I want to bring to your attention is from my old friend, Ann.
"Dear Friends,
Please come to the fund raiser for the Network of East-West Women described below or make a contribution. I'm afraid that the course about gender I have been teaching, mostly for East and Central European students in Krakow for the last sixteen years may die if we cannot raise scholarship money. The course has been madly successful, and its graduates have so often launched into a life of feminism that I can't bear the thought of abandoning this project. Please help."
For those of you in New York, Ann is referring to a "garage" sale in New York City, on January 20, 2008, 11am to 4 pm, at 167 Spring Street, Bell #3. For the rest of us, we can make a donation to NEWW (tax deductible)
Both these projects grow out of the history so many of us share--and reflect the wisdoms we gathered throughout the 60s and 70s--to create what is missing, to keep it alive. This is the other world below the gaze of conventional power, the world we dreamed and worked into being. The world which gave birth to the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Monday, January 7, 2008

After watching the caucus debates, I decided that we are in the "est" decades of America--one after another, the candidates from both sides kept reassuring who ever would listen that we are the biggest, the strongest, richest, smartest, the bravest, freeist, mightyist nation in the world, over and over again. And when on the heels of this triumphalism, some Republican candidates denied that any other country in the world had any reason to hate us, I had to laugh. Do we never hear our own words, do we never catch the steely glint of cause and effect, but mostly do we ever think deeper then deceiving platitudes of self congratulations.
I did rise to hope listening to Obama's victory speech; if the young and the old and the others vote in the Democrats, throwing off political despair, then oh gods, let the victors stand by their words -because the fall from promised grace will be too great, the bait and switch game cut too deeply into the psyches of the young for even the greatist, mightyist, richest democracy to survive.

On January 12th, Women in Black will be holding vigils to protest the siege of Gaza in cities around the world, including Melbourne and New York. In honor of these protests, I offer the words of Nurit Peled-Elhanan, "an Israeli peace activist at Hebrew University and among the founders of the Bereaved Famlies for Peace, an organization of Israeli and Palestinian family members who have lost loved ones to the conflict and who believe that peace, not vengeance is the way. When Nurit Peled-Elhanan's daughter, Smadari Elhanan, was the victim of a suicide bombing attack, she railed against the Israeli government policies which, she said, actually create terrorism, turning both her daughter and the Palestinians into victims. Her son is one of the founders of 'Combatants for Peace.'" (words of Sherry Gorelick who keeps so many of us listening and learning)
"In the State of Israel the Jewish Mother is Disappearing"
Nurit Peled-Elhanan--Women in Black 28/12/2007

