+972 Magazine » Life & Culture http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 28 Jan 2015 17:20:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, Chapter 4: Azizi will judge http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-4-azizi-will-judge/100430/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-4-azizi-will-judge/100430/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 21:27:38 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100430 Part four, in which our heroes find a jar of rare yeast spread, and have a wonderful time chuckling at ‘Google Translate.’

Read the previous chapters of The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries’ here.

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On Tuesday I wrote Hanin: “Tt’s time to look for a singer. You said you knew a few.” There was no response that day, nor the following. I told myself to be patient.

On Friday I read a spectacular op-ed in Haaretz, authored by none other than Mira Awad, the same Galilee-born Palestinian singer whom Hanin rejected. Awad wrote about going out for drinks with a mixed group of Arab and Jewish friends (she is a rare person whose friends would naturally be mixed). They went to an Arab-owned pub in the north of Israel where the television was tuned to Arab Idol, the hottest competition this side of the Nile. A Palestinian named Haitham Khalailah reached the finals, and was competing against a Saudi and Syrian.

Awad’s op-ed was titled “Nightingale in a Cage,” and dealt with the risk Khalailah faced upon returning home. Like Awad and Hanin, Khalailah belongs to the minority of Palestinians who are citizens of Israel known to us – but seldom self-identified – as “Israeli Arabs.” Lebanon, where the finals were held, is designated as an “enemy country,” meaning that any Israeli citizen who ventures there faces arrest and interrogation upon return.

One of Awad’s Jewish-Israeli friends suggested they all text the network and vote for Khalailah. The number was in Lebanon, the same country that was only minutes away by car, but fenced off and inaccessible. Was it possible to text there?

“I looked at her, greatly moved,” Awad wrote, “awkward as it is to admit, I guess I no longer took it for granted that there would not be a drop of a judgmental expression on her face, a bit of hidden accusation, a bit of ‘Why does he call himself a Palestinian and not an Israeli?’ or ‘What is he doing in an enemy country’ or ‘Why is he wearing a kaffiyeh?’ or ‘What’s he doing, singing that Palestine is Arab?’ She simply asked, full of expectation, ‘Where do I send the text message?’ What should have been the most natural thing in the world seemed like a gift to me. My new friends were sitting in the place I had come from, with the people I had come from, drinking beer, and it all came together so nicely. For a moment, it was not clear why there was a problem in this country at all.”

I put down the paper, feeling taken with all of this. I entirely understood Hanin’s reservations. I understood why she would consider Awad, who represented Israel on the Euroivision stage, too politically tame. But I just loved that woman’s attitude. We must speak to Mira Awad, I decided. We will combine the hardline with the dovish. We will do what has never been done, somehow.

Let me offer, let me offer

A few days later Hanin sends me a document with three songs translated into Arabic: “Royals,” “White Teeth Teens” and “A World Alone.” I looked at the screen dense with Arabic script and remembered how badly this alphabet used to scare me as a child. This was the language of the enemy, and its spiky letters seemed to always represent swords and daggers.

Over the years I taught myself how to read them, but something of that fear remained. Even now I had to convince myself that what I was looking at were Lorde’s lyrics, rather than a fatwa calling for the spilling of my blood. Just to be on the safe side, I put “Royals” through Google translate.

We will not be never the royal family,
They do not take place in our blood,
This type of luxury is not for us,
We crave / crave for another type of tinnitus
Let me be Hakmtkm, you can Manadta Queen “B”,
And Azizi will judge,
Will judge,
Will judge.
Allow me to live this fantasy.

I found this to be very amusing, but did my best to calm my laughter. The Arabs aren’t only scary to us; we also see them as comical. We so often make fun of their broken Hebrew, while our own Arabic is nonexistent. We mimic their difficulty at pronouncing the letter “p”, and the sbelling mistakes that result. My father would do a funny impression whenever he quoted a Palestinian, and the idea of the Palestinian as simpleton became stuck in my mind. He got over it through the years, and so must I. If they are going to be funny, so must we. I put my own Hebrew translation of “Royals” through the same program.

We will not be noble, not
We have this blood does not flow
We know it’s not luxury
Were made for drunkenness different
Maybe I’ll be your Queen, Yes
You can call me a tyrant
Down and rule
Let me offer
Let me offer
Until the moment of awakening.

Let me offer? What the hell.

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I squinted and tried to sing Hanin’s Arabic Royals. It didn’t work very well. The translation was literal and not attached to the song’s rhythm. Hanin was an Arab, not an Arab musician. I leaned back and sighed, not at her, at me.

The jar

Enough sighing. I outlined my new idea to Yaron. The project will not be only bi-national. It will be a multi-artist fest, in which many voices can express themselves. “See, it won’t be just me singing in Hebrew and some Arab singing in Arabic. It’ll be a party! There will be loads of us! This way we can have Mira Awad as well as people who are not at all Mira Awad. People with different attitudes.”

Yaron is so easy to please. We began exchanging ideas, names, phone numbers, Bandcamp links and YouTube clips. In between, I flip to Facebook and find myself engaging in a debate about Vegemite.

Here is my one link to the southern hemisphere besides Lorde. I am an addict of Australia’s national yeast spread, having learned to love it from Aussie backpackers in Europe. Here in the so called “promised” land, only British Marmite is available. I complained, but since developing a “thing” for New Zealand, I have been eager to try the Kiwi version of Marmite, said to taste very different from the other varieties.

“I have a jar at home”, wrote a stranger, “you are welcome to it.”

She sent me an address in southern Jaffa, and I took a walk there that very evening. As Tel Aviv’s brightly-lit streets gave way to Jaffa’s more derelict ones, I realized that I did not know the national identity of my Marmite benefactor. Her Facebook user name was Deem, which rings like Reem – an Arab woman’s name. Her neighborhood was predominantly Palestinian, but I myself once lived only two streets away, and while I use my real name online, my Facebook profile features a deliberate gender play. Someone could easily head uptown for, say, some of my Vegemite, expecting to meet a lass. In this cyber age, identities are fluid.

Generous Deem had cropped hair and multiply pierced ears. She was a Jew, I think, or not. Who the hell cares. A fan of British Marmite, she asked friends to mail her some of the southern stuff, but found it unpalatable. I gave her a jar of organic hazelnut spread in return for the black gold, then took the jar to Jaffa’s main boulevard and photographed it with the multilingual city as a backdrop. There it was: a spread from real-life Auckland, lit by Canaan’s street lamps. I felt like Richard Dreyfus in “Close Encounters,” where he plays with his mashed potatoes at dinner and then whispers “this means something.” It really did mean something, to me.

(To be continued on Monday, February 2nd. Meanwhile join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, Chapter 3: Two Islands http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-3-two-islands/100160/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-3-two-islands/100160/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 10:45:42 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100160 Between general despair and out of fear of offending the anti-normalization movement, the project moves on and Lorde makes an unlikely fan. 

Read the previous chapters of The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries’ here.

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More than a week has passed and I haven’t heard from Hanin. I figured we need find another translator. Meanwhile, Jewish-Arab partnership in this unholy land received a major blow. Vandals set fire to Jerusalem’s “Hand in Hand” school, one of a tiny handful of bilingual schools in the country. The arsonists turned out to be activists with “Lehava,” the same organization to which I dedicated my version of “Team.” They piled textbooks in the middle of a first grade classroom to make their initial bonfire.

I traveled over to Yaron’s apartment to record some more of my own music, but we ended up doing two translations. One was “Te Recuerdo Amanda” by Chilean legend Victor Jara; the other, “It’s a Hard Life” by country songstress Nancy Griffith. Both Hebrew versions alluded to the rotten realities of home. The factory boy in Jara’s song turned into a Palestinian political inmate. Griffith sings of barbed wire strung along Belfast’s Falls Road. I replaced it with the concrete of our separation barrier.

The following day I came within sight of that wall, guiding a group in Jerusalem (that’s my day job). Once done, I wandered through pleasant wintertime West Jerusalem, thinking of the tours that were canceled following the summer’s war, about the school arson and the upcoming elections.

All these things are tied together. Lehava’s existence is no fluke. Our leaders busy themselves with fear-mongering and sowing alienation. Their hate speech bears fruit, producing fire and drawing fire. Jerusalem had been near the point of combustion for a few weeks now: Palestinians murdered ultra-Orthodox worshipers at a synagogue, possibly seeking to avenge a Palestinian boy, who was burned alive by someone who’s father attended that synagogue. The murder of the boy was itself described as revenge for the murder of three settler kids, and so on, infinitely. Entire neighborhoods were closed off and put under extreme surveillance by the paramilitary corps that controls the lives of Jerusalem Palestinians. Attackers ran over passengers at light rail stations, while police sprayed schools in East Jerusalem with putrid water, seeking to intimidate the populace and offset the community’s routine. In the midst of all this horror, dubious elections were announced, forcing us to look away from the issues and focus on the egos of politicians.

