The Word in Times of Crisis

Linked with our presentation of Yael Lerer – Israel.

And linked with our presentation The Andalus Publishing House.

Excerpt: …This conflict is rooted in the Zionist enterprise, in the very idea of a “land without people for a people without a land.” It intensified after the Nakba—the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 in which some 3/4 of a million Palestinians were expelled from their homeland—and continued with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, which has now entered its 38th year. Today, one can say that this conflict is “stabilizing” (if one can use such a term in the context of ongoing horror), in the form of an Apartheid-like regime. I use Apartheid-like because there is no other term at my disposal to describe the policy of unequal separation unilaterally enforced by Israel, beginning with “roads for Jews” and “roads for Arabs”—if the latter are lucky enough to have a functional road at all—and on to separate tracks for almost every other function or facet of daily life.

Thus, it is very difficult for me to relate to the current reality as a “time of crisis,” an anomalous epoch disrupting the would-be normalcy of the times.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the current situation is particularly harsh. In the past month alone, some 430 Palestinians were injured, 140 Palestinians were killed—including 25 children under the age of 18. The Israeli army damaged at least 230 homes in the northern Gaza Strip, including 85 housing units ground to dust. The Israelis called this operation, or 2 weeks of wanton destruction “The Days of Repentance.”

In Judaism, the “Days of Repentance” mark the 10 days between the Jewish New Year—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. These are the days during which every Jewish man and woman should be soul-searching, and asking for forgiveness from friends and foes alike, as well as from God. Days of good deeds, prayers, and appeals. The Day of Atonement is the climax in a process of expressing regret, begging for mercy, and demonstrating kindness. On Yom Kippur 2004, the Israeli army destroyed 45 houses in Gaza.

The operation “Days of Repentance” was launched four days later, on the eve of Sukkoth, the holiday of harvest, of reaping what you sow. A seven-day holiday during which most Israelis are on vacation, public festivities are held around the country, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. The Hebrew media were full of images of Israelis at leisure, at play, celebrating in the traditional makeshift tabernacle known as the sukka. Almost nonexistent were images of the Palestinians forced into makeshift huts FOR REAL because their homes, and their lives, were being systematically destroyed.

As a Jew, this reality is unbearable, and calls my work, if not my life in this country, into question. How can one hear such news, and then pick up the phone to call the literary supplements to find out if this or that book is going to be reviewed? How can one get angry at the fact that nobody has noticed that Andalus—the publishing house I founded and run—has printed a new title, when nobody notices what’s taking place next door. As a private person, and an Israeli citizen, it is more important that I pick up the phone to call the editors of the daily papers to find out why they are omitting news of the ongoing massacre in Gaza. Before Israeli readers should get to know Arabic literature, they should know AND CARE about the crimes that are being perpetrated in their name. At times like these, it seems that to do anything other than to struggle against the occupation is to normalize an unbearable situation. By normalize, I mean treat the abnormal, the intolerable, as if it were routine.

Indeed, OUR “Time of Crisis,” has being going on for over 100 years, though, as I noted earlier, since the Nakba of 1948, it has become a permanent state of expulsion, dispossession, oppression, and occupation. I was born into this conflict, it wasn’t a matter of choice. I was also born into the Hebrew language, my mother tongue as well as that of both my parents. Since I became a conscious adult, I have found this reality intolerable, but more importantly, I have tried to assume responsibility for it. I am the expeller, the dispossessor, the oppressor, the occupier. It was I who riddled the tender 13-year-old body of Iman al-Hams of Rafah with 20 live bullets; it is I who holds the key to the locked gate in the wall that separates Palestinian schoolchildren from their school.

Yet in any other country, and any other tongue, I would feel myself a stranger, an immigrant. My fierce criticism of Zionism notwithstanding, it created me, along with several million other native Hebrew speakers whose only homeland was established upon the ruins of another. Knowing this, it is my responsibility to fight for national and civic equality between Arabs and Jews; to work for historic reconciliation based on the Israeli recognition of the Palestinian Right of Return; for a life of partnership, justice, and equality. The only framework in which I can envision realizing these values, is a bi-national one. To quote Israeli historian Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, who proposes bi-nationalism as the basis for rethinking a political alternative.

Bi-national is first of all a description of the existing reality. And since the national distinction—Jews vs. Arabs—is the basis for the definition of this reality, the bi-national position is the only one which embodies the demand to dismantle the mechanisms by which the Jewish collective asserts control over the Arab collective. The bi-national position launches a discussion that integrates the various aspects of the so-called “Palestinian question”—usually discussed separately: the occupied territories, the refugees, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the future of the Jewish collective in Israel and its surrounding Arab environment … (Read the rest of this very long article on this link

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