Yael Lotan

Remember the story about the Man in the Iron Mask? Alexander Dumas wrote a fine novel about him, pure fiction but with a core of truth in it. The history books tell us that when Louis XIV was dying, he revealed to his heir, the grandson who was to become Louis XV, the secret of that man's identity. Presumably the secret was passed on as long as the poor wretch survived in the dungeons of the Bastille.
Here in Israel, we too have a man in an iron mask. His identity is known, though, and so is his "crime." And instead of a dungeon, he inhabits a tiled, window-less cell which the authorities describe as spacious. In it he has been imprisoned in complete isolation for nearly nine years. His name is Mordechai Vanunu. What he told the world, via the Sunday Times of London, did not come as a total sur¬prise to the various intelligence ser¬vices. But what Vanunu did was to tell the public at large, abroad and in Israel, that the Jewish state is a fully-fledged, if unofficial, member of the nuclear club, and thus a for¬midable power, not a little David threatened by the massive Goliath of the Arab world.
So he was kidnapped and brought back to Israel and charged with nothing less than treason and espionage. His trial was not held in secret, like the trials of people such as Klinberg and Levinson, oh no! The whole world was invited to come and see how terribly hush-hush it was - the courthouse windows were boarded up, the path from the prison van screened off, and Mordechai was made to wear a closed biker's helmet, the modem version of the iron mask. The "world" got the point: everybody else's nuclear program, actual or potential, is of legitimate internation¬al concern and subject of discussion, but not Israel's.
Recently, when Francois Mitterrand ceded the presidency to Jacques Chirac, he handed him, in private, a major secret - the code for France's nuclear arsenal. In Israel, I presume, when one prime minister cedes his position to the next, he too gives him such a code - and with it the key to the cell of our Man in the Iron Mask.
It is said that people know instinctively what is the justice that is due to them. Unfortunately, they do not know what is the justice that is due from them. Unless you keep this double-barrelled truism in mind you may find history highly perplexing. Time after time, people who suffered injustice and fought for redress and won it, turn around and inflict extreme injustice on oth¬ers. They seem to see no connection between the two sides of the story. It is rather like the well-known psy¬chological fact that people who abuse children were usually victims of abuse in their own childhood.
Whenever bigwigs arrive in Israel from some other country, they are immediately dragged to Yad Vashem, to remind them of the Holocaust. The implication is obvi¬ous: We who have suffered so much are a special case. After the ultimate horror of Auschwitz, it is expected that the visitors will disregard the relatively lesser horrors of the Occupation, the refugee and deten¬tion camps, the daily grinding down of a people. Menachem Begin once said, "With our history, no one has the right to preach to us!" Israel has six million justifications for whatever she chooses to do.

Doctors at the Kfar Sha'ul psychi¬atric hospital like to discuss what has become known as the "Jerusalem Syndrome," about which they are the world's leading authorities. This syndrome affects an average four people a year. The vic¬tim, usually a male Protestant pil¬grim visiting holy sites in Jerusalem, taking part in processions and group worship, suddenly begins to "speak in tongues," keeps washing and puri¬fying himself, and in a little while dis¬covers that he is Jesus Christ, or at least John the Baptist. Once in hospital and tranquilized, he usually recovers in a matter of days, and may even have time to rejoin his group. It must be something in the air. No such syn¬drome is recorded in other holy cities.
But the definition given by the good doctors is a little too narrow. The truth is that a slightly different variety of the Jerusalem Syndrome has permanently affected thousands of people. An early symptom was manifest in Naomi Shemer's pre¬1967 song "Jerusalem of Gold," which proclaimed that the eastern half of the city was empty. Since June 1967, thousands of Israelis have corne to believe that they are the only real inhabitants of the city. Moreover, they hallucinate that they are the incarnations of the ancient Judeans, or at least the direct descen¬dants and legal heirs of the folks who fought against the Seleucids and Romans, and that everything that happened since then is merely an abomination to be removed by any means possible. If that is not a psychiatric condition, what is?
Incidentally, Kfar Sha'ul is roughly on the site of a vanished vil¬lage called Deir Yassin. Perhaps that also explains something.

