October 22

13 people killed - many burned to death. But the news today was filled with the latest victim of the Maryland sniper. As if we have become used to the dead and dying. And have a secret relief in concentrating on the tragedy of others. (A woman whose mother left Israel a few years ago and moved to Montgomery County, was always unnerved by her entreaties to come to her for asylum during the hard times here. Now she regales us with the story of how she invited her mother to come to Israel for safety.

My computer's problematics have kept my messages short - it is hard to write online with extremely slow responses. Especially when the whole point is its immediacy. I don't fancy the idea of writing something 'finished' off line and then putting it on line - it loses its genuineness for me when i begin my obsessive reading, editing, prettifying, shaping. So i keep the subjects a bit more neutral and the length minimal - until i figure out what ails us here.

Anyway It is time to begin to act more than to reflect. The project of an interlingual anthology is getting off the ground - a few students are helping out - a drop in the bucket, but a great deal of energy for these very busy, strained people.

Already one good thing has emerged. For years I've been asking the Arab poets I know which women write as well - they answer indifferently - usually don't even include the names I know (Nida Khouri, Aida Nasrallah) - and now i'm getting names of young women poets in Arabic. This is a wonderful thing for me - a reason for optimism!

Anyway i believe the only way you get a culture and a quality literature is by providing a channel for writers to expose their work to each other.

October 23, 2002

Six bodies have been identified. One name is very familiar to me - but it is a common name and i am hoping it isn't someone i know. The others are too charred - need DNA testing -

There is a terrible guilty joy that comes when the names emerge and they are not yours. As if God is watching me and mine. But if He is, he isn't watching someone else and someone else's. This emotion rises in me every time - thank goodness it isn't Orit - but whose daughter is it?

And where is my daughter? incommunicado in Sinai. the safest place for an israeli to be is in the desert of exiles.

I'm tired of writing about funerals and safety. its been a while since i've written about Tel Aviv nights, which are always incredibly exciting. Tonight, for example, we saw a "big band" of Russian new immigrants playing south american music with a brazilian singer. the audience looked pretty russian to me too. The singer Perla was wonderful and all the soloists were great - Boris, Gnady, Lionid, Ivan - playing Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea... every time i go into some club in tel aviv it is a different world - Even the street - Peretz near Chlenov - is like a foreign country because that's where the illegal workers live - and the part of Peretz that the club was on - near Aliyah - is where the Africans live and play - so we could hear Soweto music as we walked down the street, and then we went into to a Moscow club transplanted to the Middle East. I'm still pretty impressed with their gumption, their hard work, their forming of a music school and club here - but it is still like another world. But in contrast to these different, isolated worlds, there are also worlds coming together. Ronen Shapiro -with whom I work sometimes and love always - has formed an east-west orchestra - with Arab and Jewish musicians, an oud section, etc. He writes music on an Arab scale and it is as strange as Schoenberg to western ears. I can't wait to hear them all together in concert!

October 25

It seems so miniscule - the individual efforts made by individual people to create and reveal connections. Ronen's orchestra, for example, will probably never be a commercial success. But it's happening. And it goes beyond. Think about it - i wrote about Ronen once before - how he stopped for a moment for some reason - and watched the station in front of him blow up. That was last year. I think he couldn't function for months after that. Then he fulfilled his long term dream - and created the orchestra.

And i think the trilingual anthology is going to work too - every day someone else volunteers to help - for me this is thrilling.

Last night at the Russian music hall, the conductor stopped in the middle to assure us that we were in a safe place. i thought it was because people might be nervous about the neighborhood but then i realized he was also making reference to the 700 odd hostages in Moscow. How awful that we are becoming like the world, not because we are getting better and safer but because the rest of the world resembles us.

Rada asked me today why i stopped writing about creating a wall. I still believe in a wall, but it has to be a wall that is understood as temporary while we work on peace - not as a ghetto - not as an end. I know that the peace movements i support are against a wall - and their heart is in the right place. But i don't think they have the solutions.

A few words about the army here - Why are so many soldiers killed in terrorist attacks on buses? The foreign papers seem to think that buses are military targets - but EVERYBODY travels on public transportation. Soldiers - when they are soldiers and when they are not soldiers use busses. there is no army system of transportation. just like there is almost no army laundry - mommy washes the fatigues. Fourteen years ago, when Orit and Aviv were in the army, I wrote this poem about it.


