Monday, May 7, 2012

"Why Do I Hesitate...?"

Almost to the month, I have sat with Gunter Grass's poem on my desk--the sweep of friends from across the seas, illness, meetings, peace vigils, other writing work, pushed the old poet's words deeper into the stack of articles and e-mails that I gather to bring to your attention in this time we have together. And perhaps something else--was I getting too frightened to say out loud, I agree with you, old man. I know your own history shakes your words, inspires denunciation, but I am from a different past, a Jewish one. You were simply stating the obvious, that Israel the State in its relentless heartless occupation endangers world peace, that its loud silence on its own holdings of nuclear weapons, while it seeks to punish another State in "loudmouth" hands, is an unacceptable hypocrisy, that the gift of exceptionalism so freely given to the Israeli State is not an act of friendship, but has in fact created a rogue state under democratic camouflage. I turn 72 this Saturday, old man, and like you, look every night into the meaning of my days, the old piled up days that went more slowly, that seemed to have all the time in the world, not the now- day days that speed by so relentlessly, I wonder why they do not pile up end on end with evenings toppled by mornings.

From Hannah in Haifa, March 13, 2012:
Impossible love story. Imagine that you were a Palestinian person in Israel. Just for one minute. Please. Imagine that you met a young man or woman and you both fell in love with each other. She or he happened also to be Palestinian. That's not a big deal. Many people after all end up marrying someone from the same culture. You were both very happy. Just for one more minute imagine the joy of being together with someone you loves and he/she loved you too. That joy would not last long. Not even for one minute. Why, you would ask, are we not allowed even one minute of joy and happiness? Well, it is your bad luck to be born Palestinians. Not a good choice these days. Why? because one of you happened to be a citizen of the state of Israel and the other one happened to born in a place occupied by Israel since 1967 and is still under military occupation. Why, you would ask, what is the difference? Israeli law, decreed by its parliament in 2003, would not let you live in Israel if you were such a Palestinian, born in these occupied lands. Such a human being, man or woman, have the same language, sometimes even the same family. Imagine we had met and got married and could stay together in Israel on a one year permission basis only. That is not so bad, you might say. Yes, but could you, for one minute imagine having only the permission to stay here but nothing else. You could not work legally, nor drive a car and you would have no passport to travel. You could not study and you would not have social security or any health insurance. Can you imagine, for one moment, what 25,000 Palestinian families feel every day, every moment in every day since 2003? And if they wanted to leave Israel altogether and go live in the occupied territories of Israel, what's wrong with such a decision? Well, friends, sorry. Israeli citizens, which you happened to be, are not allowed to live in any city occupied by Israel in 1967 since the Oslo agreement made them into Zone A areas. Israeli citizens are not allowed to live in these areas or even visit there. This is forbidden. So what should we do? Where should we live? You would not want to know or feel or think about it. Lucky you, you are not a Palestinian. You happened to be an ordinary Israeli citizen who is Jewish and could marry anyone you loved and live with them here or anywhere. Why think about the others?

Attached to Hannah's above e-mail is a letter to be sent by concerned people to the Israeli Embassy in your country:

Dear Sir,
We, students and lecturers at _______________________________, want to express our deepest concern towards the recent decision of the Israeli High Court regarding the validity of the "citizenship law" of 2003. We are highly concerned with the situation of the Khatib family.

Lana Khatib is a Palestinian woman from Jenin in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She has a diploma in economics from Al-Najah University in Nablus, she moved to Israel in 2005 to live with her husband in his home town of Acca. Taiseer Khatib is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at the University of Haifa, a teacher at the Western Galilee College, and a conductor of creative writing workshops for young adults in the Freedom Theater at the Jenin Refugee Camp. They have 2 children (4 and 3 years old, but her residency there is totally dependent on yearly extensions of her permission to stay within the 1967 borders of Israel. She has no legal rights, social rights, health insurance and security. She is not allowed to drive nor to hold a job and is thus dependent totally on her husband Taiseer. This situation creates great frustration for Lana who used to be independent and worked for about 4 years in the health ministry in Jenin.

With the high court decision she can never achieve a status of citizen and even of permanent resident. In the best case, she might get a renewal of the permission that enable her only to stay with her family, if she is lucky, and won't lose the permission to live in Acca. This is the horrific reality of almost 25,000 families in Israel. In couples where the situation is reversed and the husband is from the Palestinian territories, the separation is absolute  as most men are unlikely to get permission to enter/stay in Israel. Women in both situations suffer intense humiliation and hardships.

Moreover, the Khatibs cannot choose to live in Nablus as Mr Khatib is an Israeli citizen and according to the laws introduced after the Oslo agreement, Israeli citizens are not allowed to live in Palestinian cities which are within the "A" sections of the divided Palestinian territories.

We are highly concerned by this latest Israeli High Court decision and cannot stay indifferent to these recent developments. We expect Israel as a democratic country to recognize her obligations towards the values of human rights. We call on the Israeli government and the embassy as the representative of the Israeli government to amend the citizen law and to allow all families in that situation to fully enjoy their human rights. This is the responsibility of a democratic government.


Students and lecturers at the University of ____________________________________

And so, Gunter, the resistors, the people of conscience, go on in their own lands and send out calls, knowledges across the world. We cannot say we did not know this time. Dark days lie ahead it seems to this gray head; in all the major elections of Europe, right wing parties have gained support--and in America, many American Jews, turn away from Obama in their unquestioning devotion to the principle that Israel can do no wrong. Right wing oligarchs pour money into candidates who will keep their untouchable class position secure. It is a perfect storm and in Hungary we see the dark clouds hanging a little lower; the exiled other sounds familiar--the Romany, the homosexuals, migrants, the Jews--the Jews of whom so many think once again, they will be distinguished from the demonized Muslim immigrants, and be welcomed in the new nationalist paradisos. You and I, Gunter, will most likely not be around for this second or a hundredth coming of mass hatreds, and so we lay awake at night, in a purple darkness, thinking of the young Russian punk feminist resistors, crying out from their prisons, of the Chinese writers and activists who we saw bundled up off the streets and driven away by those smaller prisons, of the Palestinian prisoners, swept up by the IDF, without reasons given or hope of help. America has unleashed on the world the rationale of preemptive wars and oppressive regimes of all kinds have taken kindly to imprisonment with out explanation. Last night, old man, it was the ghost of Salvador Allende who came out of the darkness, sad, so sad; after his murder by a democratic America all was possible. The people never asked the questions that needed to be asked or they settled for the answer, he was a communist so kill, she was a Palestinian so kill, he was a Kurd, so kill, she was a Romany, so kill, they were migrants, so kill, they were Jewish, so kill, they were Christians, so kill, they were Muslims, so kill, they were women, so kill, they were queer, so kill.
Once I was that young woman, holding the end of a banner that stands at the opening of this elegy, every decade, we stood, for change, for hope, and still we live our politics in the streets, but it is in the blue black of night, like this night falling over the pier at Lorne, along the Great Ocean Road, in the Southern Hemisphere, that time stands still for just a moment, a long moment, of reflection, oh life, what have we done, have we done enough, have we understood in our small selves what it means to be this thing called human. Have we said what needed to be said.

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