+972 Magazine » Life & Culture http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Wed, 01 Apr 2015 21:00:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The long road to Bethlehem http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/ http://972mag.com/the-long-road-to-bethlehem/104862/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 12:38:54 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104862 It wasn’t the soaring arches or the elegant windows, with their curved caps. It wasn’t that the first room of the house was built in 1808. It wasn’t the jasmine that, like a woman letting down her hair, released its heavy perfume at night. It wasn’t the olive, loquat, lemon, almond, and apricot trees that filled the garden. Nor was it that the fruit from that garden seemed sweeter here in Bethlehem than it was in Jerusalem.

The apartment’s biggest selling point, in my landlady’s opinion?

The well.

She showed it to me the first time I saw the place, before I’d decided to rent the apartment. The well was hidden behind a curtain in the kitchen. She pushed the fabric back, revealing a deep recess in the wall. Inside the nook stood a pump and, on the floor, a large stone with a wrought iron handle. My landlady, who was in her seventies, gave the handle a tug. The rock lifted. There was a clunk as she placed it on the kitchen floor.

My landlady got on her knees and peered into the hole, a spot of night surrounded by chiseled white.

“See?” she tapped my calf, signaling that I should get on the floor, too. I obliged her.

I peered into the well. I didn’t see anything. But I could smell the collected rainwater below us.

My landlady put her hands on my back and pushed herself up. As she brushed the dirt off her knees, she explained to me that, if I were to take the apartment, we would share the well. And while our neighbors’ taps would run dry—as they always do here, eventually—we would never go without.

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

A view of Bethlehem. (Activestills.org)

I remembered a long, waterless weekend I’d spent in Bethlehem in 2010. An American friend who lived and worked there had invited me to come celebrate his birthday. I was living in Tel Aviv then and had only been to Bethlehem once before, to work on an article for The National. The photographer who’d been assigned to the story also had Israeli citizenship. Unlike me, however, he had a car. That day, we’d left the Bethlehem area via the settler checkpoint outside the tunnels—a checkpoint we should have breezed through as two Jews riding in a yellow-plated vehicle. But the female soldier stopped us and asked for my ID. Nervous about the fact that I’d been in Bethlehem, which is off-limits to Jews who hold Israeli IDs, I gave the solider my American passport. She rifled through it looking for my visa. When she didn’t find it, she rolled her eyes at me, sighed, and asked me in Hebrew, “Where is your identity card?”

The photographer and I talked our way out of trouble. But I was rattled by the experience and feared that I’d be arrested the next time I was caught. Still, when my American friend asked me to come out to the West Bank for his birthday, I said yes. I told myself that I didn’t need to think too far ahead—I’d worry about leaving when it was time to leave.

When I got there, I found my friend’s house filthy; his kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes. “The water’s out,” he explained. He showed me how we could flush the toilet and brush our teeth using the water he’d saved in plastic bottles ahead of time. I would learn later that other friends keep buckets in their showers to collect the grey water. Because this is what you do in the West Bank, where you’re always waiting for the taps to go dry, where the Jewish settlements you can see from your window or that you pass on the road—the nice, neat, clean settlements that are locked away behind fences and surrounded by security—have green lawns and full swimming pools.

Despite the water shortage, what was supposed to be an overnight trip to Bethlehem turned into three nights of sleeping on my friend’s couch. Every time I thought about leaving, I remembered my confrontation with the female soldier. There are checkpoints on every side of Bethlehem: how could I get out of here without getting caught? And this time I was without a car: wouldn’t it be even more difficult on public transportation? Because I’d be coming out of a Palestinian area, I’d be on a Palestinian bus. And while settlers’ buses just roll through the checkpoints, Palestinian buses are always stopped, passengers IDs are always checked.

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The ‘Tunnels’ checkpoint near Bethlehem. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I couldn’t figure it out, and I dreaded the soldiers, so I just stayed. And stayed. I joked with my American friend that it would be easier for me to go to Jordan and take a flight from Amman to Tel Aviv than it would be to just take the bus home.

Finally, on the fourth day, I realized that I couldn’t just wait out the occupation. The checkpoints and soldiers weren’t going to disappear. And I needed to take a shower. I had to get back to Tel Aviv somehow.

When I left my friend’s apartment that day, I had no idea how I’d get home. Nor did I know that Bethlehem would soon be my home; that I’d end up moving here less than three years later, into a house—a house with a well—owned by refugees from Jaffa.

***

It happened in steps. First I left Tel Aviv and moved to Jerusalem. Comfortable enough in Hebrew, I started studying Arabic. I began writing less about migrant workers and African refugees—my old south Tel Aviv beat—and more about the occupation. I started teaching at a university in the West Bank.

The commute from my apartment in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel was long, sometimes taking as much as two hours door to door. First I’d walk to the light rail. Then I would take the light rail to Damascus Gate, get down, and walk to the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. The territories aren’t just under occupation, they’re also under separation—separation from each other, separation from the Jews. After waiting for the segregated bus to fill, I would ride it to Abu Dis.

I wept — out of shame for the things I said; because I meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now.

To arrive on time for my 8 a.m. class, I had to wake up at five and leave the house around 5:30. I needed the half-hour cushion for delays, like when the light rail was stopped because somebody reported a suspicious package. It was during Israel’s 2012 pummeling of Gaza, “Operation Pillar of Defense.” With the light rail at a standstill and time racing ahead, I had no choice but to hail a taxi.

I got in and told the driver that I was going to Damascus Gate.

Shaar Shkhem?” He repeated in Hebrew, sounding surprised.

“Yes.”

He glanced at me in the rearview mirror, giving me a weary look, sizing me up. I worried that he might refuse the ride. Once, on my way from Ben-Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv, a cab driver had threatened to dump me on the side of the highway when, in the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I wrote for Al Jazeera.

But the driver continued. As we neared the city center, however, he insisted on dropping me off there.

“No,” I pushed back. “I need to get to Damascus Gate.”

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

An Israeli Border Police officer stands guard above Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The area often sees demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Israeli police. (Activestills.org)

“But,” he began, “are you Jewish? Because, if you are, it’s not safe for you there. Especially not now.”

What, when we’re pummeling Gaza for no good reason? I thought. Instead, I just said, “It’s fine. I’m safe.”

The driver argued that I was putting myself at risk. He asked why I was getting out at Damascus Gate anyways.

I explained that I worked in the West Bank.

And thus began the political conversation I’d been trying to avoid. Because I knew where the discussion would go. Because it was early in the morning and I’d already read the bad news coming out of Gaza and because I’d dealt with the light rail stopping because of a suspicious package. Because I just wanted to get to work.

Things went exactly where I expected them to, with the cab driver telling me that Operation Pillar of Defense was necessary, that the Palestinians were getting what they deserved, that we needed to obliterate Gaza and re-occupy it.

A face flashed before my mind’s eye: one of my favorite students. Born and raised in a refugee camp near Hebron, she was hardworking, curious, sensitive, gentle, compassionate, and smart. Kind. Open-minded. Non-judgmental. In Arabic, she would be described as having a “white heart.” This student was in my Monday/Wednesday eight a.m. class and on those mornings, she was the reason I got out of bed at five. Knowing she would be there in Abu Dis, waiting for me, was what got me moving.

And the cab driver thought the Palestinians were getting what they deserved. Did my beloved student—did any of my students—deserve this?

I didn’t realize I was speaking until I heard my voice. I was shrieking at the driver, cursing him, ya ben zona, you son of a bitch, wishing death—“No, not just death. Death full of pain”—upon him and all of his family.

“You and all of your family!” I repeated as I hurled the cab fare at him and exploded out of the taxi. I turned my back to the street and faced the Old City so he wouldn’t be able to see my face as he rounded the traffic circle and headed back toward West Jerusalem.

I wept.

Out of shame for the horrible things I’d said to him; because I’d meant them in the moment; because I didn’t mean them now, because I wanted to take them back; because I knew my favorite student would never wish death on anyone, because she would be disappointed in me, because she would no longer look up to me. Because I was disappointed in myself, because I was disappointed in the cab driver, a fellow Jew, because I was disappointed in the Jewish state.

I cried for the driver and the hatred he lugged around, for the life he was trapped in. Because he was brainwashed by the state that kept him poor, by the government that pitted him against Palestinian workers and stoked the flames of racism.

I cried for Gaza.

And then, with my 8 a.m. class drawing ever closer and my student waiting for me there in Abu Dis—her face round and innocent and full of expectations and hope, even in the middle of a war, even though her brother, in a matter of months, would be detained by the same army that had already arrested so many of her uncles and cousins—I pulled myself together and continued on my way.

On my way to the Palestinian bus station, I stopped to buy a tea from a street vendor. He saw my puffy eyes and noticed me wiping my nose with the back of my hand like a child. “What happened?” he asked me in Arabic. I told him that I was upset about what Israel was doing to Gaza.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Hezbollah will join the war soon, inshallah.”

I would have burst into tears again if I’d had any left.

***

There was another reason I headed out from my apartment in Kiryat Yovel at 5:30 a.m.: I needed the half-hour cushion because the Palestinian buses don’t run according to a schedule; they only leave the station when they are full. Another reminder of Israeli privilege. You can count on Jewish buses, the green Egged buses, which are subsidized by the state. In general, you can plan around the Egged buses, you can arrive on time. These little things end up making an impact on bigger things, like morale and productivity and the economy.

