Tel Aviv Diary Nov 25, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from Nov 25, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

if you want to hear part of my new disk, "Thin Lips" it's here: scroll down and click on the 'play the songs'. There are 3 samples -

This weekend's Haaretz has a number of articles that intimately influence my life - I already recommended one. The next one of significance is about the boycott of Israeli Academics Now as an Israeli academic I have been feeling this boycott for a few years. How does it work? Let's take one element, the refusal of Academics to participate in conferences or to give lectures in Israel. Up to 3 years ago I would get letters every week from people who wanted to come to Israel, to lecture, to teach, to discuss. There was a very great mutual enlightenment - both on the academic and the political level. We would go out to dinner after the lecture (no money for that any more even if there were guests) and discuss their views of the political situation, answer their questions, show them some other elements of the problems here. S/He would take a tour, see the country and the people and the situation. The guest would then be in a better situation to draw reasonable conclusions. This seems intelligent and logical. The boycott not only prevents further discussion for us, but prevents the people who are performing to boycott to actually learn the facts. The boycott it seems to me negates academic progress for both parties. It is pretty clear that this is not a simple situation and has to be studied from all angles.

Furthermore I am sure that closer ties with European and American academic communities would strengthen the resolve of Israeli academics to be more active politically. What the boycott has done has been to disempower Israeli academics, to reduce their influence upon the government and to reduce reinforcement of any radical beliefs.

This is an important factor. If we have no influence in the world, then who in the government should care what we think.

So what the boycott does is to make European 'intellectuals' feel very self-righteous, but it reduces their academic integrity and effectiveness in the situation.

November 26, 2003

I should add a few facts to the growing impotence of Israeli scholars. Because our budgets have been cut by the government, our travelling funds have become more limited. Travelling funds are essential to Israeli scholars who need to stay in touch with other scholars, conferences and libraries abroad. But I am unable to use more than half of what I used last year. That means - half as many conferences. Add to that the fact that I cannot afford the books and journals I used to aquire as a matter of routine. Now I am a 'chalurist,' and operate as much on ingenuity and imagination as on straightforward research. And I don't need a lot of expensive equipment or materials. But SCIENTISTS do! And although even the most scientific of scholars here has a measure of 'chaltura,' of making do, I shudder to think what will happen to science and research in the long run.

So how does making scientists and scholars stupid help in the peace process?

Another factor to consider is the stupidifaction of the Israeli people. The general degeneration of the educational system here (from first grade on) is not good for peace. It makes for people who are uninformed, violent, and easily swayed by emotions and not reason. In short it makes for a population which will never understand much less accept the Geneva Accords.

So much for the boycott.

Last night I spent the evening at Beit Levick, the Yiddish Writers' House, speaking for the first time in Yiddish in 40 years. The subject was the influence of Yiddish on my poetry, and it was an extremely emotional exploration for me. Why? Because in addition to the beauty, the universality, of the language and the personal history it has for me of Holocaust and survival, The Yiddish language is responsible for the way I think. The fact that every joke is better in Yiddish is due to its infinite and multiperspective irony. And it provides a wonderful cultural and political perspective to understand the world - especially in today's time.

Rivka Bassman read the Palestinian children's folk song I'd translated into Yiddish 2 years ago (I'll put the link in later)and I explained how I tried to translate it into English and Hebrew and couldn't succeed - but in Yiddish it was wonderful and fit the melody. It even sounds syntonic, as if it had been written in Yiddish.

That's why I am attracted to Beit Levick, not because it makes me more Jewish but because it helps me to see more universally.

November 27, 2003

I was asked about to explain more about the bad situation the universities here are in - on the one hand the crunch of the boycott and diminished prominence of Israeli scholars as a result, and on the other the fear of the government of intellectuals. At least that's how i must interpret the latest moves being made on the universities by the government to take over - to remove academics from positions of management and authority in the university. It may be part of a plan to dumb down Israel. But i believe that you don't have to interpret it as a conspiracy if it can be explained as stupidity.

