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The Absurd Regions


To mark the tenth anniversary to the launch of my Political Blog, Good4Jews, and the seventieth anniversary to the launch of the Jewish State, Israel, I’ve decided to take a diversion and make an exception. To that end, I’m publishing here—for the first time in English!—four short vignettes (out of twelve) that were published way back in ‘Iton77;’ the esteemed literary, cultural Israeli magazine. In the future, I may revisit this reportage, which was titled then, ‘The Absurd Regions’ (you may argue, with some justification, that the title still applies today), and publish more of its lyrical impressions, which I wrote during the First Lebanon War of 1982-85. So stay tune, and here goes:

First Gathering

No smiles on the rough faces. The regular questions: How things? How’s life? The answers are heavy, occasionally harsh: shit, life’s in the dumpster. Ninety percent of our battalion’s command personnel identify with the ‘Peace Now’ movement. Objecting to the war. Objecting to the stay in Lebanon. Detesting what’s require of them to do next. One of the officers demonstrated yesterday in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem. Before that, he marched from Rosh HaNikra up north to Tel Aviv. His wife advised him not to come this time. Refuse to go. But he is here—of course he is. Maybe because his friends are here. Who is he that he will allow them to be fucked with this shitty job without him. Maybe for the sake of democracy he came. The democracy Sharon and Raful crushed when they started this war. It’s been proven already before that there are more important things than this war: you, me, son, daughter. Life.

Traveling

The visions passing by us reflect a mixture of the bizarre and the absurd. Beautiful countryside, on the one hand: the small villages are cuddled by the rolling hills, while the mountains merge so nicely with the scenery and don’t bite at it, like some of our mountains do back home. On the other hand, dirt and filth everywhere. Ecology is a nonexistent word in the local jargon. Here, one does as one pleases.
It’s harvest time now. The small fields in the bottom of the hills are harvested using sickles, and the sheaves are gathered by hands. An old combine then sorts the wheat grains apart and fill the air with golden dust, fog like. Peaceful cows are grazing in the meadows. The shoulders in the narrow roads are littered with potholes. And with old cars, scattered about here and there. One of them, you know that, is a death trap waiting for you.

Lawless Country

In Lebanon there are no taxes; no licenses; no one pays for electricity. Teenagers drive the cars on the roads. Kids drive the tractors, with dark covered women walking beside them, majestically balancing sacks of wheat grains and tobacco leaves on their heads. New, shiny vehicles zoom by, passing by old ones whose guts are exposed.
Muslims, Christians, Druzes, Shiites and Khomeini supporters coexist in this country side by side. Mixed multitude. And there are, of course, the Christian Militia and the Chadad Falangists. The latter are the road-robbers of this country. They reside under the shade of the Israeli Army’s camps and wear its uniform. “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” So say the soldiers here, who play bad cops in this grotesque drama.
The circle is rounded and closed with the UN soldiers from Holland, France, Senegal, Ireland… you name it. Some are friendly to us; some hate our guts and look down on us. A black soldier wearing blue uniform and brown overcoat stands in attention in a remote, forgotten ravine. His rifle is erect in his arms. No enemy in sight, though. He belongs, like all of us, to a different world.

The Village Women

Before sunrise the women of the village go out into the small tobacco fields that close in on their houses. They pluck the green leaves and put them in their brown sacks. After that, in full morning light, they carry the sacks on their heads to the houses. There, with their children, they sort the leaves and hang them on thin ropes to dry them up in the hot sun. Later still, they will milk the cows, lead them out into the field to graze, feed the children and clean the houses. They shoulder their responsibilities with primeval dedication.
The husbands, meanwhile, will enter their Mercedeses late in the morning, and will drive to town to attend to their businesses. Maybe visit the coffee house in a nearby village. Play backgammon there with friends and smoke the narghile. In the evening they will return home and receive from their dutiful wives what they’re owed: food, love, and respect. The Bible, in certain terms, is alive and well here.

* Art by Yitzhak Shmueli: Border Crossing

** The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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Democracy Dies in Silence

indiaopines.com

The order to silence the messenger, kill him or her if necessary, came directly from the Prime Minister. He commanded his top four ministers—Security, Justice, Culture and Education—to do all in their power to establish and maintain the big hush. The people must realize, he instructed, that there’s law and order in this country. Voices—such as those in the opposition, especially artists, writers, journalists, bloggers and the like—must not, “I repeat must not,” disrupt the ‘peace’ with their loud messages of protest. We can continue to have control over the people, and win future elections, only if we can continue to have control over the media. When you leave this office, go out into the streets of the country and silence them all. Literally.