On the opposite balcony Rochi hangs green laundry.

She has pulled uniform after uniform from the lines,

and now stretches out regulation long johns and undershirts,

exhibiting for me the latest in foul weather gear

for the troops up north.

Hanging on my line are enough white anklets

for a army of centipedes, olive sweaters and skirts,

and the week's underwear. Newly shined boots

sit on the windowsill, next to a pair of black oxfords

waiting their turn. "Parents really need

vacations from military chores," I say.

"Weekend furloughs are hell," she agrees.

"Let's meet in less fatiguing times."

Those were the days of what we called "the schnitzel patrol" - when we would visit our kids on the base on the sabbath, when the kitchen shut down, and bring a picnic basket with us.

While i'm quoting poems, here's another i wrote later:


The scene is familiar. A friend calls up

to share womanly experience,

and we whisper while we cook or wash

dishes. Today I am dusting

thick dirt off medieval books,

thinking it is time to get back

to something I left when the kids

were born. She says “The house

is empty. He’s in boot camp and nothing

will ever be the same again.”

The news breaks in on the radio

while I am trying to understand

the words of a rock song - something

about loving and killing. Something

has happened. People have been shot.

Are they theirs? Ours? Soldiers?

Civilians? Terrorists? The mind

staggers at the confusion of identities.

Where is my child? A vestigial feeling,

private, embarrassing, rises in me,

mingles with the measureless horror

of faceless slaying. The phone rings -

someone wanting a signature on a petition

to keep settlers in Hebron. Don’t you see

I scream into the phone - this is not time

for ideologies. Left right stones

cities mean nothing in the face

of all this love, all this blood.

October 25

Today's Ha'aretz tells the story of the olive harvesting that has been filling my nightmares. Amira Hess's "It's the Pits" Of all the points of conflict this one disturbs me most, because there is no justification, no security reasons, no rationalization at all. We have to recognize the evil in us

Every time I go to Nona, I feel safe because the security guards are there - sometimes one sometimes two. The one who always recognizes me and doesn't look in my bag is Carmi - a serious guy i've never been able to engage in conversation, but one the girls go for a lot. Today his picture was in the paper. Got caught driving a stolen motorcycle. Then when his papers were investigated it turned out that his name is not Carmi or Golan Cohen but Kareem Kafisha and he is from Shchem - Nablus. Lived here for 10 years. Went home once a month to bring his salary to his family. Dreamed of catching a terrorist so he could be a hero and show that Arabs could be heroes too. I haven't talked to anyone at Nona but they must be surprised. It's a place with such positive, friendly, accepting atmosphere, and everyone gets to be part of the 'family.' He's in trouble for the stolen motorcycle - but will good-will testimony here help him? -

When I looked up the story on the web, I discovered he had different names than the ones in the paper, and a different story. But last I looked there were 18 responses to the story, and they are overwhelmingly 'favorable.' Leave the poor guy alone. You can read them here but they're in Hebrew/ ynet . What gives me hope is that there are few if any responses that say - oh how terrible, a traitor in our midst - he could use all his information about nightclubs in Tel Aviv to help plot bombings. The response is - he does a good job, he has no ill will - let him get on with his life.

One other point - Amira Hess, who wrote the article about the olive groves, still lives in Ramallah, and nobody bothers her there...

And slowly more stories emerge. Carmi, who lives with his israeli girlfriend in tel aviv, stole a customer's motorcycle, which was noticed as stolen by the neighbors... What a strange story, but so typical to tel aviv.

Forgot to add that his gun had real bullets in them, which is not what they said in the media.

October 26

Thank goodness the Russian-Chechnian incident is over - although i fear they used nerve gas in Moscow just like they use in Chechnia. If we ever explore and rate war crimes, the Israelis are going to be comparatively pure -

Thank goodness too the sniper in Maryland is caught. The terrorism around the world does not make the terrorism here easier to bear - in fact it is far more frightening to think the world is as bad as my back yard. To comfort us on the news tonight they show the olive harvesting in Southern Greece - an idyllic experience we too long for.

Karen Alkalay-Gut Home