Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Scarred by that early betrayal of conflicting desires, I was never tempted again until in my 68th year, when I accompanied La Professora into a home furnishing emporium here in Melbourne so she could pick out book shelves and desks for our study back at 4 Fitzgibbon. She has all the money now, my American teacher's pension fastly losing spending power and doctors' bills taking the rest, so I am a mere bystander as La Professora so kindly upgrades our home. As she bent over blueprints with a nice young man, I wandered about the place, wanting to take a closer look at the paperback books it was using for display purposes only to show off its various wood particle shelving. I was enjoying seeing old friend detective writers when I came across a yellow and blue book with the words, Courage Classics, on its side--I raised my eyes to look closer and there it was, "Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson." For display purposes only. How could I leave that poet, so far from her New England home, so needing of human touch, so rich in her interrupted lines, as mere book shelf dressing. As La Professora negotiated a hefty fee, I simply took Emily, holding her in my arms, and left the store. She now sits next between May Swenson and Auden. It all made perfect sense to me.
And then the other night, La Professora decided she wanted to go to a home renovating workshop in St Kilda. We arrived early on a dark cold night and took our seats in the waiting area where tea and coffee were being served, which my darling scorned in favour of a glass of house red, and platefuls of cookies that were too delicious to resist. I asked the waitress if they could be purchased and she said no, so before we left the lounge, I did something I had learned from Ms Hampton, a dear friend who always made the most of what was available, I simply wrapped a handful of the contraband in a napkin and slipped it into my bag. Once inside the lecture hall, I dozed a little as the speaker talked about large sums of money and property, property. On the way out, I noticed a jarful of blue plastic ballpoint pens; one quick grab and a handful went into the bag. I was beginning to see a connection here--anytime large sums of money are being discussed, I immediately avail myself of what ever is free, or at least, under valued.
We ended the night with a chicken soup and stuffed cabbage dinner at the Scheherazade Cafe on Eckland Street, now for those among you who do not know the realm of the bay side of Melbourne, I will tell you that once Eckland street was the eating, talking place of many European Jews who had fled to Melbourne and this cafe so sadly soon to close was a favorite gathering spot, so think a mix of the Lower East Side and Coney Island. Alix was waiting for us and we caught up as we delighted in the specials and potato salad. Slices of dark pumpernickel caught my eye. Not easy to find in our part of town. As we payed the bill and prepared to leave, I used the old napkin trick again and departed with several slices of this so homey bread in my bag. For one instant I was back in the 60s in the old Ratner's on Second Avenue where I and my other student friends would pretend we were going to have a meal we could not really afford and sit just long enough to kidnap a few of the bagels that garnished every table. Bread in the bag, poetry in the bag, cookies in the bag and finally those blue pens. How can I explain this relapse into antisocial behaviour? Riding back across town, the palm trees of St Kilda growing more distant, La Professora who had seen it all, said "Joan, what have I turned you into?" I looked out at the still foreign landscape, a 68 year old petty thief, my contraband warm across my lap.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
With a cover photograph by Tee Corrine, the Hebrew translation of my selected works: Literal translation of the Hebrew: "Forbidden Regions: Lust, Body and Stories of Resistance"
Official English title: "Restricted Countries and Fragile Bodies: Selected Writings of Joan Nestle
Publisher: Pardes Publishers, 30 Massada St., POB 45885, Haifa, israel 31458
Don't you hate it when you accept an invitation to a wedding or a bar mitzvah, and then remember that you have tickets for something that same night?...
Well, after my wife and I purchased tickets to this evening's screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, we realized that we had also accepted an invitation to a bar/bat mitzvah celebration. You know, family friends from the U. S. on a bar/bat mitzvah tour...So my wife, who is native Israeli, went to the Cintematheque, and I, the native American, went to the Bar/Bat Mitvah event.
Geographically, we were ten minutes walking-distance from each other. Psychologically we were in different worlds.
