I live in Israel/Palestine and I think I am probably addicted to the big bad conflict we have here. We all seem to be addicted to the conflict we have here. We are so used to it, sometimes I wonder if, given half a chance, we could really learn to live without it. Meanwhile, the academics study it. The politicians cook it and bake it and spin it. The pollsters monitor it. Nonprofit organizations and NGOs mop up the messes, frequently lethal, that it makes. Dissident poets bemoan it, and the journalists (with the exception of a courageous handful, who tell the truth) pretend to report on it. The prisoners find their education, for better or worse, in its shadow, while the wardens find some kinky pleasure there, or anyhow their paycheck.
The mothers, raped by the conflict, carry it with them like some spawn of Satan. That is how it feels, these days. We are continually and forcibly violated by the politicians’ spinmeisters, who keep trying to impregnate us with their dysfunctional fantasies so we can deliver more soldiers for the conflict. The children are afraid of the conflict, they’re afraid that it’s lurking under the bed (if they have a bed, if they have a house), or that it’s about to fall on them from the sky and explode in a hail of blood and gore, to kill and maim, like it did last night or last week or in the last war. Or, brainwashed, they crow about the enemy’s getting what he deserves, never thinking that “the enemy” is mainly a bunch of kids like them. And then they get a bit older and go out to do battle.
Santa, tell me: What in God’s name have we done to the children?
While the innocents suffer, the arms merchants and the generals sign fat deals. Out in the countryside you can see the only truly neutral bystanders to the conflict, cows lowing in their barnyard or goats and sheep grazing on their patch of grass and brambles; surely they hear the infernal screaming when the missiles of death approach. Perhaps they are afraid; no one knows or cares. Once in a while, when I go down south to visit my sister on her kibbutz, I drive through the desert past the dread zone where The Bomb dozes in its nest, deep beneath the sandy hills waiting. Waiting for someone to make a mistake.
Meanwhile Gaia, the living brooding spirit of this beautiful besieged planet, pays us no attention whatsoever; we are an errant flake on the skin of her mysterious, majestic body. She goes on breathing as always – inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale. She can feel a fever coming on, but she has been afflicted before. No matter. She will know how to restore the balance when the time comes. Is there any ice left up there at the North Pole, Santa?
If I feel like praying, I can access a direct line to the Almighty by email or fax They have these handy services now. Here’s what you do: (1) Compose your prayer. (2) Send it by email, fax, or post and the company will print it and take it to the ancient Western (formerly Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem and stuff it in the cracks with thousands of other supplications to the Most High. Express delivery guaranteed! (3) Pay by credit card, from anywhere – unless you’re in Gaza: Gaza the besieged, the starving, where there is no email, fax, or post, no credit card, no electricity, no water, no work, no bread, and not much else, either. You can still pray there, but the company cannot guarantee delivery, and anyhow the service is not really designed for Muslims.
Santa, I have a few other outgoing letters If you know how to get them to their destinations, give me a hand here, okay? And thanks for listening.
Dear Spirit of Love,
Or whatever your name is – get us into rehab, quick! We need help! We are massacring the neighbors – we are killing each other here. People are besieged, shot, bombed, terrorized, and I swear, some folks justify this. They justify it. How sick is that?! We need help! Most of us want to stop the killing but we don’t know how. Help!
I am a Jewish freethinker in Israel. (Sometimes I write “in Israel/Palestine” because it seems to make more sense, but we won’t go into that now.) I have a question. If Jewish renewal in Palestine after a thousand generations is visionary and noble, why is the idea of repatriating the displaced Palestinians after a mere fifty or sixty years seen as delusional? I don’t get it.
I have an acquaintance, a Muslim, whose brother is a political prisoner. He’s been in prison in Israel more than twenty years nearly half his life. He went into a cell at age 25, waving his banned manifestos; that was in 1986. Soon, he’ll have a Ph.D. and I think he’s starting to lose his hair. He writes eloquent essays in prison and works on his research. I’d like to play him Libby Roderick’s anthem of the oppressed, “How Could Anyone,” beginning: How could anyone ever tell you / you were anything less than beautiful? Tell me what else I can do for him. How will this balance ever be restored? How will this debt ever be paid? His name is Walid Daka. He belonged to a banned organization, and maybe he helped to plan violent acts of resistance; I don’t know. But I think his real crime was being born Palestinian, because all the rest followed from that.