Salwa Kanaana

A colleague and I were getting a ride to work with a third co¬worker when our trip from Ramallah to Jerusalem inevitably brought us to the infamous a-Ram checkpoint. As we neared the barri¬er, we carne face to face with the backs of filthy trucks, buses and many, many cars, and our hearts sank.
The driver gave a quick sigh, and our friend, seated beside him, looked off out the window. I allowed myself a split second of despair at the thought of once again having to wait in the oppressive heat, in limbo, just to get to the other side.
Passengers usually keep quiet on these occasions, preferring not to broach the painful subject of the wait at a-Ram. But that day I decid¬ed to be brave: "You need to be very patient to be Palestinian," I said to the two men. The driver gave a more perceptible sigh and shifted in his seat, and the other passenger brought his gaze back to the center of the car, nodding.
"Really," I said, encouraged. "Not only in the long run, like patience in gaining political aspira¬tions, but in everyday activities, just living." "Yeah," said the driver, and that was the end of the conversa¬tion. But I suddenly realized that I had finally understood the real meaning of a word, a concept, so central to our existence, that I had never before really felt.
Patience, or swallowing a terri¬ble reality while suppressing the impulse to gag at its repugnant taste, is at the heart of Palestinian existence. That split-second of des¬peration was only that: a fraction of a second. After it was past, the dri¬ver began to sing in a good-natured effort to entertain the troops. The situation was symbolic of how our people survive: you swallow your pride and you go on with life.
Palestinian culture portrays patience as a virtue, and saber in Arabic connotes (in addition to the English meaning of the word) patience specifically under hard¬ship. Saber is even heroic, and is connected in people's minds with summoud, or steadfastness, and is a means by which to fight Occupation, or any kind of harmful situation. The expression saber Ayyoub, or the patience of Job, is a saying often found in Arabic song lyrics, and Sabirin, or "We are patient," is printed on the back win¬dow of trucks. Why a truck would drive around with "We are patient" written on it is never questioned, because it is understood that saber is, in fact, a way of life.
But my question then was this: These small moments of despair one feels at the thought of spend¬ing more of life in waiting - what happens to a nation when they face tens of these little deaths a day; when they file for entry permits they know will not be issued; when they pocket the 13 shekels they get for a day's work at local West Bank factories?
It also occurred to me that Palestinian women take on a dis¬proportionate amount of patience. A UNDP study on the status of women in Palestinian society car¬ried out earlier this year found that young Palestinian women "are largely prohibited from attending higher education establishments because of the cultural restrictions on their movements."
Reading the report, I suddenly felt very, very sad. Women share in the daily rations of patience-trying situations, under restricted circum¬stances. It seemed especially terri¬ble because it was the restriction of physical movement, which is some¬how more arbitrary than other forms of repression. If your legs can carry you somewhere, why can't you go? For the bodies of tens of thousands of Palestinian women to be constrained seemed to me at that moment to be inhumanly, intolerably cruel.
But because we have all been restrained, albeit in varying degrees, we have accomplished through our ability at saber and summoud what at least from an aer¬ial view would look like an incredi¬ble feat. Inspections can be as strict as they want at a-Ram checkpoint, and traffic trying to get through can be as backed up as it pleases, but we can always find a way around it if we need to.
I can think of at least seven dif¬ferent paths into Jerusalem, chipped out of the ground sur¬rounding the a-Ram by West Bankers dodging the checkpoint, in addition to other side-roads that have been discovered since the bar¬rier was set up in March 1993. Like ants, strong in our perseverance, we are blocked at one hole but emerge at another; we take a deep breath and dig and dig and dig until we find a way out.