I thank Women in Black for inviting me to speak here today. At this hour, I would like to dedicate my words to the children of the Gaza strip, who are withering slowly from hunger and disease, and to their mothers, who continue to bring children into the world, to feed and educate them wonderfully. The rate of literacy in the Gaza strip today stands at 92%--among the highest in the world, and all that in the most terrible concentration camp on earth, the residents of which are being strangled as the civilized world looks on in silence.
I wish we could celebrate today the conclusion of the activities of the Women in Black. But the truth is that their activities are becoming harder every day. In a state in which the gods of death and money rule, in a state where the economy is flourishing while the children are hungry, where the mythological heroes are fearless murderers, where the leaders openly and publicly admit that human life is not worth a fig in their eyes, in a state that sends its sons to be killed without even bothering to invent a reason for it, in a state that imprisons millions of human beings in ghettos and enclosures and kills them slowly, the persistent voice of Women in Black is the strongest conscientious voice of refusal. The Women in black are example and paragon of refusal to worship the god of death, refusal to obey the racist laws of the State of Israel. The action of Women in Black is in itself the rejection of racist education and the routine systematic poisoning of minds that sustains the schools, the media and he speeches of the nation's elected representatives.
In the State of Israel the Jewish mother is facing extinction. The Jewish mother of today is closed off in neighborhoods like Mea Shearim (an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem where most of the residents do not recognize the State of Israel and most of whom do not serve in the Israeli armed forces), there the mothers protect their children from the army, and outside those neighborhoods the voice of the Jewish mother is not heard except in organizations like Women in Black, which the society in general condemns and vilifies. The State of Israel condemns and vilifies the voice of the Jewish mother, which is the voice of compassion, tolerance and dialogue. The State of Israel does all it can to ensure that that voice will be muted and silenced forever.
Outside the peace organizations that are considered in the general discourse to be marginal sleepwalkers and extreme leftists, the voice of the Jewish mother ceased long ago to be a maternal voice. The Israeli mother as she now exists embodies a motherhood that is distorted, lost, confused, sick. The Jewish mothers like Yochabad, the mother of Moses; like Rachel who wept for her children and refused to be comforted; like Mother Courage, the mother who cannot find solace and healing in the death of the children of another mother, have been replaced by mothers who are nothing but golems that have turned on their creators and are more terrible and cruel then they are, who dedicate their wombs to the apartheid state and to the occupation army, who educate their children in uncompromising racism and are prepared to sacrifice the fruits of their bellies on the altar of their leaders' megalomania, greed and blood thirstiness. Those mothers are also to be found among the teachers and educators of our day. The only women who stand here week after week, in the rain and the sun, they are the one and only reminder that the voice of the other motherhood, the natural one, has not completely disappeared from the face of this wasteland that had once been the Holy Land.
Few are the parents in Israel who admit to themselves that the murders of children, the destroyers of houses, uprooters of olive groves and poisoners of wells are none other than their own beautiful sons and daughters, their children who have been educated in this place over the years in the school of hatred and racism. The children who have learned for 18 years to fear and despise the stranger, to always fear the neighbors, the gentiles, children who were brought up to fear Islam--a fear that prepares them to be brutal soldiers and disciples of mass murderers. And not only do those boys and girls kill and torment; they do so with the full support of Mom, with the full appreciation of Dad, encouraged by this entire nation, which does not so much as raise an eyebrow at the deaths of children, of old and disabled people. A nation that rallies around pilots who who do not feel a thing except a small bump on the when they drop bombs on entire families and crush them to death (the reference is to Israeli air force pilot and former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Haluts, who, when asked by a journalist shortly after the Israeli air force dropped a one-ton bomb on an apartment building in the Gaza strip killing several civilians,what he felt as a pilot when he dropped a bomb, replied, 'I feel a slight bump on the wing when the bomb is released.'
In this hell in which we live, in the daily inferno under which stirs and grows the underground kingdom of dead children, the role of Women in Black, the mothers and grandmothers who stand at this Square (Paris Square in Jerusalem) and in similar squares all over the world, is to be the guardian of sane motherhood and to ensure that is voice is not silenced and does not disappear from the face of the earth. To remind a world that has lost its human image that we were all made in His image, consistently and tirelessly to say that still, despite the Apartheid Wall, despite the cruel siege of Gaza, despite the wars without cause, and in the face of the fury of the rulers of this country, all of whom down to the last one are criminals against humanity, the voice of women and mothers, the voice of compassion, justice and hope--will not be silenced.

On January 12th, Women in Black vigils will be held in cities around the world. Find one and stand for another world.

Sometimes my body becomes an Australian body; for just brief moments, in the heat of this summer, I let my hips go loose, and I relax into the scene before me--the surroundings of Victoria Market with its huge sheds of family produce stalls, speciality kiosks of long standing, like Dianna's Hot Dips with its salamis, cheeses, marinated octopus and eggplant, small red peppers stuffed with goat cheese. The women look down at us from their stalls, customers who have been returning for their weekly treats for years raise their arms to collect their carefully wrapped aromatic purchases, the meat markets with slabs of lamb and cow and pig, smelling of blood, butchers standing in the packed walk ways, aprons stained with their trade, yelling at the top of their lungs--cheap, cheap, 4 kilos of mince, scotch fillet at prices you wouldn't believe-- particularly if it's close to the end of the trading day--the streams of shoppers, pushing their own Vic Market trolleys or laden down with their green bags, flow around the burly men trying to make a last minute sale; the fish stalls, barrimundi, flake, whole fish snapped up by shoppers planning a BBQ and always, the huge tiger prawns, squid tubes and bay scallops and our oysters-we treat ourselves to a dozen newly shucked oysters and find a quiet spot away from the rivers of shoppers and reverently, tilt our heads back and taste the Northern seas.

