Monday, July 2, 2012

"Beyond Tribal Loyalties," So Frightening a Thought

I know my words have been missing for a while but I often write to you as I move through my life here, my friends from other places who know they can find some of me here and you who perhaps wander in. I will start with a tale of the eventual futility of censorship, usually done by those who need the silenced discussion the most, but while the shutting of the doors on challenging ideas is an impossible task, the insult still hurts. So nu, Joan, I can hear my mother saying, what are you talking about?

Two weeks ago, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, representing the progressive Jewish community of Melbourne, informed its members that Monash University, the second largest university in Melbourne, in the midst of a conference on Jewish culture and education, had  refused to allow a scheduled panel discussion based on a new anthology, "Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists," edited by Avaigail Abarbanel, to take place. This is a major university, a site of learning that sees itself I am sure as a citadel of academic freedom, but like so many other educational institutions, it feared alienating an influential source of donors.

The censored panel was going to hold an unauthorized discussion of the book and its silencing on another campus on another day and so Di and I made our way over the river, one of the dividing lines of this city, on a rainy cold Sunday at three in the afternoon. As we peered out from under our umbrella trying to find Building B, we noticed other people looking a little lost like ourselves but heading in the same direction. They, like us, kept glancing down at a sheet of paper giving directions. Using my New York sense that no one is an island when they are in the street, I smiled at one elderly couple and said, " are you from AJDS by any chance" and several heads bobbed yes. Slowly our little band grew, and once we found the room, we saw it was packed. As Availgail, the editor, said, the university had done the panel a favor because of the over 50 people packed into the room, a larger audience the  panel would have had at the conferenct itself. I knew some of the contributors, particulary Sivan Barak, a member of our Women in Black monthly vigil and who works hard to help Palestinian families to resettle here. I will not summarize the discussion other then to say several of the contributors, like Aviagail, were born in Israel, served in the Israeli army and at some point found the history they were helping to enforce, unbearable. How does one move beyond decreed borders of belief, how does one risk loosing the comforts of home, of becoming a "traitor" to assumed geographies, how does one continue work that at times, itsolates and earns such anger; the writers tells us of their passages. That afternoon, not every one in the audience agreed with all that was said, but the authors were given the hearing they deserved and that we all needed. We were also told that some other scheduled speakers had written letters of protest about the attempted erasure of the panel. Now the book is in your hands, and all proceeds of its sale are being donated to a mental health center for Palistinian children in Gaza: "Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists," edited by Avigail Abarbanel: Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.
   Avigail Abarbanel's dedication: To my late grandmother Rivka, to Palestinian people everywhere, and to activists working for justice and human rights.

I just want to add the title of another anthology, "Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, NY, Grove Press, 2003.

Books of dissent are coming thick and fast, the doors of the archives are open and never can we say we did not know.

The telling of this moment of resistance was to be my task tonight, but as usual, my friend Hannah from Haifa, expanded the moment. She wrote me this morning to tell of the work of a friend, Khulud Khamis, a Palestinian feminist who is a citizen of Israel. Khulud writes her moments of life in a blog, "Life in Fragments," and as soon as I read her words, I knew you must know of her work. What happens when moving on is not an option, when movement itself is one of the freedoms you loose. Again words that were not supposed to be heard, words from the occupied terroritories within and about one one. Let the words come, the tellings of contestation, of injustice, of resistance.

A bull-dozed Bedoine home, the work of the Israeli Defense Force, 2010 

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