Tel Aviv Diary Dec 19, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from Dec 19, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

December 19, 2003

Why do we play dreidel? why do we gamble on Hannuka? Because this is a holiday of miracles - where everything can be turned around at any given moment. A small band of Jews can defeat the conquering Greeks, a one day's supply of oil can last 8 days, light can extinguish darkness...

And so when on the eve before hannukah, when arik sharon talks about making peace, when he hasn't been able to even agree on an agenda for a conversation with Abu Alla, we are in great need of miracles.

Maybe that's why Hannukah seems to have come alive here - everyone's celebrating. I can't remember when i've received so many invitations to really interesting parties and events. Maybe that's why i bought a jacket i couldn't afford this week - because i'm waiting for a miracle - for the bank to decide to erase my overdraft because i look so good in my new jacket.

Of all the stories about Hannuka - and there are many - there is one i can't quite picture. It's the one Josephus tells about the way Greek culture was becoming adopted by the Jews.

So they called on him to support them in building a gymnasium in Jerusalem. And when (Antiochus) concurred, they disguised the circumcision of their private parts so they might be Greeks even when undressed. And abandoning all their other native (Jewish) customs, they copied the practices of other nations.

--- Josephus, Antiquities 12.237-241

Now how can this be accomplished? Technically.

I'll have to ask my brother, the Talmud scholar...

In the mean time I have to correct a previous error - Tonight I asked Jake Lassner what he remembers about Fadwa Tuqan and he was highly complimentary about her family and her poetic classicity. The 'liver eater' is straight out of Islamic literature, an act of revenge on one's enemies, and, he says, while Tuqan was entertaining Israeli intellectuals in her salon at home, she wrote poems like that to prove her patriotic credentials.

An article on grammar on Languagelog yesterday claims:

Passive voice and bias in Reuter headlines about Israelis and Palestinians

The organization Honest Reporting recently released a study of bias in Reuters news agency headlines about events in Israel and Palestine. The part of the study on "Verb selection" claims that the choice between active and passive voice is being used to make Israeli violence more overt and apparent and Palestinian violence less so. The report says:

Violent acts by Palestinians are described with "active voice" verbs in 33% of the headlines.

Violent acts by Israelis are described with "active voice" verbs in 100% of the headlines.

I think it's worth reading the examples here.

Tonight Phyllis also pointed out that the usual photograph of anything representing Israel is a tank and Palestine a young boy.

December 20, 2003

Appropos terrorist threats in NY and all over. Remember the old days when radar was new? and there were signs that said, "Radar Trap Ahead"? I remember one town near my home where the mayor was asked how they could afford all that expensive radar equipment, and he answered "Oh, them signs don't cost much, and they're all you really need."

Second candle of Hannukah.

I plan to spend some of this evening, after the family dinner and candles and all, in Mishmish, warming up. I missed the ceremony in Nona yesterday and regret that a lot, but I won't get there until WEDNESDAY, what with all the other celebrations.

Something strange is afoot in this city.

As for the genital Hellenization - the only possible solution I got was from Phyllis who says that in Europa Europa there is an attempt...

Instead of telling Ezi what I did tonight, I asked him - long distance, since he's still in the U.S. - how he thought the Hanuka story of Josephus could be explained. He assumed it was not explained because Josephus had no idea. So maybe he didn't have enough information - and maybe he was wrong.

so much for history.

Get ready for Michal Heiman's opening of her exhibit, "Photo Rape" at the Artists' House on the 25. This evening when I spoke to her about her ambivalence about photography I realized that it was an exhibit I can't miss.

December 20, 2003

first a word about Khaddafi. Everyone here is cheering Libya and seeing it as a new world. But I will bet very soon someone is going to turn to us and ask what about our little explosive secret. Just wait.

December 21, 2003

Bethlehem. I've been thinking about Bethlehem, and the descent into the manger under the church of the nativity. The first time i was there - maybe in '68, it was incredibly difficult to go down the steps, and the whole place was neglected and marginal. The big square, where all the tourists would buy their souvenirs, i seem to recall, only appeared a few years after. But I need confirmation on that.

