I went outside for a smoke in the morning and remembered my father. My father smoked, he smoked a lot, and when I heard some teacher talk about the dangers of smoking or saw the commercial with a pack of cigarettes with worms coming out of it, I worried so much about his health that I began to feel dread, and begged him to stop.
“I am a Palestinian Arab who lives here and sees what is happening,” my father answered me. “Do you think cigarettes are what's going to kill me?”
When I was a kid, I sometimes joined my father when he marched in demonstrations in Tira, our village, or in Tel Aviv. We were marching to demonstrate against things that were very serious then, although less so than now, to protest a situation that was so awful and since then has only deteriorated. There was a car with megaphones and there were slogans that haven’t changed – only the prime ministers have changed. Once the cry was “Ya Peres and ya Rabin!” Then “Ya Shamir and ya Sharon!” And then it was, “Hada watna wa’ahna hon” (This is our homeland and we are here). Once they shouted “Thawra thawra hata al-nasr” (“Revolution, revolution until victory). Years later, in one of the last demonstrations I took part in, I heard the man with the megaphone shout the slogan, “Thawra thawra hata al-mawt” (Revolution, revolution until death).
The victory constantly shrank, if only as a Freudian slip, and the goal of the revolution was reduced to death. “Victory or death!” shouted one of the leaders at a mass rally this week. Death, I can more or less understand, victory I can’t even imagine, and I no longer know how to draw the homeland.
It’s a slow, agonizing death. And in the morning, with the cigarette, far from Jerusalem, I was reminded of a sentence I’d read many years ago. I’m not sure whether it was written by Aharon Megged or Benjamin Tammuz, and I can’t recall the context; maybe it was a metaphor for parting from a friend or a parent. All I remember is a description of the slaughtering of a chicken, in which the writer asks that the act of slaughter be done with a sharp razor and not a dull knife, “lest half its soul convulse in its throat.”
The soul is stuck in the throat, and the body is cleaved from war to war and from demonstration to demonstration, from one generation to the next, and our national writers still maintain that their forebears came to the country in order to defend themselves against the Arabs, and our intelligentsia still wonder whether the Palestinians recognize the right of existence of a Jewish state, and our court journalists still ask whether the Palestinians see a difference between 1948 and 1967.
The body convulses and those standing above it and watching it disappear wonder what is least dangerous for the Jews: partition, expulsion, annexation or a binational state. In the meantime, until the democratic debate ends, it’s essential to protect the lives of the Jews, to arm civilians and imprison the Arabs.
Woe to us if anyone sees the wave of stabbings in Jerusalem as an achievement. Woe to those who, in the name of the struggle, display joy in the face of murder on the one side and the suicide of children on the other side. Woe to a generation that has brought its children to these deeds. A generation that has left nothing to its sons and daughters but depression and an instinct for revenge. “If we foment an intifada,” one parent from Bethlehem said in an interview, “our children will be slaughtered. If we keep silent, Israel will go on feeding us sand.”
What is to be done, then? In the meantime there is nothing left to destroy in Jerusalem. Apart from the symbols, there is nothing to shell – not a headquarters, not an organization, not a political movement, barely a public library. There’s no choice, we have to tighten the screws on the ghetto, they are turning into murderers, they are all dangerous, Jews do not feel a sense of personal security, every Arab is a suspect and rightly so; there’s no choice, if necessary we will make them wear a patch, and no, I am not comparing, I am only looking for a logical way to protect the lives of the citizens.
It’s a cruel process of dying, so much so that I sometimes regret that you didn’t kill us one by one back then, when it was simpler and faster. I sometimes think it would have been better if you’d dragged us into synagogues, converted us and made Jews of us. If only you’d relieved us of our agony, lined us up in a row with eyes blindfolded and lowered us into a mass grave.
Either kill us or make us equals. Either put a bullet in our head or leave us be. But please, don’t let us die a lingering death, don’t let our hope die a slow death. It’s too cruel, and you have been standing opposite the bleeding body for too many years, once wearing short pants with a kova tembel on the head, once in uniform with an Uzi, once with a pistol and Psalms, and calling out: Die already you sons of bitches, die already.