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,
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
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
Grandpa rejoices: The family's together.
What then is this quarrel
Between Israel and Ishmael?
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
1. "Avraham Avinil" (Abraham the Patriarch), written, composed and
sung by Avihu Medina, a lyricist and composer of Yemenite
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
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