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

Passengers board a bus to Ramallah at the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Anthony Baratier/CC)

But it wasn’t just the five a.m. wake-up and the two hour commute that wore me out. It was also what happened during the trip. Leaving East Jerusalem, the bus would roll through the checkpoint like all the other cars entering the West Bank. Coming back in to the city, however, the Palestinian buses were singled out and pulled over. The Egged buses full of Jewish Israelis headed to and from settlements—which are illegal according to international law—were free to pass.

(Stop and think about this for a second: the settlers, the people whose presence is illegal in the territories, are free to leave the West Bank and enter Jerusalem as they wish while the Palestinians are treated like criminals. Under occupation, everything is hafuch al hafuch al hafuch—the reverse of the inverse of the reverse. Down is up and up is down and down is up. And as you struggle to make sense of it all—as you try to figure out which way is indeed up and which is down and if it even matters anymore—everything starts to seem senseless all over again.)

Coming from Abu Dis, a Palestinian area, meant that I was on a Palestinian bus. As other cars and Egged buses drove through the checkpoint, our bus would ease over to the side and slow to a stop. The driver would open the door. Everyone would get off and file into a walkway lined with chicken wire—what can only be described as a cattle chute. A soldier would stand at the front, between us and the now-empty bus. One by one, we would present him with our IDs so we could get back on the bus and continue to Jerusalem.

Because it was going directly to and from the university, almost all of the passengers on my bus were students, professors, or other administrative staff. Almost all were East Jerusalemites, meaning that they held an Israeli ID card that, from more than a foot away, looked nearly identical to mine. So, most of the time, nothing looked amiss to the soldiers. They see what they want to see—or what they expect to see. And because I’d gotten off a Palestinian bus and was surrounded by Palestinians and because I was holding up a blue ID, just like everyone else, and maybe because I look ambiguously ethnic, they waved me through, assuming that I, too, was Palestinian.

But every once in a while, the difference in my ID would catch a soldier’s eye. The reaction was the same every time. First, a double take. Second, they’d take my ID out of my hand. Next: a long look at the ID, a glance at me, back to the ID.

And then the question, sometimes whispered, sometimes barked. Sometimes asked in awe, sometimes anger.

Mah at osah po? What are you doing here?

I work at the university in Abu Dis, I’d answer in Hebrew.

The awe or anger invariably gave way to disbelief as they asked: Mah at osah sham? What do you do there?

I teach there.

Sometimes that was it and I was free to get back on the bus. Sometimes the soldier would call a second soldier and they’d puzzle over my ID together and ask me more questions, questions designed to ask without asking. Where do you live? Which neighborhood? How long have you lived there? Where did you live before that?

But sometimes they would just ask: are you Jewish?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be in Abu Dis and it’s legal for me to be on this bus. Irritated, I also pointed out the irony that I, a civilian, was explaining the laws to him, the soldier. If anyone should know the laws here, it’s him, not me, right?

Another time, a concerned girl soldier took me aside to ask me if everything was okay, if I was safe, had I been hurt?

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to the soldier that, yes, it’s legal for me to be on this bus.

Once, a soldier didn’t believe that I was, indeed, the person in the ID. He thought I was using someone else’s to try to sneak into Jerusalem and he asked me to produce another form of identification with a picture. I had not yet bothered to get an Israeli driver’s license—I didn’t have a car—so I gave him my old Florida driver’s license. He was skeptical about that ID, too: At b’emet mi’Florida? You’re really from Florida? Asked as though I don’t speak Hebrew with a heavy American accent.

I started to panic. A Kafkaesque scenario flashed before my eyes—what if I can never prove to him that I’m me? What if he locks me up and no one believes that I’m me? And I’m arbitrarily detained forever?

I realized, of course, that my fears were absurd. But the occupation is an absurdity. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

As was the soldiers’ inability to wrap their heads around my presence at the checkpoint. Was it that hard for them to believe that a Jew worked at a Palestinian university? That a Jew could ride a Palestinian bus? And that I could do all these things without being harmed?

Every trip through the checkpoint—whether I was waved through or whether I had trouble with the soldiers—was distressing. I was upset, of course, at the checkpoint’s mere presence and all that it implied for Palestinians’ human rights and freedom of movement (or, rather, the lack thereof). The checkpoint was a reminder of segregation, of people’s inability to reach their friends, family, work, schools, and medical care.

And then there was my reaction to the soldiers who manned the checkpoint. I would see a Star of David dangling from a soldier’s neck and remember the chai necklace that my mother made me wear when I was a child. The thought would pop into my head: these are my people.

No. I would push back. These are not my people.

Who are my people?

***

After a semester of commuting, I was exhausted, so I took a room in Abu Dis. I’d spend the weekdays there and head back to Jerusalem for the weekend. I thought this would simplify my life. I quickly found out that it would just make things more complicated.

I realized this one bright spring morning, after I’d lived in Abu Dis for a few months. I’d just finished teaching my eight a.m. class and was headed to the hummus joint 100 meters or so from the university when a line of Israeli army jeeps came roaring up the street. They looked absurdly out of place: the ugly military green clashed with the stone buildings rendered warm and mellow by the rising sun. Their boxy shape was an affront to the rolling hills and soft edges of the olive trees that shimmered silver in the wind; their uniformity strange before the patchwork of stores and restaurants and houses, before the colorful blankets and rugs that housewives hung from their balconies. Even the jeeps’ sound didn’t fit the place, the engines drowning out the village’s morning murmurings of sabah al-kheir and sabah al-noor and Fairuz’s songs drifting from an open window and the birds’ gossipy chatter.

Entering Abu Dis, which lies beyond the wall, is a provocation in and of itself. It’s a reminder that the occupier is always near. And when he isn’t near, he’s inside: inside your village, raiding your house, demolishing your home, arresting your children, shooting unarmed civilians to death, confiscating your land for settlements, manning the checkpoints that rob you of your time and dignity. But first, before the occupier gets out of the jeep and does any of that, he drives.

The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping ‘them,’ the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep ‘us,’ the Jews, ‘in.’

He drives up the street, the street I walk down every day. The one that leads to the produce shop where I buy my fruit and vegetables and the stand that sells olives from the neighboring village, the market where I buy fresh shrak and labaneh and eggs and meat. The street that takes me to another road that takes me home, to the place where I cook and eat and laugh, where I sleep at night, where I wake in the morning to hear birds chirping outside my window. My friend and her husband and her three kids don’t live off this street but they live in that house over there, that house where in the winter, during the rain, I leave my wet boots by the door and she gives me a pair of nice, clean socks and after lunch I help her with the dishes as though I’m not a guest but part of her family, and I speak broken Arabic with her three children. The house where—when I’ve already been there for four hours and I need to get home—my friend says badri, badri, telling me it’s too early for me to go. Stay, stay. Haliki, haliki, ya Mya.

This is the street where, when I walk alone, colleagues and acquaintances stop to offer me a ride home. They know that I’m Jewish; they know that I have an Israeli ID. One sees a parallel to his own life—he’s really PFLP, he confides in me, but pretends to be Fatah so he can keep his job at the university. This is the street where we keep each other’s secrets. This is the street that keeps me safe.

And with the jeeps headed straight toward us, the street moved as one. The boys around me picked up rocks. I didn’t think, my body mimicked those around me.

I bent over and reached for a stone.

Wait, wait! a voice inside of me said in Hebrew. I saw them in my mind’s eye: the baby-faced boys in the jeeps, child-soldiers who had started learning about the Holocaust in preschool, who believed that Palestinians pose a mortal threat, human beings who had been brainwashed and believed that they were doing something good for am hayehudi, the Jewish people.

My people.

No, no, I argued with myself. These are not my people.

The spell was broken. I was no longer moving with the street. Feeling something heavy in my hand, I looked down and was shocked to see that I was holding a rock. I dropped it just as the boys around me began to pelt the jeeps with stones and the soldiers began to fire tear gas.

The jeeps stopped and the soldiers got out, guns in hand. I heard a pop I recognized from protests—rubber-coated bullets. Caught between rocks and guns, I ducked and looked for a way out of the mess. A store owner who’d come outside to close his steel shutters waved at me. He pointed at a line of parked cars and then himself. I understood. I should get behind the cars, run alongside them and then into the store.

I did and I was safe. But the moment I bent over and picked up a stone was something that I would return to over and over in my head—how I’d lost myself in my surroundings, how confused I’d felt when I thought of the soldiers, how I felt at once connected to them and the village. How mortified I’d felt when I looked down and found a rock in my hand.

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian youth is caught in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian stone throwers. (Activestills.org)

***

Finding it increasingly difficult to relate to Jewish Israelis, even those who weren’t in uniform, I began dating a Palestinian journalist I’d met in Ramallah. He was a West Banker with a green ID. This meant that he wasn’t supposed to visit me in Jerusalem—where I spent most of my weekends—without an Israeli army issued permit.

