Tel Aviv Diary January 12, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

started the last one early so i'm catching up.

i really like this technique of beginning a new page irregularly - when the last page was filled with such disgusting news a new page is the only way to get a perspective. The media is the message...

I don't like to write about where I work because I think the university should decide what news they want spread about themselves. And yet the serious economic situation of this very big and active institution is pretty much known around here. The guy I heard today lecturing about it called the university the titanic, but not the titanic about to hit the iceberg. Rather it is the titanic at the bottom of the ocean. This is the place I hope will enlighten the minds of the next generation.

The place is falling apart. And yet, the people are great. One expert on Jewish criminals, whose name I have to ask for permission to use yet (watch this space) is actually even more of an expert on politics now that the criminals have invaded the knesset, and in one of those two minute talks in the hall has more enlightening things to say about the Israeli government than I've heard all week. I look around me in the meeting (about how we are in trouble financially) and see some of the greatest minds in the country.

More later. i have to go to dance class and say a few words about our dear classmate who exploded last week.

I spoke too soon. No one said a word. I even fear most of the class did not realize we had lost an old member. The teacher said nothing, and i looked around and thought that perhaps the silence is part of the traditional clean-up campaign, the normalization we endeavor to create after a great tragedy.

The teacher, I realized afterward, simply did not want to invest the class with tragedy. And the other two who actually knew the victim - Sapi - didn't know something had happened to her.

Our survival tactics are many and varied, but always include defamiliarization and denial.

Look, while we were shimmying to our hearts' content, two terrorists entered the town of Gavish, killing a man and seriously injuring another before they were run over by a border patrol jeep. there was an attack on Halutza as well... How could we dance at all if we were sensitive to all that was happening around us?

Today's Haaretz has a right on article by Uzi Benziman about Sharon's character and Israel's character. read it

January 13, 2003

This was idle gossip in the early seventies - Imagine the ladies in Cafe Exodus on a Friday afternoon whispering about the strange death of Sharon's first wife. She drove her car off the road, said one, because she found out her husband was leaving her for her sister, Lily. Someone fixed her brakes, said another.

Next week the ladies are back - see! he's marrying the sister! He got rid of her for sure.

That was ALL I knew of Sharon in the seventies - that his wife died under mysterious circumstances.

Since then I have not heard of his wife at all. Even forgot her name. Even though she is Omri's mother. Margalit. Anyone know what the true story is? Ah, its all gossip anyway.

Why bother with the past when the present is so awful. Palestinian kids - 8, 10 years old, drugged, infiltrated yesterday - and apparently two other kids were arrested today... The town of Gavish where Eli Biton was killed yesterday is 2-3 kilometers from the border - no fence... no gate ... Sharon is going up in the polls... what else is new

January 14, 2002

A letter from Jonathan Wilson kept me awake all night - he read today and asked about yesterday.

Here's my dilemma with this diary. In order to stay as close to the truth as possible I've not allowed myself to mess with the material, present it at the moment and don't peek, don't fix. But the writer in me is never totally quiet, and i know i've developed themes that i emphasize and facts that i ignore because they don't have the continuity i associate with this journal. so i use my belly dance class as a measure throughout - as a mixture of cultures (a strange one, but a beginning to mutual understanding perhaps, certainly a feminist gesture, and a social arena for discussion and conflict). If I remember rightly the belly dance class poem was one of the first i posted here - although i may really not have posted it here - it's in the latest issue of "Bridges" - Anyway it's here now: dance. And for a comic but graphic view of me as bellydancer, go to pookh music where i'm doing a disk with Roy Yarkoni. I'm a pretty awkward dancer but I've been doing it for years so am getting better, and maybe the writing helps. Even get big applause now and then (no money pasted on my forehead yet).

But i digress - i was talking about motifs and how they acquire significance even in a diary, even in daily life. So the death of a dancing partner in the latest terrorist attack had particular literary signficance here. And i mimimize that literary significance because I'm talking about a real person, a grandmother, a daughter, a woman, and a good dancer.

Another motif has always been my late mother-in-law, Sara, with whom I spoke nearly every day until the last week in her life last month, and whose comments on the contemporary situation in the context of her 94 year old life in this country were always a perfect perspective for me.

There may be other themes - i don't know - but the point is that it is harder and harder to just pop in on this diary and get the full effect. How can you know who the players are? How do you know that Nona is the cafe where I hang out - and where so many sociologically critical events took place...

But how can i go back and cross reference this? It is clear that I am losing my 'objectivity' as a diarist and am exhibiting the control-obsession of a writer. Stop me, please.

To return to the major dancers around here - Mitzna has announced that he won't form a coalition with Likkud - this is considered to be the result of the fact that he's dropping even further in the polls and is adapting the tactics of the loser.

How honest people can vote for sharon is beyond me - but i do understand the lack of ability to put faith in a left party. Ezi is shill burned from the promised changes in the third party (Dash) led by Yigal Yadin in 1977 - the pipe-smoking intellectuals who say all the right things, but can't do a thing. Lipkin-Shachak gave that appearance as well. So who are you going to trust? I still stay with Mitzna. But then I went 'all the way with Adlai' in '52...

Still, even while I'm trying to belittle the need to vote left, I can't leave the subject of Margalit Sharon alone. Two years after her brakes failed (the evidence was botched)her nine year old son, Gur, kills himself - by accident - with a gun. Two big tragedies. But the strangest thing is that they don't exist anymore. Margalit is never mentioned by name. The fact that she was his late wife's twin sister is never mentioned. and the known fact that he was having an affair with Lily all along is erased.


