Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Archives and Destiny

The rain falls on this Thursday morning--we have had the driest April in 11 years--I say "we" loosely since I am not of this history, a new comer to its weather worries, to all its national concerns. I come not as an Australian, but as a citizen of the world who has the opportunity to learn different realities of daily life--the crowing of our neighbor's chooks, the weekly rolling out of the garbage bins, garbage neatly sorted; shopping on Sydney Road, the Muslim heart of Melbourne; the resonances of other national holidays, ANZAC day with its heart on the shores of a Turkish town, where Australian "diggers," young military men, were sent to meet their death, the Queens Birthday, holidays marked by a living link to the colonial past and the always over riding concern with the level of water in the dams. I have learned to read the weather map with an Australian eye, or at least a Victorian one, to see the sweep of clouds from Adelaide swoop low over the tip and most times, pass us by on its way to Tasmania, but today, the sky stays gray, the temperature drops and rain falls. Here I live with migrant neighbors and their sometimes sad acceptance of displacement, the graying photographs on dressers of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers from the old country, looking sternly out at my neighbors, women's hair pulled tight, men with battered hats, their faces daily icons of sacrificial journeys. "What can you do?" says Anna, her hand resting on top of the low wall between us.

I have spent the last few days archiving the Women in Black papers that Marg had carefully stored in an old filing cabinet in her shed. As in other times, this handling of worn papers brings me peace when my body cannot do very much else. My knee, crushed when I was run over by a truck in 1995, gave way the other night. When morning came, Di called an ambulance and we spent the day in the Epworth emergency room--the knee gave way in the middle of the night as I made my way to the bathroom and I thought, I have entered the time of life when the body has its own conversations with the night, and you wait for sunlight to bring the hope of strategies of repair--so now I sit and have my work to do, to bring honor to the women who since the late 1980s organized campaigns for Women In Black, who stood vigil and wrote petitions and questioned members of parliament. Seven folders of documents to be inventoried, described, touched and then, a reunion of these women and they will see the markings of their refusal of destinies. That is how I see the archives of those who fall below the gaze of national powers--the queers, the peace makers, the migrants, the workers--the refusal of destinies. Women in Black has attempted to intervene in the militaristic policies of over 50 countries, and it all began in Haifa in 1988--Jewish and Palestinian women refusing the destiny of occupation. Nations spend millions of dollars on their war museums, on Presidential archives, on the historical collections of the forces of national power. Then I come to these pieces of paper, some with the hurriedly written notes of a meeting, with list of questions to be asked, the flyers handed out in the streets of Melbourne, of Sydney, flyers from Tel Aviv with the names of Palestinian women arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1991 who desperately need help for their children, for their families. These papers tell another story, delineate a different way to live in the world, announce that preserved memory of difference made visible is a lasting denial of destiny--there will always be war, they say and build temples to its Gods. There was no other way, they say. Believe what we tell you, they say. Hate who the nation hates, they say. This is the only way to be a citizen, to be a woman, to be a Jew. Oh, but the riches of resistance lie in the archives. I know that some women involved in Women in Black read this journal and I hope you will think about archiving, collecting, listing, all the markings of your involvement. Perhaps eventually there can be an international archives of Women in Black. Write me if you want to talk about this. Some times these days, it seems as if the forces of everlasting war have won the world, but our markings will be found by those who need them, our imagination of refusals.

30 April 2008
Dear Friends,
I received this message from International Women in Black. Elana is a great woman I met at the Women in Black Conference in Jerusalem--her comments are in italics and I am sending them as I received them. She is living in Jaffa, Israel.
...from Paula, Women in Black (Vienna)