Of course, my dear readers, you think to yourselves that here he goes again. Fantasizing. Our devoted blogger, you say, is resorting to his old ways. Think himself Kafka again. Or someone like him. Talking probably about Russia, or Turkey, or China. Certainly not about Israel. Not about us Jews. Of course not. That’s impossible. But you’re wrong, my friends, because I am talking about Israel. About the Jews of Israel. I realize, though, that I must convince you in the seriousness of my accusations. So here are three cases (out of many others), occurring lately in our ancient holy land, to illustrate my point.

First, I let you read this sentence, published in Ha’aretz’ article on September 7th. I myself have read it again and again, yet couldn’t get enough of its contradictions. It defies all logic in its absurdities. So here it is: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Government Press Office to remove Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Al-Omari from a state-sponsored seminar on freedom of speech planned for Thursday.” Furthermore, it continued, “The prime minister instructed that legal steps be taken to deny press passes of all Al Jazeera journalists working in Israel (among them Israeli citizens, H.D.), and to close their offices in Israel.”

Now, let’s try to analyze together what we’ve just read. There is a ‘seminar on freedom of speech,’ fine and dandy, but… it’s ‘state-sponsored.’ Got it? That’s absurdity number one: ‘state-sponsored.’ Then we have the head of that state, the Prime Minister, orders that a certified, known, respected global media organization, and its journalists, would be excluded from said seminar. Hear me on this? ‘Freedom of speech’—but you, with the Arab name, though you carry a press-card issued by the state—you are not allowed in. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, anybody? That ‘freedom’ here is limited, and is ‘sponsored’ by the state, and I’m the head of that state. Orwell is probably rolling in his grave laughing.

I can go on and on about this story, but you probably get the gist of it already, and we have other cases to cover here. So let’s go right to the next example. This one involves the new Israeli film “Foxtrot,” which has won recently the ‘Silver Lion,’ the grand jury prize at the Venice Film Festival. A major film festival—considered the third most prestigious film festival in the world—and therefor a significant award and achievement for the Israeli filmmakers. You’d think that folks in Israel, especially those in political power—who are usually so eager to congratulate, and celebrate any minor achievement for the state in the international arena—would jump on the opportunity to do so in this case as well.

Not so. One of the four ministers receiving the order to ‘kill the messenger,’ as mentioned above, is none other than the Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev. She attacked the film furiously—mind you, before even seeing it—claiming it tarnishes the Israeli army’s reputation. Apparently, she was told by a senior official at the ‘Culture Ministry’ about a scene where a group of soldiers at a checkpoint turn violent on Palestinians. As if that has never happened. “It the type of film that gives tailwind to the Israel boycott movement,” she was quoted as saying. In other words, as we continue along this path of absurdities, never mind the actions themselves, they are fine. The depiction of them and their messengers are the problem. Go figure.

The film went on to win eight major Ophir Awards—Israel’s version of the Oscars—and most probably (unless a government special decision to the contrary intervenes) would represent Israel next year in that most prestigious American, global competition. All the same, Mrs. Regev threaten to withhold all financial support from now on from any film that doesn’t subscribe to her—i.e. the Prime Minister’s—version of Israeli patriotism. Get the picture? And did I mention already here the country of Russia?

Over a year ago, the Educational Minister Naftali Bennet—another of the four executioners of the apocalypse in the Prime Minister’s office, as described at the outset—had “disqualified a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country. The move comes even though the official responsible for literature instruction in secular state schools recommended the book for use in advanced literature classes…” Reported Haaretz on 12/31/15 “Among the reasons stated for the disqualification of Dorit Rabinyan’s “Gader Haya” (literally “Hedgerow,” but known in English as “Borderlife”) is the need to maintain what was referred to as “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector.”

Need I say more? Only that one of the corruption investigations currently ongoing in Israel by the police is of PM Netanyahu’s attempt to influence, and strike a deal with the publisher of the widely read newspaper in Israel ahead of the last election, in order to sway media coverage, and have favorable stories and editorials about him in that paper, Yediot Acharunut. As if he doesn’t have already another paper, Israel Hayom – Israel’s Pravda—as his private newspaper.

I can go on, but enough said. So I say to you my friends and colleagues in Israel, and everywhere else for that matter: Keep writing; keep talking; keep showing; keep playing; keep filming; keep producing. Because remember: It’s not only that democracy dies in darkness, as the Washington Post reminds us daily on its pages, but it’s also that democracy dies in silence.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue

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