Friday, July 24, 2009

Yoram Kaniuk remembers the Nakba

How powerful is a word?
The word Nakba is officially verboten. Referring to the recreation of Israel in 1948 as the 'Catastrophe' is being banned from Arabic schoolbooks following the reversal of a court decision.
The distinguished Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk, who was there to witness Israel's birth pangs and whose opinion carries alot of weight, had his say about the Nakba, thereby provoking some controversy in the Yediot Ahronot, the most popular Hebrew daily paper. He argues 'Our defeated enemy is not a geometrical unknown; it’s a people that still exists'

I remember the Nakba

This week I visited the Knesset for the third time in my life. The first time was during the War of Independence, when the site was not yet under Israel’s control.

Today, it’s an immense building. If Netanyahu’s policy of going to war against the Americans will be implemented, even the US Army won’t be able to take over the Knesset building. Israel’s parliament looks like the formidable fortress of a strong nation. Barbed wire, thick walls, police officers, and checkpoints. An ugly citadel surrounded by even uglier buildings.

I haven’t seen a more fortified fortress in any other capital. And so, even if the planned war takes place, the Knesset will survive. This is what we call a secure democracy.

In the fortified building that is Israel’s Knesset, officials are redrafting history, as well as the future. The future we looked forward to once upon a time, when the hill was still empty. Via the Nakba Law and the education minister’s plan to remove the term from the curriculum, it appears that the future will be all about erasing everything that exists.

I remember the Nakba. I saw it to a much greater extent than the education minister, who apparently only heard about it. It was a harsh, merciless campaign of young soldiers who spilled their blood while fighting a determined enemy that was eventually defeated. Yet the enemy that was defeated is not a geometrical unknown, but rather, a people that still exists. Its parents and grandparents fought well. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have suffered so many casualties.

I was wounded in battle, but I believe that the education minister must educate our young people to be heroes by teaching them that this war had losers too, and that they too have a narrative. They don’t have the country that was theirs but they have a history, and no education minister can erase the defeated people from its powerful memory. The Nakba fighters fought heroically, but we fought better.

The fact that the State of Israel exists today is the victory, rather than the erasing of the circumstances of its establishment from the losing side. The Germans tried to teach German history without the Holocaust. It didn’t work. The Holocaust is a powerful element in Germany today, because it was a powerful event. The same is true for all sorts of hasty laws by ministers who wish to correct history.

Our education minister did not invent this idea. Stalin made sure to write a new Russian history, yet the past reclaimed it. A narrative that turns into a myth constitutes more history than any education minister can create; even if Arab children here learn Bialik’s songs and are forced to hoist Israel’s flag over their homes every morning and sing our national anthem every evening, at night, in hiding, they will read Arabic poetry. Because Arabic poetry is them. There’s nothing we can do about it.

While inside the Knesset fortress I thought that maybe it is still possible, before my death, to turn this state into a Jewish State – not one populated by zealous masses called Jews, but rather, Jews like we used to be; a state where we respect those who fought against us and were defeated. When that will happen, we will see the establishment of an Arab state alongside us, and the city of Jerusalem, also known as al-Quds, will become the capital of two states, one Jewish and one Arab. And then peace will come to Israel. Amen.

Meanwhile, the signs on the streets are being switched, and only Hebrew placenames will be in use if the transport ministry gets its way.

The Israeli transport ministry will soon get rid of Arabic and English names for cities and towns on road signs, keeping only the Hebrew terms.

"Minister Yisrael Katz took this decision that will be progressively applied," a ministry spokeswoman told Agence France Press.

Currently Israeli road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English, with the city names in each language. So Jerusalem is identified as Yerushalaim in Hebrew, Jerusalem in English and Al-Quds in Arabic (along with Yerushalaim written in Arabic script).
Under the new policy the Holy City will only be identified as Yerushalaim in all three languages. Nazareth (Al-Nasra in Arabic) will be identified as Natzrat and Jaffa (Jaffa in Arabic) will only be written as Yafo.

WHen signs went up labelling my neighborhood, not as Abu Tor, but as Givat Hananiya, the residents got confused. Visitors drove right by. Mail deliveries went astray. Now there's a movement protesting the deletion of Arabic and English names from our cities and streets. Those who rewrite history may be doomed to repeat it.

Hat tip to Irris for the Kaniuk piece!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Check out Britney Spears' Conversion Diary

As soon as a new Star of David dangled in the cleavage of a certain blonde singer, one who does not answer to the name of Madonna/Esther, the world's tabloids jumped on the Haaretz scoop and went wild. "Oy, I did it again!" quips the Daily Beast. Southern Baptist born Britney is reportedly converting to Judaism out of love for her latest boyfriend, following in the stiletto heel footsteps of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Ivanka Trump, et al. The New Yorker magazine, sniffing an irresistible opportunity for satire, has followed up with the imagined jottings of Britney's religious awakening in the "Shouts and Murmurs" column. Will Judaism's eleventh Commandment... Never Buy Retail... get evoked when the Trailer Park chick goes from gilt to guilt on Saturday nights?

