Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002
The State of Mind
by Israel Shamir
The steep slopes of Wadi Keziv in Western Galilee are walled by squat local oaks and thorny bush. On the streambed, oleanders and cypresses look into shallow ponds formed by its springs. I like this secluded canyon. On hot summer days, one can hide in an intricate deep cave and laze in its cool clear waters, waiting for deer and hoping for a nymph. On cooler days, you can climb up a steep spur rising amidst the gorge. It is called qurain, the Horn, in Arabic, hence the Arab name of Wadi Keziv, Wadi Qurain. Astride the spur, the Crusader castle of Monfort raises its donjon high and gazes towards the distant Mediterranean Sea.
This place holds many memories. The 12th century Zionists, Teutonic knights of St Mary fortified the castle on the spur, and called it Starkenberg, the Mount of Strength. The name and the remote location didn't help: they were defeated by Salah ad-Din, the Arab paragon of valor and compassion, who allowed them to depart with their weapons and honor for Eastern Europe.
The stony path leading to the spring was the meeting ground of the enchanting characters of Arabesques, an exquisite novel by the Palestinian writer Anton Shammas. Shammas, a native of nearby Fassuta, is probably the only non-Jew in the world who writes his books and poems in Israeli Hebrew.
Farther west, the brook of Keziv flows into the sea at the ruins of az-Ziv, the Christian village destroyed by Jews in 1948. In this village, in the long-gone 1920s, a local Palestinian girl was visited by another local Palestinian woman, the Virgin. In other words, it is a typical place in the unusual land of Palestine.
These days, you can roam the canyon all by yourself. It is as empty of people as the rest of countryside. The land of Palestine is in trouble, the deepest trouble since the black nights of 1948. People do not venture down here anymore, leaving the canyon to its lean and wiry boar. Walking downstream, I spotted a few of these gracious animals, so different from their domesticated cousins. It was only outside the gorge, on the plain of Acre that I came across a human presence. There were a few Thai or Chinese peasants working the fields of a local kibbutz. A middle-aged kibbutznik sat in the shadow overseeing their work. I joined him for a smoke and a drink of cold water.
He was the epitome of a good Israeli, large, sunburned, with a friendly smile, bushy mustachio and brisk talk. Fifty years ago, he or rather his predecessor, a fighter of the Jewish Storm Troopers, the Palmach, would seize the lands of az-Ziv and expel its peasants to Lebanon. Thirty years ago, he would work the stolen land with his own hands. Now, he oversees the Thais working this land. Very soon, he told me, he will go to New York, to visit his son, a web designer. While he is away, some Russians from Maalot town will be hired to oversee the Asian workers for the kibbutz. Not many Jews are interested in working the land, or even in overseeing Thais working it, he said. The kibbutz hopes to get a building permit, build housing and sell the real estate. It is a valuable site, near Naharia and Acre, and it will fetch a premium price, despite the crisis, he said.
I shook hands and bid farewell to him, to the sweaty Thais, to the green fields, to the mountains of Lebanon to the north, concealing the refugee camps where dwell the original inhabitants of as-Ziv, to the Galilee mountains to the east, holding the Russian town of Maalot. I hitched a ride to Nahariya, and from there, I took a train homewards to Jaffa. The train carried a few Africans, probably illegal immigrants judging by their shy demeanor. A Romanian building team was gulping beer and burping loudly. They were imported from their impoverished East European land to build the houses for elderly Russian immigrants. Just like in California, the Israeli Jews do not want to be employed in construction.
A Jewish Israeli lawyer in black yarmulke leafed through papers in his semi-opened briefcase. A blond and armed Israeli soldier talked Ukrainian with its fricative h's to his corpulent girlfriend. He extolled his own heroic fight against multitudes of Arab terrorists under her admiring eyes. A group of Moroccans discussed the closure of the Acre steel plant and their slim chances of finding other work. The crisis is deepening, one of them said. It is as bad as in 1966.
