DevMode
We are gathered here today driven by our need to find a way, and ordered by the landlords to produce a method. Or perhaps hope - an almost cyn¬ical, almost sarcastic word, practically meaningless after a hundred years of skirmishing. My mother's belly resounds with her heartbeats and incan¬tations, making the flesh crawl, like bailiffs at a poor man's door. Is my mother again alarmed by the constant neighbors' conflict between us, the conflict which has built the walls of hatred between your slowly-rising house and our dilapidated one? Years of struggle, and also of life, side by side ... I am not alarmed. It's not yet time for me to emerge into the world. My mother has stopped debating with herself whether or not to give birth to me. She can live with me, after all. You understand, I am not yet born. I am the swarthy fetus inside my mother, "Israelite Nations'-Daughter."
These last few days my mother has been very thoughtful and I know what she's thinking about. She has to choose a name for me. It's no small matter - a whole world, in fact... My mother has been considering any number of names for me. She gave my many brothers and sisters really meaningful names: "Primitivsky Sefardi Darkie Sa'adah" - Sa'adadah for short - and her twin sister "Israela Israel's-Daughter Goodenough," oth¬erwise known as "The Other Israel" I tried to tell them to forget it, but they really preferred to join the long line to burn their hair golden until it became almost invisible. But I don't count. Nobody asks me.
Years ago, when it all began, and with a different father, my mother had a lot of children. History is full of them and their doings. I'll tell you about my other brothers, the wild ones, the maddening, charming, sentimental ones. For example, my older brother "Howling Mob."
"Howling Mob" looks good. Very tanned, well-dressed, with a gold bracelet worth some two hundred dollars. Randy women from the north are attracted to him like moths to a flame. With them he is king. But to tell you the truth, he's the weakest of us all. He can't help it. He had a lot of grief from the moment he came into the world, and even before, when he was in Mother's belly and she was hungry. Conditions were tough, the hardship was terrible. Things were too bad, and I may as well tell you, "Howling Mob" grew up on the street comers, fed on a lot of rage which gradually turned to raw hate. But for some reason it's all kept under wraps, because it's embarrassing. This brother of mine got the nickname "Pimpo," and that's a kind of thing you never shake off. It's like you've been smeared with shit, and you can wash and wash and still feel that you stink. He's pitiful, believe me. Spent some time in prison, used to do drugs, but now he's quieter. Maybe he's tired, maybe he's still on drugs, only we don't notice. Nowadays nothing will make him demonstrate in the city square on Saturday nights. He's either behind bars, or he wants to watch foot¬ball. Or just to spend the night gambling with the guys. These are his buddies from way back, grew up on the same street comers, then scattered all over the place. Two of them went to America to try their luck. Some got killed by drugs and wars, those wars we all believed in, the women and the men.
Neighbors, listen. I can hear my mother's voice again, asking for a name for me. Oh Mama. How about "The Other Israela"? I wish they'd ask me ... But really, I don't yet have the strength to start. I must get bigger and stronger. So far I'm only a brown girl-fetus, getting ready.
My mother Israela is almost fifty. Fifty is a good time to look at the balance-sheet. So what have we got out of it all? I mean, in the global-total view? On the philosophical or the pragmatic level?
From my sister Sa'adah I learned what a "hard-up woman" means. That's a woman who hasn't got time for anything except survival - bring home the food, clean and tidy up, and hope it'll be all right eventually, when the debts have been paid off, or the loans, or the daughter's extra lessons. Only let the kids have a better time of it than she did. Except that's how our mother was, too, and we had the innocent cheek to accuse her of being stingy, or just primitive. Sa'adah doesn't have time to watch the news properly, so she doesn't have all the details about our conflict with you, my neighbors. As far as she's concerned, just give her some peace and quiet. Enough's enough, we want to get a little shut-eye. The price of war is just too high. Anyway, it's the landlord's business, and she knows from experience that he never listens. He just does what he wants and that's that. So if he wants to stop the quarrel - great! Only he shouldn't send us to fight new wars. Let's really have some peace and quiet.
We all know that neighbors' quarrels are a pain in the behind and a headache all around, even if we look at things from different angles. Let's face it - there are men/women/children/old folk over here, just like there are on your side. Over our heads a peace plane flies in the middle of a war, while a warplane spits fire on the Cedars of Lebanon. That's how our lives pass.
This get-together, voluntary or not, this fight with you, neighbors and rock-children, who make demands and receive our kicks - it can't go on like this. The time has come to do something. When our whole clan gets together, maybe this time my mother will have a chance to hear my bardic brothers. Though you can be sure that they'll never be considered good enough, or beautiful enough, or right enough ... Why not? 'Cause reality is impossible.
Take "Homeland" for instance. He's that kind of traditional bard. His poems come from Abraham's Bible, like the Ingathering of the Exiles, but in a different posture. "Homeland" writes about the descendants of the mythical Abraham returning to the Promised Land and building them¬selves a nice house. As far as the old man is concerned, this whole quarrel is between cousins, members of the same family, fighting about the land. So Patriarch Abraham sets out to make peace between his offspring, like a family arbitrator:

Grandpa rejoices: The family's together.
What then is this quarrel
Between Israel and Ishmael?

He asks:

Why are they throwing rocks,
Why do they not,
Instead of fighting, punching,
Stop and talk peace?