January 15, 2003

Somehow I slipped into the world of the past last night - in the middle of discussing the occupation, Oren asked me when I knew it was wrong. I wanted to be prophetic in retrospect but could only remember sitting in a garden restaurant in Nablus, near the center of th city, 1973, watching the people pass peacefully, and discussing the occuptation with a few businessmen. One, slim, in a shiny grey suit, fingered his beads as if they were an abacus and listed the benefits of occupation - the higher standard of living, the functioning administration, the freedom of movement he had not enjoyed under the Jordanians. But - and then he frose and looked me straight in the eye - we would willingly give up all this for freedom. I froze too, but just for a moment, and then reassured him that we were not after his land, not after his soul. We would be friends in the future.

I really believed that. I really wanted it to happen. Why not? They were good people, and we had much to learn from each other.

And I never felt endangered.

Once, Abdullah sent me and Orit with his uncle to visit the orchard while business was being conducted - some repairs of sewing machines. There we were - a small group - in paradise. Maybe my husband was with me as well. In any case, not only did we feel no fear, I was enthralled by the way they had made a paradise out of the wilderness around them.

And once - Oh, I must have told this before - we went up to Har Grizim for Passover. The Samaritans spent their passover there, eating nothing but matzo and lamb and coffee. We were the guests of the daughter of the high priest - and we sat on the floor of the big hall, staring at the prayers in frames on the wall... I remember I asked stupid questions, and each was answered with respect, ignoring my ignorance.

I was naive, and I was enthralled. And I could not but believe that we would come to mutual agreements - because we were all after the same thing - peace and quiet and freedom.

No wonder we're in such a mess now -

So in the gynecolist's office i became reacquainted with the local ladies magazines. When I first came to Israel I was enthralled by them - they were wonderful lessons in socialization. There was always an article about how to clean your house, a whole section on basic and inexpensive recipes, advice on handicrafts for children on vacations, a pattern to cut out for a dress or a blouse, and instructions on making a doily. Always. Now it's like disneyworld for girls. Plastic surgery tips. an interview with some woman who has just left her millionaire husband, a 5 minute cake just like they used to make... Nothing about how to prepare your child to accept wearing his gas mask, what kinds of food to stock up on for the war, how to prepare yourself for election day...

But then before the gynecologist I had coffee with Yael Globerman and we complained about all these statistically impossible decisions we have to make all the time - nothing is wrong or right any more, the way it was in the women's magazines of my early days in Israel. Should I take hormones or shouldn't I? Should I be preparing an escape from this country in case of biological attacks? Do I try to get a smallpox shot? What if I decide to do a chemical peel and there's a air raid - how will I put on my gas mask... I usually keep some change in the outer pocket of my purse so if i pass a musician (or a beggar) I can give them something. But lately there are so many I run out of change. How do I decide to whom to give my money? Should I adopt a glassy-eyed New York look and pass them all by? Do I comfort myself tonight with a nice american sit com or do I torture myself with the news?

Notice that we haven't even come to the major issues - do I vote for Mitzna and give the Labor opposition a bit more clout or do I follow my conscience and vote Meretz - and will it matter?

And since I can't seem to actually DO anything about the violence against Palestinians that seems to be escalating, should I keep counting the dead - should I keep mourning each one of them?

Decisions. Decisions.

I told Yael Globerman I would mention her in these pages if only for one brilliant observation. We were talking about diaries, about Anna Frank. I said no one can write a naive diary like Anne Frank any more - because even a young person here would know that if they were keeping a journal in 'interesting times' it might be the only remnant of their humanity after those times were over. She said that she thought there might be some little girl in Iraq who has never heard of Anne Frank and is right now writing in her little diary - Fatima Frank she called her.

I don't usually name names and quote conversations but there was something about this one that seemed to have innumrable echoes.

A NOTE ABOUT MITZNA: Linda just asked me whether I think Mitzna is weak - I must have written something about it before - but this rule about not rereading and my developing alzheimers seems to blur yesterday's entries for me. So here it is loud and clear: I DON'T THINK MITZNA IS WEAK AT ALL - I THINK HE HAS THE MOST GUTS OF ANYONE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. AND HE'S SMART. AND HE KNOWS WHAT HE'S DOING. He is, however, working with an antiquated, inefficient and inflexible organization, and he is going to need more time to whip it up into shape. It won't happen by the time of the elections. IN CASE I HAVEN'T SAID IT, I LOVE OFER PINES, SHIMON PERES, and a few others in Labor, and I love the sentiment, but most of the people in Labor don't know what LABOR is. They are not corrupt like Likud, but they're old-fashioned and incompetent. Give Mitzna some time and they'll reform.

Linda also sent me to an article by Thomas Friedman in the Times. I pass on her recommendation - it tells it true. Math

January 16, 2003

And now that the semester is pretty much over except for exams I look around for my academic friends to ask them about the elections and they are all leaving - tomorrow or the day after. Who wants to stick around for the depressing elections? And anyhow, as one woman prof of Hebrew lit told me, she doesn't understand who she should vote for - so why vote.

For some reason people think that only with Sharon can they express patriotism. Even though Mitzna is just as patriotic as Sharon. Today Peres came out in support of Mitzna's idea of no coalition with Sharon in charge - noting that Israel needs Mitzna for its very existence. He also pooh-poohed the polls and said that nothing is decided until the last two weeks before the elections.

Is there hope?

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