Come back! We need you! But don’t come back as a woman, they won’t listen. Don’t try to come back as an ordinary Muslim traveler on an airplane, God forbid they’ll arrest you at the airport. Don’t come back as a foreign (guest) worker: they’ll take your passport and lock you up. Don’t come back as a cabinet minister because, inside of a week, you’ll start to care more about keeping your car and driver than about comforting the poor and afflicted. Better to stick with the donkey, like last time but don’t try to cross a checkpoint with it; they’ll think it has a bomb in its belly and they’ll blow it up, poor critter. I read the other day that there are over 500 checkpoints on the West Bank now; hard to believe. That’s a lot of checkpoints. So maybe come on foot. Or get Scotty to beam you over here. But come quick! We’re sinking. And whatever you do, don’t go to Bethlehem this time. It’s under siege and crumbling, but the people are incredibly resilient. They’ll break your mortal heart.
Sometimes lately when I’m driving to work on the Abominable Highway Six, built on confiscated land through the hilly heart of Israel/Palestine, I pass the perverted separation barrier around Tulkarm without really noticing. I’ve only been riding on this road since last spring, and initially I used to stare at the sections of separation wall as I went by, full of acute emotions. The wall dominated my consciousness. I wrote an essay about it. I had nightmares about it. I used to lower the car window and salute the cousins caged on the other side. I’d play them Peter, Paul and Mary (“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer out justice”) on the CD player in my car, with the volume on maximum. I’d cry, sometimes; but not anymore. Not even a year has gone by, and I’m desensitized. I don’t cry. Sometimes I even forget to look. I forget to salute. I drive by Tulkarm (a ghetto; a prison that was a town) and forget to pay my respects. And then Qalqilya, same thing only bigger, a bit farther along, less hilly same thing. What is happening to me, while we are doing what we are doing to them? When I eventually come to the bottom of this slippery slope, what ghoulish being will gaze back at me out of my mirror? We ought to be careful where we are headed (goes an old folk saying), or we are liable to get to where we are going.
Well, I can’t fix the obscene separation barrier with an old album of Peter, Paul and Mary. But I can get the word out to you, out there in the world — because if enough people agree we are on the wrong path here, maybe there is still time to walk a different way together. You must not demonize us, though, if you want to help. We’re just a bunch of ordinary people who have thoroughly lost our way, possibly because our national ethos was built on an unsustainable foundation. The military sector is very powerful and the political sector is morally bankrupt. What happened to us here could happen to you but I hope, for your sake, that it never does.
Tomorrow on the way to work, I’ll stop the car on the shoulder of the highway and get out and listen to the grass growing, for a while. The maintenance crews continually go up and down the length of Highway Six with their spray gizmos, blasting the greenery into oblivion all along the route, beyond the slightest shadow of a weed. All the verge turns brown. It looks vanquished, as if life itself has surrendered, as if brutality has won, at least on this privately- built-for-profit toll road of desolation.
You might think the poisonous reality has begot a permanent wilderness of scorched earth here. But if you sit still and listen, you can hear the grass, deep down, gathering itself to grow again, ready in all innocence to push on through, the sap dancing up from the roots under the ground. New life emergent, rising out of this brutalized place, draws to itself the energy of pure Love from the vast silent starlit universe. That alchemy of renewal is all we can offer by way of solace to a grieving mother or father or child in any Qalqilya on earth. No one can bring back the dead, make the invalid whole or give back the prisoner’s lost years, but this I can promise you: The destroyers will not have the last word. We ordinary moms and dads and families – we refuse to be enemies. Our souls are ready to reach past this conflict to a new shared future, as the blades of grass are ready to poke through the dirt again, all over this sorrowing land, reaching up regardless through the blood-soaked soil: little green stalks of life and hope, irrepressible. And over every blade of grass hovers its own angel, whispering: Grow, lovely one! Shaatr! Ta’al! Come to me Grow!
DEB REICH is a writer and translator in Israel/Palestine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.