Tira Daze

Sometimes I am grateful to God that I live here, and politics, wars, checkpoints and planes divert my attention from the real painful problems.

I don't know what's come over me lately. It's been another period filled with pressure, confusion, instability, hyperactivity, broken sleep, bad dreams, daytime nightmares, paranoia attacks, bouts of hypochondria, feelings of suffocation, sweating, vomiting, massive drinking, nonstop smoking, loss of appetite, impotence, horniness, stomach pains, muscle aches, burning in the eyes, buzzing in the ears.

I felt I had to get out of here. It didn't matter where. In my parents' house I will certainly be distracted, I figured; in Tira I will be surrounded by family members, who will protect and envelop me with love. It's vacation time now, so there's no problem about going - on the contrary: The kids will be delighted. On the way the radio announced that it was a guy from the village of Manda who snatched a security guard's gun and was shot to death in the Old City of Jerusalem.

"Why did he do it?" my wife broke the silence. "Now they will hate us."

"They don't like us anyway," I said, pleased at the conversation. Usually - and it's most obvious on trips - my wife and I don't exchange a word. Driving to Tira, driving to Eilat, it makes no difference: total silence.

"Yes, but now they will hate us even more," she said.

Thinking about what happened in the Old City, about Arabs and Jews, calmed me down and distracted me from my depressed feelings. You know, sometimes I am grateful to God that I live here, and politics, wars, checkpoints and planes divert my attention from the real painful problems, whose meaning I don't understand.

"Do you know," I said to my wife and smiled for the first time in a week, "if we were living in some quiet place - New Zealand, say - we would have been divorced long ago for sure. I want you to know that because of the conflict, I love you a lot more," I said as we passed Ben Shemen. I didn't get a response. My wife was asleep already.

Tira had a Prozac effect. I knew it would, and that was the whole point, right? Parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, food, sweets, a big TV, air conditioning, a packed refrigerator, and above all a wall clock that proves that time here passes a lot more slowly.

Everyone ate watermelon while watching the news. Here's another Arab star: a truck driver, who crushed a car and wiped out half a family. Just like in the commercial about road accidents that says something like: "You don't have to launch an attack in order to be a terrorist." And here is the truck driver on TV, cursing the photographers, spitting, unapologetic, making threats. A human monster, a murderer, a terrorist.

"If it were a Jew, would they have filmed him like that?" my father said, spitting out sunflower seed shells. "Is there a shortage of Jews who have killed people in accidents?"

How happy I am. My appetite is back. The feeling of depression has lifted. My children running all over the house with my nephews and nieces takes me back 30 years, to the good old days, the Tira days. What ever possessed me to leave this place? Durkheim, whom I read in "Intro to Sociology," was right: City people kill themselves more easily than rural people. I'm talking solo suicide, not from nationalist motives.

Then that guy from the Old City appeared on the screen again. Everyone around thought it was a conspiracy. The guard attacked first, that's a fact. The film was edited. Where's the rest of it? Where is the so-called confirmation of the kill? The Israeli Arab is not guilty, no way. They started, not him. And I, with a sense of relief, following up the cold watermelon with a steaming cup of coffee with cardamom, leaned back on the sofa, and asked, with utter tranquillity: "Why do you feel under attack because of one guy from Manda?"

"Because that's how it works in this country. One Arab carries out a terrorist attack and all the rest are guilty," my wife said.

"Terrorism? The propaganda is really doing a job on all of you," I said in a quiet voice. "Think for a minute. We are talking about armed guards from Ateret Cohanim, who are brutally raping the Old City."

"Hold on," my father said. "Since when did you become a nationalist?"

"I am not a nationalist," I said, but Dad didn't hear.

"If that is what you think, why did some Arabs write that you are a collaborator?"

"Who wrote that?"

"What - don't you read the papers?" Dad said and immediately pulled one out.

I read it, felt sick to my stomach and wanted to throw up. A buzzing started in my ears, and I felt burning in the eyes, restlessness, hyperactivity, dizziness, a feeling of suffocation, and above all a desire to get away from here.

"Where?" my wife shouted as I ran out of the house.

I had to get to Tawfiq, my pal - an Arab, yes, but totally Tel Avivian. Like true Tel Avivians, he scoffed at me for living in Jerusalem.

"Obviously you are depressed," he said after we embraced. "How can you live in that 'heavy' city? All the politics and shit of the country."

"The truth is you're right," I said, already feeling better on his sofa. "In Jerusalem you can't find a street with a laid-back, beautiful name like your street. All the names there are from wars and catastrophes."

"What street are you talking about?"

"Nu, yours: Sderot Chen. Avenue of grace. What a beautiful name. It almost heralds peace."

"Tell me, is your head screwed on? Chen is the initials of Haim Nachman."

"What, that guy?"