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.

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