Tel Aviv Diary August 30 - September 3, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - August 30 - September 3, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

August 30, 2004

Our star didn't make it, the morning news announced - not about the olympics, not about the spy scandal, but the "Superstar" competition. Aiman Al A'tar from Libya won over Palestinian Amar Hassan. I do think that Aiman is amazing, charming and exciting, but Amar has a depth...

But that's not what we're talking about. We're concentrating this morning on the identification of Israel with a Palestinian Star.

No matter how old i get i have this fantasy - that when we start connecting as people we will find a way to solve the political and military differences. Sometimes I am very tempted to write about the grievances, the differences, the terrible things done to us, or that we do to them. those are the days i wind up not writing at all. because there are enough people doing that - stirring up negative emotions and messing with minds. if i can i shut up.

So perk up Amar Hassan's spirits by visiting his very active site. I know I know - he's got lyrics that would make the hair on the back of my neck stand up - but that's exactly why i need to get to know him.

Forgot to mention. I've got a gig on the 8th of september at jah-pan Filter . It's early - 8:30. 11 Comfort Street, TA. I don't yet know about the other people in the evening. But I'll find out.

August 31, 2004

I wanted to take a break from paperwork and turned on the television. Out of the old habit i picked up during the peak of the terrorism i turn to the local channels to make sure the regular programming is on (those awful children's programs...) and there is the smoke, the medics running around, the ambulances, the busses, the news broadcasters - 2 terrorist attacks, 12 people dead, 51 injured, at least five is terrible condition. Two bodies of suicide bombers have been found. I call my friends from that neighborhood - they are unavailable.

Is it because around that border there is no fence yet? Is it because - as they showed in Abu Dis only a few days ago - climbing the fence is easy?

Now it's 15 killed. Apparently the driver of the second bus saw the explosion of the first one and opened his doors so that the passengers could escape. Who knows how many lives he saved?

And the guilt of the survivors is already coming out - one witness who gave his seat to a pregnant woman, and it turned out she was sitting next to the bomber. One man who was driving by and saw the explosion who stopped to help but could not cope with the enormity of the devastation.

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Back to BeerSheva: We have so much experience in this, know the 'procedure' - that the Hamas will show the suicide bombers before their 'mission,' that the Israeli army will move into the areas from which the bombers came, and that they will blow up the houses of the families of the bombers. All this time the Palestinians will be rejoicing in the streets.

But I don't really believe that most of the people rejoice in the streets - even though we see it on tv. I cannot understand how anyone can rejoice in the death of another.

September 1, 2004

Can you imagine how the children in Beer Sheva are going to school this morning? There are kids who died on the busses and now they have to ride on those busses. there are teenagers who were volunteering in the nearby hospital who are now carrying the shock of seeing bodies of other youths torn apart.

But at least one reason why these things can happen (besides the lack of a fence in the south, the lack of negotiations, the desperation of the Palestinians, etc. etc) is the fact that all manner of people walk around freely in this country. Most of the time we do not notice or register others. Yesterday, for example, I was talking with a clerk in the pharmacy a few hours after the bombings, and mentioned to her that with all the tragedies going on, it was hard to think about other things - even my shopping list for the drug store was forgotten. She agreed and shared a story with me about how absent minded she becomes on days like this, and then i noticed her Arab accent. "Oh, you're Arab," I said, without thinking. "We're all victims of this situation, aren't we?" And as we continued our conversation (because I remembered I wanted vitamins but couldn't recall where they were kept), we heard the shofar being tested from the Kollel next door. Some one was practicing "Shvarim" for the Rosh Hashana services in 2 weeks, blowing his shofar with all his might. "It's been going on all afternoon," she confided.

Now this mix is characteristic of this country, I think, and I am always amazed at it. But it is also one of the things that makes us vulnerable to attacks like this. We take it all for granted, see a Palestinian on the bus and assume it is part of the mix, not that he is wearing bombs in his BVDs (the latest fashion in suicide wear). I don't mean to suggest (and I'm only saying this because I've been misinterpreted in the past) that the clerk and the suicide bomber are identical, or even similar, but that despite dangers we prefer to normalize our consciousness, not to denormalize people who might be an 'other,'...

September 2, 2004

Four years and 4,000 deaths - I was listening to two young women, dressed in Muslim dress, as I was waiting in line at the bookstore. A tourist had just told me a joke: "Two women terrorists are trying on clothes at Mehane Yehuda. One turns to the other and says "Does my bomb look big in this dress?" And I was confused by the layers of irony of the situation. Their conversation too, was confusing - i caught snatches of 'wedding' 'congratulations' 'dress' in Arabic, and then in explaining about the entertainment they switched to a half-Hebrew-half Arabic. Then, as we left the store, they called out goodbye in Arabic to the guard at the gate.

September 3, 2004

Why do I note all these tangential anecdotes instead of commenting on the news or even evaluating the places I've been to, people I've seen? Why dont I write about the article the other day about writers who use tel aviv as their background? Why don't I write about Rona Kenan's latest album (a few months old) which flawlessly incorporates hebrew poetry (Yakov Orland) as well as her own lyrics in English? I seem to be concentrating on the unique concept of borders in the country - something I've written about before. There is just no definition - everything can be something else. Someone who is socially defined as an enemy can really be a friend, someone who is the minister of justice can be a crook, and so forth and so on. And we're used to the shifting identities and altering borders.

Or some of us are. Some people don't let reality change their minds no matter what.

In the framework of the tv series of the history of comedy in Israel last night a great deal of time was given to a program that became popular after the Yom Kippur war in 1973: "Nikui Rosh" or "Head Cleaning." This program aired every second thursday on the only channel available in Israel, and was so popular the streets were empty on the nights it was on. Couples, they said, didn't get married on thursday nights because they knew no one would show up.

The important point about this program was that it concentrated on political satire, and the participants felt they would be helping to clear out the corruption in the government, open people's eyes, and make a better world. but their criticism of the government was at least partially the reason for the ascension of the right. "We managed to do half the job," said one of the writers, "we changed the government." But sent it in the wrong direction.

This is one of the problems of the left - we're always thinking about those open borders, about changing, about improving, about learning. This leaves us vulnerable. It's an old limitation, but one that can be addressed and dealt with. Criticism, especially self-criticism, doesn't have to make you indecisive.

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