I was in the world or country that I shall call 'Jisrael'--Jewish Israel. Jisrael is a country that exists in the consciousness of Jews living outside of Israel, and those Anglos who come to live here. It is the Israel of the English-speaking subculture in Jerusalem, Raanana, Beit Shemesh...In Jisrael, Hebrew is spoken, if at all, with an Amercan accent. Most of the inhabitants of Jisrael nowadays are orthodox. In Jisrael, nobody is surprised when the bar and bat mitzvah from
America give speeches celebrating their heroes, King David and Gloda Meir. Everybody expects them to profess their love for Israel and Eretz Israel, and their father to speak with that American religious-zionist twinge of guilt for living in Suburban Maryland and not here.....
Most importantly, in Jisrael the only Arabs are street cleaners, construction workers or terrorists. They aren't doctors, lawyers, teachers or professionals. They aren't the people you socialize with. My wife, ten minutes away, was in the county of Israel. She was quite literally sitting in Gehenna, since the Jerusalem Cinematheque is in the valley identified by archaeologists as Gei Ben Himmon, the Gehenna of the New Testament... but emotionally she was sitting in another Gehenna, because she was watching ten short films on Jerusalem, sponsored by the Jerusalem NGO, Ir Amin.
While I was singing Hava Nagila and Oseh Shalom Bimromav, my wife was seeing films about four Palestinian brothers who support their families by selling chewing gum to Jewish motorists at intersections. She saw a short film about Sai al-Haradin, who wakes at the crack of dawn each day to embark upon a journey of several hours to get to al-Quds university in Abu Dis--a ten minute walk away from his refugee camp. Or a documentary by a Palestinian film student about how an Arab cab driver took into his home a Jewish woman with her family after they had been evicted from their flat.
The most powerful film was about the hideous 'creatures' that for years have terrorized Palestinians, destroying their homes, building walls around and through their lands and making life miserable for them. Last week, for the first time, the same creatures turned against the Jews. I refer, of course, to the Caterpillar bulldozers.
The films were not, on the whole, heavy-handed or propogandistic. There were no films about Israeli soldiers beating up Palestinian civilians or about suicide bombers or about Shin Bet infiltrators. The emphasis was on how normal people abnormal lives in the shrinking Gehenna that is Palestinian Jerusalem.
What would the Jews from Jisrael had felt had they attended the film screening? Some would have been deeply affected and deeply perplexed. Others would have pointed fingers at the Palestinians and would absolve the Israeli Jews of responsibility. But moat would have great difficulty recognizing Israel because of the Jisrael they had created.
What room was there for hope? Only this--the Jerusalem movie theater was filled with Jews and Palestinians, speaking to each other, relating to each other, talking about their experiences. My wife could not remember ever attending any event in Israel where Palestinians and Israeli Jews mingled freely, on the same footing. It gave her some hope for Israel.
As for Jisrael--well, I lost hope for that 'imagined country' a long time ago."
When Australian Jews here say to me in a whisper, "you know, you really should not say anything about Isrsael--you don't live there," I say, yes, as an American Jew I do live there--in so many symbolic and political ways. I thank the man who wrote these words, the woman who forwarded them to my and you for listening; now to my bed.
Monday, July 14, 2008
E-mail, from Alex Nissen, Monday, July 14, 2008, 5:59
Well I guess it's time to write just a short note on my trip to Israel, mainly because I think it's important for people to know the truth. This trip has been full of meeting people who Israel would define as the enemy. Something I don't really care about. It has also had a profound effect
on the way I see things and as a result of my experience this time I have changed. I often hear many stories about how badly Israeli soldiers behave so this time like so many times before I went to a demonstration in a small Palestinian village called Nil and of course met many Palestinians who wanted to tell me their story.