Raided--Hebron Girls Orphange Sewing Workshop
Hebron: At 1:00 am this morning, April 30th, the Israeli Military raided the Hebron Girls' orphanage near the intersection of Salaam and Al Adel (Peace and Justice) Streets. Acting on orders issued by Major General Shemni, soldiers looted the workshop of all its sewing and processing machines, office equipment, rolls of cloth, finished clothing and supplies. CPT members documented, with still photos and video, approximately 40 Israeli soldiers emptying the workshop contents into 2 40 ft trucks. The estimated value of the physical material taken is $45,000 US. The cost in terms of the fear and terror instilled in the hearts of the little girls living above the workshop is much higher. How I hope the international community will finally take note of this enough to act against Major General Shemni (or whatever his name actually is) and those who agreed to participate in this abomination. Isn't it time for everyone to take a stand and choose more realistic sides? Either this kind of act is acceptable OR IT IS NOT! FOR SHAME! Please do what you can to support the children and raise your voice against this invasion. Elana)

You know, it will matter who said no, it will matter who risked homes of all sorts because they could no longer live with the abuses of power and the breaking of our human hearts.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to End the Journey

We have traveled with Dorothy Z. on her journey to Palestine and Israel and now she takes leave of that journey.
My Final Report...

"Hello, all--I wanted to send my final report of my recent trip to Israel/Palestine sooner then this, but the truth is that I was rather upset after I got back and it has taken me a month to distill my thoughts. I want t stress here that the trip was fascinating and I so admired the people in I/P who are doing SOMETHING, no matter on what level. Please keep this in mind as I continue:

The last day of the trip was the most upsetting for me. Two events. First: on our way to the airport we stopped off and saw a grantee in Lod. Opposite her office was a city-funded community center whose playground, we were told, was for Israeli Jewish children only, and that our informant had personally seen Palestinian children--that is, Arabs, children of Palestinian Israeli citizens--standing forlornly outside the locked gate of the playground unable to get in. I was so shocked that I actually shouted, "WHAT?" She explained that the community center was funded by the Absorption Ministry and served Ethiopian children and Russian children only and that city officials told her there wasn't enough money to hire the necessary staff to supervise a larger group of children, i.e. not enough money to include Arab children. So there we were, watching mostly Ethiopian children and a few Russian children playing, running, in our eyes an interracial group, but there were no Palestinian children playing. Mississippi or Lod? No Arabs need apply.

If this was not bad enough, we were again searched by 10 people in the Ben Gurion Airport (please note that we had already successfully passed through the x-ray machines), I had to remove my bra so that it could be thoroughly checked by hand (I am told this means I am now among the officially strip searched), it took again almost 3 hours with no answers to our many questions about why we were being searched, what was happening, etc. What's the problem, I asked over and over again. The 25-year old searcher said, "I have my orders." The fact that I am Jewish myself, that this occurred in a Jewish country and that we were being searched by a Jewish security person who said he had his "orders" without any comprehension on his part about the echoes of history, the ramifications of his remark--all of this was, as I said, excruciating. In fact, it has taken me exactly one month to fully get over it, if I ever get over it."
I had not realized that our short, only 12 day visit, to Israel, to our friends in Haifa, now almost a year ago, would focus my thinking so completely. Not in the way so many report back, not because I was finally in a Jewish homeland, but because I was in a land where broken histories lay every where, even in the places seen as victories. The huge King David Hotel in Jerusalem
once bathed in the blood of British officials, blown to pieces by the Israeli "freedom fighters," seemed so sad to me--its opulence, its promise of we are the West, we are the property owners here, was so blind in its marble whiteness. Such a short distance away lies the West Bank, a mere green line away, here the roads are clogged with traffic, with throngs of too many people in too small a space, we slow down and I look out at a group of Palestinian children waiting enthusiastically for the old man with the Pomegranate juice vessel strapped to his back so as he bends over his head pours out the rich red sweetness of the fruit of his land. How ownership falls before the eyes of yearning children. But when history grabbed me in its talons was as I stood in the Palestinian neighborhood of Haifa, that which has been allowed to remain, I stood still looking up into the hot sky at the stone houses with their insides hanging over the street, Hannah explained that the dwellers seldom got permission to add on much needed rooms so living rooms hung on crumbling balconies, beds jutted out over the street , marooned on cement buttresses. I felt a vertigo, I was standing still but deprivation swirled around me, so mean spirited it all seemed, and then I was caught up and carried into the words I have been pouring out over all your heads. May my feet never touch the ground again, the ground of certainties, of the supremacy of one historical narrative over another, so seductive because it seems to promise home.

