Read It and Weep

Noga Feminist Magazine, Spring 2001, Issue No. 40. Editors: Rachel Ostrowitz, Mira Ariel, Rachel Giora, Erella Daor, Miri Krasin. 52 pages, NIS 35

Israeli bulldozers tore down the Gaza home of Dr. Mona al- Farra's mother. They also destroyed the well outside. In the spring issue of the feminist magazine Noga, Farra provides a dry, succinct account of what happened: "I got up this morning and heard the terrible news that my mother's house had been demolished. The Israeli bulldozers destroyed the well outside, along with dozens of other houses nearby, and uprooted a large and fertile agricultural area with orange and olive groves and a guava orchard. Many families were left without a home, and the Red Cross gave them tents." A daughter writes about the destruction of her mother's home with the detachment of a journalist. How many Israelis have ever been exposed to such reporting? How many have ever woken up into such a reality? How many Israelis can imagine what they would feel if their own mothers' homes were torn down? What would they do? "I cannot tell you how awful I feel," Farra writes. "All my childhood memories, my family's moments of pride - such as the day when we first pumped water out of the well - were destroyed by this one act." Israeli society is now in the grip of a horrible eclipse. Both right and left speak the same nationalist voice, no longer seeing - or wanting to see - the "other", its despair, the causes of its violence. In this general darkness, the new issue of Noga is a modest and impressive ray of light. "Bilada, bilada" - my land, my land - declares the cover of this issue, which is devoted almost in its entirety to a single subject. Noga has momentarily abandoned the struggle of Jewish women and produced an issue without rape or discrimination, prostitution or pornography - an issue that is largely dedicated to the suffering of Palestinian women during the Intifada. The editors should be commended for their initiative, so rare nowadays. Essays by women writers, Jewish and Palestinian, have been gathered from different sources; in all likelihood, not many other Palestinian women would be willing to write for an Israeli publication. Yes, they too have despaired. Despaired of the Israelis, of everyone. The Palestinians, men and women, have watched with anguish as Israel coalesced into a single camp, into one rowdy tribe. There are no longer good and bad people, right- and left-wingers, men and women. The hopes nursed by Palestinians who had maintained a dialogue with Israelis have been dashed. The Intifada did not sit well with the Israeli peace camp. The beliefs of the left-wingers, smug and self-satisfied over Ehud Barak's peace proposal at Camp David, were thrown into instant confusion by the uprising. As for the Israeli right, there was never any reason to expect anything else of it. And so, what even before was seen only by few - the injustice, suffering, grief, bereavement and despair of the Palestinian people - is now of no interest to anyone. They, the Palestinians, declared an intifada on us, contrary to what we had planned for them; therefore, we are no longer obligated. Because they chose violence, we no longer care about their predicament. We have no one to talk to, they enjoy killing us, there will never be peace, and to hell with their suffering. Yesterday's enlightened men and women have averted their eyes. They do not want to see or hear. People who only recently called themselves leftists are declaring that "From now on, we are all Jewish settlers." What happened? How can a world view be overturned so quickly, so dramatically? That is a matter for another essay. But the circumstances only make the new issue of Noga stand out more prominently. Like the black-clad marchers who recently protested the occupation at a very pink Gay Pride Parade, Noga is trying to spoil our festival of political correctness - which has made us increasingly enlightened toward women and even gays - by directing its gaze at Israel's darkest backyard. With all due respect to the fights for gender equality and social justice, against animal testing and for clean air, against the Trans-Israel Highway and for rape crisis centers - the primary struggle waged by Israelis should be against the occupation. It is the first and foremost of all fights, without which we can never have any other kind of justice. An occupying society can never be just in any way. The editors of Noga understood this. Their magazine has always dared to look into the backyard of the occupation; to do so now is even more important. The issue they produced is a bit presumptuous: "These are the voices that bulldozers cannot silence, that cement blocks cannot stop, that ditches cannot suffocate." Really? Just take a trip to the territories and you will see. The ditches suffocate everything, the cement blocks are insurmountable, and the bulldozer sadly silences even the brave voices quoted in Noga. And still, the Palestinian women's accounts, journal entries of intifada life under the occupation, are touching and chilling to read. "Where are you, Anne Frank?" asks Muna Hamza Muhaisen from Deheisheh of that more famous journal-writer in the essay "Another Morning of Occupation." "Where are you? Was it for this that you were led to your death? So that your people would turn its skin and inflict pogroms on another? You were so young, and you did not deserve to die, yet you were killed for your identity. For the same reason that we are now being killed. They are fighting our very existence. Oh, Anne, how I wish you could return from the dead, look around and tell me what you think." The language and translation are at times lacking in polish; but perhaps there is no need for it in an essay about two children, 12-year-old Naji and 11-year-old Mohammed, whose friend, Mouath, was killed before their eyes ("Mouath Went to the Alley to Play," by Kauther Salem from Hebron). The essays evoke tears and outrage, as Neta Golan, an Israeli currently living in the village of Hares, describes life in her new home: the attempt to remove the large cement cube laying siege to the village, or the phone call she received from Ata Jaber, a rather colorful figure whose home on the outskirts of Hebron has twice been demolished by Israel, and whose family lands have been appropriated by the authorities to build a gas station for Jewish settlers. Now he reports to his new neighbor that settlers have taken over the home he has rebuilt for the third time. The most impressive text is, perhaps, the simplest: an account of H. Ghanim's journey to her place of employment. "Many days will pass before I can return to Bethlehem University. Every meter I advanced was a success. It seems that getting to work is the big story, not the work itself," writes a woman who finds it all but impossible to traverse the distance between her home in Ramallah and Bethlehem, normally less than an hour's drive. She describes it in detail. How she and her husband leave their home that morning at 6:30. How the rookie soldier at the first roadblock contemptuously sends them away. How she manages to cross the next roadblock, using her Israeli I.D. card. How nervous she is at the Bethlehem roadblock, where she is not allowed to pass. And how she travels to the one remaining opening, the Al-Hadar roadblock. It has now been two and a half hours since she left home. "Another friendly soldier, playing with me this time, sits in a jeep, smiles and raises his weapon, points it at me, smiles and puts it back down (he's so nice)." And one unavoidable comment about the photographs accompanying the essays, all taken by Miki Kratsman. I am not an impartial observer: Kratsman is my regular photographer. Moreover, most of the photographs featured in this issue of Noga were taken during our many years of collaboration. And still, here is my chance to admire, from a certain distance, the work of a colleague, partner, and friend: 11 photos that tell the whole story. A woman among the ruins of her home, a mother and baby at another demolition site, a woman surrounded by armed soldiers and policemen, a farmer in his uprooted olive grove, a bereaved mother dressed in black, a weeping woman, and even a picture of the family picking its olives together in happier times. Read it and weep.