The demonstration was against the confiscation of their land to build a wall right through the middle of the village. Before we started the demonstration, we all sat down and were warned about what would happen and what we should do in case of injury. Instructions were move in either groups or 2 or 3 people so if someone gets wounded they are not alone. Carry and onion or alcohol against the tear gas. Look up to see where they are shooting the sound grenades and tear gas so you don't get hit in the head. If tear gas explodes next to you, don't panic, look where the wind is blowing and move in the opposite direction. There were many more instructions that I won't go into now.
So with all this information, off I went with everyone else and a strong feeling that things had changed and that this was not going to be in any way a safe demonstration. I knew from the stories of other people what to expect but I had to witness was going on. There is power in witnessing what happens.
So as we reach the hill, we see the soldiers standing in small groups spread out on the hill top opposite us. And then without any warning, they started to shoot at us, first sound grenades, then tear gas. I watched in horror as they stated shooting and remembered to look up at where things were landing. Tear gas sends smoke clouds so you know to run in a different direction. 3 people were wounded, a Palestinian man got hit in the head by a tear gas.
I looked at the soldiers form a distance and watched them aim at us just standing there doing nothing, and I could not believe what was going on. People scattered in different directions. I tried to talk to the soldiers from a distance as I couldn't get close to them, but really it was a waste of time and energy.
As we began to leave, they fired 6 tear gas canisters in our direction. I looked up and saw that they landed a distance from where I was was and then did not see any smoke. As we were leaving a heavy cloud of gas came over us, there was no warning, there was no smoke, the Palestinian man told me to start running up the hill, but I could not run, I could not breath, my eyes, mouth and face were on fire. I was trying not to move fast because I did not want to breath in the poison gas...my mouth was full of gas and I kept trying to spit out the disgusting taste--it's hard to move when you are struggling to breath.
We eventually got out and I have to say that with great sadness I left behind Palestinian people who do not have the luxury of escaping this violence perpetrated by the Israeli army...every week it's the same story, innocent people abused by stupid politics.
I don't know how I got home, but I do know that what I witnessed and felt has changed me forever.
Alex Nissen, Women in Black"
Gas! in the nose, in the mouth. How powerless I feel here. Only these words for now. Let me tall you about Alex--shorter then me, about five feet tall, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Hebrew speaker, who spent many years in Haifa and helped begin Women in Black there. Alex with her sometimes purple hair always believes she can charm hard men into reasonable human beings like the security man hired by the Jewish community here who took our names and address at one of the Women in Black vigils, she stands in front of huge burly men and gets them to smile, to see a human being instead of an enemy. Alex who always has hope that all people really want is to live in peace. Soon I will hold Alex in my arms and find out what has shifted in her heart--but this is what is happening behind every wall, behind every policed difference, bodies are broken and our own visions of human warmth are turned to stone. The anonymity of it all--that is what the police, the soldiers, the governments count on, tell me one name of one Iraqi citizen killed in the war in our name, tell me one name of one Palestinian in an Israeli prison for ten years, one Palestinian fallen in the dust of her own town, her own home. Americans hardly know the names of our own children lying in the dust--we are not even allowed to see their coffins. I ask anyone who reads this journal, please tell Alex's story, tell your friends, your organizations--at least let us bear witness and let us call for a movement where thousands of Jews and others take to the streets demanding the end to military brutality behind closed doors, behind stone walls, behind ignorance and fear, behind dictated hatreds. Feminists, queers, progressives, civil rights activists, my old lovers, new friends--please pay attention.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Monday, July 7, 2008
"'I realized,' said Mohammed," he was after the award stipend for the Martha Gellhorn Prize. I told him I didn't have it with me. 'You are lying,' he said. I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The man called Avri ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: "Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me down on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said, 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied, "They are gifts for the people I love.' He said, 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?'
"As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing hard into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."
