Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Your words as always give me more then I deserve

know I have worried some; I have lived in this body so long, struggled with its own struggles, trying to hold it dear, to recognize the dailiness of its own stumbles--the cellular dramas that from a distance form me. The ct scan showed no cancer--but why then, I said between sighs of relief, do I feel so ill. The next day I bled and more will be done. I am of the lucky ones, those who are not stopped at check points, those who are not turned away from help for so many reasons, those for whom flood waters or famine have not swept away the paths to aid. For the first time on these pages, I felt embarrassed by my words, by my posturing, talking about the stars when I felt like I was dying. No more of this.

I want to share with you the words of two women, one is my friend, the other I have met for the first time through her blog, "Hudson to West Bank," which follows Jane Toby through the streets of the West Bank and the beaches of Tel Aviv. First, the words of Alex Nissen, my friend here in Melbourne who has been in Haifa for the last four months.

Tear Gas Brings Memories:Jewish Home, Fascist State?

As an Ashkenazi (a Jew from European descent) Israeli who was born in Australia to refugee parents, I have the luxury of living in Israel whenever I choose to, with full rights. Like other Jewish citizens, I have the freedom to move, access to hospitals, universities and water. What a luxury. So how can I call this place home and fascist at the same time?

Last Friday I went to a Palestinian village called Bil'in which is near Ramallah and about a two hour drive south of Haifa, my town, along Road Six, a highway built alongside the Apartheid Wall that surrounds the Palestinian towns of Qalqilya and Tul Karm, two towns that are completely surrounded and isolated by the Wall. of course, there are no acknowledging their existence; after all they are not in Israel, they are Palestinian towns, a way of thinking that is difficult to comprehend when you first arrive in this place.

Last Friday was a special day because it marked five years of struggle against the Apartheid Wall that is being built on Palestinian lands near the village of Bil'in. It has also been five years of popular demonstrations, suppressed by force. And nearly two and a half years since the Israeli High Court ordered a change to the route of the Apartheid Wall. Demonstrators came from all over Israel and Palestine to show support for the village's struggles for freedom of movement, of provisions for the basic needs of daily life, things that I, as an Israeli and Australian, have always taken for granted.

The last time I went to Bil'in was many years ago. I have been going to the Palestinian Occupied Territories to document and bear witness to human rights abuses. I was raised to respect human rights and freedom especially since my own Jewish culture suffered as a result of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. I went to this demonstration because of those values of respect for human rights. What I witnessed was an assault on freedom and humanity by the Israeli army.

There were over a thousand people of all ages, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents marching to express, not only their solidarity with the desire for freedom, but also in solidarity for the right to live in dignity, to farm one's own land and to live one's own life without oppression.

Some of the Palestinian men managed to move the temporary wire fence and put Palestinian flags on the other side. At this stage, I did not see the Israeli army and thought it was strange. But then the Israeli army came. The sprayed stink liquid that made people sick, used sound grenades, and shot dozens of tear gas canisters; there was nowhere to hide. As we, the elderly and the young, ran to escape the tear gas behind and beside us, I stopped and looked up to see it raining tear gas ahead of us. The soldiers shot numerous tear gas rounds at the front of the demonstration, at the side and then ahead of us so that we would be trapped by the thick white smoke. There was no point in running. No space was safe from the possibility of being hit by tear gas. The air was thick with gas, people couldn't breathe. An elderly woman collapsed, people helped carry her out. Many people fell, they couldn't breathe and they couldn't move. I felt that there was nothing I could do to escape, I couldn't breathe, my skin was on fire and my lungs were struggling for air like every one else. I had no forgotten my history or why I was here. How sad it is and ironic, I thought, that the Israeli Army threw so many gas canisters at civilians demonstrating for human rights, and here I am, a Jew, I am gassed by a Jewish army.