But he came anyway. There are a number of places where the separation barrier isn’t finished, where there are gaps in the chain-link and barbed wire fence. One is within sight of a checkpoint; my partner arrived to that particular hole in one afternoon, on his way to Jerusalem to see me, only to find soldiers on the other side. They’d closed the fence and were admonishing the crowd of Palestinians that had gathered and were waiting to cross, tut-tutting them, warning that they’d better not even try it.

“Then the soldiers got in their jeep and drove away and one of the men took out some wire cutters,” my partner laughed as he recounted the story, using the air and his fingers to show me how the fellow had cut the fence and held it open.

The hole, my partner explained, leads to the checkpoint.

“Huh?”

“The parking lot,” he clarified. “I caught the Jerusalem bus from there. First they take the people who have come through the checkpoint with permits. Then they pick us up.”

“No way. Really?” I asked him, in Hebrew.

He answered in Hebrew in kind, ken, yes, and showed me the pictures he’d taken on his phone. There was the guard tower, just meters away. There was the group that had gathered as soldiers attempted to enforce the new closure in the fence; there was the fellow holding the hole open; there were men helping an elderly woman and a young lady through. The parking lot; the bus. I was struck again by the absurdity of it all. Hafuch al hafuch al hafuch.

That’s not to downplay Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. It’s more to point out that if someone wants to slip into Israel without a permit, they can. In fact, approximately thirty thousand Palestinian workers do it every day. But, in doing so, they risk injury, arrest, and death. In July of 2012, a Palestinian day laborer was killed when soldiers opened fire on a car full of workers that tried to pass a checkpoint without permits.

Despite the danger, we managed to see a lot of each other. But it’s impossible to have a proper relationship—to unite, to become one—when there’s a wall dividing you, making certain that you remain two. Which is, of course, the point. The separation barrier isn’t just about keeping “them,” the Palestinians, out. It’s also to keep “us,” the Jews, “in.”

Moving to the West Bank started to make sense. Though I could be arrested if I was caught in the “wrong” area—that is, Area A, the pockets of the West Bank that Oslo largely put under Palestinian rule—the consequences were far less severe for me than they were for my partner. We thought it very unlikely that a Palestinian would hurt me; conversely, inside of Israel, Palestinians have been attacked in public places on numerous occasions.

The center of my life had—slowly, unintentionally—shifted to the area beyond the wall, to a place I called “outside.” It was natural that my body would follow.

***

In May of 2013, I made a trial move to Bethlehem, staying in a friend’s apartment while she was in Gaza researching a book. Still without a car, I left the city only once that month. Bethlehem is hemmed in by checkpoints—every road out leads, eventually, to a checkpoint, two of which are off-limits to me as a Jewish citizen of Israel.

There’s the one known as “300”—the massive complex of cement and spikes and barbed-wire and turnstiles and booths and bullet-proof glass and guns and bullet-proof vests and the child-soldiers who wear them—that stands between Bethlehem and its big sister, Jerusalem. Leaving Jerusalem and entering Bethlehem via 300 isn’t difficult for people like me: Jewish citizens of Israel who hold a second passport. If you’re driving through, you flash a smile and the outside of your foreign passport to the guard in the booth, who presses the button that lifts the arm ahead. And that’s it, despite the two signs outside of the checkpoint warning that it is illegal for Israelis to enter Area A and that doing so puts their lives in danger.

On foot, the soldiers don’t even look at you as you enter Bethlehem via 300—yet another reminder that the army isn’t there to protect the occupied, as it is obligated to do according to international law.

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians enter the main checkpoint separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Activestills.org)

But turn around and try to enter Jerusalem—which the state considers “the eternal capital of the Jewish people”—and you’ll fast remember why the Israeli military is there. Those who are driving in have to pop the trunk of their car so that the soldiers can inspect whatever is inside. Those who pass on foot are subject to metal detectors and humiliating searches. A friend once saw soldiers ask an elderly woman to remove her shirt.

And, coming in to Jerusalem via 300, every ID is scrutinized.

I can’t chance it. I’m too likely to be arrested. So, via public transportation, there is only one other way to get in to Jerusalem: the Beit Jala bus. As the name suggests, the bus exits the Bethlehem area via Beit Jala, a Bethlehem suburb where, technically, Israelis are allowed to be. It then passes through Area C, using the same road that leads to the Har Homa settlement. When the bus arrives to the checkpoint outside of the tunnels that lead to Jerusalem, it’s pulled to the side. Meanwhile, the settlers roll on through.

And then it’s the same routine I knew from my Jerusalem-Abu Dis commute: everyone gets off, stands in line, presents their ID to a soldier, and then gets back on the bus that continues to Jerusalem.

While, technically, I was allowed to be at that checkpoint, being on the Beit Jala bus could arouse some suspicion because the line begins in Area A. But because Palestinian buses will stop to pick up people on the side of the road—a bit like taxis—I could have, in theory, boarded in Areas C or B. I’d memorized the names of restaurants and businesses that were on the strip of the road that was in Area C so, if need be, I could say I’d been somewhere legit. But I hate lying. And I’m such a terrible liar that I was once detained at the Qalandia checkpoint for answering the question “where are you coming from?” honestly: Ramallah.

The easiest way out of Bethlehem, for a Jewish citizen of Israel, was via a yellow-plate (Israeli) car. But because I was carless in May of 2013, I only left Bethlehem once. I didn’t move for the rest of the month. And it was fine. So fine that I ended up subleasing another apartment in Bethlehem in August. And that was fine, too. So I looked for something a little more permanent—a search that would lead me to the house with the well.

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WATCH: Palestinian hip hop group tackles patriarchy in new video http://972mag.com/watch-palestinian-hip-hop-group-tackles-patriarchy-in-new-video/104898/ http://972mag.com/watch-palestinian-hip-hop-group-tackles-patriarchy-in-new-video/104898/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 20:17:39 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104898 Acclaimed Palestinian hip hop group DAM adds a female member, releases new video which looks at patriarchy and feminism in Arab society.

By Rami Younis

Palestinian hip hop group DAM released a new video for their single “Who You Are?” Thursday in a joint project with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The song tackles women’s rights and criticizes the patriarchal society in which the group grew up in.

This is DAM’s first project that was fully completed with its newest member, Maysa Daw. Daw joined the group, which is comprised of brothers Tamer and Suheil Nafar, and Mahmood Jreiri. “I’m excited,” she tells +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. “I’m very proud of both the song and the video. I think it is an honest attempt at criticizing our society. Men try to stereotype women all the time, and I just want to ask which stereotypes define men, if any?”

WATCH: DAM’s ‘Who You Are?’ (with English subtitles)

Tamer Nafar emphasizes their attempt at criticizing “feminist men,” who he believes should not be spared any critique. “We speak out against our own oppressive society, of course, but I believe it is just as important to criticize the hypocritical part of our society, which likes to play ‘make believe feminism’ from time to time.”

The video was directed by Scandar Qupti, who also directed the award-winning film “Ajami.” Nafar says working with Qupti exceeded his expectations. ”He was the first director we approached, and we were very happy when he said yes. The idea of the video is very creative, and it’s not just the fact that it was filmed in one shot. It is one of the projects I am personally most proud of.”

The group, which formed in 1999 and hails from the city Lyd, is considered the first Palestinian hip hop group. They have released two albums and star in the documentary film “Slingshot Hip Hop,” which takes a look at the nascent hip hop scene in Palestine.

The author is a Palestinian activist and writer. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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[VID] The Bibi circus rolls into town http://972mag.com/the-bibi-circus-rolls-into-town/104356/ http://972mag.com/the-bibi-circus-rolls-into-town/104356/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 23:47:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104356 ‘Anyone who isn’t jumping is a leftie,’ chant the settler youths at a right-wing election rally in Tel Aviv, the site of a larger anti-Netanyahu rally a week earlier. Netanyahu the ringmaster is in control of his audience, and the rally itself has the quality of a victory parade.

Text by Natasha Roth
Video by Camilla Schick

They came, they saw, they cheered. Around Rabin Square Sunday evening, the streets of Tel Aviv were unrecognizable: thousands of settlers, hilltop youth and national-religious had come from across the country (and from over the Green Line) in order to attend a right-wing rally in a location usually reserved for gatherings of the Left. Originally intended as a public gathering, the decision of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to appear and speak turned it into a political electioneering event, as ruled by the Central Election Committee earlier in the day. Additional controversy was caused by the subsidizing of transportation from the West Bank to the rally using public funds: among the local government bodies helping fund the rally were Gush Etzion, Har Hebron and Binyamin — all in the West Bank.

A supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a right-wing rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, March 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a right-wing rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, March 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I am in a taxi on the way to the rally when the driver switches on the radio to listen to the 7 o’clock news. The lead item is the Election Committee’s decision, and the fact that as a result of this ruling, musicians cannot take part in the event and it cannot be televised. My driver grunts and shakes his head in disgust. I lean forward to ask his thoughts on the matter, and then think better of it. Still haunted by the anti-Left violence that swelled during anti-war demonstrations last summer, I am busy deciding how honest I should be if anyone strikes up a conversation with me.