What could my goofy Lorde project possibly change? It can only provide escapism. Crossing the light rail tracks on my way to happy hour at the Sira pub, I Googled a certain Hebrew poem on my phone:

It was “New Zealand Has Two Islands,” composed by the late Dalia Rabikovich during the First Lebanon War. I nodded at the last verse:

There’s no point in hiding it:
We are a failed experiment,
A plan gone awry,
Involving too much murder,
What have I in common with any of those?
They yell ’till their throats are sore,
Split hairs at their tip,
In any case, too much murder.
I will not travel to Africa,
Nor Asia.
I will not travel at all.
In New Zealand,
Amidst the grass and water,
Good hearted people,
Will break their bread with me.

I have never been to New Zealand. I wondered how bad things ever get between Europeans and Maoris down there. Do they get bad? I peeked back at my phone. Hanin wrote. She offered up her sister for the challenge, to translate five songs, including “Royals” and “Team.” Forget EP. We are headed for an album.

The real thing

The Sira, a proper Jerusalem pub with thick stone walls and a beautiful resident ginger cat, is such a nice spot that I only made it onto the “sherut” minibus late at night. These sheruts only get moving once 10 passengers arrive. It was 1:00 a.m. when I arrived and only one passenger was seated inside, a Hasidic Jew with side-locks down to his chest. It didn’t look like we would head out before three, which meant I wouldn’t make it to my Tel Aviv home until four

“Play us something,” the sherut’s driver pointed to the case of my small, portable guitar. I brought it along in order to play for the group, and forgot all about its existence. I asked him what song he likes. He said: “Yesterday.”

“Yesterday!” The Hasid mumbled out of near slumber, “it’s by those guys… What are they called?”

I held my breath. Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox frown even more severely at mainstream media then do their brethren abroad. Would someone who grew up in such closed society really know…

“…The Beatles!”

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This was simply too cool. I pulled out the guitar and strummed Yesterday for the both of them. The driver nodded in approval, then stepped out for a smoke. The Hasid asked me if I could play any “Haredi music.” I gave him “Veha’er Eineinu” by Rabbi Karlebach. It was close enough; he sang along.

Now it was time for the real thing. It is forbidden for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men to listen to women singing. In order to become Lorde fans, they need a mediator. “Let me play you something,” I said. “It’s by a really spectacular artist, a young woman. I translated. It’s about preferring the simple things in life over material fantasy.”

The secular-Haredi divide in Israel is just as pronounced as the one separating Jews and Arabs. This was truly a rare moment, and I was moved: moved to be playing my folky, Hebrew version of Royals to this gentleman, moved that he listened so intently, and lastly — I was moved by his response. He only said three words, but they were put together with care — old fashioned, rabbinical. He said: “she possesses depth.”

The contagious disease

Back in Tel Aviv, I bought a sketchpad and a marker for illustrations, set down at my desk and began putting this real-time account together. While writing, I chatted with my old friend Anat and told her of the project.

“You should get the hunk from “Mashrou’ Leila to sing with you,” she suggested.

I am an enormous fan of Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila. I would have loved this better than anything else, but it of course was not to be. “Here’s an issue for you,” I wrote, “anti-normalization.”

Not being an activist, Anat was not familiar with the term. The anti-normalization movement initially opposed any activity that would create a false sense of normalcy and of false equality between Palestinians and Israelis. The activists claimed that things here are not symmetrical. One nation is holding another oppressed, which can easily be forgotten when Mira Awad and Noa stand together on the Eurovision stage.

Over the years, the movement has radicalized. Today its activists tend to oppose any cooperation between Jews and Arabs, regardless of what view it presents. At times, the anti-normalization campaign has even opposed cooperating with those who once cooperated. “Two years ago they called to boycott Mashrou’ Leila,” I told Anat, “because Mashru’a Laila was scheduled to open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Beirut, and the Chili Peppers played Tel Aviv on the same tour.”

“Got it,” She wrote, “what a plot twist, Israel as a contagious disease.”

“Yep. It’s sad.”

“So who are you going to sing with?”

I have made up my mind about one thing: “I won’t be singing with anyone, and yes, it’s out of consideration for the anti-normalization issue. For me this project is all about complexities. They keep arising and this is why I’m chronicling the entire thing. But others might see it differently so once we get behind the mic, the Hebrew songs will be recorded in one session, the Arabic ones recorded separately. No duets. It’s not going to be encouraging. It’s simply going to be.”

(For more, check here, and join us on Facebook)

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Yemenite Children Affair: Families of the kidnapped speak out http://972mag.com/yemenite-children-affair-families-of-the-kidnapped-speak-out/101166/ http://972mag.com/yemenite-children-affair-families-of-the-kidnapped-speak-out/101166/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 18:43:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101166 Between the years 1948 and 1952, thousands of babies, children of mostly Yemenite immigrants to the newly-founded State of Israel, were allegedly taken away from their parents and given up for adoption to Ashkenazi families. Now a group of activists is telling the stories of the traumatized families who vow never to forget.

(Translated from Hebrew by Maayan Goldman)

Yemenite children's affair.

The baby in the photo is younger than my Abigail. His name is Rafael – a tiny baby, seen here in his mother’s arms. She wandered from Damascus to Beirut and onto the shores of the promised land, before being placed in a tent in the Beit Lyd transit camp. Rafael is my mother’s younger brother. She traveled this long route along with him in a sailboat when she was one-and-a-half years old. Grandfather Mordecai wrote in his diary about what had happened to them when they arrived at the immigrant camp:

“One of the nights a horrible wind was blowing, and rain came pouring from the sky. The small children who slept with us in the tents became sick with colds, diarrhea and fever. The smallest one, five-month-old Rafael, got stomach poisoning, and so we went to Tel Aviv and took him to the government hospital in Jaffa, where he returned his pure and innocent spirit to God in the morning light of Tuesday, 13/9/49.”

In Donolo Hospital they wouldn’t let my grandfather see his son’s body nor his place of burial. They also refused to provide him a death certificate.

The three languages they spoke didn’t help my grandfather and grandmother who were religious and educated. They believed the doctors and sat shiva (a week-long mourning period in Judaism) in mourning. They couldn’t imagine being lied to; who could believe that in Israel of all places, Jews will kidnap the child of other Jews.

Years later, when similar, horrific stories began coming to the fore, they understood. Since then they have not stopped tormenting themselves over how naive they were. They spoke about Rafael and looked for him until their very last day. Every conversation with my grandmother Jenia would always come to Rafi. “We didn’t think ya binti (“my daughter” in Arabic) we didn’t think,” she would say to me, her eyes filling up with tears.

After some time, Uncle Ezra, may he rest in peace, leafed through the documents and found the listing at the hospital, where he found the truth. Rafael Mishan: left/gone.

Where are you today uncle Rafi? Who knows? My grandfather and grandmother, your parents, are gone. And we couldn’t ease their pain.

At least we will let their story be heard.

Yael Golan

* * *

In 1949 my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Kammi, gave birth to a healthy baby girl who was taken to the nursery on the same night. In the morning they told her that the baby had died. Aunt Kammi didn’t speak a word of Hebrew and used hand gestures in order to feed her baby. Again they told her that the baby was dead. She asked to see her daughter but they didn’t let her.

A few days later she returned home without her baby. She met a Yemenite neighbor who said the same thing had happened to her. Aunt Kammi never found peace in her life, and was overcome with great sadness.

On the other side of the family, when my father was three weeks old, he had a fever and my grandmother took him to the hospital. Once he was admitted to the hospital, they told his mother, Mas’uda, to go home. My grandmother knew that babies were being stolen and asked to stay by his side. When they didn’t agree, she offered to work there for the time of his hospitalization, washing dishes, cleaning and folding laundry. They finally agreed. She remained nearby and visited him from time to time. Three weeks later they were released from the hospital.

Efrat Shani-Shitrit

* * *

A baby disappeared from one out of every eight Yemenite families. One out of eight.

Almost every family experienced an attempted kidnapping or witnessed such a tragedy happening to friends and relatives. I only heard my grandmother’s story a year ago!

A short time after their arrival in Israel, my uncle was born in the transit camp. At the same time, four other women from the same Yemenite community gave birth. Nurses recommended that the babies be taken to the nursery, since the conditions in the transit camp conditions were unsuitable for children. The women complied, of course, and were promised to be able to visit their babies a few times a day as well as breastfeed them.

At that time there were already rumors spreading about babies disappearing, and indeed, a day or two later the babies disappeared from the nursery. The mothers were informed that they were sick and delivered to the hospital. My grandmother, a very strong-minded and stubborn woman who was way above average (yes even the Yemenite average) decided to search for her child. She went to the hospital and looked in all of the different rooms until she found my uncle, took him in her hands and left the hospital. The other four children were never found. The parents were told they passed away.

I didn’t hear this story from my father, but rather from my Ashkenazi mother. The silence surrounding this affair teaches us not only of the denial of the Israeli public, but also of the terrible injustice caused to these families who weren’t even allowed to grieve over these crimes, and had no way of receiving recognition or legitimization for their infinite suffering. Crazy people, they call them, delusional. So much so that even their children’s generation didn’t speak up. Imagine living your life after having your child snatched away from you – disappearing. Imagine five minutes of that. Can you?

