Sayed Kashua - Amos Biderman - March 16, 2012
Illustrations by Amos Biderman.
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I can write a humorous column that has bite. I can write about the terrible flood in my study, about the foul water and the rags that were used to collect the foul water, which filled up the pails. About the plumber for whom I waited for two days, who promised that he was on the way, that the gearshift in his car had conked out, that the car was in the garage but that it would be ready in a jiff and he would zoom over to my place − and about the stench from the sewage water that filled the house. And while describing the endless waiting for the plumber to show up, I can throw in some sort of political comment, probably about the attack on Gaza.

I can write that I turned on the radio and smoked a cigarette, and that from the reports I heard I was certain Israel was under a horrific missile attack. Nonstop heartrending reports about the Israeli victims, frightened children who wet themselves at night, scared parents who have to stay awake to protect their offspring, innocent victims who have to suffer from a war that was forced upon them.

At this point I could also mention the Palestinian children who have to cope with air raids, children who are frightened by smart bombs. I would also be willing to bet that if the Palestinian organizations possessed smart missiles that could hit legitimate military targets, they would go that route and forget attempts to strike at civilians. I would add the reservation that I don’t have much sympathy for extremist organizations, that I am disgusted by them, that I hate them: Islamic Jihad just as much as the Israel Defense Forces. I hate everyone who is ready to endanger the life of a child. And you know what? Not only children but also older people and women, young people and even soldiers.

I would probably return to the worsening of the flood situation, maybe another phone call to the plumber, who discovered a new problem with his car and is now promising it will take another hour to get here. But the truth is, I don’t have it in me.
What I really want to ask is why it isn’t working, why this Jew-and-Arab thing isn’t working. That was exactly the question a senior army officer asked me this week after a discussion in which I took part. He said, “Well, if there is so much understanding between us, why isn’t it working?” I didn’t have an answer. I tried to tell him that we hadn’t touched on the tough questions, the core issues, that we hadn’t discussed the refugees, Jerusalem and mutual recognitions of one kind and another.
But I knew that wasn’t the truth; that is not the real reason this Jew-and-Arab thing isn’t working. After all, at bottom I do not believe in separation but in life together. I do not believe that these nations want to fight. I know Arabs and I know Jews, and I know that’s inconceivable. So, who are these people who want to quarrel, who are the people that are looking for war and what do they look like?

I can relate that my redheaded television director arrived for a meeting at my place and that we couldn’t sit in the study because it was flooded and stinking.

“Tell me, why isn’t it working?” I asked him. “Look at you and look at me − it’s working, and you are not exactly the alternative left.” He winced. “You’re right,” he said.

“What?” I asked. “Is there something you’re hiding from me? Am I only imagining that it’s working between us?”

“No, no,” he said, immediately going into defensive mode. “Only that it seems to me that this whole story with Gaza smells a little funny.”

“Meaning what?”

“It looks like a conspiracy, like a plan that was hatched between Egypt, Hamas and Israel, some kind of mega-forces that we aren’t aware of.”

“Since when did you start believing in conspiracies?” I asked, concealing the guilt feelings I have over the many hours we have spent together, during which he could have been infected by the oriental conspiracy theory. “That’s how it looks to me,” he insisted. “It’s something we don’t understand, as though the ground is being prepared for something else, something bigger, something that has to do with the mess of the Egyptians in Sinai and with Hamas and the factions in Gaza.”

“Okay, fine,” I broke in. “But that is not what I am talking about now. I am talking about the essence: why things aren’t working between the two peoples.”

“I think it’s because of the racism,” he said.

“We are not racists,” I replied firmly.

“Oh, yeah, so you really love us?”

“No,” I replied without hesitation, “not at all. But there is a difference between anger and hatred, and a feeling of superiority and racism.”

“That’s true,” he said. “I think you’re right about that: We are a bit racist.”
“But why? Where does it come from? From the Torah? From the Chosen People thing and all that?”
“Enough,” he answered uncomfortably. “You’re stressing me out now. Call your plumber.”

“I’ll be at your place in an hour,” the plumber said. “Just as I left the garage a red light went on.”

“Is he a Jew?” the redheaded director asked when he heard me talking to the guy in Hebrew.

“Yes,” I said. “So, where does all that superiority come from? Where?”

“Look at the list of Nobel Prize winners,” the director said. “They are all Jews.”
“So it’s because of that?”

“You have to understand,” he went on, “that when the whole world was busy working and earning a living, the Jew occupied himself with books and writings. So obviously they would tend to feel a lot more special than the ignorant goyim.”

“I don’t buy that,” I said. “I don’t think any of the Jews I know feels he is smarter than me.”

“Smarter than you, no,” he replied in an unconvincing tone. “But, you know, in the big picture.”

Meanwhile, the Jewish plumber arrived and started to work. The radio was again reporting an unrestrained attack on the tranquil communities in the south. Everyone is supportive − Shelly Yachimovich, Kadima.

The whole nation supports the offensive against Gaza. There is no choice. They planned it: They sat quietly and plotted how to strike at a peaceful people that wants only to be allowed to read its holy books.

“The problem isn’t here,” the plumber declared. “The manhole outside is blocked.” He rolled up his sleeves before plunging in.

“So what do you say?” I asked the redheaded director. “It’s all because you feel you are a master race?”

“It’s not only that,” he said. “I mean, it’s really not only that. Don’t forget that you people ...”

“Kus ochtak!” the plumber swore, his hands deep in the manhole. “What shit this is.”