An incomplete list of people who should not be surprised . . . .

-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 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.

Hamentaschen in Qalqilya

The day before Purim and just past Kfar Saba, our bus made a sharp left turn.  Within minutes we had breezed through the checkpoint (it’s always easier to go in than out) and entered Qalqilya.  It feels strange when I first visit places whose names I learned from newscasts during the second Intifada.  But it was sunny and quiet as my friends and I entered the UNRWA hospital to meet with some local doctors.

It was a proper Palestinian welcome, meaning more food than we could possibly ever eat.  One of the doctors  spoke with us about problems with the local health system.  Particularly, he described redundancies between the four major sectors (Palestinian Ministry of Health, UNRWA, NGOs, and private health care) as well as major gaps in care, particularly specialty care.  As I tried to think back to my first year global health seminars to remember the term for proper coordination between health initiatives- is it “harmonization“?  something caught my eye on the plate of cookies being passed around.  Dark filling oozed out between three pinched corners of dough.  I looked around again, and saw them everywhere.  Mixed in with other cookies, they were serving us hamentaschen in Qalqilya, on erev Purim.hamantasch

The doctor concluded his remarks by telling us that he believed that the Palestinian people want peace, and it is the Israelis who are unwilling.  I rolled my eyes, mostly because I have heard the mirror version of that statement from more than enough Israelis.  The microphone was handed off to a young man who worked at the hospital, who told us about what it was like to study abroad, then come back to Qalqilya, where it is a harder life, but there’s a sense of cohesion and community and identity that he wanted his children to have.  He spoke briefly about losing his cousin during the second Intifada, and about his mother dying of cancer (a not very treatable type, but still) after not getting a permit to enter Israel for treatment.

When he finished, the doctor grabbed the microphone back.  He had misspoken, he told us, when he had said that the Israelis didn’t want peace.  Through this NGO, perhaps we had heard of it, Physicians for Human Rights, he had met many Israelis who he knew wanted peace.  He knows that they are a minority opinion within Israel, but he hopes that they will get stronger.

So do I, I thought, so do I.

We then travelled on to Nablus.  We were supposed to meet with medical students there, but a Very Important Dignitary heard through the grapevine that there actually were American tourists in his town, and invited us to meet with him in his office and drink tea and eat kanaffeh (which tastes sort of like mozzarella cheese topped with fried dough and simple syrup, and may be an acquired taste.)  He gave us a speech about how he believes that previous violence, which he once supported,  was a deep mistake by the Palestinians, and how he now believes that negotiations are the only way forward, and how important it is that the current negotiations succeed.

He spoke with the voice of a lawyer and a politician, but I more or less believed him.  I can’t see into his heart, but he is a powerful player here, and of everything he could have said, he used the time to lobby us to lobby our government to make the negotiations succeed.  There was a time for questions at the end, and I asked him what might increase trust between Israelis and Palestinians.  He misunderstood my questions, but part way through his answer, I noticed he was addressing me as if I were Israeli.  Was it the question I asked, or did I look particularly Jewish right that day?

After lunch, which was late,  I split off from our group to try to head back to Beer Sheva in time for the Purim Megilla reading.  A doctor we were travelling with walked me to the bus station.  He referenced our conversation last year outside of ma’arat ha-makhpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs (and Matriarchs) in Hevron.  He said he’d been touched by what I’d said there, to the point where he’d told the story to several groups.  I said that I appreciated hearing that, since I had started to think I’d been a bit overdramatic that day.

At the bus station, speaking a mix of English and Arabic, I attempted to ask for a bus either to Ramallah or Jerusalem.  “Ween al-bus al-Ramallah? Ween al-bus al al-Quds?”

“oh, Yerushalayim?” asked a Palestinian man, in Hebrew.  Again with being read as Israeli, despite the fact that I am not, that I spoke only English and bad Arabic.  Not right, but not wrong, either, according to the local rules of who is an insider and who is an outsider.  “yes, al-Quds” I told him cheerfully, and he pointed me to a bus that would take me as far as Qalandya checkpoint.

We hit traffic along the way, in a long line of cars snared by a checkpoint.  Once we got through, the driver really gunned it.  If I die in Palestine, I thought to myself, it will be from a traffic accident.