When I asked my father why they never told me, he said “grandmother didn’t forget, she keeps every piece of information she finds on the subject in a special bag.”

Maybe, just maybe our grandmothers and grandfathers will find a little comfort in the fact that their grandchildren are no longer willing to keep quiet.

Naama Katiee

* * *

They tried to kidnap two of my relatives: an aunt on my mother’s side and an uncle on my father’s side.

They tried to kidnap my uncle right after he was born. The nurse came in to tell my grandmother that her baby didn’t survive. My grandfather, who had the ability to be very scary when he wanted to, was not convinced. He went over to her and yelled: “Where is my son?!” and was both mad and loud enough to make the Ashkenazi nurse return his son.

The State of Israel never recognized what had happened to my family, nor did it ever apologize, express remorse or stop to think and ask: how the hell did we reach the point where someone considers the kidnapping of children legitimate?

I will walk in Jerusalem’s gay parade as part of the LGBTQ community who has recently been embraced by the state and has received recognition and the attention of a lively debate taking place in the Israeli society. Of course our battle isn’t over, but there is no doubt about the road ahead of us, about our great efforts and hard work and about the very existence of that road.

After the parade I will go to an event with my caring, sensitive and empathetic partner. I will see many black and beautiful faces carrying their pain and that of their relatives for over 50 years now. I’ll cry with them, I’ll sing with them, I’ll listen to what is on their hearts and minds. I’ll be a part of this community – one that never received recognition, and whose path has never been carved out by others. One that can only see, but is itself invisible.

Roy Grufi

* * *

This is my main source of power. This whole story. My grandmother.

When she gave birth to twin girls in the hospital, a nurse she knew asked her if she would be willing to give up one of her babies for adoption: “You already have Ben-Zion and Mazal” (my mother, in the photo with her).

According to my uncle’s wife, my grandmother was so stunned by the question that she sought out her help. Her naivety, along with the fact that she was facing a nurse who had given her so much in her eyes, made her too ashamed to answer her right away and refuse.

When she returned to the hospital a few days later, the nurse informed her that one of the baby girls had passed away. That was that. No body, no grave.

What went on in her heart and mind, I can only guess. This is the hard part. I don’t believe that my grandmother, the way I have come to know her for all of her integrity and innocence, could comprehend the possibility of someone doing such a thing. It was beyond her grasp. But she could not grasp the opposite situation either. You just know whether some things are true or not – it’s an obvious gut feeling. Power relations didn’t allow that generation’s voice to be heard, but slowly, the grandchildren are rising up and demanding answers. And if not answers, then at the very least we demand memories. We have our own awareness day, since the state still denies the fact that this holocaust took place. In the end they’ll understand that we don’t really need them. The voice, the memory and the truth are only up to us.

Yemenite children's affair.

Shlomi Hatuka

* * *

It’s 1951. A young woman, maybe 19, a newcomer from Iran, gives birth to her first daughter. The daughter is taken away and the woman is told she had died.

“Where is the dead daughter?” asks the young woman.

“There is no daughter, go home.”

She went home with no daughter. She went home with no funeral and no grave.

A year goes by, the same young woman gives birth to a son at the same hospital. The son is taken. Where is my son, the woman asked. He’s dead, they say to her. Your son in dead, there is no son.

“Give him to me dead,” the woman said.

“There is no dead, go home.”

She went home with no son, she went home with no funeral, with no grave.

She had no more children. They remained alone, just she and her husband. Three years ago her husband died and she was left all alone – no husband and no children, 82 years old, sick and lonely, with family or friends left.

I met this woman an hour ago. She was sitting on a bench on Zamenhof Street in Tel Aviv asking for help. She held a hospital bill of 909 shekels for calling for an ambulance for her husband over three years ago. Not only she does she lack the ability to pay, she doesn’t know how to do it. When I offered her something, she determinedly said no, saying she only wanted to find out what she can do, before bursting into tears. Then she spoke of her children who may be alive today, and cried again. One woman, two children.

God, how efficient they were back then, in 1951.

Kair Atlan

* * *

I sat down to drink my morning coffee with A, my friend from the neighborhood. I told him that today is the day of awareness for the Yemenite children’s affair. He is a proud Moroccan, 73 years old, level-headed, precise, sharp and smart. This what he told me: one winter in Zarnuka transit camp, my two little brothers were sick. My father worked in the orchards and couldn’t go to the hospital with my mother. My mother and two brothers arrived there with the boys running a high fever, and after some general check-ups my mother was sent home. My father, who was a clever man, convinced her to go back there with him to watch over the children. When they returned, one of the nurses came over and told them that the children are gone. Until this day their place of burial is unknown, as is the cause of death.

A’s mother was informed that they had died of gastroenteritis that turned very severe in less than a day. A’s family, Moroccan farmers – proud Zionists – didn’t ask questions or demand answers. They only mourned, believing that the two had gone to a better place.

Israel Kabala

* * *

Miriam Bunker, 80, was born in Pakistan. She immigrated to Israel with her late husband, Abraham, and their only daughter at 1948. Abraham worked in the department of public service and Miriam worked in the Kanaf 6 IDF base until she retired. In 1959, after having given birth to five children already, she became pregnant again and gave birth to triplets. After two days in the hospital she was told that two of the three babies had died. She neither saw their bodies nor got a chance to bury them. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion awarded her a house with a 70 square meter yard in Dalet neighborhood in Beersheba. She still lives there paying 450 shekels a month to this day.

When the children reached the age of 17, they all received IDF draft orders – the two dead ones included – which were delivered to her house.

Yemenite children's affair.

Yehuda Alush

* * *

“For the sin we have committed before you openly or secretly.”

As a grandson to a grandfather and grandmother who experienced this terrible crime – committed in secret and backed up by the country’s elite – I felt the need to take part in the evening to honor of the memory of the Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan children affair. At the end of the evening, I felt very strongly about how important it is to speak up and tell my story – to my children and to anyone else whose heart and ears are not sealed. I’m allowing myself to “steal” some of your time in order to cry out in the name of the parents and their stolen daughter.

I am the grandson of Ezer and Sara Zarum, who immigrated to Israel in the 1950′s from Sana’a with their two sons (Eli and Mati) and reached the Atlit transit camp, where my grandmother gave birth to her daughter Ziona.

I won’t go into detail, but Ziona was staying at the hospital, and a few days later my grandmother was told that she died and had been buried. After some time my grandmother gave birth to my father, Zion, and years later to Yinon. At the end of the 60′s, thanks to a relative working in the Central Bureau of Statistics, who cross-referenced some details, a suspicion arose over the possibility that Ziona was alive, and that she was adopted by a well-known family (who was close to the political elite) from Haifa.

The story explodes and reaches the headlines. Both my grandmother and “Ziona” are interviewed by the press. The story ends with her refusing to meet my grandparents.

As a child, the story stayed with me for my entire life. Of course it was forbidden to speak about it with my grandparents. In fact, I don’t remember it ever coming up in their presence. They have accepted the verdict.

This week I asked my father, who did not know that he had a sister until the story went public, how come his parents didn’t suspect anything – never asked or investigated the subject. He answered: “Grandfather Ezer couldn’t believe that there are thieves in Israel.” And suddenly I understood their silence very clearly. It is not just about accepting the verdict, it is also a fear of holding this disappointment of their “land of milk and honey,” which they yearned for and dreamed of in their prayers and songs.

But I have no one to ask about it now.

Yemenite children's affair.

Grandmother Sara, screen shot from Einat Kapach’s film “Be’inyan Neshama Ze Lo Balagan,” which tells the story of Ziona.

Neriya Zur 

* * *

My sister Rachel was three months old. She had a fever, so my mother took her from Nahariya to Rambam Hospital in Haifa. We lived in a shack in the transit camp and my parents didn’t speak any Hebrew. There was transportation only once a day. My mother went to visit her after a week and found her healthy. She wanted to take her home, but she was told to come back in two weeks. A week later she received a letter saying that the baby died. She asked to see a body, but there was no body. Eighteen years later an army draft notice arrived.

Herzel Doniari

* * *

1992

All of my mother’s brothers and sisters are sitting in the living room when I come back from the army on Thursday. Something important must have happened. Etti is wiping a tear from her eye, Isaac looks upset. A stranger is sitting with them, holding a tape recorder in one hand, writing in a yellow pad in the other. They think they found her. I will have to postpone my enthusiasm over the army-sponsored car I got for the weekend. She was one year old, he was an immigrant, and he took her to the hospital. In the evening the doctors convinced him to go home – sleeping in the hospital was forbidden. When he came back early the next day, an Israeli, Jewish doctor put his arm on his shoulder and told him the worst of all had happened:”She died.” “She died? What do you mean died? Of what?” even then he didn’t raise his voice, and was only filled with quiet sadness. “Pneumonia. there was nobody here, we didn’t know what to do, she was buried in a nameless grave, a proper Jewish burial, don’t worry.” He couldn’t find the Hebrew words to say body, or death certificate, just as he couldn’t find ones to express his anger and pain. The deputy director of the ward walked him out of the hospital, gave him some vague, general explanations, and finally asked how many children he has. Grandfather didn’t understand what that has to do with anything. The most important thing is having people to go back home to, the deputy director said.