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Ibn Gabriol Street, which leads to Rabin Square, is filled with evidence of the largesse of the aforementioned West Bank regional councils. Bus after bus lines the road, many with signs in the front window indicating where they are from. Huge Israeli flags are everywhere, as are posters of all the right-wing parties. Flyers imploring people to support the Right litter the streets and cafe tables. People push past me, saying, “Only Bibi, only Bibi” (in Hebrew). Balloons are everywhere, carrying both party names and calls to continue building in “Samaria.” Table stalls selling hardback religious texts abound; in the distance, I see and hear a group of hilltop youth jumping up and down and singing: “anyone who isn’t jumping is a leftie.” Signs attacking Herzog, the Left, and MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List (“If Ahmed Tibi is on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who needs enemies?”) dot the air. Yehuda Glick walks past.

Israelis cheer at a right-wing election rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, March 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israelis cheer at a right-wing election rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, March 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Making my way into the square itself, I feel that I have fallen through the looking glass; for an evening, the Tel Aviv bubble has shattered. While the atmosphere is carnivalesque, and many children are in attendance, the level of baying tribalism makes me nervous. I notice people looking at me strangely (including Glick, who caught my eye as he passed), and wonder what it is that’s giving me away. As I stand as innocuously as possible, discreetly (or so I think) making notes, I see edgy frowns peering my way. Someone asks me in Hebrew what I’m writing. I lie. The frowns melt away and are replaced by smiles; my chief interlocutor even shakes my hand. After a few introductions, I am comfortably embedded with the group around me, free to continue observing.

People continue to stream into the square. Im Tirtzu acolytes are in attendance, and the orange flag of Gush Katif flutters a few meters away. Next to it, the flag of Ariel. Giant helium balloons covered with HaBayit HaYehudi posters drift over our heads, and cardboard stand-ups with life-size photos of Naftali Bennett give his fans the opportunity to make it look as if they are posing with him. The circus has indeed rolled into town — but ultimately, it is Bibi’s show.

Read also: The silent majority of complacency: Israel’s right-wing voters

As he takes the stage to give his speech, the crowd roars its approval (even as several individuals I speak to privately voice their disapproval of him, confessing that they simply see no alternative). His speech is the expected hodge-podge of arrogance (patting himself on the back for his speech to Congress), calls-to-arms and scare-mongering — from waxing lyrical about “the Jewish spirit, the Zionist spirit, our spirit,” to warning of the dangers of a left-wing government and declaring that he will never divide Jerusalem. With each mention of Israel, Likud, Bibi himself, and Zionism, the crowd cheers. With each mention of the Left, the Zionist Camp, and a potential Palestinian state, the crowd boos.

Netanyahu the ringmaster is in control of his audience, and the rally itself has the quality of a victory parade. Groups jump up and down, calling Bibi’s name; the slogan, “the land of Israel for the Israeli people,” rings out from the stage and from the crowd over and over; and the continuing football chants of hilltop youth lend their aggressive edge.

Tens of thousands of people attend a right-wing election rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, March 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Tens of thousands of people attend a right-wing election rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, March 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Netanyahu steps down from the stage, and Bennett steps up. He takes up the same tone as Bibi on the threat of a divided Jerusalem if the Zionist Camp gets into power. I’ve had my fill of the event — the crowd is overwhelming, and I hear mutters around me about how dangerously low the number of people is: 15,000 are in attendance, according to police assessments (not remotely close to the 100,000 figure that was tossed out by a speaker at the beginning of the evening). I start to fight my way out, and as I leave my group, the strange looks return. A girl collapses and is carried to an ambulance.

As I emerge into the street, I run into a journalist friend who is covering the event for an English-language Arab news outlet. I mention that I lied when asked about myself, and she half-smiles and tells me that she brought her old press card for a national Israeli newspaper that she used to work for. We walk past another ambulance where another girl that has fainted is being lifted in. I continue on my way, and as Bennett starts to lead the crowd in singing “Jerusalem of Gold,” a group of purple-shirted youths with knitted kippahs and long sidelocks dashes past me, yelling that the lord is king.

As the people around me finally start to thin out, I look up at the windows of the apartments that sit above Ibn Gabirol’s commercial strip, and see two giant Meretz flags hanging from a pair of balconies. A few people are gathered, looking out at the rally, holding up signs. I want to wave to them, but my arm stays by my side. I look down and quicken my pace, grateful that the circus is only in town for one night.

Natasha Roth, a British immigrant to Israel, is a freelance writer and researcher, and a former coordinator at the ARDC. She can be found on twitter at: @NatashaRoth01. Follow Camilla Schick at: @CamJourno

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12 years a prisoner: A Gaza love story http://972mag.com/12-years-a-prisoner-a-gaza-love-story/104256/ http://972mag.com/12-years-a-prisoner-a-gaza-love-story/104256/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 13:31:23 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=104256 Haya Asaad waited for more than a decade for her fiancé to get out of Israeli prison.

By Abeer Ayyoub

Haya Assad tries on her wedding dress in a Gaza City shop. (Photo by Abeer Ayyoub)

Haya Assad tries on her wedding dress in a Gaza City tailor shop. (Photo by Abeer Ayyoub)

GAZA CITY — At a modest dressmaking shop in downtown Gaza City, the tailor makes the final touches on Haya Asaad’s classic tight wedding dress. But Asaad isn’t your typical bride: an Israeli court kept her wedding on hold for more than 12 years while her fiancé was behind bars.

The story began when Asaad, now 30, was studying business administration. Eyad was a teacher at the same school, and the young couple immediately fell in love. Eyad proposed after only two months; everything went well until the day the two were due to register their marriage at a religious court. Eyad had totally disappeared.

Not knowing her fiancé took part in operations against Israel, Asaad didn’t learn anything about Eyad’s whereabouts or condition for three months. He had allegedly been arrested by the Israelis, something she never believed until he called her confirming the rumors.

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“I immediately hung up the phone. I couldn’t imagine myself talking to someone in an Israeli prison,” Asaad told this reporter on a stroll through Gaza City. “I thought this would put my family life in danger.”

Eyad never seemed like a fighter. “He was such a funny and fashionable man; he never talked about resistance or such issues,” Asaad says. “I remembered him always wanting his shirts to be ironed and his hair to be styled. It took me a while to absorb it.”

Eyad was arrested at Israel’s Abu Houli checkpoint in Gaza City, where he worked. He was trying to cross into the city of Khan Yunis, also in Gaza, where he lived. That was in 2002, three years before Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

A group of his colleagues from Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades had been arrested a few days earlier. He knew this would be his fate too, but of course he had never even told his beloved that he was a militant.

Eyad then spent two years trying to call Asaad from Israel’s Nafha prison to persuade her to wait for him. She considered it a fantasy she wanted no part of.

“No one guarantees Israeli decisions, and I can’t get too old in this society — this is how I thought,” she explains. “But after several attempts by him, I believed in him and believed our love was eternal.”

Eyad received 26 years in prison, a sentence later reduced to 12 years. Asaad chose to wait, even though her parents were against it.

“My mom said I would lose years waiting, and no one was sure he would be freed on time — not only my mom, everyone around as well,” recalls Asaad, with the joy of someone who has proved others wrong.

Asaad counted the days for 12 years, but she also made sure to keep busy so she could carry on. She worked for NGOs as a social researcher and went to the gym daily to relieve the stress. Most importantly, she said, she spoke with Eyad when he could sneak phone calls, or via the local radio, where his fiancée dedicated to him words of love.

“Today, now that we’re finally together, I feel like the 12 years went by in the blink of an eye,” says Asaad, who celebrated her marriage at Gaza’s only five-star hotel two weeks ago. As a Palestinian in Israeli prison, Eyad received a monthly salary from the Palestinian Authority. He saved it all to prepare for the big day.

Asaad says now it’s time for her to live with her husband for the rest of their lives raising children. “He has already done what he wanted to do for his country,” she adds. “Now it’s time for his wife and children.”

Abeer Ayyoub is a Gaza-based journalist who recently won the Richard Beeston Bursary from the ‘Times of London.’ Follow her on Twitter: @abeerayyoub

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 15: The love club http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-15-the-love-club/103454/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-15-the-love-club/103454/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 10:38:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=103454 The final chapter, in which we make music.

Part 15 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

The Israel Palestine Lorde Diaries 29

“Yuval, what is your time limit?” Khader asked me online.

There was a time limit. The spring’s succession of guided tours was supposed kick off in two weeks. Once that happened, I would have no more time. ”Why?”

“Because Rasha only comes back on March 23rd, and she really wants in.”

“Where is she now?”

“In the U.S., making friends with Uncle Sam”.

“Okay,” I wrote, “I’m going to talk to Yaron. Our deadline is March 7th, but I think we’ll stretch it for her. Listen,” I added, “I am really, really, really moved that you made contact with her and that she agreed to participate. She’s an amazing artist.”

Yaron was fine waiting. He is easy to appease. Ruthie and I walked over to his house that Wednesday for Shira’s session. She arrived with her husband, Alon, and his accordion. Together, they form the Yiddish duo “The Technicalities.” When the two of them entered, I realized that I had not seen Shira since the whole thing began, more than three months back, and who knows how much longer before that. She has been working the entire time on her countless endeavors.

“I have totally fallen in love with this song,” said the former Lorde-skeptic, which was nice to hear. She even kept referring to “Team” as “the song we all love.” “In essence, it’s an eighties song,” she said, “that’s why we all love it.”

