Tel Aviv Diary Dec 5, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from Dec 5, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

December 5, 2003

I had the privilege last night of meeting Massarwa Osama, a poet from the town of Teibe who writes in English as well as Arabic and Hebrew. I skimmed through part of a manuscript and will read more tomorrow, because the subject of living in this country is so similar and opposite to mine it is fascinating and painful, hopeful and despairing at the same time. But there is so much in his entire experience that must be retold that I have to note some of the major points immediately - even before organizing them or presenting them in a proper manner. First to me is the issue of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Writer. Hyphens in this case don't expand the potential of identity but drastically narrow them. Marginal in the dominant Jewish society, the Arab writer in Israel can't turn to foreign markets in Arab countries because they ignore anyone with an Israeli passport. But Massarwa also has another problem - he wants to communicate his pain to Israeli readers as well, to begin a dialogue that will lead to the acknowledgement of the 'other,' of himself, as a human being. The poems I read so far show a picture of the Arab as a human being who sees the lack of humanity of the Israeli, the trap of mistrust, and suffers together with the other he suffers from. His messages are important ones for the Jewish as well as the Arab audience, this need to communicate is problematic because there aren't many literary outlets - not for English (except for arc and the Palestine-Israeli Journal) and not for Arabic (because the readership is local and small). I will try to post some of his work.

In the mean time here's the prologue to his book


If you had the right magic word,

We'd absolutely vanish,

If we had it or the right code,

Your existence we'd ravish.

But because neither you nor we

Have that magical skill think

What the alternative will be -

Peace, otherwise we all sink.

This is an important introduction because they don't deny the mutual mistrust and hatred, but see the absolute necessity for a solution. But it isn't a complete introduction because many of the poems tell stories of the experiences of an Arab in a society dominated by Jews. Massarwa's goal is to communicate the fact that he is a human being with the complex emotions of an individual. Once the 'other' becomes a person, it is difficult to see him in terms of stereotypes and to treat him as an enemy.

December 6, 2003

The poems are therefore a combination of narratives of personal experiences, lyrics, and love songs.

A friend of mine saw yesterday’s entry and reacted from her gut. She called and said: “You know – both of us lost so much of our families in the holocaust, and both of us are threatened every day by terrorism. They just want to get rid of us as well. How silly of you not to acknowledge their hatred. I didn’t answer – she has so deep a feeling it would have been degrading for her for me to question it. But afterward I heard an interview with Dr. Ruth Westheimer who was here recently and she gave me an answer. She said she went to Peres’ birthday party and her told her, “Making love and making peace are alike: sometimes you have to close your eyes.” I kind of expanded that image in my mind – but it isn’t ready for now.

She also reminded me of the holocaust survivors’ syndrome – the need to justify your existence in the world, to say I survived because I have a purpose. Like tikkun olam. Like helping people try to create a better world. and i think people like Massarwa have the same complex.

I remembered a poem of mine that has a similar thought:


Here on this side are all the people

who want to live together, Arab and Jew.

And on that side are all those

who do not, who throw rocks

or whatever venom they can

at whomever is on the other side.

People say this fight is about land

or old scores or ideals or sepulchers.

I say we’ve got the groups disordered -

Right now it is between those

who can see the other side

and want a chance to grow in peace

and those who believe

theirs is the only side there is

and want victory.

December 8, 2003

But everything is confused. Ehud Olmert, the prime minsiter's replacement, came out the other day with the idea ofhaving 2 states. 'this is what most ofthe likkud people are thinking in their hearts, but don't dare state out loud' he said. i never thought i'd see the day.

but then again - i said that when sharon declared there should be a fence. and then the fence he is making is all in the wrong places for a just peace. so i shouldn't get my hopes up on this one either.

December 8, 2003

And now the Palestinians couldnt' agree on a cease fire, even though Mubarak was pressing them to the wall. So now that it has fallen apart we can expect more visits from suicide bombers than in recent months. No wonder the government is building an atom bomb shelter for its headquarters when a war comes. We of course will be on the outside.

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