At home, when he was asked where the baby is, he didn’t answer. My grandmother insisted, there’s no way that children will just disappear like that, here in Israel. “If a Jewish doctor in Israel said the girl died then she is dead… this isn’t a foreign country over here.” For him, a Jewish doctor in the Land of Israel was almost a divine entity. And even the deputy director was called in to help explain the situation when he had a hard time understanding it, my grandfather Zion tried to convince himself.

A while later he lost his innocence, spoke of her as if she were alive, mentioned her at every opportunity and counted her among his seven children. Before he died, 40 years after leaving her in the hospital, his oldest son intravenously inherited the mystery of the missing daughter. Ten years after his father died, Uncle Isaac began searching. In the age of computers and technology, it seemed like there was hope in the office Internal Affairs Ministry. Someone working there found a listing of a woman whose personal details were identical to the ones of the lost sister – name, I.D number, date of birth, year of immigration, even the name of the ship in which she had arrived to Israel – in which they had all arrived, together. But now what? That was the purpose of this gathering. They consulted with a reporter from Ma’ariv who was investigating the affair. She thought they only kidnapped Yemenite children, but was happy to further expand the subject and the unequivocal testimonies. In her opinion there was only one thing to do: there was an address in Jerusalem, and we needed to go and check it out. This should be done very carefully, very gently, she should not be involved at this stage.

“I can go,” I volunteered immediately. Even before I understood what was in question exactly, it sounded like a great adventure. The adults were less excited about it.

“What will you say to her? What will you do? You can’t pressure her, you can’t just go there and knock on her door, we have to find out more details.” I had an answer ready for every question, almost without thinking: “I’ll pretend I’m a fundraiser or doing a survey about television, what’s the problem? It’s all about going in there and looking to see if there is any resemblance right?”

I guess I managed to gain the trust of six brothers and sisters. Etti suggested that Ravit will go with me, so there will be someone who’s “a bit older, after all…”

Sunday afternoon, Ravit and I in the car that I got from the army, a Renault 5 that can barely make it up the roads leading to Jerusalem. We prepared questions, printed out a survey on wide, perforated computer papers, and after briefly getting lost in the city’s alleyways we stop in front of the house. A three-story building, surrounded by a stone wall and a lot of vegetation. Ravit said it would be better if she waits in the car, one pollster is more believable. I didn’t argue. I need to go in, take a quick look and leave. Filled with a historic sense of mission I stand in front of the door on the first floor, staring at the sign which confirms my kidnapped aunt’s name. A small butterfly flutters its wings under my diaphragm. I knocked a soft knock on the door followed by another one. Only after three very careful, hesitant knocks did the door open. A girl eight or nine years old stood before me. A sigh of relief – a girl I can handle. “Hello, where’s mommy?” I ask. “Sleeping.” Excellent, I think to myself, but then I remember that I’m supposed to actually see the aunt, find out if there’s any resemblance. “I’m from cable television and we’re doing a survey about television viewing habits. Would you be willing to answer a few questions?” “Yes, but I’m small,” says the girl who could easily be my cousin, and goes back to her drawings on the dining room table as if I were some relative who just walked in.

I sit down beside her, realizing my good fortune. “Okay, we’ll start with a few personal details.” Name of the mother, name of the father. Between names of television shows I plant questions about their country of origin and year of immigration – of her mother, of her father. “Did you complete your family tree project?” I ask. The girl, immersed in her drawings, occasionally lifts up her head and mutters a reply. She seems indifferent, a bit suspicious. “Mother doesn’t have any brothers.” Her head is almost touching the drawing. I take advantage of her lack of attention to observe her. She looks like Ravit or Meirav in the 8 mm film, with Kiko the donkey on the boulevards of Nordia.

Something in her eyes and in her cheeks resembles the family. Half an hour goes by. We’ve gone through all of the programs we had prepared, as well as those we hadn’t prepared. What do you think about Sesame Street, and would you prefer cartoons, and maybe you’d like to have news for children. After spending more than three years in the army, I don’t know any television programs. She can sense I’m buying time. I ask her about her grandfather and grandmother on her mother’s side, and the uncles as well. All of the answers are correct. She was born in 48, immigrated in 49, came from Libya, she’s adopted but her adoptive parents are also from Libya (I thought they only kidnapped children for Ashkenazi families), her parents died but she knows there were some problems with the adoption. An only child.

I look at the clock on the wall. 40 long minutes. Ravit is dehydrating in the car. Six brothers and sisters and one reporter are eagerly waiting by the phone to hear the fatal answer. “When will mommy wake up?” “I have to wake her up at 5″ “It’s 5 now.” She takes a look at the clock and scolds me “there are 5 more minutes.” Five minutes later she disappears into the apartment and returns after a minute, sits down in silence and goes back to her drawing. A few minutes go by and I hear a rustle. Then the rustle turns into footsteps. I turn my head in the direction of the footsteps and she appears. A women of around 50, sleep wrinkles on her face, black hair, wide hips, there’s a hint of of Sara in her, a little bit of Rivka. She notices me staring at her, now she seems angry. “Hello,” she says in a voice which sounds almost aggressive. “He-llo,” I mumble, excited, agitated. “I, uh, we’re doing a television survey, will you be willing to answer a few questions?” she looks at me suspiciously, approaches the papers and asks me to leave. She doesn’t have time for this sort of thing. I walk out to the stairway, distracted, excited, alert, confused, trying to keep all of the details in my memory, not to lose even a fragment of information, organize my thoughts, not to forget how she looked, her facial features, the whole experience.

It takes 60 minutes before we get home. On the way I practice on Ravit, driving really fast so as to not forget. As if I’m moving an egg on a spoon to the other side of the room – quickly but carefully. She doesn’t resemble them but doesn’t not resemble them either. There is some resemblance. The narrow face, the wide hips. She looks a little like Sara and a little like Rivka, but I do not know. She also looks a little bit like my father’s family. Actually, not really. Do you think she could tell? I don’t know. In any case, the details are correct – an only child, adopted, immigrated from Libya, 1949.

At our home in Yavne, the phone is ringing long before I get there. Six brothers and sisters, again and again. Everybody wants to know how it went. Why did it take so long? The story passes from brother to sister, long and detailed, no word is left out, no detail is forgotten. “The little girl looks like Ravit and Meirav…. in the films with Kiko the donkey… she asked her about news for children… and then she heard steps and she walked out… doesn’t resemble and doesn’t not resemble… a little bit of Sara and a little bit of Rivka…she doesn’t know.”

We have to talk to her, there’s no other choice, we have to confront her with the facts. Of course there’s always the possibility that some sort of mistake was made in the personal details – that she was mixed-up with someone else. But if there was no mistake, then it’s Miriam.

Uncle Isaac finds a “distinguished man” – someone whom she would know, respect and will agree to meet with and listen to. Someone who would talk to her, who would tell her. They want nothing from her, just to know that it’s her, that Miriam is alive, that our grandfather may rest in peace. He talked to her. She doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want to check, doesn’t want anything to do with it, doesn’t want to discover lost brothers and sisters at the age of 50. She has her own life, her own family, she doesn’t need this shock now. It has been 50 years. Six brothers and sisters won’t give up. Isaac calls her, tries to set up a meeting with her. She won’t do it – they want nothing, that isn’t the point. No money, no family events, no genetic tests. Just cooperation.

She doesn’t have time for this sort of thing.

Aunt Miriam’s daughter is a young Jeruslamite today, around the age of 30. After long hours of conversation about the right to know vs. the right not to know, we will not search for her, but will be happy to be found.

Gali Sembira (Thirty Months of Love, Xargol, 2005).

This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

More on the Yemenite children’s affair:
The tragedy of the lost Yemenite children: In the footsteps of the adoptees
The Yemenite Baby Affair: What if this was your child?

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On being murdered because some people can’t take a joke http://972mag.com/on-being-murdered-because-some-people-cant-take-a-joke/101284/ http://972mag.com/on-being-murdered-because-some-people-cant-take-a-joke/101284/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 13:17:32 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101284 If anything, satire in our society runs the risk of being too safe, of making its targets appear less dangerous than they really are. In cutting them down to size, satire sometimes humanizes as much as it disparages.

By Don Futterman

People holding Charlie Hebdo cover with Mohammed cartoon during a unity rally (Marche Republicaine), in which 50000 people paid tribute following the three-day killing spree in Paris, January 11, 2015. (Photo by Shutterstock.com/Hadrian)

People holding Charlie Hebdo cover with Mohammed cartoon during a unity rally (Marche Republicaine), in which 50000 people paid tribute following the three-day killing spree in Paris, January 11, 2015. (Photo by Shutterstock.com/Hadrian)

This week 17 French citizens were murdered because some people literally can’t take a joke. Artists were martyred for mocking Islam and Islamic extremists, police lost their lives because they were charged with protecting those artists’ right to free speech, and Jews were slain because they were Jews.