The driver let me off with two other passengers and told me to follow them past another traffic jam to the checkpoint.  Cars with Israeli plates periodically drove down the shoulder, forcing us off of it.  I looked more closely, some women wore hijabs, all the boys had tight haircuts.  Israeli Arabs, or Palestinian citizens of Israel, returning from day trips.  More identity parsing.  They grinned sheepishly as they sped by.

One of the other passengers told me he was going to Tel Aviv.  “Inta bishtarril fil Tel Aviv,” do you work in Tel Aviv? I asked him.  He answered affirmatively. We spoke for a few minutes more, then as we reached the checkpoint, said to me with a smile in English, “and now you are home.”  Again with the Jew-dar?

I entered the chicken cages, or cattle chute, or whatever you want to call the part of the checkpoint that is for pedestrians.  Metals bars on either side of us, so narrow a space that a few of the men stood slightly sideways, a wire grate and barbed wire coils above us.  Most people stood bored, leaning against the bars, a few checked facebook on their phones.  The line slowly crept forwards, a few people let at a time through the magnetically locked revolving door.

When I finally reached the end, I put my bag through the X-ray, and walked through the metal detector.  The border policewoman,  from behind sheets of bulletproof glass, buzzed the buzzer at me  and motioned for me to go back.  I was confused.  Had I set off the metal detector?  I walked through it again and again she buzzed at me.  This time she turned on the microphone and said, coldly, “akhora.”  Go back.

So I stepped back until she called me, and she said “passport” and I held it up for inspection.  “Visa”, she finally ordered me, still giving commands the way you tell a dog to sit or stay.  In Palestine I was a Jew, and now in this limbo-world of a checkpoint, I am an enemy until proven otherwise.  She studied my visa for a while, it may have been the first student visa she had seen issued in Kathmandu, and then without a word, she let me through. And then I was back in Israel proper and I could breath again. I thought of the border policewoman, drafted at eighteen and behind the plates of glass, barking orders through a microphone, only able to see threats and enemies. Of everyone I’d met that day, she seemed the most imprisoned.

I took another (Arab) bus to Jerusalem, and then a taxi to the new bus station, and then a bus to Beer Sheva, and then a taxi to the megillah reading.  By the time I got there, they were halfway through.  I saw my friend dressed as Wonder Woman and went to join her.  I listened as they chanted the story of Esther overturning the plans for the Jews to be massacred, listened as instead their (our?) enemies were massacred.  The numbers of those slaughtered in the megillah kept increasing.  It seemed a bit too similar to the stories of massacres that we, Jews and Palestinians, are raised with, and who started it depends on where you start counting, and I don’t know how it ends.

The megillah wasn’t much fun this year.  It reminded me of something a friend had shared on facebook, how the carnival-like atmosphere of Purim isn’t true joy, and another thing a friend and teacher shared, that for those of us who are finding the Purim story troubling, to remember what the rabbis taught about drinking until we know longer know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.  I was stone-cold sober, but right then the difference between the two of them was rapidly shrinking.

Yes to recognition, no to uprooting the Bedouin villages

I am frantically coloring in letters, and double-checking my spelling via google, because my ability to spell in Hebrew is atrocious, when my friend Lauren calls me, asking if I know where the protest against the Prawer plan is. I guess I’m not the only one late- she is at the correct intersection, and a moment later she says that a group with banners and a megaphone just showed up.  I finish coloring in my poster, which read “Yes to recognition, no to uprooting, no to Prawer.”  (It sounds better in Hebrew, I promise.)

Look at all that nice spelling. (translation: "yes to recognition, no to uprooting, no to the Prawer plan")
Look at all that nice spelling. (translation above”)

It’s a small crowd when we get there, and it never really gets bigger, so I’m extra glad to be there, and to see Lauren and Dave.  Most of the protesters are Bedouin, and then there are a few stalwarts from the Negev Coexistence Forum, as well as a few English speakers.    A little boy runs up to me and gives me a big sticker that says “we are all al-Arakib”, in three languages, referring to a Bedouin village not far from here that has been demolished 49 times, and rebuilt 48 times.  I sound out the Arabic letters, but just for practice- I already know what it says “kulna al-araqib”. It helps when the Hebrew and Arabic words are almost the same.

