Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The State and Memory

Yesterday early in the gray Winter morning here, I sat in the smallest theater in the Nova, the movie house in Carlton that shows international films, along with 8 other gray haired people to see the Polish film, Katyn. As the curtain lifted, history descended on us and I have been in its grip ever since. History and how the state fears memory, how it struggles to own memory, how unreconciled shame is most deadly when joined to the power of an unchallenged State. The opening image: two sets of civilians running towards each other, battered suitcases in hand, over an old wooden bridge, one panicked crowd warning the others of the terrors behind them--the Russians are coming, scream the frightened masses trying to escape out of Poland, the Germans are coming, warn the approaching others, trying to flee into Poland, and in the middle of it all is a family dog tied to a bridge railing, unable to move in any direction and crying for release as the humans run by him.

Since writing these few words, I have availed myself of this immediate source of knowledge that lies under my fingertips--Andrzej Wajda, in his 80s now, the famous Polish director, walks into the Katyn forest of history, the site of the 1940 mass murder of of thousands of Polish military officers, intellectuals and civilian prisoners by Stalin's occupying forces. Occupation, state control over the stories that can be told of disowned brutalities, the refusal of some to sign on to the lies at the cost of their lives--a patriotic myth perhaps--but as I sat there all I could see were haunted, hunted civilians running through the map of the world, some waving shopping bags at tanks, some trying to quickly tap into their cell phones what the state police were doing to their friends as election despair fell into the streets, some marshaling their strength for one more uprising, against impossible odds, the general images of my time and the specific voice of one young man standing in the streets of Tehran, an actor by trade, saying "No not revolution, we want reforms, we want kindness, we want friendship with the world." Perhaps a blog is not the place to write at length about memory, about the decrees of the state demanding no coffins of fallen soldiers be shown, that allows no reporters or cameras into war zones, that wants to make mourning a historical catastrophe a crime against the state, all the disowned genocides that rend the past of its grief, in the name of national vanities. But the artists will tell the stories, the cultural workers who seize back from the denied past the trampled forest floor, the empty ghetto lane ways, the blood stained cell.
I live my every day now here--often a wanderer in strange streets--but more and more, as my body aches, and I read, read, I am many places at once--the images come to me--from friends like Dorothy forwarding a video of what the Palestinian workers, or people trying to be workers, have to go through every morning to get through the cages of control--and I stood at that checkpoint, I know the sound of the gates and locks and chains, I saw the old people waiting, waiting as young men with machine guns, checked and rechecked their papers, talking to each other, not even seeing the tired woman in front of them. Dr Ruchama Marton, the Founder of Physicians for Human Rights--Israel, has made us all part of the workers' endless mornings--"Palestinian workers at the privatized IRTACH gate"--embedded in YouTube --http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=914x3Z_7gvY htttp://www.leftinhebrew.org./LIH/video.asp?p=86&L=english, filmed and edited by Eran Torbiner --privatized dehumanization--and the company gets paid for it!
A little kindness the young man asks for, the valuing of life for life. Let me work, let me live, let me feed my children. All our children.
I want to add something here--I know some of my old friends are up set with me for my constant writing about the injustices, the racism that is at the heart of the Israeli occupation and its treatment of its own non-Jewish citizens. I have explained elsewhere that never do I feel more Jewish then when I am challenging the silence in the forest about what goes on every day in the occupied territories and in Gaza, but I know the other side as well. Because I stand in the streets once a month with Women in Black in Melbourne, I also hear the antisemitism, the denials that the Holocaust ever happened from regular people. All of us who do this work never for one moment forget those who did not live to see the sun again, the ships turned away, the easy hatred of Jews that floats to the surface when economic hard times strike--again and again I hear in the streets--it is the Rothchilds and the IMF who are responsible for all the bad things, the Rothchilds--that collective surname for all our imagined wealth and power--never do I forget and always I answer--and so we walk this narrow strip of land between my lancemen who call us traitors and the antisemites who call us the spoilers of the world--I have left the safe confines of New York City--but I have found wonderful new comrades, Jewish and not, who walk that path with me. And in the past and out there where these words go.

1 comment:

lepa mladjenović said...

dear sweet traitor, another one, dear beautifull Joan!
i wish to remember that one of the first slogans of the Women in Black in Belgrade was - Do not obey Father, Husband, State. Disloyals are traitors for those who run power which excludes! You wrote so clearly the scenes from Poland, Palestine, Melbourne... and we from Women in Black have in few days remembrance on the last genocide in Europe - Srebrenica, 14 years ago. As one of those who have a name of Serb ethnic origin, the same as those who had committed the crimes in Srebrenica (from where by chance one of my great grandmothers came from!) i keep repeating to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, sorry for the crimes committed in my name. I am writing it i am pronouncing it, i say it directly and it is never enough. This is my experience. On one peace conference in Italy last year, one woman was so moved by my words and she said: imagine if at least there was one man who would have said similar thing to me when i was young, for the crimes committed by men to my childhood, i think i would have lived my life differently!

I believe that asking for apology is my citizens responsibility and the way to care for my neighbors. Dear Joan, i feel all of what you write here is your tender caring for all your neighbors around the world.

in warm sisterhood,
lepa from belgrade waving to you and women from the photo above who choose to stand on the street to disagree even if noone is watching!