I managed to get some distance away to turn around, only to see the Israeli Army continuing to shoot dozens of tear gas canisters everywhere, and in disbelief, I witnesses the Israeli Army shooting at the ambulance which was soon surrounded by thick gas. I have only these words to describe the injustice I witnessed. I can escape. I can go home, where I have running water to take a shower and wash off the day's poison and trauma. But what of the others, how long would the gas cling to their clothes, their skin?

How many Palestinians need to suffer before we all take a stand to stop the violence? Israeli human rights' organizations along with the Israeli peace movement and Palestinians are calling for you to help by supporting peace and democracy in a country that's spiralling out of control.

In this country, democracy only belongs to the privileged like me, and not to my Palestinian sisters and brothers.

Alex Nissem

Women in Black

Coalition of Women for Peace

Film of demonstration and march, Friday the 19th, February 2010:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quSVqqEao4c

I still feel the pull of the vast possiblities of the dark skies, but Alex and others draw me back to these our human streets, our imagined nationalities where armies clad in steel break the dreams of mere citizens. How naked this makes us all.

In the photograph, Alex, her blue scarf streaming free, stands next to La Professora, here in St Kilda with the bay behind them. Before she left for Israel/Palestine.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Questions, Always Questions

Today I will find out if my cancers have returned--perhaps. I am not afraid, I am curious and I am aware of the flow of life around me, the hot sun and gentle wind, Cello curled up in the shade on the corner of the veranda, workmen building steps in the back, books around me--Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl," futuristic visions that question and yet carry within their shattered cities, the possibilities of care and concern, of hope unknown, stuttering like the steps of Emiko, or the endlessly twisting the challenges of survival that speed Hock Seng through the back allies of the Kingdom, the rumblings of the massive Megodonts who turn the wheels of the factories, the ancient made new, of new organic and inert combinations that produce their own forms of urgent "new people" questions, of courage, of nourishment, of cooperation while the old uglinesses of greed and domination bite at the heels. Thailand in the future, not New York, not London, and that alone is a light into the future. Our "topography of failure," environmentally, economically, socially, swims with life. I want to look to the stars now, to the vast regions of unknowns where what ever is human or life-filled will shape hope out of first appearing darkness. Here in Australia, we almost touched the future--when norrie mAy welby became for just a day the world's first person to be issued sex-not- specified documentation by the Australian authorities, a person without a state approved sex and still a person; however, daunted by their own courage, the same authorities rescinded their declaration, 24 hours later. So one way I face my own mortality is expanding the circle of my questions, throwing off the ballasts of "this- is- how- it- has- to- be."

Olivera has just called from Brisbane, she knows of topographies of failure as she knows of flight and the push of self re-invention.

I read also "The Classroom," by Simon Mawer, a story of modernity and hell, of bodies and glass houses, of Fascism and touch and always "The Journal of Helene Berr,"--

When I write the word Jew, I am not saying exactly what I mean, because for me that distinction does not exist; I do not feel different from other people, I will never think of myself as a member of a separate human group, and perhaps that is why I suffer so much, because I do not understand it at all. I suffer from the spectacle of human beastliness. I suffer from the sight of evil falling on humanity; but as I do not feel I belong to any particular racial, religious or human group (because such feelings always implies pride), all I have to keep me going are my inner debates and reactions, my conscience. I remember a remark Lefshetz made when we were at rue Claude-Bernard and his speeches in support of Zionism disgusted me: 'You have forgotten why you are being persecuted.' That's true.

But the Zionist ideal seems to narrow. Any exclusive grouping, whether Zionism or the hideous fanatical Germanism we are witnessing, or even chauvinism, always contains an excess of pride. I can't help it; I shall never be at ease in any such group." (December 1943)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

There Are New Voices in Town

From The Age, a leading Melbourne newspaper:

"Jerusalem: Israel's military and one of its soldiers are no longer 'friends' after the gunner posted details of an impending raid in the occupied West Bank on his Facebook page, leading to the mission being aborted.