"Have you never noticed how testimony falters under interrogation?" (Michelle De Kretser, "The Hamilton Case," 2003)

I will write an essay for my last book called "The Crises of Memory: Archives and the Jewish Self." Now I go to work on The Women in Black Australian Archives.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Only Comfort is Hard Knowing

A good friend here, a woman who broke the fall of my arrival in Melbourne with her brave quirky self, her offer of shared Jewish moxy and kindnesses too numerous to mention, said to me the other day, as the silence grew between us ,"you always blame Israel." I am sure others have thought that as well who read these pages. No, I said, I blame Britain and the UN for their early betrayals of a just settlement for the Palestinians and the new Israel, I blame now the United States for its manipulation of the sorrows of this region for its own power paradigms, I blame American Jews who exocitize Israel as their spiritual retirement home or as the symbolic metaphysical bandage for Jewish historical suffering. "Blame," a foolish word. My friend said, "well, we will just talk about every three months, we'll agree to disagree." No--because then I become complicit in the daily deaths, the daily lies, the daily strategies of Israel's national campaign as old as her beginnings to force Palestinians into extreme circumstance so when they retaliate, Israel can say, see ,we are the civilized ones, they are animals. I want my friend to read the new books coming out of the open archives--to see how the myths of underdog and poor pushed to the wall desperate Israel were created while in 1948 and 49, Palestinian village after village was razed to the ground, where was all the overwhelming Arab odds--not coming to the rescue of the murdered men and displaced women and children of Deir Yassan and over 500 other Palestinian villages--read "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" by Ilan Pappe--read these words: "As they [the Jewish Forces] burst into the village, the Jewish soldiers sprayed the houses with machine-gun fire, killing many of the inhabitants. The remaining villagers were then gathered in one place and murdered in cold blood, their bodies abused while a number of the women were raped and then killed." (Pappe, 90) On page after page, Pappe tells us the names of the destroyed villages, often those who had worked out a peace in their own ways with the history developing around them were treated the harshest--no provocation was the greatest threat to Israel's Plan Dalet, the systematic plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their own land that began before the other "heroic" 1948 war.