I was walking alone past the Andean folk singers who always play their national flute music on a gathering space in the footpath, their brightly colored serapes caught in the bright morning light, their Cd's displayed on the ground before them, week after week, people flock to hear their rhythms before plunging into the cool sheds, children darting forward to toss coins into their open guitar cases, their music filled the air on my morning and I stood, hearing, wondering as I always do, what brought these men and women to this footpath, to this continent so far from their mountain homes. As my body moves, I realize this sound, this scene has become familiar to me, I raise my eyes to the city around me, and I relax in my appreciation of the funky, surprising and at times, gracious, architecture of Melbourne, its 19th century lane ways, lined with cafes, and its new Federation Square, across from its old Flinders Station Victorian train station with its fabled clock. For a few moments, I am of this place, just the way I was of Broadway, a New York gal from the old school unimpressed with the new wealth flooding the old streets.
I remember the first time La Professora took me to Vic's market, the two camels sitting on old rugs to save their shins, waiting to take children on a slow tight walk around the marketplace, how unsurprised I was by the sight so Eastern, so marked by trade routes. The heat and the cries of goods for sale and the different light, camels in the marketplace, the camels who carried their Afghan owners into the vast unknown Australian desert in the early years of the 20th century and who now roam free amidst the emu and the kangas of the interior. If we change places and survive the move, we become time roamers, walking on the grit of another continent's history.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

When one makes lists, like I did of those who have fallen to assassins' bullets, foolish things can be implied. Bhutto was no saint, and her PPP is far from a democratic ideal--but still, I had grown accustomed to her voice, to her sensual face, her carefully aligned head scarf, to the adoring older women who seemed to accompany her every where and even to her vanity. No one should leave this world in a puff of smoke created by dissension. And then I saw the eyes of Condoleeza Rice on the Lehrer Report, where I see my American news, and thought I saw sorrow, tiredness, perhaps the thought of what have I done, it all seemed so easy, to push this woman, a woman like me, who puts herself in men-held spaces, who likes to hold power in her carefully manicured hands, who like me, in meetings where the fate of the world is being discussed, always sits demurely, with legs in proper positions, so no flash of flesh will interrupt the discourse of control, what I have done at my boss' bidding, to help seduce this woman to return to her death, oh just another political maneuver, we have done so many, and sometimes we get caught--but that is only in the pages of newspapers--I fly in and I fly out, I leave the demands, both hidden and spoken, on the table and get back on my jet, serving my belief, serving the Chief of State, a small man, yes, but I can live with what I have to do--not like Colin who could not swallow after a while. A puff of smoke and this woman, so unlike me, so like me in her public face, composed, well done up, this woman is blown off the face of the earth. It was just a ploy, it was just a foreign policy scheme and we needed something, it's all falling apart, and that's my job, to push at the cracks, to carry on my well groomed back, the latest device of saving face even if its creates mayhem--but this woman, whose voice still rings in my ear, this woman who somehow thought she was heads and shoulders above the fractured men, this woman with whom I laughed as I so gently shoved, his woman to whom I promised just enough, had her half her head blown off. Like me, that head, so filled with unusual education for a woman, so they say, blown off, dust to dust and I look with tired eyes out on the Washington world, speak in a strained voice about our next move in the region and I wonder, when my time here is done, will be I able to swallow, to think, to play my beloved sonatas, to touch another body and not see her face, sheared from all her life.

I write in a new year, for some, of life. And today the searing heat has withdrawn back to its desert lair, and a cool breeze brings an aching beauty. My Professora has long returned from her journey to Goa and Mumbai, and there I was waiting for her at 6 in the morning, waiting at the waist high barrier facing the international arrival doors at Melbourne's International airport. A particular Australian ritual, I always feel this is, waiting for the landing of the big planes from London, Shanghai, Singapore, Malaysia, Beijing. Friends and lovers, children with balloons sitting on their fathers' shoulders, all looking up at the board of arrivals, and then settling in for the long wait as their expected one makes her way through customs, baggage retrieval. Four doors slide open first slowly as the first class passengers make their way through, perhaps looking a little less tired then the others to follow. For close to 21 hours most of the passengers have been sitting in cramped seats, breathing stale air, pushing the little plane on the seat screen in front of them over the international date line, through the Pacific skies. We do not know out of which door our expected one will come and so we watch each, heads turning, reunion dramas picking up speed. Young families with new babies, grandparents reaching over the barricade to touch their grandchild for the first time, children too impatient to wait for their parents to push the over laden baggage trolleys run ahead, stretching their legs and lungs on this their firm ground. This is no five hour Paris to New York trip, this is the arrival of the modern day clipper ships of the air--the big bellied Quantas life lines of Australia. I am pushed against the barrier, straining to catch sight of La Professora's hennaed head and after throngs have pushed through, I see her coming through the left hand door, and I squeal my delight like all the rest, she has made it home, she has endured. I push my way out to give someone else the room to wait and quickly get to her as she emerges into the main cavern of the airport. We run towards each other, and laughing, give each other a big wonderful lesbian kiss. She is tired, but she is home.