Last year, when the Church became the refuge for a number of terrorists and their hostages for five weeks, the pictures of the Church kept appearing on television and the vision of the defilation of the church kept me awake a number of nights after. And now one of the terrorists, who'd been responsible for a number of bloody attacks in Israel, and had been exiled to Belgium, was arrested in Belgium for armed robbery. Apparently he'd been dealing with arms and explosives on a daily basis.

I wonder if after a year and half the church has been restored.

I should ask that officer i met last night who is stationed in Bethlehem. We didn't talk about the church, but the beautiful women there, and the religious fanaticism that is rampant there. He wasn't talking about any specific religion - but the extremism, the raging desire for holy places, the disregard of logic, reason, and humanity in the name of a strange conception of religion.

I've paraphrased him - and hope he'll straighten out his words when he reads this. But I had been drinking blackberry juleps for a while before I met him. So I may well be distorting and missing what he meant.

December 21, 2003

Has Hamas stopped hitting Tel Aviv HAifa Jerusalem because it can't get through or because they aren't as interested in civilians behind the green line any more? who knows any more? who knows for sure why khaddafi is giving up it's nuclear weapons or why kuwait seems to be interested in promoting a settlement? who knows if Hannukah really is the holiday of miracles?

Could the officer with whom I spoke the other night be one of those who have signed a refusal to serve in the territories? why not - they all look totally normal. In fact i am almost certain that one of them is a cousin of mine - and he is second generation army.

There is general condemnation by the way of this refusal - why - because it could backfire. what if soldiers refuse to EVACUATE the settlers? i applaud their moral stance but i fear its implications.

There is a vast difference between Thoreau refusing to pay his taxes and going to jail for a night and soldiers in such a fractured and endangered society refusing to carry out orders - albeit inhuman.

I wish they had voiced their feelings without expressly refusing army commands. But somehow i admire them.

There is a Yiddish folk song about the a wedding - the speaker in each verse tells about another wonderful aspect of the perfect - shaine und fine - wedding. That's the way i'd describe Shirli Somekh's bat mitzvah. Every minute i spent there was wonderful and every person i spoke with was a delight. All those with whom i had conversation were from the world of the arts and it reminded me of the real quality of literature and the arts in this country.

December 23

I wanted to write more about that but couldn't get on the web last night. So the bat mitzvah will have to remain in that dream world. Anyway who wants to hear about my personal life.

Salman Masalha, a Druze poet, also writes for an internet journal in Arabic called Dar Alhayyat. Some of his articles are translated so I sent you to the English site. He's a pretty amazing person so I am looking forward to reading his articles.

one example: a group of people were discussing their multiculturalism - with a touch more than the usual brag, and then I asked Salman what they spoke at home: Oh, Arabic and Yiddish, he says. And then proceeds to recite a piece of a poem in Yiddish.

This is what they speak in Mrar?

I was also planning to discuss the 13 elite officers who refused to serve in the territories when the server went down. Somehow it paralleled in my mind with the decision in the Knesset not to rescind the parliamentary immunity of Uriel Chazan who is accused of voting twice in a parliamentary ballot. The parallel is in the question of how much does a voice count in this country. Zohar, one of the 13 boys refusing to serve in the territories, said on tv that he's willing to accept the personal consequences but he cannot operate against his conscience any longer.

Does he want to influence others, to 'vote twice' as Chazan seems to have done without impunity, to force his consciousness upon others? Somehow I think Zohar is twice as honest as Chazan. Even though I continue to disagree with his right to refuse an order.

Holiday traffic jams have brought Tel Aviv to a standstill, and I am too tired to tell the usual tales of rejoicing.

2 minor points: Eshel explained to me how the Jews could hide the fact they were circumcised. A little dental floss, a little tourniquet, a little bleeding... Must have been hard to concentrate on sports.

and Philip wrote: "what's this with the cousins? every crook and lawbreaker in israel is your cousin? are you for real? - The answer is, yes on both counts.

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