While I was reading this book, I listened to a discussion about contested national memory, the struggle between Turkish collective memory and the massacre of the Armenians. Sometime, the Israeli national memory will have to come to terms with its own sickness, the memory that many of the soldiers of this new state killed in the name of revenge for the terrible sufferings of the Jewish people during the Holocaust--each Palestinian child killed was a ghost child for Jewish babies battered to death, each village destroyed by overwhelming Israeli force was a slash at the notion "they went to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter." Sickness poured over sickness, murders in the name of murders, not so easily reduced to the ravages of revenge--and the world watched as a new nation sprang up with its feet drenched in blood and a people's despair, in a new language of dehumanization--"The fate of a village was sealed when the order said either to 'le-tahr,' to cleanse, meaning leaving the houses intact but expelling the people or 'le-hashmid,'`to destroy, meaning dynamite the houses after the expulsion of the people and lay mines in the rubble to prevent their return." ( Pappe, 138) The Hebrew words used to label the military actions often meant "to purify," ( tihur) to cleanse the land of the unwanted Arab. Of course racism was part of this version of the Zionist undertaking--it had to be. On what other basis do you expel a people different from yourselves from their homes. Their humanity is not as great as your own. Their hold on history is not as meaningful as your own, they lack imperative, you have national destiny. Just a few days ago, La Professora and I celebrated Passover with Jewish women friends here--and on our Seder plate was an olive, a suggestion from the Jewish Voice for Peace, to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian olive groves, the destroyed villages and for me it was to remember on this day when the story of history is the consuming ritual, the words used by the Irgun and the Hagana in their Operation Hametz (leaven), the cleansing of the Haifa area in 1948. (Pappe, 139) Here in this word I thought so innocent as I would hold up the plate of matzohs year after year cleansed of the leavened bread, an act of historical validity, a cleansing of oppression from our homes, now forever lives for me in this military euphemism, the lives of another people, a people compared to trash, to throw aways, to that which stains and makes impure the holy moment--the Palestinians of Haifa. Before I leave this world this is a knowledge I must know--as a Jew, as a woman, as a queer. There is no safety from the grotesqueries of history, from the emotional blastings of national failures--I never knew the names of the Palestinian villages that lay beneath the shopping malls and resorts, when I gave money as so many of us did to plant a tree in Israel, I did not know that these trees were necessary to cover up the markings of destroyed towns--their names--Beit Dajan, Kfar Ana, Abbasiyya, Yahudiyya, Saffuriyya, Khayriyya, Salama, Yazur, Kabri, Umm, al-Faraj, Nahr .................
over 500 unknown to us towns, centers of human life, gone so another history would take root.
This is Jewish knowledge brought to us by a Jewish thinker, Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and senior lecturer of Political Science at Haifa University, director of the research Institute for Peace at Givat Haiviva, and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies, Haifa. All I ask is that you read this book; I know the failures on the other side, I know the hatred that flourishes in the refugee camps of Lebanon and in the prison known as Gaza--but they do not act on behalf of world Jews, they do not call themselves the homeland of the Jews. Memory will be the final homeland--I say Kaddish for the people who were seen as not human in the blood rush of the nationalist Zionist champions and Kaddish for the spirits of us all who still are reeling from the Nazi desire to wipe Jews from the face of the earth--no, my friend, I stand with the other Israel, those who strive to come to terms with memory, with the forging of another land of Israel and Palestine, these are the bravest of the brave, and I will not agree to disagree, I will take into my memory all the names in a language strange to me, all the lost places and burning pieces of home and remember and keep learning as the doors of the archives open and keep telling the fuller story of how were liberated, how we failed and how we keep struggling for a home in history.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

Books, I want to tell you about books that have carried me on their pages to the near past, to the far past, to ceremonial and most real time, but perhaps it is the women I want you to meet who wrote these books and the lands they have traversed, the refusals they have made and the languages they have found and given to us. This desire is an old one, but the crises in the Middle East and my growing understanding of it all, pushes all else off my desk. Still when I enter our study late at night I see their thickness, these books, and they are waiting for their time. First there is Alexis Wright and her world wonder, Carpentaria. Here on her opening pages, I rode the back of the mighty serpent who carved worlds out of the mud flats of the Gulf of Carpentaria and I a child of the Bronx, could feel the stiff sucking mud being pushed and pulled into a town, a town called Desperance, a town that was pulled apart by its own histories, by the clash of clans and dreams of what is life. "Nothing but no good was coming out of puerile dreams of stone walls, big locked gates, barred windows, barbed wire rolled around the top to lock out the menace of the black demon." (59) Find this book and read it, live it and you will hear the voice of one Australia, the old one, the Pricklebush mob and its old man of the sea, Normal Phantom and his wayward son, Will Phantam, the woman, Angel Day, the head spring of a people's strength who finds treasures in the trash heaps of white Desperance. The old priest who tries to keep faith with his god and all the others he must honor...."although the words he uttered through a mouthful of dirt were Irish jewels best left lying on the little known roads of the outback." (190)
I will write a more complete piece about this and the other books I want to bring to your attention--whoever you are--but I am tired now--just know that Wright, a member of the Waanyi nation of the Southern highlands of the this very gulf she brings into being on these pages, is a poet of the highest order, a storyteller whose language and way of telling is the world she is speaking--I am a skeptic of the highest order, of posed traditionalisms, of feigned dreaming, but Wright's language, her rhythms, her knife-like insights, beautiful and harsh, full of hope and fate, wanderings and failures, worn out cars and revived dreams in the mouth of characters like Big Mozzie Fishman, arriving in to town after epic journeys in fading cars, his entourage young men filled with a yearning too big for their rejections, Elias, the man from the sea, like a different kind of Venus, the comings and goings, Ulysses like, the characters travel on all the kinds of highways that can be imagined, red dirt roads, underwater highways, aerial swoops, internal musings and dead to the world swoons, but they tell us the stories of their restless searchings, missed encounters, moments of glory in a darkening sea.