The soldier from an artillery unit updated his page on the social networking site, saying 'on Wednesday we are cleaning Qatanna, [a village near Jerusalem] and on Thursday, God willing, going home,' the army radio reported."

No more lying about what is happening in Palestinian villages, this poor young soldier who has the ability to hold his gun to the heads of any Palestinian who gets in his way, who only wants to go home to his God and family, says too clearly for his bosses, we cleanse people away, we sweep them from their homes as if they are stains on the land.

While Israel launches its public relations campaign, the last resort of morally bankrupt nations, new settlers' homes spring into being in East Jerusalem; the sea, air, land embargo of Gaza continues; the disenfranchising of Palestinian Israelis continues; the silencing and exiling of "foreign activists" as members of peace and anti-occupation NGO contingents are called, continues; plans go ahead to build a "Museum of Tolerance" over the Mamila Muslim cemetery; non-violent Palestinian demonstrators and organizers are rounded up in night raids and at a New York love fest for the Israeli Defense Forces, over 20 million dollars are raised. Pamphlets in Hebrew are passed out on planes calling on people to join in the struggle against this new attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel. Craziness, public relations campaigns as a way to turn eyes away from every day brutalities. Museums of Tolerance built in a country where nearly half of Israel's high school youth "do not believe that Israeli-Arabs are entitled to the same rights as Jews in Israel and would deny Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset." (Ha'aretz, 12 March 2010) This is the future of Israel--growing religious fundamentalism, growing xenophobia, growing racism, growing armies. Already we read public statements about the "third world" workers who threaten the purity of the Israeli state. The words of a Jerusalem Post Editorial, 07/03/2010:

Tel Aviv, rejuvenated and energized as perhaps never before in its 100 years of existence, is the trendiest magnet for Israel's young, most vial and upwardly mobile set.

But Tel Aviv also pulls to it others, equally attracted by its bright lights and opportunities. There are third world economic migrants, the vast majority of them illegal....Anyone who indeed wanders into Neveh Sha'anan...would be hard put to identify the cityscape as even remotely Israeli, Squalid and foul, it's home to an exotic collection of denizens who have found their way to the country and most of whom originally hail from the southern hemisphere."

Israel is building walls of all kinds, and as others have said, it is building its own prison of intolerance, not only on its own shifting borders but within its own neighborhoods. All the banning of outside observers, all of the marshalling of required Jewish Diaspora unquestioning support will never disguise the tragedy of what Israel is becoming.

Yesterday the news article read "Israel Seals Off West Bank to Prevent Unrest," and continues to say that Israeli police will allow only men over 50 and women to pray at the Noble Sanctuary. This corrosive power to decide who will pray and who will not, who will live in their homes and who will not, who will be able to work, who will be able to receive medical care, to go to university, to drive down a highway, to make a plan for the future, this corrosive power over other human lives as Israel should know, etches a national ugliness that will haunt this nation.

From "Only Gall and Nothing More" by Gideon Levy, 08/10/2010:

Is the discourse we are conducting--if indeed we are conducting any discourse among ourselves and with our interlocutor--legitimate at all?Ever since the territories were occupied a public debate has been going on here [Israel] about their future and what is being done there...the settlements--yes or no; the roadblocks--yes or no; the assassinations, the arrests, the starving, the closure, the encirclement, the curfew, the exposure, the torture, the freedom of movement, the choice of the ritual,--yes or no.

Where does this right come from? [the right to say yes or no to prayer] Just as a rapist does not have the right to discuss carrying out his nefarious scheme, and the robber cannot haggle over the conditions under which he will return his loot, the occupier, the taskmaster, the jack-booted soldier and the exploiter cannot discuss the conditions under which they will carry out their deeds. This is a blatantly immoral discussion. The discussion by free people of the fate of other people under their rule is just as legitimate as the discussion by slave-runners or human traffickers. The only legitimate discussion is one that intends to end the situation, immediately and unconditionally.