This turned out to be untrue. Not everyone in the room loved “Team,” because not everyone knew it. Yaron staunchly refused to listen to any of the original tracks, put together by Lorde and Joel Little, so that he won’t be tempted to emulate them. It occurred to me that his first encounter with “Team” would be in Yiddish, the so-called dying language of European Jewry, the tongue of my grandparents and their gassed-to-death family members. Yiddish, the thick and sweet German brogue of folk tales and secret modern masterpieces, the tongue of Meah Shearim’s children, who seem to grow up in another era. Team, by Lorde, in Yiddish. This was kind of cool.

The following night was cooler still. Diana Gert, the Russian soprano, came to record “Yellow Flicker Beat”. I love all things Russian that are not politicians. Russian-Israelis were always the local subgroup with which I most easily connected. Over the years, my former-USSR chums have showed me “Hedgehog in the Fog“, fed me shuba and lent me “Moscow-Petushki.” They turned me into a proper Russophile. The nearest to the Lorde madness I experienced in recent years was losing it over Tchaikovsky.

Diana came with a delightful problem that is telling of Russian temperament. The title line, “red, orange yellow flicker beat / starting up my heart” was too beautiful in her eyes. She felt that the word “ognia” (“fire”, chosen by Vladi to stand in for “flicker”), deserved more room and asked if we would stretch the line to emphasize it. I preferred staying faithful to the original, and assured her that her natural passion would deliver all the beauty.

I got to play the guitar. I haven’t written much about the musical side of jamming with Yaron, but he is a bit of a Mr. Miagi. He will throw a mandolin at you and make you play it, or throw a word like “fermata” at you, forcing you to figure out what it means. I am so much more of a musician now than I was when we had that Malawach in November.

Final fence

Having turned off the mic, Yaron drove Diana and myself to the city center. I fell asleep content and woke up thrilled, caught up on all the writing and illustrating, then took a walk to the beach.

Part of the sand was dug out, for renovations of the promenade. That portion of the beach was fenced. Here was the westernmost fence of a land full of fences, walls and invisible boundaries. Some separate physical spaces, others seperate people, some are imposed on us, other we simply adopt. Some can be climbed, others bypassed. Some are impenetrable, but we never knows which, until we try, right?

Beyond this final barrier were the Holy Land’s final few steps, then the vast sea, and beyond it: Rasha, chatting with Uncle Sam. It would be an honor to wait for her, though I never expected a wait. In the end, nothing played out as I expected. Two Mizrahi girls contributed the project’s most European track. The one Palestinian-spirited song turned into a Russian ballad, while our Arabic track was an easygoing stoner hum.

If I learned anything about my country on this journey, it’s that it is never what we think it should be. We want for it to be Israel, and it isn’t quite that — or only that. We wish for it to be Palestine, and it isn’t quite that either. People come here with a certain god in mind, and are overwhelmed with the shrines of other faiths, or accidentally wind up at a BDSM club, or hope for the beach and get trapped in the snow.

When we realize things aren’t as we hoped, we come to the beach and look away, to the world, often to the west, hoping for good tidings that might stir change. It’s our natural position, and a good place to end this tale. But I cannot conclude without turning south-east, (though it is nearly the same distance facing south-west, by a wide arc) and sharing a few words.

Echo

Dear Ella,

Israelis are not best known for being polite. We often make fun of our own disregard for the words “please,” “sorry” and “thank you.”

Even now I will not use them all. There is nothing I could ask of you, so “please” is out. “Sorry”, on the other hand, you probably deserve. People around the world flaunt your name for whatever their weird causes are. It’s part of stardom, yet surely isn’t always fun. If I caused you any discomfort, I apologize.

Now the “thank you.” At its best, art makes us conscious of what was there to begin with. Yours made me conscious of your generation’s experience, of your native land, and of many less-easily articulated notions involving rhythm, rhyme and dance.

Poking my head into contemporary fandom, I also grew conscious of gossip and pettiness. I found great writing about your work, but so much talk of appearance and other trivial matters. I guess I hoped to counter that with some substance. My land is full of substance. All I needed to do was aim the loudspeaker to its hills and press play.

The hills returned an echo. I became more conscious also of what was here to begin with. Staying focused on this country’s realities and fighting the good wars (rather than the deadly ones), is impossible to do without good, authentic art. The art you and your creative partners bring the world is such. It helped me and my friends see all of it afresh, and perked all of us up a bit for what is yet to come. Thank you. We needed that.

Sincerely,

Yuval

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I’m also grateful to the brave editors of this series in its English form, Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man and Edo Konrad, and to everyone who gave a hand in any way, whether by playing the cello or suggesting Tamer. As for you, dearest readers: Thank you so much for coming along on this strange ride. The first songs are being mixed by Yaron as I write this, and more will pour in later. I’ll post here each one once it’s ready, starting with Royals in French. Enjoy, and may peace and music reign wherever you are.

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 14: Not alone http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-14-not-alone/102191/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-14-not-alone/102191/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 12:50:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102191 What can bring hope in times of weak spirit? How about a teardrop, a social network, a Russian soprano and a faithful ex-lover.

Part 14 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

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The war never broke out in earnest, but my mood was not quick to recover. One thing did brighten things up, however: I was invited to speak on Radio New Zealand. Attentive producer Jeremy Rose caught sight of the very first post in this series and wrote me instantly. On the last night of January 31, 2015, which in New Zealand was the first morning of February, I spoke on air with host Wallace Chapman, scrambling for a way to describe my project. I was no longer sure what it was or where it was headed, if anywhere.

Kiwi radio turned out to offer a winning combination of British courteousness and South Pacific relaxation. The interview lasted a full half hour, which allowed us to discuss plenty of issues and complexities. It wasn’t enough, though; my spirit had not recovered. I fell behind on writing the posts, gave up on looking for a Yiddish translator, and ceased bugging Shai-li Jamchid about her mother’s French translation of Royals. I was exhausted. Can you blame me? The Lorde Project isn’t my first frustrating attempt at shaking things up in this land of perpetual struggle.

Take central Hebron. For ten years now I have been active in trying to open its streets to Palestinian pedestrians, some of whom live on those streets, and may only leave their homes through the rooftops. I offered free tours of the city’s settler-dominated center, and wrote and published pieces on the issue anywhere I could. Nothing changed. Over that same decade, my friends and  I have marched against imprisonment without trial, against deportation of children and arrest of children and in solidarity with all the groups dehumanized by the state, not to mention economic injustice. We have written posts and op-eds, tweets and banners, songs and theater plays.

In literally every field that matters to us, things have only deteriorated. With the waning of democracy in Israel, we are now framed as traitors. Hate speech is so out of control that we have become used to receiving death threats, garnished with wild references to sexual violence. We are used to it — but we’re exhausted.

Real life was too much. I picked up the guitar and played my extra melancholic version of Lorde’s “World Alone.” Then I went to the one place where I had any control: Facebook. In the inbox was a letter from a stranger, someone named Dana.

“Dear Yuval”

She wrote,

“We don’t know each other, but I follow you on Facebook, especially the Lorde in Israel-Palestine project, so I wanted to thank you for enormously improving my playlist. You enriched it not only with Lorde, but with Mira Awad, Mashrou Leila, and “Veha’er Eininu” done by a woman choir.”

I replied and we chatted. Then I got goosebumps. “Just so you know,” she wrote, “when I first heard your version of ‘Team,’ I cried.”

“Wow, thank you.” I replied, “You just made my day.”

“It was the day of the bus accident in Hura, and I was so sad. It was a catharsis and a reminder that others here believe in coexistence, so thank you.”

Hura is a Bedouin town in the south of Israel. I will refrain from depressing you with the details of that deadly manifestation of institutionalized racism. Just imagine the worst.

I thanked Dana again, and went to bed.

Biting down

We despair when we think we are alone. I was not alone. I was working with Yaron, and while I let go, he kept looking for translators. His friend Vladi converted “Yellow Flicker Beat” to Russian, the native language of over a million Israelis. Yaron even found a Russian singer. She warned that she is an opera soprano, and won’t be able to emulate Lorde’s warm alto. “It’s not about emulating,” Yaron told her.

I was not alone. Yael Levi, a scholar of Hassidic Judaism, took on the Yiddish “Team.” Yael is married to my friend Mikhael Manekin, the man who first showed me Hebron and its current, cruel state. The struggles combine.

I was not alone. The Jamchid sisters arrived at Yaron’s place one day, and recorded a resplendent version of “Royals.” It was only the second song we have recorded so far, and we were over three months into the project. But there was promise in all of this, and so much encouragement in Dana’s words. Back from the recording, I logged into to Facebook to reread them, and was suddenly hit with the realization that I am a nincompoop.

Facebook! I have all kinds of friends on Facebook, Georgian-Israeli, Swedish-Israeli, Brazilian-Israeli, Filipino migrant workers, friends who work with the African asylum seeker community and even one or two who belong to it. Why did I not publish the call for help here? Instead of deliberately picking the identities and languages, let’s throw the dice and see who volunteers.

So I posted, and within two minutes a response arrived: “I’ll do it,” wrote Deem Dar.

Deem! The Marmite girl!