Someone is passing out postcards to sign and mail in.  We look them over.  We’re sending these to Netanyahu, observes Lauren.  I try to read it over; I like to know what I’m signing.  It’s pretty straightforward, calling on him to oppose the Prawer-Begin plan, and I sign it.  I sign it for the same reason that I’m here, because there is legislation before Parliament, expected to pass, that will give official recognition (and the niceties that come with it, like water, electricity, roads, and maybe a school) to about half of the currently unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, and will demolish the other half, evicting their residents and moving them into development towns.

Yeah, I’m against that.  Because I can’t imagine it ending well for anyone in this region, not in three years, not in ten years, not in fifty years, because when you lay the seeds of inequality this deeply, we will all pay the price.  Because maybe a lot of countries treat the Bedouin poorly but the Egyptian government (both Mubarak and Morsi) is not my ethical standard.  Because I don’t care how messy people’s legal claims are, if their great-grandparents didn’t register their land properly under the Turks, or if they were displaced more recently by the Israeli military, or by being on the wrong side of conflicts or judgments by tribal leaders, there are better solutions that taking away from the country’s most vulnerable citizens what little they have.

It’s easy to imagine how this will end.  There will be only a slight outcry, and minimal attention, it’s not for nothing that this blog is named “In the Periphery.”  The Prawer-Begin plan will become law, the police and bulldozer operators are already used to their roles from the steady trickle of demolitions and evictions that have been going on for years.  The 35 villages slated for demolition will be a memory, a story parents tell their children, a few ghostly traces visible in satellite images.

And then I imagine, what if next week’s protest (Monday, 5 PM, the corner of Metzada and Rager, next to merkaz morim, and steps from the second bus stop in the city for any bus coming from the north) is a little bigger, and the week after, there is a bigger one still?  Maybe there will be an outcry.  This past Thursday, eight houses in the village of Atir, outside of Hura, which is itself not far from Beer Sheva.  Merav Michaeli, one of the higher-profile members of the Labor party in the Knesset, was there with the villagers during and after the demolitions.  Maybe we’re not that far off the radar, maybe something can still be done.

I find protests a bit of an awkward thing, and I’m glad Lauren and Dave are here.  I keep wishing there were more people, especially more Jewish Israelis, here in solidarity.  The youngest boy is now sitting in the grass playing with the stickers, a slightly older boy is hamming it up on the sidewalk passing out Negev Coexistence Fliers to people walking by; I want these kids to know, whatever happens, that there were people who stood by their side.

A Jewish Prayer for Nakba Day (which was Wednesday)

I’m not sure when I first learned that Nakba Day existed. I didn’t grow up with any real awareness of it, except that we (the community where I grew up identified strongly enough with Israel that “we” seems like the right word) had enemies who considered Israel’s Independence to be a bad thing. My father was born the year after the state of Israel was born, and he was raised in a neighborhood of Holocaust survivors. Israel was something fragile, and precious- something good had finally happened for the Jews. I was raised with my father’s fear in 1967 that when General Nassar said that he would drive the Jews into the sea, he would actually succeed, and I was raised with my father’s elation and pride when Israel did not let that happen. I was taught that Jews should always know how to fire a gun. (Oops, I still don’t).

Nakba Day came gradually into my consciousness, and even more gradually into my calendar. (I wasn’t even sure which calendar at first- I mark Israel’s memorial and independence days on the lunar Hebrew calendar, but Nakba day is the day after Israel’s Independence day, but on the secular, Gregorian calendar. This year, that overlapped with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, causing some ceremonies to be pushed forward, so I might not be the only one confused.)

The more people I meet (and our hospital draws a diverse crowd), the more it becomes clear that history is complex, narratives are complex, and motives are complex.    But complexity does not mean that nothing is clear. People lived here, and they fled during a war, and they weren’t allowed to come home.

I know a man, and his grandfather was exiled from Beer Sheva to Jordan.  His family remained behind, and he was never allowed to return.  I think he would have been proud of his grandson, who is a teacher, and his great-granddaughter, who wants to go into high-tech.