I say thank you to all within Israel and without, who tirelessly struggle to raise dissenting Jewish voices, who take to the streets like the demonstrators in front of that icon of power, the Waldorf Astoria, the legacy of the robber barons; to all, who stand vigil, who enter the forbidden zones of Palestinian suffering, who sit at their computers late into the night sending out the news both of despair and of hope, of organizing and petitions, to all who brave the tear gas bombs and rubber bullets, to all my Jewish family who risk exiles from friends and family, from communities and some from jobs, who like me, know we are all part of this history, who know there is no other way to live in these times other then to say over and over no, no, no, not in our Jewish, human names.

As you might have heard, I wrote these words in some despair, not only with the state of Israel, but with the resurgence of the Christian right in America to almost crazy national attention, the Texas school board decisions over text book contents, the Tea parties and draped American flags over the shoulders of scoundrels, the attacks on lawyers doing their job of defending unpopular clients, and on and on, and then in the Australian Jewish Democratic Society Newsletter, March 2010 (www.ajds.org.au), edited by my dear friend Israeli-Australian Sol Solbe, I find the words of Sarah Beninga, spoken at the Sheikh Jarrah rally. Beninga is one of the Israeli activists who organized the rally on March 6:

There Is a New Left in Town
There is a New Left, and it is not a left that is content with peace talks; it is a left of struggle. There is a New Left that knows that there are things you have to fight against even when they are identified with the state and even when they are sanctioned by law. There's a New Left that knows that this struggle will not be decided on paper, but on the ground, in the hills, in the vineyards, in the olive groves. There's a New Left that is not afraid of settlers--even when they come down on us from the hills, masked and armed. This left does not succumb to political oppression by the police, nor does it care what Ma'ariv writes about it.
There is a New Left in town. This left does not want to be loved, does not dream of filling town squares and does not bask in the memories of 400,000 demonstrators. This left is a partnership of Palestinians who understand that the occupation will not be stopped by missiles and bombs, and of Israelis who understand that the Palestinian struggle is their own.
The New Left links arms with Palestinians is a cloud of tear-gas in Bili'in, and with them, bears the brunt of settler violence in the South Hebron Hills. This left stands by refugees and work immigrants in Tel-Aviv and fights the Wisconsin Project [privatised 'welfare-to-work' program]. This New Left is us, all of us.
All those who came here tonight; all those who dared to cross the imaginary line separating West and East Jerusalem despite the threats and intimidation--we are all the New Left that is rising in Israel and Palestine. We are not fighting for a peace agreement; we are fighting for justice. But we believe that injustice is the main obstacle to peace. Until the Ghawis, the Hanouns and the El-Kurds return to their homes, there will be no peace because peace will not take root where discrimination, oppression, plunder exist. There is a New Left in town and this left stands with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah tonight, and it will continue standing with them until justice overcomes fanaticism.

But there is also a New Right in town. A Right filled with envy and racism that seduces the masses with its jingoistic rhetoric. The New Right has no interest in the well-being and the welfare of human beings. The New Right is only interested in a narrow ethnic and tribal loyalty a la Avigdor Lieberman. For the New Right, only the Jewish poor deserve attention. And what makes someone Jewish is that they are not Arabs. The New Right has nothing to offer but never-ending war. The New Right has nothing to offer but hate for the other: Arabs, refugees and leftists.

This New Right creates the fanatic settlers against whom we are demonstrating tonight. These settlers hate Jerusalem. They have no love for Israel and no love for humankind--they love only themselves. There are many amongst the settlers with whom we can and should carry out a dialogue. But the settlers in Sheikh Jarrah who sing songs of praise to Baruch Goldstein--must be defeated.

