Kafka in Israel

by LINH DINH

“We want to be troubled no more by Arabs; room to breathe; a skyline cleansed of them; no more bleating of sheep knifed by an Arab; every beast to die a natural death; no interference till we have drained the carcass empty and picked its bones clean. Cleanliness, nothing but cleanliness is what we want,” so says the oldest jackal in Kafka’s “Jackals and Arabs,” as translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. This tale about Jews and Arabs appeared in a Zionist monthly, Der Jude [The Jew], in 1917, just a month before the Balfour Declaration.

A German-speaking Jew among Czechs, and of a generation allowed to assimilate, tentatively, for the first time, Kafka was at home nowhere. Though born into German, Kafka considered writing in it akin to kidnapping someone’s baby from its crib, dancing on a tightrope or composing one’s will before committing suicide. He wasn’t even “a circus rider on two horses. Alas, I am no rider, but lie prostrate on the ground.” With everything about himself uncertain, Kafka dreamt up an entire menagerie of talking and/or hybrid animals, including, most interestingly, an “odradek,” a “senseless” yet “perfectly finished” half thing, half beast that is possibly immortal because he has had no discernable aim in life.

In the same issue of Der Jude, Kafka published “A Report to an Academy.” An ape is captured by sailors, so his first human home is a ship, which is neither land nor sea, but a rocking, artificial womb. Aping his captors, he quickly learns to spit, his first human action, and his first utterance, “Hallo!”, is blurted out spontaneously after a prolonged effort to drink schnapps, which he finds repulsive. This kidnapped ape and boat person, or rather, boat ape, eventually becomes nearly a person, by way of the circus then the academy, his progress “accompanied by excellent mentors, good advice, applause and orchestral music.” Seeing no place, no future for himself, he could never procreate, and I’m talking about Kafka here, not the ape, who has, as a companion, “a half-trained little chimpanzee and I take comfort from her as apes do.”

Tired of this impossible life, Kafka dreamt of emigrating to Palestine and even learnt Hebrew well enough to read an entire novel, but he would die 24 years before Israel was created. Though Kafka never lived to see the violence that hasten, accompany then follow that country’s founding, he knew full well that such a large influx of Jews onto Arab land would be problematic, to say the least. It would exacerbate “a very old quarrel,” and not just any conflict but one “that divides the world.” Lamenting his fate of being “exiled” among Arabs, the head jackal suggests a definitive solution, “So we shall draw blood from them and the quarrel will be over!”

Among the anthropomorphic animals in Kafka’s universe, none is as repulsive as these chatting jackals. They even emit a rank smell that the narrator must grit his teeth to endure. Kafka even has them devouring a camel carcass, which is particularly ironic in light of their insistence on cleanliness. In Orthodox Judaism, the camel is deemed a foul beast, of course. Allowed to feast on a dead camel by Arabs, these jackals immediately forget their hatred of Arabs and don’t even mind being lashed by Arabs as they eat. Whipped, “they lifted their heads, half swooning in ecstasy.”

Earlier in the story, Kafka prefigures this collective devouring by having two young jackals bite the narrator, a European visiting Palestine, through his coat and shirt. When the narrator protests, the oldest jackal explains that they will let go, “if that is your wish. But it will take a little time, for they have got their teeth well in, as is our custom, and must loosen their jaws bit by bit.” Also, “we are poor creatures, we have nothing but our teeth; whatever we want to do, good or bad, we can tackle it only with our teeth.” In a letter to his beloved Milena, Kafka also wrote, “Their insecure position, insecure within themselves, insecure among people, would above all explain why Jews believe they possess only whatever they hold in their hands or grip between their teeth.” Jewish grasping, an anti-Semitic trope, for sure, is here depicted not as greed but pathetic physical acts born of anxiety, and the jackals are also pitiful, if blood thirsty.

They finally beseech the European to slit Arab throats with a rusty pair of sewing scissors, but the head Arab laughs this off as the “lunatic hopes” of “fools, utter fools.” He dismisses these jackals as dogs of no consequence. In real life, however, his deadly enemy is sophisticatedly armed and well funded by the world’s most powerful empire. From 1948 until now, America has consistently backed diasporic Jews and their descendants as they massacred Palestinians and expanded their conquest of this foreign land. In the American press, Arabs are often painted as deranged terrorists, while their Jewish conquerors are extolled as standard bearers of democracy and civilization. Israel is a beachhead for Western values or even a first domino against jihad. Writing in National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy calls it “the canary in the West’s coal mine.” But relative civilization aside, shouldn’t one back natives against invaders in any war, since a home invasion is always wrong, no?

“Unpopulated land for a landless people,” went a Zionist slogan. According to the myth, Israel has been built from nothing, or raised “from the sand,” as recently phrased by a CNN lackey. In fact, Palestine was already substantially urbanized by the time of  Balfour. Less than 11% of its people were Jews, with most having arrived only in the previous four decades. By Israel’s founding, 32% would be Jews. Now, it is roughly 57%.

At the start of the latest attack on long suffering Gaza, I went to a Philly rally where both sides were present. Divided by a street, the pro-Israel demonstrators chanted at the pro-Palestinian, “We gave you Gaza! You gave us rockets!” It’s amazing that usurpers occupying 78% of historical Palestine could claim to give its native people anything, much less a quarantined piece of land deemed by many an open-air prison! But many Jewish protestors were actually pro-Palestinian. Among their signs, “I AM A JEW. STOP KILLING BABIES IN GAZA.” Another, “ONE MORE ISRAELI AGAINST THE OCCUPATION.”

So a truce between Israel and Hamas has been announced, ending a bombardment of Gaza that left 147 dead and 1,155 wounded. Israel, on the other hand, suffered five dead and 235 wounded, a bit higher than usual, proportionally. That Iron Dome may not be not so rocket proof, after all, especially with Egypt allowing better ordnances to be smuggled into Gaza. Did Israel have to stop its assault before its flank was seriously exposed? In any case, serial war monger Netanyahu was immediately praised by Obama, his pet hyrax, for being so restrained, while Hilary Clinton got quality face time for her shuttle diplomacy. (Asskissing done, Obama pardoned two turkeys by removing them from his “kill list,” per witty Yahoo!) But what has been solved, exactly? Likely nothing. Born in blood and maintained through constant bloodletting, Israel has gotten its teeth into its prey, and it won’t let go. If it had a choice, it would have devoured all already.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union

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