And he scolds them like an old-fashioned father:
Everyone around here knows,
Abraham's a man of peace. 1

And what is this peace formula? Both brothers have a right to the land and they must make peace between them. That is his command. The father is known as a man of peace, so the sons must compromise. Now this is a clan¬type kind of solution, not something taken from Lenin, Freud or the Vatican. But who listens to him? He doesn't count. All kinds of outsiders meddle between him and "Howling Mob," ignoring the words of wisdom:

Man Comes Before Land.

Ahalan and Marhaba
mean Welcome ...
Don't say it's too late¬ -
we can still save tomorrow.
Give me your hand ¬-
Peace is better than war ... 2

Another brother is called "Clown." But there is a point to his silly jokes, even a kind of wisdom. See what he sings, what this soldier-brother says when he leaves Gaza? Seems like a good-humored jest, but in fact it's the blunt truth slammed in the face. The soldier bids goodbye to Gaza, happy that he will never again have to go on reserve duty in dreadful Jibalya:

Goodbye, goodbye ya Gaza,
we're taking our leave.
Goodbye also to the uniform.
Goodbye ya Gaza,
I'm in a hurry.
Goodbye, Gaza,
Find another
guy to stick it to.3

Seems so fresh and cocky, doesn't it? Great fun, leaving this place, right? And he finishes by saying nonchalantly, "Keep the knife in the back for those who love you." All his bravado can't disguise the fact that Gaza has beaten him, and it's a bitter thought. Like a frustrated punk rejected by a girl in the street he shouts after her, "Look at her! Who needs her, anyway, shaped like that?"
I have a lot of grandmothers. They all want to come to the clan gather¬ing on the fiftieth anniversary. In Kerem Ha'anavim in South Tel Aviv, my grandmothers from Yemen, Syria and Egypt, and in Beit Azriel my grand¬mothers from Libya, India and Morocco.
They too want peace and quiet, but find it hard to believe. Some have lost sons. They weep to see death on the news - "God preserve us and their own, Lord have mercy." Now and then one says, she'd like to see Syria - just for a visit, not to stay, of course. Meet some people. They are old, too, no doubt. Maybe dead. To say thanks to Haddad, who helped them flee that night from Aleppo, and even lent a little money. And anoth¬er grandmother, from Egypt, says there too were some good things as well as bad ... Just like here.
Fortunately for me, I have no nostalgia for the past. And you are right to yawn a little. What do you need this mess on your heads for? You only want to take care of your own problems and sit quietly in the garden beside the lemon tree.
Here in our own house we've reached a point when it's no longer nec¬essary to use police dogs. Everyone can say what they want, you know - democratically. Everything is open. At worst, we'll take the creature on board and solve the problem, i.e., buy it off instead of crushing it. Very elegant. Clean work.
Anyone sitting and waiting politely will frazzle in the sun, and his damn-fool smile will remain smeared on the front pages. If you ask me, Jerusalem can be cosmopolitan-metropolitan. Let the belligerent declare it the World's Capital, or something touristic of that sort. At the same time, parts of it can go on being Jerusalem and al-Quds. The borders to remain open, people staying where they are, and no more walls, however beautiful and romantic. And no more armies. Let there be a Jerusalem-al¬Quds police with policemen in keffiyehs in the summer, to go with the Middle Eastern climate, and pantaloons in winter, to represent the senti¬mental inclination to Europe. You might even exempt the residents of the cosmopolitan metropolis from paying taxes, just like that, to show gen¬erosity. And they will all make a living by praying for everybody and fax¬ing them sacred spells, and bowing and scraping with ready smiles to the millions of tourists, who will come flooding in from all over the world to breathe the air of the Holy City and touch the stones of Abraham the Patriarch, David the Conqueror and Antiochus and Antilopus...
Me, when the time comes for me to be born, I shall first of all bless my mother's newly-opened horizons. When I am finally born, I shall certainly be a Tel Avivian, live beside the Mediterranean and fill my lungs with post-modernist pollution. Once a year I shall go with all the young folk to the "Peace in the Land" festival in cosmopolitan Jerusalem-al-Quds. The festival will be entertained by my bardic step-brothers and my adult poet¬ic cousins, and others. Tourists from all comers of the earth will buy post¬cards with gilt doves and charms against the evil eye. And every year we shall dedicate a special pageant to the memory of the fallen sons, accom¬panied by the warm-melancholy twirls of Indian music, Persian blues, gutsy Egyptian wailing and sunset-colored Turkish melodies ... Maybe we shall jointly weep for some of them. Weep and weep, until the burden eases a little. Maybe.
And us women, you my neighbors and friends and our dizzy selves, will belly-dance and turn on the whole world, and all those fragile men who will be practically disarmed of their weapons now that peace has come.

Endnotes

1. "Avraham Avinil" (Abraham the Patriarch), written, composed and sung by Avihu Medina, a lyricist and composer of Yemenite origin.
2. "Ten Ii yad" (Give Me Your Hand), music from an Indian film, lyrics by Felix Even-Hayyim, sung by Rami Ram, a singer of Yemenite origin.
3. "Shalom lakh Azza" (Goodbye Gaza), lyrics by Avraham Levi and Yoav Arbeli, arranged by Dudi Rosenthal and Moshe Ben Mush. Sung by Yishai Levizemer, of Rosh Ha'ayin, a singer of Yemenite origin.



Translated from the Hebrew by Yael Lotan

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