I have been reading for most of my adult years, now approaching 68 years give ten back for when I did not know that letters were highways-- this book kept passing others in its wake, Faulkner, Joyce, Marquez--watched and bowed their heads. The language of the story, the language of the writer's heart telling in the language flow of a people, all she knows about the human journey in this hot, watery, perplexed, enchanted and doomed, part of the world. Hope and fate all churned together by the passage of the mighty mud serpent who fears no obstacle but sees the failings, who has made a world in his image, full of power and love and the ever needful quest.

Alexis Wright, "Carpentaria," The Writing and Research Group of the University of Western Sydney, 2006

Others still to come:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Half of a Yellow Sun," Fourth Estate, 2006.

Matthew Condon, "The Trout Opera, " Vintage Books, 2007

Michelle de Kretser, "The Lost Dog," Allen and Unwin, 2007

and then, the special moment of a friend's book:

Eva Kollisch, "The Ground Under My Feet," H/s editions, 2007 (to be featured on my website)

and the book that I am reading now:

Ilan Pappe, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," One World, 2006, and it will change the meaning of Passover for me forever or until my little life is done.

Thank you for reading.
(My computer crashed last week and I still can't get into my blog so I must write when I can.)

A Friend Hears

Jeanineo--how wonderful you have found me--Di and Cello send their love--how precious you and Marina are to us--let my words always find you, no matter the continents between, you who are the artist of the land in all its contours, that first showing of your work when the new-old world lay between us, the woman land of your making reaching from the mountain tops of head to the peninusula of feet, and we all walked around her, bending low over mountains to peer into her red tipped volcanoes. Such a moment in New Jersey.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wild Words

We lived with weather wildness here yesterday--huge winds sweeping through Melbourne, bending the trees until their top branches swept the ground, crashing boats against rocks, a hurricane--which is not what happens here--a cyclone of wind that caught up the dry red earth and painted whole communities the red of Uluru. Then a bruised sky, yellow and purple, and sheets of cold rain. A world wide pattern I see when I watch the SBS international news, sweeping reds and blues curving across the faces of nations, bringing calamities of rain and wind to already struggling people clinging to the fragile solid places of their lives. Always Katrina's people will live in me, and the cold stupidity, the cold bigotries, that allowed a flood to remove a people. This President who thinks fighting in Afghanistan is a "romantic" thing to do, the wounds of war that leave bodies turned inside out, young men and women, soldiers and civilians, encased in pain. How, how, how could we have let it come to this, how, how, how did "democracy" become what Bush has made it. A black minister tells the truths about many lives in his country and he is attacked for not being grateful, for not being American. They destroy and then they rule out anger. Survivors of Katrina finally given mobile homes to live in that are heavy with poisons, New Orleans tearing down its public housing and replacing it with privatised town houses that "will have a strict rule of access about who can live here." We are not allowed to say what is clear--New Orleans is being cleansed of poor people. What a tragic love affair, unfettered capitalism and an imperial stupid President and his minions -stupid of mind and heart--tragic for us, for the world, for the Middle East. And the most frightening thing of all is the fragility of the national psyche, a fearful tenderness of self image--so anger at racism, at the suffering of so many and the runaway wealth of the few, at the terrible loss of life in Iraq, losses that our country would not even allow to be publicly counted, the thousands of Iraqi civilians whom we have sacrificed to our national certainties of destiny for others, how to pound our questions into the dead eyed Cheneys--the winds are howling, carrying the red drenched bits of human misery around the globe and the answer of some is to build higher walls, stronger gates, more prisons, greater police forces, mightier armies with heavier bombs, ever increasing the crescendo of us and them--all the storms of nature are a whisper in the face of our torrents of calculated brutalities.