I already learned that Deem was a Palestinian, and that her name was Deema. She offered to translate a song into Arabic. Arabic! Shame on me for being such a pessimist. Things kept coming together. Deema asked me to pick a song for her.

Too bad Vladi already took “Yellow Flicker Beat.” Mira Awad liked that song, and if I could just present her with a translation of that, she might change her mind. I could see why Mira would like the song, why anyone in tune with Palestinian realities would. It was composed for the third Hunger Games movie, a film that deals with the dilemmas that arise when resisting corrupt power. Many have compared images of destroyed District 12 to footage taken in Gaza last summer.

Let’s do it in both Russian and Arabic, I thought. If two nations can share a land, two languages can share a song. I sent it to Deema. She toyed with it, then wrote that it was too complicated. I sent her “White Teeth Teens,” one of my favorites, but that was complicated too. “Fine,” I wrote, “take this one, ‘Biting Down’ — it is only made up of six lines that repeat.”

“Biting Down” is structured in the fashion of a “cotton field ditty.” The line “it feels better biting down” repeats throughout it. Deema asked what it meant. I looked up interpretations online. “Someone suggests that it is about biting down to minimize pain,” I wrote her, “like when a soldier is given a strap of leather to bite on during a field amputation.”

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Deema’s world of associations was a tad less sinister. The following day she sent me a translation of the song with a focus on the virtues of cannabis. “الشعور احلى وانت مسطوله”. My Arabic, though atrocious, was good enough for this one: “It feels better being stoned.” I laughed, and asked her which professional singer would sing that on tape.

Deema referred me to Khader, her well connected co-translator. Khader said he would ask around, on the condition that I support a musical project launched by his Jewish ex. I thought back to my version of “Team,” and how the whole thing began with protest against Lehava and their attack on mixed relationships. I thought back to the Beyonce tribute, to singing “Irreplaceable” with Osnat and realizing how well angry ex-lovers can create together.

If that’s so, Israelis and Palestinians surely can. I promised Khader I would help. He got back to me in 20 minutes, saying that he got a “yes” from a great musician. He sent a clip, in which a young woman with long, dark curls, sings a beautiful sad song about a beautiful, sad land. I have heard that gritty voice before. She was Rasha, “The Arab Lorde.”

(Part 14 of 15. For more, click here, or join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde diaries, chapter 13: Overwhelmed http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-13-overwhelmed/102143/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-13-overwhelmed/102143/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:09:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102143 In this country, looking at things differently can really get your head spinning.

Part 13 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

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And so the project took a real conceptual shift. There was no denying it: this was the same shift my own political views took in recent years. Once I strongly believed in the dichotomy, and consequently in a two-state solution. Here is how I saw the map: west of the Green line, folks should sing Lorde in Hebrew. East of it: in Arabic. By now, however, and due to more developments and learning than I could dream to list here, I was more in the mindset of giving up lines and making sure every individual between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is well off.

I began to dream of a single democratic system, wherein any individual could raise whichever flag they wanted, but where that flag would not override principle human rights and the value of equality. The problem is one of dominance. One society maintains violent dominance over the other. Encouraging both societies to embrace their myriad identities is one way to promote equality. Once they would no longer conceive of themselves as a pair of boxers in a ring, once the identities are legion rather than two, no single one would have the right or power to override others.

This sort of thinking is seen as subversive in today’s Israel, but here is what I learned from Mira Awad on that long ride north: in order for the Lorde tribute to succeed, it has to be subversive. The most subversive act is to not think the way we are told to think. My life I was told to think about “us” and “them.” Even in the hopeful 90s, when “they” were potential partners for peace, they were still “them.” The Lorde Project finally allowed me to decisively get past this paradigm. I stopped thinking about collaborating with the other. We were all “us” and we were all “others” — an idea that undermines both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. I loved it.

The easy part’s over now

Ruthie had a meeting in a part of the city where meetings aren’t often held. She was going to the Hatikva neighborhood, a working class quarter just east of the highway that marks the boundary of Tel Aviv’s downtown. I opted to accompany her. The final days of January were spring-like and the sunny streets were a delight.

We skirted the central bus station, passing the one block where Mizrahi music was once available on cassettes. The music playing there today caught my ear; the rhythm was distinctly East African, yet more relaxed than that of the Ethiopian music I know. The language was Arabic. Streets around the old station are now home to thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. This would be the Sudanese groove.

We walked down Neve Sha’anan Street. This used to be the city’s cobbler district — old shoe shops, often owned by Persian Jews, still line the street. In between them are Eritrean restaurants, a Filipino grocery, a Romanian watering hole and an Indian store displaying strange balms at its window. The state seldom reads asylum petitions and locks up asylum seekers for long periods without trial. It often deports migrant workers along with their Israeli-born children. These people are seldom considered part of the social fabric, yet they, too, figure into the country’s identity puzzle. Lorde would have to be more prolific than Bach to provide all these languages with songs.

East of the highway, the mix remains overwhelming. We sat down for lunch at a Yemenite spot in Hatikva’s fabulous market ally. The food was much the same as what we had at Nehama’s on the day this whole ordeal began. I now looked at things differently. I had to do it justice. It urged me to find someone who sings in Yemenite Arabic.

“I dream of living in a world where the green schoog is as spicy as the red schoog” said Ruthie.

“Such simple worries you have.”

“Why, what do you worry about?”

“Listen to the music,” I implored, “Listen to the song that’s playing in the background. Do you hear it?”

I hummed along:

The easy part’s over now
We’ve come to the end
The easy part’s over now
And the hard part begins…

“That’s Charlie Pride! It’s vintage country! This is what they’re playing at a jachnoon joint! Once you open your eyes to really look at this country, it’s absolutely insane. How am I ever going to sort the right five or six languages for the project? What would they be? So far we have Yiddish and French, and that is such a bloody random combination, that they don’t even seem totally relevant, but then again everything is so random, and what is relevant? And how would I find the right people to sing in the right languages? It’s just too much. This entire place is too much.”

Kurdish horizon

I needed help. I needed a supportive community. Uptown, in a pleasant cafe on Dizengoff Square, I met up a few days later with DJ, attorney and Mizrahi activist Ophir Toubul. He is editor of Cafe Gibraltar music blog, where the diverse sounds of this country are discussed in terms of identity and social politics.

I asked Ophir if he would publish a call for musicians to participate in my project on the site. He said they had just put out a similar call for an anthology of Israeli female vocalists. He didn’t wish to confuse readers with another. Not just yet.

“But Ophir,” I pleaded, “What am I going to do? I don’t know where to start!”

“Try Ilana Eliya,” he suggested. “She’s into hip hop.”

“Ilana Eliya, the Kurdish singer?” Now, there was a name I knew and admired. “Hip hop? Really?”

“Uh oh,” Ophir glanced at his phone, “Looks like a war just broke out.”

I quickly pulled out my own. Two Israeli soldiers were killed by Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, clearly in retaliation for a recent Israeli attack on a convoy in Syria.

Dizengoff Square kept buzzing around two disheartened guys. Why should a war not erupt? The timing, seven weeks ahead of the elections, was convenient, we both agreed. A neat outburst of violence on the northern frontier would scare the voters into Netanyahu’s arms and assure his victory. What would become of his female vocalists’ project in the case of a war? What would become of my Lorde project? How is art possible in such a place?

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War is frightening, not only for its violence. It drowns out any alternative thinking in a tide of “us vs. them” politics, a phenomenon I like to call “invasion of the body snatchers.” It always does that. Everyone talks the same. It is so terrifying and depressing, that it simply consumes all creativity. I bade Ophir farewell and grimly walked up Dizengoff. I had no energy. I was not about to call Ilana Eliya, despite how eclectic her taste was. The threat of war alone has killed my will. Less than six months passed since the most recent one, the one that left nearly 600 children dead in Gaza. This bloody reality. Could anyone blame me for being obsessed with Lorde? With New Zealand?

I remembered translating “Buzzcut Season” and realizing how poignant her lyrics sounded in Hebrew:

Explosions on TV
And all the girls with heads inside a dream
So now we live beside the pool
Where everything is good.

This was where I needed to be. I was reaching for somewhere simpler, trying to fly there on wings of song. One day I’ll reach it, I’ll just go there and I’ll never go home again. I can’t deal with home. Fuck home. Fuck home!

(Part 13 of 15. For more, click here, or join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 12: Never be Royals? http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-12-never-be-royals/101794/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-12-never-be-royals/101794/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 09:39:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101794 When the going gets tough, the only way to move forward is to think differently. Following the disheartening drive from the South, the Lorde tribute project picks a new direction.

Part 12 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

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Friday was the last day of the rainy spell. The brave editor of this series, Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man, and Emily, his human rights lawyer wife, had us over for a hummus brunch in Jaffa. Beyond their apartment’s large French windows were the comely, winter-gray Mediterranean and something even grayer: a concrete ruin, an abandoned high rise that used to house offices of the customs authority.

I stood by those windows with a glass of Jaffa coffee, gazing at both grays with a spirit that wasn’t much more rainbow-like. “I’m giving up on the project,” I told Mike, “I rode all the way from the desert last night with Mira Awad. She convinced me that this isn’t a time for collaborations, not of this sort, at least. The situation has deteriorated too far. Anyone with any sense just wants to scream, and my project doesn’t qualify as a scream.”