November 28, 2003

I have been avoiding the newspapers and tv for days - Many of my friends and neighbors do this on a regular basis, sometimes upon the advice of their doctors, but for me this is the first time. The reason is that I am on the verge of despair, and everything I hear and read confirms this. Unless somehow there is a change of government, things are just getting worse and worse here. Old people who should be taken care of - according to all values we hold dear - are living in poverty and cannot afford even the medications that could ease their pain. Disabled people, special education people, anyone who is not upper middle class and above - are in trouble one way or another.

So my friends from Europe and the US who write me and complain about the way Israelis treat Palestinians should understand the significance of this. It's not only Palestinians we screw. We also screw each other.

Tonight at a wonderful thanksgiving dinner, I met the an old man I love very much who is now very far advanced in his Alzheimer's. His mind now lives in World War II when he was in the British Army. And as we spoke about people and places of which i understand nothing I suddenly realized that what Oren told me Moshe Dayan once said was true - war is the time when you are most alive. And maybe that's one of the reasons why we are never able to make peace - even though we will all be destroyed by not making peace - because this is the way we feel alive.

November 29, 2003

Sometimes you learn things that turn everything around - even if it is something you knew but forgot. One thing I know very vaguely is the actual facts in the 20th century history of Israel. For example, one of the first things I knew about Israel was that the Jews who came in the course of the first half of the century bought every piece of land they lived on. There was no appropriation and no dissimulation. They got rotten land sometimes, and often they paid too much, but they always paid. In recent years I've been hearing and reading that the Jews cheated the Arabs out of their lands. No facts, but a creative reading of history. Today we went to some out-of-the way places in Rechovot and Nes Ziona and saw some history reconstructed with a painstaking concern for facts. We went with The Council for the Restoration and Preservation of Historical Sites in Israel. First we saw Machon Ayalon, where during WWII a working kibbutz concealed an underground factory for bullets.

And then Beit Rishonim in Nes Ziona where we traced its development from 1882-1903: the purchases, the terror, the experiences, and the exultation of those years of private Jewish enterprise in that area. We went to Beit Hanan, which is now a glorious place for weddings. You can see pictures and get more information here and go to projects. But the site is not too great in English, and not as great in Hebrew as it is in life. What you see is history being researched, discovered, and revealed - in places that appear initally totally anonymous and insignificant, places that you pass by every day and never notice.

But everything has a past - and often that past is very exciting and relevant. Especially here. Maybe I'll write more about the individuals later.

But I have to add something about something I said yesterday before I can go to sleep.

I wrote about how war may be exciting for some people. And they have no real interest in peace. This did not mean that war for me is exciting. i am very happy to forget any incident of violence and war in which i have been involved. I would be very happy to spend my life talking with friends and family and writing and sleeping. And most of the people I know who have been involved in war agree with me. Poets like Amichai - "What I learned in the Wars" (Here's the poem I translated and published in Partisan Review and Atlantic.)



What did I learn in the wars:

To march in time to the swinging of arms and legs

like a pump pumping an empty well;

To march in procession and to be alone in the fray,

To bury myself in pillows and covers and the body of my beloved,

and to shout "Mother", without her hearing,

and to shout "God", without believing in Him

and even if I did believe in Him

I would never tell Him about war

the way we keep from children their parents' atrocities.

What else did I learn? I learned to keep open an escape route:

Abroad, I take a room in a hotel

near the airport or train station,

and even in halls of rejoicing

always look for the little door

with EXIT written over it in red letters.

Battle too begins

like rhythmic dance drums, and its end

is "withdrawal with the dawn." Forbidden love

and battle both, at times, conclude this way.

But above all I learned the knowledge of camouflage,

so that I would not stand out, not be recognized,

so I would not be distinguishable from my surroundings even from my beloved,

so I would seem a bush, or a sheep,

a tree, a shadow of a tree,

a doubt, a shadow of a doubt,

an electrified fence, a dead stone

a house, a cornerstone.

If I were a prophet I would dim the brilliance of vision

and black out my faith with black paper

and cover with netting my thoughts of divine chariots.

And when the time comes I'll put on the camouflage of my end:

the white of clouds and an expanse of sky blue and endless stars.

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