A joke, for or an instant, inverts the way we look at the world and defies our expectation. Satire is by definition subversive, making us aware of the inherent contradictions in any social system or in our own conflicted personalities. Humor is the individual’s ultimate weapon to resist social conformity, which is why tyrants and rigid ideologues always find it so threatening. It cannot be controlled.

All these people lost their lives because their murderers do not believe that human beings are capable of of holding two possibly contradictory ideas in their mind at once – which is the essence of all humor.

Read also: Paris victim Yoav Hattab died a Tunisian patriot

These killers are the vile vanguard of fanatics not spiritually sophisticated enough to understand that the sacred and the profane are inextricably intertwined, or that anything that is genuinely holy is resilient enough to survive derision, even of the most profane kind. They are not able to understand the West, where a person may laugh at his own belief system, recognize its inconsistencies and still embrace it.

The Kouachi brothers and their accomplices were simpleminded butchers who wanted the rest of us to become simpleminded lackeys. They could not tolerate the complexity of life, of the real world, of people who do not submit as they did to an unforgiving and inhuman credo.

Satire is used to diminish and belittle the objects of its mockery, to expose their lies and hypocrisy and reveal their flaws. Islamic extremists are hardly the first to find mockery a sufficient justification for a death sentence. The most criminal regimes in human history, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, were notoriously humorless and did not suffer public satire. Nor did the church or most monarchies for much of history. Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin are only the latest in a long list of dictators and tyrants to punish those who lampoon their follies.

Satire is deployed to sting, to attack, to infuriate. Or to survive; a Jew at a café in 1930s Berlin tears hair out as he reads the Jewish paper, when he spies his friend reading the Nazi paper, Der Sturmer. Outraged he asks him, “How can you read that hateful rag?” And his friend answers, “In your newspaper, Jews are losing their jobs, getting arrested and beaten up in the streets. In my newspaper, we are wealthy and powerful and control the world.”

When we enjoy satire, we feel momentary power over political or religious leaders, social institutions or commercial culture, and feel slightly more independent of their ability to impact or control our lives.

Read also: The real reason Bibi wants French Jews to move to Israel

For those of us weaned on Mad Magazine, George Carlin, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, Doonesbury, Seinfeld and the Simpsons, mocking sacred cows is mother’s milk, part of our essential being. The parodic or self-mocking worldview, is as deeply rooted in our psyche as the value systems and institutions we jeer at.

Comedy in our culture is mainstream, not marginal; we expect our YouTube and sitcoms to make us laugh on demand in a way that is unprecedented in human history. When we are exposed to satire that is genuinely angry, unsafe, that is willing to provoke disgust to make it’s point, we don’t digest it with our usual facility.

We reward the megastar comedians of our global culture, even if they are animated characters painted yellow with purple hair.

The subversive essence of humor is hardly a basis for creating a stable society or building a strong community. But that is exactly our challenge; to embrace human contradiction and keep perspective on our own limited significance in the cosmic scheme of things, to poke holes in our social order while acknowledging our human need to belong to a social order.

If I have to choose between the Simpsons or the religious order of thugs, I will champion Bart and Lisa knowing that they are infinitely more human, profound and true. If the 20th century taught us nothing else, it proved time and again that those who seek purity in human affairs are choosing death over life.

If anything, satire in our society runs the risk of being too safe, of making its targets appear less dangerous than they really are. In cutting them down to size, satire sometimes humanizes as much as it disparages. If I can laugh at something or someone then it feels like it or they can’t hurt me; at least not directly, at least, not physically, which in an open and free society, is usually the case. I may be motivated to scoff rather than take action.

Charlie Hebdo are guerilla cartoonists specializing in unsafe satire; they use comics to make their readers laugh but also to provoke, to disgust, to insult, to incite strange thoughts, to jar us from our comfort zone.

But if another ridicules your beliefs, you have the choice to challenge them in the marketplace of ideas, to turn away or turn the channel, to refute their claims, or if the offense is considered intolerable, to seek recourse in a court of law.

Contemporary western culture, with all its confusion and self absorption, has the wisdom to accord humor a central place in our pantheon. The murderers of artists, police officers and Jews in France aspired to impose a humorless regime on as many people as they can. And while we should mock them, it is time for everyone in the West to stop treating them like a joke.

Don Futterman is the Program Director for Israel of the Moriah Fund, a private foundation which works to strengthen Israel’s civil society. (The Moriah Fund supports +972.) He can be heard every week on the Promised Podcast, a discussion of new Israeli politics and society.

Related:
Paris victim Yoav Hattab died a Tunisian hero
The real reason Bibi wants French Jews to move to Israel

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, Chapter 2: Casino San Remo http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-2-casino-san-remo/100075/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-2-casino-san-remo/100075/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 12:20:18 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100075 Yuval Ben-Ami and his gang are going where no man or woman has gone before: They are trying to produce a bilingual, bi-national album based on the songs of pop prodigy Lorde. The only problem: The gang itself is homogenous to the core. An insurmountable challenge?  

Read part one here.

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A week after our Yemenite feast, I met with Yaron to start working out the details. “I have a title for the EP,” I told him, “I want it to be ‘העונה לתספורת קצרה,’ that’s ‘Buzzcut Season,’ the name of one of Lorde’s songs. I think it’s her best.”

Yaron was fine with that.

There was of course, the other thing. “I Think it should be named ‘Buzzcut Season’ in Arabic, too. I want it to be a co-production, Palestinian-Israeli. Anything that has to do with Lorde is out of control. The world may find this interesting, and if it does, I don’t want for it to be exclusively Hebrew, Jewish-Israeli. I’m over that.”

We were sitting at the cafe across from my house, in the largely residential heart of Tel Aviv. The environment here was even more homogeneous than in the Yemenite quarter. You never know what someone’s backgrounds is, but everyone at least appeared to be central Tel Aviv Ashkenazi.

Yaron, ever open minded, reacted just as fondly. “I have a contact for Mira Awad,” he said. “Maybe she’d like to get involved.”

It sounded too good to be true. Mira Awad is something of an actual star. A Palestinian citizen of Israel, she is known for her openness to collaborate with Jewish-Israeli musicians. She even represented Israel at the Eurovision song contest, alongside Hebrew songstress Ahinoam Nini, known internationally as “Noa.”

“So that’s great,” I said, “We have Mira Awad. Now all we need is someone to translate a few songs into Arabic for her.”

“We don’t have Mira Awad,” Yaron said, throwing cold water on my sudden confidence, “I have a contact for her. That’s all.”

This rang a bell. In a recent episode of “South Park,” the gang of cartoon misfits decides to throw a party to boost their popularity. One kid, Stan, tells his peers that a colleague of his father is Lorde’s uncle, so he could probably get Lorde to come and play at their party. From that moment on, Lorde’s performance is an uncontested fact. When the party’s refreshments are banned due to a nationwide glutton hysteria, Cartman comforts the others by reminding them, “We still have Lorde.”

I came out a Cartman. Dang.

Enter Hanin

“Actually,” I said, “I already found someone who would help us with translations. I got in touch with Hanin Majadli.”

I thought the name would require an introduction. Hanin isn’t a celebrity of the Mira Awad kind. She is, to me at least, more of a Facebook celebrity: an outspoken Arabic teacher in Jaffa and one-state activist who enjoys offering her vision to her often-hostile Hebrew Facebook feed. In this land of limited discourse, such things cannot be ignored. Yaron knew who she was. He appeared, in fact, rather curious.

“Let’s go and see her,” he said.

“What, right now?”

“Yes. Call her up. Find out what she’s doing.”

Hanin was free to meet and suggested a Jaffa cafe named “Casino San Remo.” We rode down there in Yaron’s car, humming to Mark Knofler through Friday traffic. I warned him that she has a habit of being very fashionably late to social functions, and we each postponed the rest of our day’s plans while waiting for a table.

This place was even “whiter” than the one by my house — attesting to Jaffa’s gentrification and Judaization, but it was nice and buzzing and in the full hour we waited for Hanin, another friend, Yael, randomly bumped into us and joined our table. I met her long ago at a poetry event. She was a soldier at the time.

Hanin arrived in a foul mood, clearly because, at Yaron’s advice, I texted and rushed her. She confessed to recovering from a proper Tel Avivian night out, but was dressed to kill and made up aristocratically, strongly clashing with everything around us. “I hate hipsters,” she blurted out. “I hate this place.”

“It’s you who suggested we come here,” I noted.

“I thought you would feel at home,” she replied.

Kiwi solidarity

Yael listened on silently as the three of us spoke about Lorde. We did so in Hebrew. Like most Palestinian citizens of Israel, Hanin’s Hebrew is spectacular. Like most Israelis, Yaron and I can hardly utter a word in the chief language of the Middle East, the region in which we were born and have lived our entire lives. Feeble attempts were made to teach it to us in school, but we generally had too much of an attitude to listen. My sixth-grade Arabic teacher, Vicky, gave up after the third lesson, and would just sit out the period for the rest of the year, while we all yelled.

