-Supporters of Palestine, when all the French Jews make aliya and, convinced that all Arabs want to kill them, and join the ranks of the angry and paranoid.
-Israelis, when the Bedouin in Israel stop going into the army, and demand en masse that their villages become part of the future state of Palestine.
-Israelis, when Hamas has a surge in popularity now or very shortly.
-Palestinians, when people in Sderot cheer and drink beer while watching bombs fall on Gaza.
-Israelis, when Palestinians give out candy to celebrate a successful attack on Israelis.
-Moderate Israelis, when they realize how much irreparable harm is being done to their own country by the daily mobs of fascist Jews beating up Arabs and leftist Jews.
-The current Israeli government, when no one takes seriously their claim that they care about Palestinian civilian lives at all.
-Anyone, when the results of this carnage prove startlingly ephemeral, except for a bit more grief and hatred in the air.
What’d I miss?
It doesn’t matter where the bomb came from. It was dropped from a precision-guided drone. It boarded a bus strapped to a guy’s chest under his clothes. Either way, you approach afterward, it is surreally silent, despite the wailing sirens and the moans and calls for help. You get closer, the world becomes more topsy-turvy, the buildings and street don’t look like normal. They’re shredded and pockmarked by shrapnel. Closer still, and you see trickles of blood running down the sidewalk. Over there, is a severed forearm. Elsewhere, indeterminate flesh. It doesn’t matter who bombed you when that was your arm, your flesh. It doesn’t matter whether they wanted to kill you, or just considered you acceptable “collateral damage”, when they killed you.
Stop it. Stop blowing people up. Stop saying it’s justified. Stop saying your way is more moral than theirs, or at least tell that to the people we blew up.
The roiling waters are clear as glass as we swim in the sea below Zichron Yaakov. Later, we hike and jog back up to that white city on a hill, we shower the salt from our skin, and as the sun vanishes over the ocean horizon, we head out in search of dinner.
The streets are quiet and tree-lined, and each yard is planted with flowers. There are no dumpsters overflowing with garbage and rangy cats, as there are in Beer Sheva. Parents speak gently to their children in Hebrew as they push them down the streets in their strollers. Signs over businesses and historical sites reference the Baron Rothchild, the original founder and patron of this town, a hundred or so years ago.
My friend keeps asking, why couldn’t Beer Sheva be more like Zichron?
Because, I think, of the quiet current of money and privilege that run through this town. Can’t you feel it, smell it, taste it, behind the well-paved streets, the collected garbage, the pretty single-family homes, all surrounded by vineyards on a bluff above the mediterranean?
Beer Sheva, like the river named after it, is made from what washes up when it has nowhere left to go, and it peters out here. The Beer Sheva river was running two weeks ago, a muddy slurry of whatever garbage and pollution has collected between the Hebron hills and here. It never reaches the sea.
A Bedouin man once told me the Bedouin like to say that the strongest tribes chose the wildness of the desert, and the weaker ones settled in the fertile valleys, but he believed the opposite was true: the most vulnerably tribes were pushed into the wastelands, the harshest places.
That’s still what’s happening. Waves after waves of Jewish immigrants were settled here when they had no resources to go elsewhere. First the Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews, then later the immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia.
Beer Sheva, and the Negev, is the story of Nanu, who cleans floors at the hospital, and proudly moved her family from the absorption center by the railroad tracks, to schuna tet, a newer neighborhood. She insists on washing the mugs I used for tea and coffee working late on my Autism research project, even though that’s not her job. She lost half of her family on the long march from Ethiopia to Sudan to come here.
It’s the story of Sara and Jazi, and their daughters, how their grandfather was exiled to Jordan in 1948 by the Israelis and never allowed to return. It’s the story of how their family has worked to improve the education in their village, culminating in many students coming in on Saturdays, their only free day, for extra english lessons.
It’s the story of a medical resident stumbling through her morning report after a sleepless night, her headscarf pinned tightly over her scrubs, struggling with the Hebrew words that usually flow so easily, and it’s the story of her Russian and American attending physicians, carefully listening to the story of an old woman admitted to the hospital for pneumonia.
This place grows on you.
I was at Holot again yesterday, with a group of volunteers, helping asylum seekers fill out refugee status documents (RSDs). The process was demoralizing. We sat at the picnic tables with the lattice pretend-roofs, and when it started to drizzle we had no shelter for our papers. The first man I interviewed fled Eritrea because he did not want to serve indefinitely in the army. “If it were for three years, four years, I would do it,” he said. “In Eritrea, it’s until you are forty or fifty, we don’t know when it ends.” I asked him what would happen if he went back to Eritrea. He said they would put him in jail. Would there be a trial? No. Would they beat him? Of course. Would they feed him? Yes, just enough to keep him alive, maybe a piece of pita twice a day. At the end, I shook his hand and wished him good luck. Many countries consider this indefinite service grounds for asylum, Israel does not. His application will be rejected. The second man I interviewed was from Darfur. I asked him if he would go home. He said his village was completely destroyed by the Janjaweed. Some of his family is in displaced person camps in Sudan. He has a brother in Australia, and another brother in Belgium, both of whom have recognized status as refugees. I write this all down. Jamal, a middle-aged inmate/asylum seeker who dutifully translates for us, was sitting there bored, but now he interrupted me for the first time. “And what do you think of that,” he asked me, “that his brothers have asylum and he doesn’t?” “What is different between him and his brothers, that he is in prison here in Israel?” “Nothing,” I said.
Outside the prison camp
Issa’s name becomes my password
my secret handshake.
I don’t know these men. I reach out
shake hands, my name is Sarah.
Yael adds “she took care of Issa,
the Issa who was shot
crossing the border.”
They shake my hand again, as friends.
(If anyone took care of him
it was Yael.) They all know Issa,
or at least who Issa is
except one man, confused
who knows a few too many men
shot crossing the border,
not that far from here.