Shalom, Diary:

I think Rabbi Pearlstein is really pissed at me. Today in Jewish class he was going through the Halakha, which I thought was the Jewish word for Hannah Montana but turns out to be like a whole bunch of boring laws about days of the week and pork and shit, and I was like, “Rabbi P., is there any way you could break this down into a bunch of tweets? I’ll read it on my phone on the way to rehearsal.” He got so mad those curls on the sides of his head started shaking. (I don’t know why he won’t let my stylist snip them off. They’re not a good look for him, K.?) On the plus side, he taught me this awesome Jewish trivia fact: You don’t have to call Jewish people “Jewish people.” It turns out they don’t mind being called plain old “Jews.” LOL.

There's more... (click here). A more thoughtful and enlightening perspective would be the journal of the long suffering Rabbi Pearlstein.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Scores of settlers settling scores

Burn baby burn. Settlers on horseback torched thousands of trees around Nablus yesterday, after setting Palestinian fields alight and stoning passing vehicles. Israeli occupation forces had urged the group to obey the law and shut down their illegal outpost. Most of the western press just yawned.
However, International Crisis Group warns against underestimating the effect of 280,000 rightwing Jewish settlers grabbing land and inserting themselves inside Biblical Judea and Samaria. If ignored, this burgeoning political and social phenomenon could undermine a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace, they say.

Israel is facing arguably unprecedented pressure to halt all settlement activity, led by a new and surprisingly determined U.S. administration. But the settlement issue has been transformed in recent years by shifting domestic dynamics, as national-religious and ultra-orthodox Israelis have gained influence and leverage. Entrenched in many West Bank settlements, they benefit from demographic trends: Israel’s army is increasingly dependent on their manpower and politicians on their votes.

“The religious right has assumed an ever more prominent role in opposing territorial compromise”, says Nicolas Pelham, a Crisis Group Senior Consultant based in Jerusalem. “It is banking on its support within state institutions to discourage the government from taking action and on its own rank-and-file to ensure that every attempt to evict an outpost or destroy a structure, however insignificant, comes at a heavy price”.

The ultra-orthodox and national-religious camps account for the lion’s share of the 37 per cent increase in the settler population in the past six years. Although not a united bloc, their politicians hold over a fifth of Knesset seats, some 40 per cent of the ruling coalition. In Israel proper, their numbers are growing steadily, and they carry weight far in excess of their numbers. They occupy key positions in the military, government and legal and education sectors, as well as the bureaucracy, and are seeking to strengthen their ability to resist future territorial withdrawals by building up their influence within and without state institutions. Their role and concerns need to be understood if the obstacle settlements pose to a two-state solution is to be removed.

An agreed Israeli-Palestinian border would make clear which settlers could remain in place and which could not. Several long-overdue steps should be taken in the interim, however. Legislative enactment of an early evacuation compensation package could help persuade some settlers to leave voluntarily. For those who value their attachment to the land over their attachment to the state, efforts could be made to examine how and under what conditions they might live under Palestinian rule and the extent to which Palestinians might accept them. Foreign actors, the U.S. included, should examine ways of making religious parties feel part of the diplomatic process. A clear offer by the Palestinian leadership to guarantee and protect Jewish access to Jewish holy sites under its control could send religious sectors a positive signal of its vision for post-conflict relations.

At the same time, the government should apply its laws more consistently, whether on settlement and outpost construction in the West Bank or acts of violence and incitement against Palestinians.

“The 2005 disengagement from Gaza went remarkably smoothly, but it would be wrong to assume that what happened in Gaza automatically will be replicated in the West Bank”, explains Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “The differences in numbers, background and militancy of the respective settler populations should serve as a warning of the need to give more attention to this issue as talks with Palestinians proceed”.

Venerable olive trees like this one bore the brunt of the protest. If this is politics as usual, perhaps the actions may pset some green activists.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Anatomy of a Jerusalem garden

In my Jerusalem patio, overlooking the jaws of Hell, bougainvillea blooms in shades of magenta, crimson, and pale orange. We planted an olive tree, a cypress, a lime tree, jasmine, honeysuckle, red geraniums, climbing roses, morning glory, hydrangea, purple daisies, basil, mint, and lemon verbena. Everything thrives, thanks to the Palestine sun birds and bumble bees. Plus daily watering, using a cleverly designed Israeli drip irrigation system boosted by the odd watering can. There's always a drought.
Across the Hinom valley we hear the muezzin calls from thirteen different minarets, and church bells from the Dormition Abbey and other venerable Christian chapels. Shofars sound at the synagogue and are tooted by groups of Christian Zionist tourists, Birthright teens and Messianic Jews who ostentatiously tote the ram's horns around, occasionally by segway! Helicopters frequently whack the air overhead, but Jerusalem is defined mostly the Sounds of Sirens: Police, ambulance, VIP convoy.
It'll be difficult to say goodbye to all this, but the lease is soon up on the house, and our stay in Jerusalem is coming rapidly to a close. Izzy Bee still has more buzz left...and will continue to blog from afar. Cranky will be the new resident blogger.