Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Pleasure spiked with pain

Khaled Diab
In a Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, Anthony Kiedis sings about how he likes pleasure spiked with pain. That crossed my mind as an apt description of this time of year in Israel and Palestine.On Sunday evening and Monday morning is Memorial Day, while on Monday evening and Tuesday morning is Independence Day for the Israelis and the Nakba (Catastrophe) for the Palestinians.

On Monday morning, Amos and I set off to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. “To truly understand Israel,” he told me, “you have to understand the painful history of the Jewish people in the diaspora.”

To get there, we took the train to Tel Aviv. The carriage was packed full of young male and female soldiers, many casually donning their scary-looking M16s. It is a constant source of surprise to me just how militarised this society is. At times, it seems like there are more people in uniform or carrying a gun that the opposite. A sign of this is how routine and unremarkable the question everyone is asked at the security check outside every station, many supermarkets and public area: “Are you carrying a weapon?”

On the train, we talked about this suffering. With Anat, Tzachi and other Israelis and Jews, I have discussed the question of Jewish persecution and suffering. While I am painfully aware of the extent to which Jews have episodically been oppressed and persecuted, with the Holocaust the crowning achievement of anti-Semitism, I feel it is important for some Jews to take a more balanced view of their history. It has not all been ugly – the Jews have had periods of great integration and prosperity since ancient times.

In addition, other migrating peoples, such as the Roma, have also faced persecution. In fact, you don’t have to leave the supposed comfort of your own home to be oppressed, put down and persecuted. I gave the example of Egypt, which lived under foreign rule (which was sometimes benign but often cruel) for more than two millennia, longer than the Jewish diaspora. Or the fact that the Inquisition was targeted at much as the Muslims and Arabs of Spain as it was against the Jews.

The diaspora is a subject which has interested me for some time, so I didn’t learn anything revalationary, except perhaps for the fact that, according to one display, Egypt had 1 million Jews out of a population of 8 million in the first century. It was perhaps befitting that while we were on the final leg of our tour around the museum, the sirens marking the end of Memorial Day sounded.

Amos had wanted to take me to see one of the largest settlements built in the Occupied Territories, but decided that it was too hot and we would go back later.

One people's poison is another's meat

In the afternoon, I caught up on some much-delayed writing, while Tzachi hosted his young boys’ school friends in what turned out to be an exhausting – for parent and offspring alike – inflatable pool party.

On Monday evening, the dark clouds of mourning over Israel’s skies are dispelled and the country is bathed in the moonlight of joy, as people partake of the Independence Day festivities. “The swing from utter misery to euphoria is a hard one to make," Anat admitted to me.

But the dichotomy between the two days is not the only contrast. It is nearly 60 years since the 1948 war and 40 years next month since the West Bank and Gaza were occupied. In Jerusalem, there was to be an alternative Independence Day celebration, which I had been invited to, that also commemorates the ignored aspect of 1948, the Palestinian Nakba, when the Arabs lost the war with the Jews and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either forced out of their homes or fled out of fear. Yesh Gvul, a group of Israeli refuseniks, were holding their tenth Alternative Beacon Lighting ceremony in Jerusalem that evening.

In the evening, we went to a local Independence Day celebration. The fair, with its charcoaled meats, hustle and bustle, and children carrying flashing toys, reminded me of muwlids in Egypt. The actual ceremony began by commemorating veterans from previous wars with a beacon-lighting ceremony, followed by some singing, a fireworks display, then more singing. I was reassured and heartened to see that kitsch and bad taste knows no borders. Tzachi jokingly warned me not to circulate pictures of this event because it would shatter the illusion that Israel was a slick and well-oiled machine.

Back home, they put the children to bed and Tzachi informed me that he would be playing his favourite computer game, World of Warcraft. Tzachi, who had been calling all my ideas for peace ‘great but Utopic’, shared his own zany, leftfield peace vision with me, a sort of ‘make virtual war, not war’ idea. “Everyone in the Middle East should join an online, multi-player combat computer game. They’re so addictive that people will forget about conflict and become friends.”

©Khaled Diab. Text and images

1 comment:

IsrealiMom said...

I've been meaning to comment on this post before, better late than never ;)

Yes, Israel appears to be very militarized. The external signs are all over the place. However, this is, in my eyes, nothing but a shell, a costume. These soldiers are not mean. I'm an ex soldier and officer. Tzachi is. Amos is. Boaz is. Galit is. My father is. Arnon is. Almost anyone you met in our household and over at our friends' is or was at some point a soldier. That does not make us more violent, extreme, brutal (insert your adjective of choice here). Hopefully you'll get to meet Oded in the Golan Heights next week. A charming boy, just finished 3 years of combat service in the occupied territories in an elite unit. The sweetest boy ever, not a military bone in his body that you can tell from looking at him. A very hippie look even.
My point? don't be fooled by the uniform and M-16's on the train station. They are there because we have to, not because we want them there. Even then, they do not make us anti-peace or pro-war. Not by a long shot.