It’s easy to lose oneself a bit under the politics, the identities internally assumed or externally imposed, and the narratives, both official and unofficial. I was touched to wake up on Holocaust Memorial Day and see a news feed full of Palestinians and Iranians also marking Holocaust Memorial Day, and I realized I wanted to say something on Nakba Day (though you can tell I didn’t finish it in time). It seems important that those of us living in and benefiting from the state of Israel spend a day recognizing the loss that that caused others, and that that loss is still ongoing in many ways. Commemorating Nakba Day this year felt right, and as it meant stepping outside of my own identity, my own narrative, I wanted to write something that was in the voice of my own tradition. I drew on material from synagogue prayers, from songs around the Shabbos table that spoke of return from exile, and from readings from the Torah.

It wasn’t easy to write- it meant putting aside fears I’d absorbed about the idea of Palestinian refugees returning, “Will they kill us? Will the good things that have been built here be destroyed? Will the Jewish people end up in exile again, and will we survive that?”  These are fears that I was raised with, that a lot of the Jewish community was raised with.

I set these questions aside, not because they aren’t important, but because the act of listening alone, even when it’s not comfortable, of feeling each others’ pain, and admiring each others’ strength, changes us and changes what is possible, and allows for the possibility of a future that is not a zero-sum game.  I want options beyond one “side” winning and the “other side” losing. Some things are easier for me- I’m not a policy wonk, I’m a medical student. If I make it through medical school, if Palestinian refugees are allowed to return and I’m still here, my role would be the same: to take care of anyone who comes through the door.

A Jewish Prayer for Nakba Day:

Our God, and God of our ancestors, who answered Abraham when his son was bound on the alter1, who remembered Sarah’s prayers in her tent for a child2, and who found Hagar in the wilderness on the road to Shur3, and who heard the cries of her child in the wilderness of Beer Shava4, may He remember our Palestinian brothers and sisters who were killed, who were expelled, who fled, who were not allowed to return home, and those who are still at risk of losing their homes5. May their prayers be heard so that families be re-united in the land of their ancestors, and they can return in happiness to their land and in joy to their homes6, in the cities, in the villages, and outside the villages. May they dwell securely in the land7, without fear of being uprooted, and may they be free to go up to Your holy city8 and may we all dwell together with righteousness and with justice and with kindness and with mercy9. Help us all to have compassion for one another, as it is written, “and I will take your heart of stone, and replace it with a heart of flesh10.” and we will say, amen.”

אלוהינו ואלוהי אבותינו, שענה לאברהם בעת שנעקד בנו, שפקד את שרה בפתח אהלה, שמצא את הגר במדבר בדרך אל שור, וששמע את זעקת בנה במדבר באר שבע, זכור נא את אחינו ואחיותינו הפלסטינים, שנהרגו, שנעקרו, שברחו, שנאסר עליהם לחזור אל בתיהם, ושעומדים היום לאבד את בתיהם. שמע תפילותיהם לאיחוד משפחות מופרדות באדמת אבותיהם, והחזר אותם לבתיהם, בערים, בכפרים ומחוץ לכפרים, שנאמר “בשמחה לארצך ובששון לעירך.” “וישבתם על הארץ לבטח “, באין חושש שייעקר, “ולעלות בשלום לעיר קודשך, ותן שנגור ביחד ” “בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים. ” הנח עלינו רוח אחווה וחמלה, שנאמר “והסרתי את לב האבן מבשרכם ונתתי לכם לב בשר .” ונאמר “אמן “.

1. liturgy, days of awe.

2. Genesis 21:1

3. Genesis 16:7

4. Genesis 21:14-17. Beer Shava is not a typo, but both the masoretic pronunciation here, and also contains elements of the modern Hebrew and Arabic names.

5. Yizkor prayer for Nakba day written by TAU students

6. liturgy, days of awe.

7. Leviticus 25:18

8. A traditional name for Jerusalem that is identical to its Arabic name.

9. Hosea 2:21

10. Ezekiel 26:36

I’d love feedback on it, both on the content as well as on the specific construction and grammar (most especially in the Hebrew).  Discrepancies between the Hebrew an English can be attributed to the limits of my Hebrew.  Feel free to share, and share widely, if you feel moved to.