It turned out that Hanin had never heard of Lorde before I wrote her. She listened to the songs I sent and liked them, but was critical of my approach. “It’s not like you discovered her,” she said, “so quit talking about her being from New Zealand. She’s an international sensation.״

“Listen.” I tried to defend my case. “When I saw her live in Paris she seemed amazed at having thousands of Parisians cheer for her. I mean, it’s one thing to conquer the world, it’s a totally different thing to conquer Paris. So she stood there and said things like: ‘This is so special, it’s unbelievable. You see, I’m from New Zealand.’ This is what she said. She didn’t say ‘I’m 17,’ which is what’s really mysterious here, that she is so good and made it so far at 17. She was herself baffled that someone from New Zealand made it in this way. New Zealand is significant here.”

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Yaron agreed. “What has ever come of New Zealand? Nothing! At least not musically.”

“There’s Flight of the Conchords,” I argued.

“Oh, that’s right.”

Something occurred to me. As Israelis, we instantly recognize the pride in being from the little country that could, in proving that it could. We find it obvious: when Maccabi Tel Aviv wins the European basketball cup, or professor Aumann of Hebrew University of Jerusalem is awarded a Nobel Prize — communal joy abounds. Hanin, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, does not belong to the same category as Aumann, or even quite to that of Gaza-born Arab Idol winner Muhammad Assaf. When people who share her Facebook statuses “make it,” it is often as symbols of coexistence, alongside Israelis such as Noa. She may never have experienced national pride nor national humility in quite the same way we do.

Or perhaps (I did a lot of assuming here — these things are sensitive. It’s scary to bring them up) she finds the ring of “New Zealand” on my tongue too similar to how I would say “Nablus.” Both are such faraway, exciting places for the adventurous Israeli. Lorde is a rare Kiwi, Hanin: an over-exoticized Arab, sick and tired of being discussed romantically.

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll translate, but I’d rather we don’t do it with Mira Awad. I don’t want to be part of a feel-good peace dance-along. I can get you a much better singer.”

We agreed, for better or worse, and got up to leave. Sweet Yael bid me farewell and headed off on her bike. She hardly spoke the whole time we were there. It occurred to me why she stayed, why she listened. Our schools are segragated, our paths seldom cross. This may have been the first time she had ever shared a table with a Palestinian. Lorde was already doing some good around here.

(For more, check here, and join us on Facebook)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde diaries, Chapter 1: The lunch http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-1-the-lunch/100047/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-1-the-lunch/100047/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 14:36:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100047 Freshly back from his journey down the beaten path, Yuval Ben-Ami is setting out on another adventure, a musical one, a political one — forging a binational tribute to the Kiwi queen bee.

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There’s a nice restaurant in Tel Aviv where my girlfriend Ruthie and I have lunch almost every Friday. It is named “Nehama,” or rather, it is named nothing. No sign graces its door, or rather its opening. The entire place is a modest kitchen that greets the Yemenite quarter by way of a missing “fourth wall.” Nehama, a middle aged Yemenite-Israeli is the proprietor and sole cook. She makes the world’s finest lentil soup.

There’s a nice guy in Tel Aviv. His name is Yaron Fishman and he plays a good banjo-ukulele. Yaron leads a decisively Tel Avivian sort of double life: working in the high tech industry during the day, then heading “Havurat Atomic” (“The Nuclear bunch”) an indie-folk outfit, and cutting tracks in his Ramat Gan flat at night. He and I recently started toying with my own songs and needed to decide where to take them. What better place to do that than Nehama’s on a Friday?

It was a typically warm November day in 2014. Yaron, too, arrived with a Ruthie: his ex-girlfriend and current best chum. Unbeknownst to us as we sat down on Nehama’s plastic chairs, we were headed for an adventure. We were about to break ethnic, linguistic and national bounds through music, or at least to give it an honest shot.

This tale of attempted integration begins with a very homogeneous crowd, in the heart of Tel Aviv’s all-Israeli bubble. Both guys and both Ruthies at the table were Ashkenazi Sabras: Israel-born but of European roots. The food, of course, wasn’t. Nehama served us delicious fried “malawach” bread and long baked “jakhnoon” dough, spicy “skhoog” paste and “hilbe” – a strange gooey spice that notably affects, though not disagreeably, one’s body odor. Nechama’s joint is the haunt of Jewish Tel Avivians of many origins. from Iraqi-Israelis to Ethiopians, but the four of us were all of the same gene pool, the same upbringing, and while feasting we spoke about the music we all liked: Western music.

Old pigweed

“Do you know what pigweed is?” Yaron asked.

None of us did.

“I have this idea,” He explained. “I’m thinking of putting out an EP each year, with Hebrew covers of songs by one artist I like. Right now I’m working on Mark Knopfler, and he has this song called “Old pigweed.” It’s about a man who’s about to eat this great soup, but then he realizes there’s old pigweed in it, which is, like, some sort of unsexy herb. I’m just wondering how I should translate ‘pigweed’.”

He smiled and hummed:

Who put old pigweed
In the mulligan
Was it you?
Who put old pigweed
In the mulligan stew?

I didn’t know what pigweed was. I did know Yaron was reading my mind. He simply went ahead and made the exact suggestion I was planning to make over lunch, though with a slight variation. I took a swig of “black beer,” Israel’s peculiar but delightful malt pop. Alcohol free though it is, black beer gives guts, and I needed guts, because the subject of my fan tribute is not quite as established as Mark Knofler. “I’ve been thinking of doing the same,” I said, “But with Lorde.”

Lorde, for the two or three people worldwide who haven’t heard of her, rears from Auckland, New Zealand. Her real life name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, and her sober electro-pop hit, “Royals” landed her two Grammys and a Brit in 2013. It won her ironic fame and fortune, ironic: because the song is an ode to accepting one’s social status and rejecting the dream life of pop stars as fantasy.

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I discovered Lorde’s album, “Pure Heroine,” about a year ago thanks to a younger friend, and became addicted. This was strange. I haven’t descended into authentic fandom since obsessing over the Beatles in sixth grade. Ever since then, I have been a music snob listening to Schubert, to Ornette Coleman, to Leadbelly, to old stuff, in short.

Suddendly, at 38, an album cut by a 16 year old was spinning me right round. The discovery surprised me, and I felt that my surprise could amuse the world, so I shared it. I “went with it,” so to speak, translating four of Lorde’s songs and uploading them to YouTube, coloring my online personality with Lordeisms. Over my birthday, Ruthie and I were in Europe and she stunned me with tickets to a Paris festival headlined by Lorde. We hitchhiked down there from the Netherlands and got good lifts. When music draws you, you fly.

All this was pleasently goofy, I suppose, but now I was hoping to put real time and effort into a whim, not to mention money, and involve other people in it. I outlined my vision before the Ruthies and Yaron: We will make an actual little album with a cover, withgreat arrangements and cool mixes. Silently, I thought: Isn’t this going a bit overboard?

Yaron didn’t seem to worry. “Let’s do it,” he said, and raised a forkful of jakhnoon in cheer.

The hypocrite

Not far away from Nehama and its relaxed afternoons, this country is the very opposite of simple, and what isn’t visible from around a happy table becomes amply apparent once one goes online. Thanks to my array of Facebook friends, many of whom are activists, I am exposed to plenty of content relating to racism in this land, including propaganda spread by extreme right-wing organization “Lehava” (“flame”).

Lehava incites Israelis against Palestinians, portraying the latter as sexual predators who prey on defenseless Jewish women. Their hate speech reflects that which was used to defame my ancestors in Europe of the 1930s, which means that it offends me personally. I cannot stand silent when something this disgusting is going on.

A few days after our lunch I was reading a report about Lehava’s latest actions, then calmed myself by putting together a fifth Lorde translation. This one is less literal than the previous ones. It referenced Lehava’s propaganda directly.

The song is Lorde’s third single: “Team,” which is naturally anthem-like. Relying on Lorde’s original imagery, I turned it into an anthem of sorts for those who fight Lehava and their likes. “We are imprisoned, already in the crib,” read the lyrics when translated back into English, “In barricaded yards they hold us segregated. We’ll build a palace on the ruins of their lies, and know: we are friends.”

“I’m kind of over being told that my neighbor is the devil. So there.”

I sang this to the camera and uploaded to Youtube and then fell into sadness.

Are we really friends? Are we on each other’s team? Could we be? One thing cannot be denied: We really are held segregated. I grew up in a settlement in East Jerusalem, surrounded by Palestinians, yet hadn’t spoken to one until I left home to travel Europe in my twenties. Times have changed. Today I work with Palestinians, guiding dual narrative tours of the Holy Land. I have become a huge believer in the idea that sharing this land in equality is the only key to giving it a future. Everything I do today is bi-national. Everything – except the Lorde EP. Here I was, putting together something special with another member of my tribe, my very specific tribe

This was going to be a local tribute, and in my book, the word local has changed meaning over the past few years. Nothing can be local unless it is inclusive. This called for some thinking. I put on “Pure Heroine” and did just that.

