Let’s leave the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aside. Let’s also leave aside the mountains of verbiage and the terminology used by both sides. We have lots of time to discuss those issues. So let’s keep this discussion at the level of feelings, conscience and imagination.
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Would you, dear reader – and it makes no difference whether you’re Jewish, Arab or British – agree to live in a home whose owner, one fine or not-so-fine day, left or was forced to leave, and since then, for 74 years, has been forbidden to return and resume living in it?
I’m asking this question because the very first step taken by our caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, who now holds the most important job in the country, was to move into Hanna Salameh’s villa. The villa was built in Jerusalem in 1932 and 16 years later, in 1948, Salameh was barred from returning.
Lest there be any doubt, we’ll note that the new occupant isn’t in a no-choice situation – one in which his only alternative is being thrown into the street to sleep under the open sky. The new prime minister, and Israel itself, have all the material resources necessary to find a different official residence for him.
Moreover, Lapid and his wife, Lihi, are both intellectuals and prominent authors; they have also been successful media columnists. They presumably understand the feelings of a person who was forced to leave their home with no possibility of ever seeing it again, and then is forced for years to watch the fruit of their labor passing into the hands of strangers – in this case, the Lapids.
These two sensitive authors, with their well-developed imaginations and their proven talent, could presumably put their thoughts into words to tell the world what might pass through the mind of such a person. They might examine them further, whether through research or in their imaginations, and create a moving text for us about a Palestinian living in an absurd world.
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To highlight the absurdity, let’s recall that industrialist Stef Wertheimer refused to live in the home of a Palestinian refugee. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and ultimate architect of this population transfer, also refused to live in a displaced person’s home. “It’s inappropriate,” he said, “for an absentee’s property to serve as the prime minister’s residence.”
What a topsy-turvy world! The steel magnate refuses to live in a displaced person’s home, but the literary world’s representatives have no such problem. The people who are supposed to be the gatekeepers of humanism, morality and justice have switched sides, and instead of being beacons of morality for their people, they are beacons of insensitivity and machines that churn out excuses for injustices.
To mitigate the severity of this immoral blow, I’ll note that a group of artists, the beating heart of the nation, have been happily living for decades, in a wonderful creative atmosphere, in displaced people’s homes in the village of Ein Hod – or to use its full, star-studded name, the Ein Hod Artists’ Village. The mind weeps, and the paintbrush is ashamed of the role forced upon it.
Now, we can do nothing but wish the Lapids sweet and pleasant dreams in their new home and hope those dreams won’t be visited by the ghosts who, with great insolence, still roam about here and there.
When I realized that the silence was continuing even after this story became known, I thought that perhaps I was being oversensitive. Therefore, I told the story to an elderly Arab friend. “What?” he asked me, shocked. And then he said he felt as if he had been stabbed through the heart.
I want to apologize to my brothers and sisters in the purist camp – the “anyone but Bibi” bloc – for raising this embarrassing issue about their new idol. I was supposed to keep silent about the injustices. After we, all the Arabs and democratic Jews, were spat in the face, I was supposed to be amazed at the blessed rain falling on us.
But don’t worry, this blessed rain will actually improve Lapid’s position. Moreover, we can add that apartheid has been saved by his entry into the Prime Minister’s Office. I came to curse him and ended up blessing him. The ultimate Israeli can rest easy.