He gave an understanding nod.

“I’m up to chapter 11 in the written account. Chapter 12 will be the last. I recorded one song with Yaron. We’ll find something to do with it.”

He nodded again. Did I want him to argue? To cause me to change my mind?

“Tomorrow I have a meeting with this vocal duo in Jerusalem, ‘The Djamchid Sisters.’ Yaron likes them. I’ll go and rehearse with them, but I’m not sure we’ll even record it. We’ll never be royals,” I coughed a bitter, pea-sized laugh, “we’ll never be on each other’s team, not until we reduce a little bit of the injustice here and calm some of the anger.” Mike knew all about that. You see a lot of it when you edit for +972. At times I even wondered whether he himself was somewhat offended by my jolly musical flight of fancy. “I mean, dude, I knew this was weird all along. I knew it. I just wanted to be the change I’d like to see in the world. Get it? Little acts of togetherness enable progress, but then, only progress enables them, but then, only they enable progress. It’s a chicken and egg thing. I just wanted to lay an egg.”

Mike is a softly spoken, contemplative guy. He contemplated, then said softly: “Okay, if that’s what you feel is right.”

Sum of its parts

It did feel right to me, but someone else disagreed, someone who has been following this project from the start, quietly but intently, someone whose need to scream these days is huge, who hurts at the sight of injustice perhaps worse than any of us. It was Ruthie, and on the way home, as we hopped over Herzl Street’s puddles, she convinced me not to give up. A crisis, she reminded me, is a crisis, and what leads out of crisis is a change of paradigm.

On the way to meet the Djamshid Sisters in Jerusalem, I strained my brain. How could I change my paradigm? What was wrong with my current paradigm? All I wanted was collaboration, friendship, union!

The sherut minibus began winding through the valleys, puffing its way up to the celestial city. I let go of my private brainstorm and checked my Facebook feed. Someone posted a picture of Shira onstage, wearing what looked like a dress my late Polish grandmother might own. I read the caption. The photo was taken at a concert featuring female Israeli singers who sang in the tongue of their ancestors. I’ve heard of such events before. They reflect the current identity explorations of the Israeli Left: showcasing the diversity of cultures brought here from the Jewish diasporas, and the failure of the crucible that was meant to melt them into one. Shira and her ‘Hazelnuts’ did an original Yiddish rendition of “Bie Mir Bist du Schein.”

Hold on.

I gave her a call. “Listen, I said. “The project is in flux. Mira Awad is out. Luna Abu Nassar is out. This Palestinian girl who is Lorde’s spitting image is out.”

“Really? Why?”

“Too complicated to explain, but I’m thinking of diversifying, of breaking the dichotomy and exploring identity on a different level. Let’s do that, and see if the Palestinians join in. Would you do ‘Team’ in Yiddish?”

Hers was the warmest “yes” I have heard since the whole journey began. Fantastic. In an hour I would be with the Djamchid Sisters. When we first met, at some Jerusalem event that Shira organized, I asked about their last name. They explained that is Iranian. Hebrew, Yiddish, Farsi… This could yet turn into something. I stepped off the Sherut in the center of West Jerusalem feeling fresh, and headed on foot to the Djamchids’ home, though it was a fair distance to the south, and east.

La Colonie

When I first suggested the project to Yaron, he proposed we record in the house of a friend who owned a piano. The house and the piano were both in the West Bank settlement of Alphe Menashe. “You are out of your mind!” I told him, “We are not recording a bi-national project in a settlement!”

Now here I was walking to one. Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood is probably the most soft-core settlement of them all. It was built on what used to be a UN held enclave before the Six Day War. Nonetheless, according to international law it is just as illegal as any other. Its residents are Israeli citizens, unlike the Palestinians living on the surrounding hills, and their living conditions superior.

So be it, I thought. I was now out to meet the Israelis, and so many Israelis were drawn across the Green Line over the years, most often by the unthinkable cost of living. The Djamshid sisters may not even be aware of their neighborhood’s status. I grew up in a north-east Jerusalem settlement, and only came to realize that as a grown-up.

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Armon Hanatziv is a peaceful puzzle of cookie-cutter developments tiled in Jerusalem stone, parking lots and pleasant public playgrounds. Shai-li and Eden Djamchid are in their early twenties and still live at home. An entire family welcomed me in its cute abode, and I got to taste two homemade cakes: a Hungarian yeast cake and a Napoleon. The sisters strained to listen as I explained the new concept with my mouth full. “So each artist will sing a song in a language that reflects their family’s history. You, for example, could sing in – ”

“French!” they both cheered.

How could I forget? The sisters may be half Persian, by they are French-Israeli on their mother’s side and total Francophiles. I was suddenly unsure. French is great, but is it as much a local language as Yiddish and Farsi are? Yiddish is uniquely Jewish, Farsi is Middle Eastern. French is… well… a lot of Israelis speak French, French Jews, and Moroccans, and fans of Godard from all backgrounds. It’s legit, yes, but is it legit enough for Royals? The biggest hit? I can’t hand Royals to the French!

I opened my mouth, about to bring up Farsi, then shut it. Here is one lesson my chain of disappointments has taught me: don’t decide people’s identity for them. I faintly raised the question of whether French was local or foreign, but soon brushed it away. Stop thinking you know better than anyone what this country is about, I told myself, and for the love of God, stop being so dominant and controlling. Fate had it that these two amazing musicians will sing Royals in French. For once, let fate have its way.

“Can you think of a translator?” I asked.

“Our mom,” Shai-li pointed to the living room sofa, where their mother’s eyes rose over her book, curious.

“There’s this singer,” I began, “from New Zealand…”

“No need for introductions,” Eden smiled, “Royals is her ring tone.”

(Part 12 of 15. For more, click here, or join us on Facebook! First clip is of the The Hazelnuts singing “Bie mir bistu schein”, in the second: the Djamchid sisters pay a tribute.)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 11: The lift http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-11-the-lift/101464/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-11-the-lift/101464/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 13:04:48 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101464 It’s cease or desist for the Lorde project, as Yuval gets a rare opportunity for a long nocturnal drive with a great musician.

Part 11 of 15. For more, click here.

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We all packed up into a seven-seater Suburban: Mira Awad, three other actors and myself. Yigal Ezrati, Jaffa Theater’s director, was the driver. Clearly I couldn’t bring up the project right way, so I was quiet, which brought about an uneasy silence. We pulled into a gas station by the adjacent kibbutz. Yigal left the car to fuel. Mira hummed something, she was in a lovely mood.

“So why are you here?” Einat Weizman, the actress sitting shotgun, turned back and asked me.

“I came for the poetry festival,” I lied, but this little white lie warmed up the quiet car with some well needed, lively chat about the current state of Hebrew poetry. Einat was well versed in the scene. We found that we both admire a group of Mizrahi poets that have recently made a powerful political and poetic stand. “Tehila Hakimi! Adi Keissar!” Einat named two, “I’m crazy about them.”

“You should turn back now, then. They’ll both be reading at the festival tomorrow. I wish I could, too. I’m a fan, a real fan, the same way I am with Lorde,” and I turned my eyes to Mira, who was sitting to my left.

She smiled and said, “We have to talk about this.”

Yigal returned and we resumed our northbound journey. The darkness about us was interrupted first by the bright lights of military installments, then by the far fainter ones of Bedouin shanty towns. Mira spoke: “If you were to say to me, let’s take this great poetry, say, Adi Keissar’s poetry, and do a project with it. I would say yes right away. It’s Hebrew stuff, it’s poetry, we could combine it with Arabic poetry and do something local and special. I would love this, but Lorde, why Lorde?”

“Because that’s what makes it interesting! You bring in something foreign and see how things stir. Look, Lorde’s stuff is political in its own way, but in the context of this country it appears neutral. I’m trying to demonstrate how political things get here even when the subject matter is neutral.”

“Everything is political,” Mira decreed.

“Sure, everything is.”

“When you approached me, it was political. It was because I’m an Arab.”

“Well, yes, but also because you are Mira Awad, and you’re amazing, but hey, that’s exactly what I’m saying. This project may seem apolitical, but it is very political.” Still a bit unsure whether Mira was wary of the “political” or whether she sought it. I decided to err on the latter. “I promise you that it does not belittle things. Here’s where it comes from: I work with Palestinians and I have come to realize that there are two legitimate societies living here. If I want my tribute to Lorde to be honest, it must reflect that. Now, the more I work on it, the more issues pop up, so I’m writing it all down, to show those issues. It’s an educational project!”

I knew this would not do the trick. My online diary may be dense with charged themes, but the recording would just be a bilingual pop-fest. Mira has already been there, she went to the Eurovision with Noa. She later got stung by anti-normalization, and her point of view changed. She didn’t want to be part of something like that and she was perfectly right.

The actor sitting to my right now coughed to grab our attention: “What’s Lorde?” he asked.

She’s a bridger

I had brought a bottle of whiskey to drink with the poets. We broke it out, The actor, Durad Lidawi, pulled out his phone, and the YouTube party began. Mira surprised me with her Lorde song of Choice: Yellow Flicker Beat, from the latest “Hunger Games” soundtrack. “The way she dances in the clip!” she exclaimed, “It’s crazy. You have to see that.” I surprised her in turn by revealing Lorde’s age to her. She found it hard to believe.