The New Right created the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat. He is a technocrat who doesn't understand or care about Jerusalem. He is a mayor who uses administrative terror against the residents of East Jerusalem and neglects the residents of West Jerusalem, while mouthing empty cliches. If Jerusalem is a powder keg, then Nir Barkat is the one who is striking the match. But Barkat doesn't scare us and neither of the settlers or Lieberman.

We will continue coming to Sheikh Jarrah and everywhere that justice is crushed by the forces of occupation and oppression. Take a look around you; we are not as few as we thought we were! And we will prevail!

Take a look around--away from the love fest for more killing at the Waldorf Astoria where so many parents poured their money into making sure their children will live in a more unsafe world--and let us find each other and take up the struggle.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Molti Cose--Many Things of the Heart and Body

How do I sort out all I want to say--thank you for still being there if you are--it has been over a month. I do not know anymore how to use writing to mark the days, the whirlings of this world, the adventures of the body and the mind. Let me begin by grounding us in the weather of Melbourne, a torrential spilling of the clouds, sheets of rain, like a waterfall crashing to earth, hailstones throwing themselves at windows, heads, frightened dogs. Flooding in the North--slowly now the dry river beds of the flat middle are filling up, slowly the overflows make their way down into dry basins and people rush out to welcome the returning water, wading in the gift, with pants rolled up and big grins on their faces. The lives of whole river systems depend on this return of fresh water--the Murray-Darling river basin, desperately trying to survive the rising tide of sea water at its Southern end, waiting, waiting for its rescue. Once I knew the Hudson, walked along its tamed shores in Manhattan, always aware of the power of its floes, never doubting its hold on its own way of being--the cliffs of the Palisades reminders of earlier days when other peoples looked down upon its currents, searching for food, for dangers. Now I have in my mind's eye, the red river gums, standing dry footed in their river places, holding on, holding on, until once again water flows. This is a land of extremities and it is my home.

I am too dramatic, I know that. I will work on it. I have said that when I do not write for a while, it is because my body is having another conversation and such is the case this month. I have a growth in my uterus that needs to come out--this feels almost too personal to write--but on the day of the surgery, I woke up shaking all over. At the hospital, the admitting nurse discovered I had a high fever and matching blood pressure so all decided something was going on and no surgery--now I start the consulting with oncologist and others to find out. But something else--yesterday I went out to take a look at the construction work that is being done in our backyard and tripped over a piece of wood, falling heavily on my good knee. It is this falling, the third fall I have had in the last year, that most tumbles me, into the shock of the unexpected, the ground coming up so fast, into the moment of wonder when the fall is over, what is still working and finally the refuge of the bed, where all is still. Cosa ci posso fare? I am living in deep appreciation of daily life now, my books, my darling, my Cello,my friends, a roof over our heads that holds off the torrents, hard and soft and for me, the delight of the little television at the end of my bed that brings me the wonders of the Olympics, the lunging broad shoulders of the cross country skiers; the bent over, noses to the ice, gentle touching of the buttocks in front of the short track speed skaters; the swelling thighs, the swinging arms and arrow like heads of the long distant skaters--always carrying Hans Christian Anderson with them, I think--the quirky slides and shouts of the curlers and the youth, flying into the night air, flipping turning and landing on their feet. I who fear the ground beneath me at times, almost 70, lie still and glory in these athletes. Through that little window at the end of my bed, I peer into snow covered hill trails, I see into the heaving lungs of bodies throwing themselves into exertion, into exultation, their breaths puffs of ongoing glorious life.

Questi giorni, studio Italiano con tutto il mio cuore. Ogni giovedi, vaddo con mia amica, Patrizia, a Centro Studi Italiani a Carlton. These days, I study Italian with all my heart. Every Thursday, I go with my friend Pattie to the Center for Italian Studies in Carlton. Studiamo con la Professoressa Nancy, una brava insegnante, `e bellissima! How I love this language, its heart, its fullness of vowels, its world view--di bella. I turn to its folklore, Collodi's Le avventure di Pinocchio nel livello B for beginning readers and it is all here.