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The Beaten Path epilogue: Is this the place? (Part 13) http://972mag.com/the-beaten-path-epilogue-is-this-the-place-part-13/99322/ http://972mag.com/the-beaten-path-epilogue-is-this-the-place-part-13/99322/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 12:08:51 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99322 Nothing in the Holy Land is very imposing in and of itself. What visitors seek is a connection to holiness, to an ancient story or to one currently unfolding. The deconstructed tourist trail ends with a realization: Everything here is a trace. The final installment in Yuval Ben-Ami’s journey to Israel and Palestine’s most-trodden tourist sites.

A view from the top of the Seter HaMadrega outpost, just west of the Kfar Tapuach settlement in the West Bank. (photo: Yuval Ben-Ami)

On the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, is a park with a peculiar name. It is called: “This is the Place Heritage Park” and features the imposing “This is the Place Monument.” Ironically, it is not the place, and the bronze figures at the top of the monument are looking away. The place would be the valley below, the one identified by Mormon “Moses” Brigham Young as the promised land. Arriving at this spot following decades of nomadism, Young halted the caravan of the faithful and pointed out the location intended by God for his new chosen people.

The city built in the valley was initially named “Zion.” For someone born in the older Zion, the idea of Utah being “the place” seems far fetched, but is Jerusalem indeed “the place?” Is my Holy Land indeed the same one discussed in the Bible?

A few months ago I visited the mystical city of Urfa, in southeastern Turkey. Traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, Urfa is situated not far from the Euphrates river, on a major artery of the Silk Road. It is a junction of myths and traditions.

On my return I got back to work and found myself once again in a bus filled with tourists, heading south from Jerusalem to Hebron. I told them that the road we traveled is known by its Biblical name, “The Efrata Road,” and that I had no idea why. In Hebrew, Efrata would mean “to Efrat,” or “to the Efrat.” Today there is a town named Efrat on this road, but it it is a modern Jewish settlements named after the road, not vice versa.

And then it hit me: Efrat. This is how people who live along the Euphrates pronounce the name of their river. Could the original Efrata road been the road to the Efrat, the silk road passing through Urfa, that major artery of ancient civilizations that connected Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean? Could the stories of Isaac, Rebecca, Rachel and Jacob, told in the book of Genesis, have been initially set over there, and then traveled here, to support a political claim over Canaan, one that would turn Canaan into the “land of the Patriarchs?” Could it be that this is not, in fact, the place?

The empty room

Travel in the holy land is a lot about touching. Pilgrims touch the Wailing wall, the Stone of Anointing at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the rugs at Al Aqsa Mosque. Political travelers touch the concrete of the separation barrier or plant trees in memory of the righteous among the nations.

Nearly everything we touch can be questioned. Take the Stone of Anointing. We will never be sure whether the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the authentic grave of Jesus and the Calvary. The place was identified by St. Helene in the fourth century, and she was not an archaeologist. She was the mother of an emperor who had just converted his empire, a woman guided by the power of her spirit and by input provided by local Christians.

So the hill may or may not be the right hill — but the stone itself, said to be the one on which Jesus was wrapped in shrouds, is definitely not the right stone. An earlier stone was smashed to bits, when the sixth Fatimid caliph, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, demolished the original fourth-century basilica. A new slab of marble was brought here in the 18th century. Pilgrims kneel down to the floor to touch the marble, they pour holy water over it and soak the water into handkerchiefs. They take with them the spirit of Christ preserved in the stone — the wrong stone.

Thing is, the spirit is there. It makes absolutely no difference whether the stone is authentic or not, or whether the church’s location is exact. This church has been Jerusalem for the Christian world for nearly two millennia. It is infused with the energy of countless pilgrims. Those who soak their handkerchiefs in water do come home with something. I am certain.

All those things we touch here are representations, or “traces,” to use the term favored by Jacques Derrida (I promised to refrain, but one cannot use the word “deconstruct” a hundred times in  a series and not credit Derrida once). They are not the thing itself. The separation wall is not the occupation, the tree at Yad Vashem is not the virtue of saving a human life.

Tourism in Israel/Palestine is “trace” tourism. When we behold the Eiffel Tower or the lower falls at Yosemite, they are an actual tower and actual waterfalls. It is the sheer size and the great beauty of the two that crate the impact. Here, on this small stretch of turf betwixt the Jordan and sea, nothing is very imposing in itself. What visitors seek is a connection to holiness, to an ancient story or to one that is currently unfolding. Everything we touch is a reference.

Visiting the Holy Land is so much like reading poetry. I donot need to hold the actual heart of Emily Dickinson in my hand in order to commune with it. That would be horrible. What I need instead is to read her words. Coming to this land is akin to reading them for the first time in the original, not in translation. By being here, one meets members of the societies that live here and sees how they really live; one gets stuck on the Sabbath without public transportation; one learns how hot it is, and that Israel is far less rich in bagels than would be expected. An open-eyed tourist notices history that is invisible when observing this place from afar: Canaanite, Byzantine, Mameluke… Chatting with a stranger at a bar or on the train, he or she would encounter new narratives: Mizrahi Jewish, Marxist Palestinian, progressive settler…

Coming to this land has got to be, and inevitably always is, a philosophical experience. Whether or not this is the place matters as much as whether the Dickinson tome is or isn’t first edition. First editions are nice, but that is not the point. What matters most here is that which we cannot touch, the poetry, if you will, and poetry is to be found here, in abundance.

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The Beaten Path: Jericho, city of flexible time (part 11) http://972mag.com/the-beaten-path-jericho-city-of-flexible-time-part-11/99757/ http://972mag.com/the-beaten-path-jericho-city-of-flexible-time-part-11/99757/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:02:20 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99757 On we go, deconstructing the tourist trail, except this time it melts in our hands, much like Salvador Dali’s clocks. Welcome to Jericho, oldest city on earth, established right this moment. Part 11 of Yuval Ben-Ami’s latest journey.

ruthie

When I visit Jericho with groups, the visit is typically brief. This sweet, ultra-historical desert town is an attractive destination, but is sadly stuck between two far more attractive ones: Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It ends up being no more than a way station for most.

We usually swing into town, scale “Tel al-Sultan,” the mound that marks Jericho’s original Neolithic settlement, speak as much of the city’s 120 centuries of history as the heat allows (which is seldom much) and then head over to the main attraction: a round stone tower, buried inside the mound and visible thanks to the trench dug by legendary British archeologist Jana Kenyon.

“This,” my Palestinian partner Husam says to the group, “is the oldest structure ever discovered. It’s 12,000 years old, so old that we don’t even know what purpose it served. It could have been a watchtower, a temple, a silo…”

I like to take over at this point and add an illustration: “this is 8,000 years older than Stonehenge.”

The visitors are typically impressed but they are more concerned with a different period in Jericho’s history, that of Joshua’s conquest. They wish to see remains of Jericho’s famous toppled walls. I am no expert on the archaeological debate, but here is what I do know: it appears that most archaeologists today are in consensus that the oasis was periodically uninhabited at the time attributed to the conquest. The ones who do believe a living Jericho existed during the 13th century BC, are those who dig with a bible in one hand and a rake in another.

Try and explain this to a mixed faith group.

Actually, it isn’t so difficult. Archaeology is the world’s most positive science. It can only prove what was, no that anything was not. You never know conclusively what you might find if you dug a foot deeper or a mile further. You only know what you have found so far and what you haven’t.

When the ever rationalist Husam is being too adamant about Rahab being mythology, I pop in with this notion, appeasing the faithful. Then we stop at the shop to buy fresh dates, reboard the bus, and head to the Dead Sea for a dip and a massage.

For two years now Husam and I have been enjoying our little routine, feeling quite comfortable — until our little spiel about the oldest structure in the world was knocked down by discoveries made in Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey. To be concise: the temple at Gobekli Tepe, incredibly preserved and featuring stone carvings of ducklings, wild boar and divine penises, was shown to be just as old as our round tower. True, Jericho remains the oldest city on Earth. No settlement was found at Gobekli Tepe and the temple was likely used by wandering hunters and gatherers, but our “oldest structure on earth” is no longer the oldest. Our own walls of Jericho have fallen.

A wrinkle in time

One thing that complicates exploring this country is that many of its wonders are incredibly ancient. The sands of time gather over them, shrouding them in mystery and controversy, hiding treasures away or rendering them a misleading appearance. Our minds struggle to grasp the idea of the ages. They often fail, and consequently so much of what is around us appears ageless. Tel al-Sultan, which is made up of the ruins of hundreds of different communities piled one on top of the other, looks like a pretty nondescript mound of soil, something you would find on the outskirts of a building site.