“Eighteen?”

“She was sixteen when she broke big. She is a bridger, Mira! the fact that you and I can love her stuff means that she bridges generations! This is political! Be in my project! It’s political!” I was already joking. I have accepted the verdict. Mira was out.

Soon we moved on from Lorde. First to other contemporary pop, particularly Stromae, then to Fiona Apple, which Mira and I both love. Durad was revealed to be a lover of Chanson, and Einat contributed something weird in Afrikaans with a clip we all found disturbing. Eventually, however, Arabic took over. Durad played us a tune by Haifa singer Therese Sliman. Mira liked her, but complained about her use of Lebanese dialect. “Everyone sings in Lebanese or Egyptian dialect, in order to make it big,” she explained.

Finally we all cracked up to a song by Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar. It was entitled: “Scarlet Johansson Has Gas.” The context was clear to us all. Johansson has been acting as presenter for Soda Stream, an Israeli company that manufactures in the West Bank. Activists with the BDS movement, which seeks to use Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as a tool against the Occupation (not to be confused with anti-normalization) targeted her, hoping to make her ditch the campaign. Johansson remained faithful to Soda Stream’s home carbonation devices, and won Nafar’s musical offering.

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I tend to support BDS. We have been stuck in a sick, violent status-quo for too long. I think of sanctions as a powerful non-violent weapon. I have been impressed when BDS activists warded international artists from performing in Israel. The outrage among fans in such events provides rare instants in which overly cushioned Israelis become uncomfortable with the reality here. Chatting about BDS in the theater troupe’s Suburban under Tel Aviv’s lights as they grew denser, I found myself confronted with a troubling thought, and not for the first time: what if Lorde was to come? Would I support the efforts to dissuade her?

No, I decreed. There must be an exception, and Lorde must be it! I decided I would offer her and her entourage a free tour with Husam and I. We will provide the political spice. No worries. Hell, I deserved some musical compensation for having lost my chance with Mira.

And that was when I knew that it wasn’t only Mira. That’s when I knew that I was not about to make that breakthrough, with anyone. The project was just wrong. It did not present any meaningful statement, at least not clearly enough. I have come far enough. I have told the story in a way that allowed for several ideas to float. That was good enough. Yaron and I will improve our version of “Buzzcut Season,” pair it to my own songs, the Jara tune and Nancy Griffith’s as a bonus track, and call it a day.

Yigal pulled up before Mira’s house in an eastern neighborhood. Her husband was outside. I offered him the leftover whisky but he said they had enough at home. She waved to me through the car door. We will stay in touch.

Einat’s apartment was walking distance from home, so I jumped off with her and strolled on from there through the rainy, dormant city. Losing can be liberating, so they say. It did feel a bit liberating at two in the morning, after crossing the entire country twice in the same day. I started off with too much hope; that’s my problem. I took my inspiration from a teenager, someone who hopes. Silly mistake, never to be repeated.

(Part 11 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde diaries, chapter 10: Law of desire http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-10-love-story/101407/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-10-love-story/101407/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 12:22:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101407 The story takes a southern turn, as Yuval heads into the desert for a possible rendezvous with an elusive star, and has disturbing thoughts on the way.

Click here to read the previous chapters of the ‘Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries’

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And so I was left with no choice. I had to travel to a freezing desert plateau, where I would chase Mira Awad and try to make her change her mind.

The way to Sde Boker by public transportation begins with a 70-minute train ride to Be’er Sheva. At Tel Aviv’s Hahagana station I bumped into another traveler headed for the same poetry festival. It was quirky Israeli electro-pop musician Yael Birenbaum, the bespectacled leader of the uber hipstery band Jack in the Box. I described my mission to her.

“So you’re going to make a move on Mira Awad?” she giggled.

“I guess you could say so, but I also brought some olives, and good Turkish cheese and a bottle of whiskey.”

“Why?” she snickered, “so you can seduce Mira Awad?”

“No, stupid! So you and I and the other poetry people can sit around late at night and shoot the shit.”

I have been attending the festival religiously for years. Yael is always there and I have learned to take her humor with a grain of desert sand. Still, while watching the rainy suburbs thin away through the train window, I couldn’t help but muse over a concept I have hitherto kept out of my thoughts, for obvious reasons. It was the concept of eroticizing.

The awkward situation at the Willy Brandt center played out much like a failed date. It was enough to make one wonder: what was the role of Eros in this story? Was I eroticizing Lorde? Now, there was a disturbing thought. She was so young! I supposed she was a fantasy, though less my own than of my frequently-infatuated high-school self. Glorifying her was a sort of emotional and intellectual time travel.

What concerned me more was the idea that I was eroticizing Palestine. To me, the power structure in the country reads a lot like a severely abusive relationship. Both spouses are violent, but Israel is the physically superior, controlling one — the one with the key to the basement. This is traditionally a masculine role. I did not identify with my nation’s behavior, I fought against it, I sought to rescue the damsel in distress. In other words: I have internalized the gender code.

All the Palestinians we have approached so far — Hanin, Luna, Mira and Rasha — were women. Husam advised me to involve a man named Tamer. That same Tamer was present at the Wily Brandt center event. He turned out to be involved with Heartbeat. I gave him a big hug but mentioned nothing of the project. I love Palestinian men, I love Husam as well as Aziz, who started the dual narrative tours. I love Tamer too, but for this creative project I was seeking women, so that we may give birth to the album together. I was trying to make this into a love story, in which I am the man.

This was dangerous. I have read enough post-colonialist theory to know how sad this attitude is, and how ill are its roots. For centuries the West has objectified the Arab world, feminizing it to fit a fantasy of control.  ‫I would have to somehow snap out of this paradigm and go through some sort of political gender reassignment procedure. But how in the world is that done?

Oh, you’ll meet her

At dusk we stepped off the bus at a lonesome intersection, engulfed by the dark wasteland, and made our way towards the lights of the Sde Boker boarding school. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, is buried here next his wife Pola. Their headstones jut out from a clifftop above a stunning canyon, and the rest of the school’s structures huddle only a few steps away from the ravine.

It was too dark already for us to enjoy the splendor, yet too quiet to feel at home. Everybody was at some poetry reading in the main conference hall, so we went and checked into the guest house. On the wall facing reception was a photo of Ben-Gurion, gray-haired and iconic, a desert landscape behind him. “What a stud,” Yael remarked.

I rushed to the auditorium ahead of Mira Awad’s performance. I was tense. I would have a fleeting opportunity to present myself to the star of the evening and renew the offer. I walked among the sleepy dormitories toward the well-lit auditorium. A crowd began to gather inside. Outside, leaning on a post and smoking a cigarette, was a woman who greeted me with the warmest smile. It was Ravid Sevil, who works as the show manager of Jaffa theater. I’ve known her for years, both because I use to write theater reviews, and because she’s just straight up cool.

Then it hit me. The play about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was a Jaffa theater production. “I need your help,” I told Ravid, “I need to meet Mira Awad.”

“Oh, you’ll meet her,” she smiled, pulling out a cigarette to share with me.

Incredible. This meant that within two hours my job will be done and I will run out of things to do in Sde Boker. I had no patience for the poetry; I was here for Lorde. “Are you driving home tonight?” I asked.

“There’s no room in my car, but you can take a lift with the cast.”

Right then the cast arrived, bearing their musical instruments. Ravid introduced me to the cheerful, fair-haired Mira Awad. I told her I was Yuval from the Lorde project. There was no time for any more chat, as they were all a bit late, but there would be so much time later, two hours at least.

I had just sworn to avoid any thought that hints at objectifying, but simply could not ignore the beautiful symbolism: Ravid was the daughter of Turkish Jews, and hence a Mizrahi. Faithful to her community’s bridging potential, she allowed the Ashkenazi Jew and the Palestinian to meet.

Between Rita and my eyes

Having sucked on the cigarette, I ran back to the guest house to fetch my bag before returning to the auditorium, where a silver-haired professor was analyzing Darwish’s poetry in Hebrew, as a prelude to the play. He talked about Rita, the subject of many Darwish poems. ”The Palestinians describe Rita as a metaphor for Palestine, but this is of course untrue,” he said, “Rita was a real woman, a fair-haired Israeli kibbutznik. Darwish would make great coffee in his Haifa apartment, and many women would come up to enjoy his coffee. Rita was one of them. This reminds me of how rabbis describe the ‘Song of Songs’ as an allegory about the Jewish people and the torah. Of course the Song of Songs is not about the torah — it’s a collection of erotic poetry.”

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I believed that Rita was a real woman, but that did not mean that she couldn’t also be a metaphor. When her name came up again and again during the performance, at times sung to Mira Awad’s guitar, I kept thinking that she could be a metaphor to either Palestine and Israel, or both. “Between Rita and my eyes is a gun”, Darwish wrote. I knew that gun.

If Rita was Israeli, and especially if she represents Israel in some of the the poems, then Darwish succeeded at reversing the gender roles. This was more than I ever expected of poetry. This festival has been a smash. I was ready for the ride back home.

(Part 10 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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