The next morning waiting for me on this small screen was a forwarded article from Sherry Gorelick in New York City sent out by Jewish Peace News. Written by John Pilger and titled, "From Triumph to Torture,"it tells what awaited Mohammed Omer, a prize winning young Palestinian journalist who lives and reports regularly from Gaza, when he returned to Israel from a celebration of his work in London. At the Allenby Bridge crossing he had been seized by eight Shin Bet soldiers while his Dutch escort waited for him to leave the border building. The only way Mohammed was able to leave was in an ambulance.
"An ambulance was called and told to take Mohammed to a hospital, but only after he had signed a statement indemnifying the Israelis from his suffering in their custody. The Palestinian medic refused, courageously, and said he would contact the Dutch embassy escort. Alarmed, the Israelis let the ambulance go." (John Pilger, The Guardian, Wednesday July 2, 2008)
Over and over, I receive messages of enforced deprivation--two Arab Israeli women film makers not allowed back into the country to make a documentary about daily life in Gaza,
leading international peace activists on their way to Gaza not allowed into the county,journalists not allowed into Gaza--and I think again of how much that day with Gila meant when she took us over the line, literally and figuratively, to see Palestinian towns, to buy a bottle of water from an almost empty shop, the Palestinian shop owner refusing payment after reading the Arabic on our women in Black t-shirts, of the afternoon lunch we had with Hannah, Dalia and Haya in the Palestinian quarter of old Haifa, of how much the survival of our human connection relies on seeing with our eyes, hearing words with our own ears, speaking with our own tongues across militarized borders, and if we cannot, reading the words of those kept from us, knowing the names of the invisible, refusing to draw the curtains of our hearts over the daily crushing of human joy. Armies, corporations, governments speak with huge gestures, encased in power and the fear of losing it--I plead with my friends, those whom I know and those who know me only through reading my words--if you go to Israel, take one afternoon, one hour and cross a border, speak with someone who is kept from you, someone you are told to fear, refuse not to see, hear or speak. These bodies as Duboise said carry the themes of our times, our desires and our illnesses, our histories, how soft they are in duress, the places of desire the softest of all, the hanging scrotum ,the falling breast--my mother's hand on my forehead in those rare times when she was there, trying to pull out the fever, let us honor our caring hands and touch through walls. Torture is the end of our humanity.
To sign a petition against Israel's press censorship, go to Http://mediausa.net/wrmea/petition/
Sunday, July 6, 2008
My name is Lepa Mladjenovic, and I am a feminist lesbian from Belgrade, Serbia. I've been wanting to write to you for some time. I think the first time I thought of it was a couple of years ago, around the war in Bosnia, and I was e-mailing with Women in Black from Israel--Haya Shalom, Gila Svirsky, and I saw your name on one e-mail listing...Now I have A Fragile Union on my pillow and I must write. So first I ask you how are you, and I send my greetings that I have entered in your home, and then I wish to let you know that you are present in me sometimes, in some other lesbians in Belgrade and then in this region as well.
I remember that the first time I read from you was "My Mother Liked to Fuck," it was around 1988, and I was only becoming a lesbian with identity and I read that, and it was a shock to all my senses...I brought "A Restricted Country" many times and gave it to many. Particularly, it was during the Bosnian war time that I needed to read and reread you. From the beginning of wars in this region from 91 on, I felt that I have to invent Ten Thousand ways to let my lesbian desire breath. At some moments during the last 8 years, it was not easy for me to put into words how do I feel when making love with a woman and in the background there is a radio with the news of the war. Killed or expelled or other Fascist acts. In my room, I would not be able to switch off the news, because I thought respect to the killed I will show by not switching off the radio...I was learning lesbian language through your words: "Hundreds and thousands of us held our passions close as we created public beauty in our countries."
Dear comrade Joan,
I send you tender regards,
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
On Thursday, the 23rd of June in the Cinematique Theater in Jerusalem a group of women launched their Hebrew translation of my work and told their own stories of desire and resistance. How can a writer thank enough all those who labor over her words to bring them to life in another tongue.