C'era una volta...

--Un re!--direte subito. No, ragazzi. C'era una volta un pezzo di legno. Un semplice pezzo di legno di quelli che d'inverno si usano per accendere il fuoco.

Once upon a time--"A story about a king!, the children shout. No, children. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood, a simple piece of wood like the kind we use to feed our fires that keep us warm in winter.

A simple piece of wood, un semplice pezzo di legno, we are all--until touched by the imagination, said Professoressa Nancy--with all the ugliness of the world, with all the assumptions of who should die and who is enemy, with war like eating, every day, war as a way of life, a simple piece of wood says in una voce piccoloa piccoloa, 'Non farmi male!'--a little, little voice says, 'do not harm me." And Maestro Ciliega heard and stopped. A child was born. (Please feel free to correct my Italian. That is how I will learn.)
Books, always books, my food of life. I have decided that I must know more about the Jewish diaspora, Jewish resistance in other forms besides Zionism, besides exclusive nationalisms. In an issue of The New York Times Book Review that I tracked down in the Carlton bookshop here, Readings, I was caught by a review of four books growing out of the French resistance movement and one Jewish French woman's experience of occupation--the Journal of Helene Berr, newly translated into English in 2009.... I have been turning her pages over and over, looking at her face again, into her eyes, looking at her words that I underlined, the connections I made--her love of books, amidst it all, the words of Keats or Shelley, her love of love. At times, in the beginning, one cannot tell which dread is haunting her, the loss of a young boy who feels like the center of her life, or the narrowing world around her, tight with hatred. In the two years Helene Berr gives us, 1942-44, romance, fraught with longing and loss, slowly fades from view and a dread entire, the Nazi plan for the French Jews, changes the pastel colors into horrors of inhumanity, but always at the center is a young yearning woman whose circle of love grows larger as her world shrinks. Some call Berr's diary a Holocaust book--and of course it is, the story of a young woman who loved life so much, who adored her Paris, her studies, her Mozart, her laughing university friends, her father, the first of the family to be interned in a Nazi holding camp in the center of Paris, her adoration for the beauty of the night sky, for a rain freshened garden, for her own possibilities of the imagination--"I'm not afraid for myself but for something beautiful that might have been"--the gift each of us can be to the human world, a human world still able to respect the possibilities of each individual life. But I am afraid that genre labeling makes the reader think they know what they will find--In these pages that stand for a life, Berr gives us her thoughts about resistance, about shame, about the nature of the past and the present,about normality, a word that appears on almost every page as the normal changes its meaning before our eyes, day by day, about the ethics of conscience, about what being Jewish means to her, about her place in the diaspora, about the nature of human evil--her thoughts which a whole army tried to erase. "The destruction of personal thought and of the response of individual consciences is Nazism's first step (February 14, 1944)...how quickly morality and the respect for humanity disappear once a certain boundary has been breached! (Friday, December 31, 1943) In these pages, she asks us to see, to be responsible for knowing, what is happening in the name of nation states, to see the connection between art and politics, to always be aware of what is causing pain, "if only people knew what ruins are in my heart."( November 1943)
Tomorrow I shall have to get off the metro at Pere-Lachaise [one of the first edicts passed against the Jews of Paris was forbidding them to ride in all carriages or lines of the Metro] That was where I first had a proper conversation with Mme Schwartz, about a year ago, around 5:00 p.m., with trains passing by all the time; we sat on the platform bench and talked. I told her about Jean, because I could not hide it from people to whom I had given my heart. Now I don't have to make that effort or that confession, since all the people I loved have vanished. I can still hear her, her eyes shining with affection (her eyes were always so bright with love):
'A girl like you is such a lovely thing!'
A scheine madel
Everything I write about Palestine/Israel, about the diaspora and its possibilities of hope, will be touched by this woman and what she asks us to do from the depths of her extremity.