Ruthie, my girlfriend, joins me for my day in Jericho. She has never been. Like other West Bank cities designated “Area A,” Israeli law makes Jericho is off limits to us. We are stunned by how near it is. The drive here from central Tel Aviv lasts an hour and 10 minutes. The IDF’s position on the road leading into town is currently unmanned. There’s a Palestinian checkpoint a bit further, but the policeman waves us in with a smile.

Our first stop is for food. We get shawarma and enjoy it by the fountain on the main square. Ruthie is vegetarian, but only in Israel. This way she can explore culinary traditions when traveling. The UN recognizes Palestine within 1967 borders, hence, though Jericho is entirely besieged by the IDF, which keeps its residents under military rule, for culinary purposes it qualifies as abroad.

From the square we head to the cable car that climbs the Mount of Temptation. Tradition has it that Jesus spent 40 days on this mountain, fasting and meditating while the devil was attempting to taunt him. A monastery of cave dwelling monks has existed here since the fourth century, and in the 19th century was expanded with a beautiful stone structure, clinging to the cliff face.

As we step off the gondola we notice a sign indicating that the monastery closes to visitors at two o’clock. It is now 1:58 p.m., and so we rush up the stairs leading to the entrance. Even in the most patient city on earth, time may shrink into a two-minute slot. When this happens, the centuries vanish, the mysteries become unimportant. All that matters is whether the warden is generous.

He is. We get to visit the handsome premises and enter the grotto that is said to be Jesus’s mountain perch, but something has happened. Jericho’s elusive time has grasped us. From now on we are on Jericho time, flexible time.

The relaxed gazelles

We can sense it as soon as we return to the valley and climb the mount. Music drifts over it, German music. We skirt a small rise and discover its source. A heavily pregnant woman stands there, although on closer inspection she turns out to be fake — nothing but a beach ball tucked under her dress. She carries an old fashioned cassette player. We step over, say hi and learn that she is an art student from Hong Kong on an exchange program in Jerusalem.

“My friend and I get everything for free this way,” she says pointing to the mock pregnancy. “We get free admission to all the sites, we even rode the cable car for free.”

“What’s the music?” I ask.

“It’s German music, from the 30s,” she says.

“Is it Max Raabe?” I ask, referring to the contemporary German star, whose big band orchestra reproduces those old favorites.

“No,” she says, “It’s really from the 30s.”

I nod, fascinated by how curiously time flexed about us. We are standing on the product of 12,000 years of civilization, hearing music from the 30s and refusing to believe that it was really from the 30s. The student’s appearance is incredibly contemporary, her attire goes beyond modern, beyond post-modern. It is post-post-modern. Her one arm is entirely adorned by a tattoo. Her music player is an uber-hipster treasure, her eighth-month belly took 10 minutes to arrange.

This seems like a particularly good time to visit a site that dates back to a period not yet referred to in this series. So we get in the car and drive a mile north to Hisham’s Palace, an 8th century Muslim khalif’s residence. We are driving through Jericho’s sparse, village-like townscape. This time of year it is a town of only over 30,000 residents. In summer, only a third remain. All who can escape the heat, do.

Jericho’s appearance has changed dramatically during my lifetime. When I was a child, before the current restrictions were imposed, my family would pass through town whenever traveling north from our Jerusalem home. The northern part of Jericho was then a mud city. Clusters of mud dwellings covered the short mesas lining the road. Those have all been replaced by concrete. Summer Jericho isn’t winter Jericho. 1984 Jericho isn’t 2014 Jericho. This eternal city is entirely subject to flexible time. When Palestinian and Israeli daylight saving times fail to correspond, it falls back one hour from the settlements surrounding it, from the cars driving past it.

Ruthie is disappointed that Hisham’s Palace is in ruins. She anticipated a proper palace, and instead gets a few stone foundations and scattered remains of past grandeur. I have seen the best stonework of the palace presented in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum, and assumed that little remained on the ground.

There are, however, at least three wonders to behold here. One is a massive decorative element: an ornate stone star, framed in an ornate stone two meters in diameter. The second is a scale model of the palace in its heyday. It sits on metal scaffolding and one can stick their head inside and take a peek (as can be seen in Ruthie’s photo, above). A third wonder is the mosaic on the floor of the palace’s former diwan. It shows three gazelles grazing by a beautiful tree, one of them being eaten by a lion.

These gazelles, of course, cannot possibly all be grazing at the same time. Otherwise the ones not yet devoured would have surely escaped the lion. We are gazing at two frozen moments at least, overlapped in one stunning mosaic, by a tree that will always be green.

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‘Activestills’ photographers featured in ‘Local Testimony’ competition http://972mag.com/activestills-photographers-featured-in-local-testimony-competition/100193/ http://972mag.com/activestills-photographers-featured-in-local-testimony-competition/100193/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 10:06:30 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100193 Photojournalism exhibition opens in Tel Aviv. Works by Tali Mayer, Yotam Ronen and Oren Ziv of Activestills are among those being featured for their work in 2014.

Photographers from the Activestills collective, partners of +972 Magazine, Yotam Ronen, Tali Mayer and Oren Ziv are among the winners of the 2014 “Local Testimony” photojournalism competition.

The “Photograph of the Year” was taken by Yuval Chen of Yedioth Aharonoth, who documented the girlfriend of 20-year-old fallen IDF soldier Guy Algranati standing over his grave, surrounded by members of his army unit in the Kiryat Shaul cemetery. Daniel Tchetchik of Haaretz won the prize for “Series of the Year” for “Sunburn,” photos from around the country. Taking the prize in the “News” category was independent photographer Avishag Shaar-Yashuv.

Taking first place in the “Photographed Story” category was Dan Haimovich, who documented the homeless population of an encampment in Tel Aviv, parts of which were published in +972’s Hebrew-language sister publication, “Local Call.”

The competition is part of an exhibition that opened this week in the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, featuring photojournalism images from local and global photographers.

In the News category, Activestills’ Tali Mayer’s photographs were featured in the “Curator’s choice” selection:

The 2014 “Local Testimony” competition. (Activestills.org)

The 2014 “Local Testimony” competition. (Tali Mayer/Activestills.org)

Photos by Activestills’ Oren Ziv took second place in the same category for his series on the struggle of African asylum seekers in Israel:

Second place in the “Curator’s Choice” category. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Second place in the “Curator’s Choice” category. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Second place in the “Curator’s Choice” category. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Second place in the “Curator’s Choice” category. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Ziv’s photo from May 1 protests were also selected in the curator’s choice category for religion and community:

In a selection featuring photos of the violence this past summer, photos by Activestills’ Yotam Ronen were included:

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Oren Ziv was also included in the same selection:

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Summer 2014 selection in “Local Testimony.” (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The 2014 “Local Testimony” competition. (Activestills.org)

The 2014 “Local Testimony” competition. (Activestills.org)

The 2014 “Local Testimony” competition. (Activestills.org)

The 2014 “Local Testimony” competition. (Activestills.org)

A version of this article appeared on our Hebrew-language sister site, ‘Local Call.’ See it here.

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WATCH: A heartbreaking portrait of life in Hebron, in 9 minutes http://972mag.com/watch-a-heartbreaking-portrait-of-life-in-hebron-in-9-minutes/100172/ http://972mag.com/watch-a-heartbreaking-portrait-of-life-in-hebron-in-9-minutes/100172/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 15:28:44 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100172 By Moriel Rothman-Zecher

What does life under occupation look like for a teenage Palestinian?

A new, powerful short film by filmmaker and activist Yuval Orr attempts to show exactly that, by following 15-year-old Awni Abu Shamsiya as he attempts to maintain some shred of normalcy in his hometown of Hebron.

Hebron, where the occupation is in many ways manifested in its rawest form, is the only Palestinian city inside which there is an Israeli settlement. It is a junction of direct and daily conflict between Palestinian civilians, Israeli soldiers and Jewish-Israeli settlers. It is a city where streets are segregated between Jews and Palestinians,and one of the places where freedom of movement is most restricted. It is the site of some of the worst civilian-led massacres, on both sides, since the beginning of Jewish-Arab conflict. No single work can summarize this city and its machinations, in nine minutes or nine days, but Yuval’s film, in zooming in on one day in Awni Abu Shamsiya’s life, gets as close as anything I’ve seen recently.

Maybe it’s the throat-clench of absurdity or the dull-throb of heartbreak, but “Khalil Helwa” (Hebron is Beautiful) is one of the most powerful films about life under occupation in Hebron that I’ve seen in years. The film leaves room for the viewer to come to her own conclusions, while maintaining a clear, humane and empathetic view of the gallingly unfair situation.

But forget what I have to say. The work speaks for itself, whether you’ve been to Hebron 50 times or only know the vaguest contours of its story.

Watch the full nine-minute film:

Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a writer and activist, based in Tel Aviv. He blogs independently at thelefternwall.com. Follow the filmmaker (@yuvalorr) and the author (@Moriel_RZ) on Twitter.

Related:
In Hebron, terror begets a reign of terror
This is what a military operation in Hebron looks like
Former Israeli AG: We should have evicted Hebron settlers

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