The train rolled through Haifa, and I thought of the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Americans, Jews and Christian Zionists, who lobby, pray, support and pay - no, not for the Jewish state built on the ruins of Palestine, as they imagine. That would be bad enough. But the reality is worse. I thought of the millions of Palestinians, rotting in refugee camps and jails, dispossessed, expelled, - victims not of Jewish greed for land, as they imagine, but of something worse - of a ghost.
The Jewish state is a virtual state that is quickly losing all remaining connection to reality. This ghost of a state kills people and collects money in America; it continues some nefarious existence, like the legal term, 'estate of the deceased'. Its fields are worked by imported guest workers, guarded by imported Russians and Ethiopians, explained by Israeli professors who are forever off lecturing in American universities and by brave generals on the lookout for a big kickback from American weapon-makers. Unemployment grows daily, vital services are on strike; the tourist industry has collapsed months ago.
Hotels are boarded up and other branches of the national economy are close to collapse. Israelis buy flats in Florida and Prague, while houses in Israel go begging for buyers. Sharon's desire to punish the Palestinians has the sting of punishing one's own left hand. Palestinians and Israelis are intertwined and integrated, and this separation kills the economy of both.
From far away America, Israel looks like a giant nuclear state, the great ally of the United States, a Jewish state that is a source of pride for American Jews. A visitor leaves our shores with a strong feeling of our identity and prosperity. Only we, permanent residents, know that it is a cardboard sham. Israel is collapsing, as its active citizens emigrate in despair, while generals complete the destruction of the country. A cruel fate befalls the native Palestinians: a ghost kills them, a spiritless body walking the corridors of the Congress and the deserts of the Middle East in Zombie-like trance.
For the sake of this specter, important American Jews squeeze every penny from their employees and countrymen, cut down on pensions to old and assistance for children, reduce the health and education budget, dry up help to Africa and Latin America, build improbable coalitions with notorious racists of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell's kind, demand destruction of Iraq, bless the bombing of Afghani refugees, keep Afro-Americans in their ghettos, undermine their host society, make enemies for themselves and for America. These deeds would be vile enough even if they would accomplish something of value to someone, but they are worse because they are useless.
The Zionist experiment has practically collapsed. It can run for many yeas to come on life-support, as a brain-dead vegetable. It can kill people, maybe even start the next world war. But it cannot become alive.
The Jewish state of Israel is a state of mind, a projection of the American Jewish mind. The worries and problems it articulates are American Jewish problems. For Israeli 'Jews', there is no need for segregation, war, or subjugation of natives. We eat no bagels with lox, speak no Yiddish, read no Saul Bellow or Sholom Aleichem, and avoid synagogues. We prefer Arab food and Greek music. My neighborhood has seven pork butchers to a kosher one. Forty per cent of Tel Aviv weddings are done outside Jewish framework: young Israelis prefer to go to Cyprus to get married, just to avoid contact with Rabbis. Tel Aviv is the gay capital of the Middle East, though according to Jewish law, gays should be exterminated.
If American Jews did not bribe Israelis on a large scale, we would just forget about the Diaspora and dissolve into the hospitable Middle East. If they continue to bankroll us, we shall oblige them with a small show of Jewishness.
We are master-sellers of illusion, and as long as there are buyers, we shall provide the goods. In 1946, a group of dedicated men from all over the world came to Palestine under the aegis of the UN. They were sent to prepare the ground for partition of the land. Among other places, they visited the southernmost kibbutz, Revivim in the arid Negev. There, they came across a wonderful flowerbed with roses, anemones, and violets in front of the kibbutz office. In their report, the members of the delegation expressed their amazement and stated, 'Jews make the desert bloom, let them have the Negev.'
As they left, the kibbutz youngsters went out and pulled the already dying flowers out of the sand. They had just bought the flowers same morning on the Jaffa market and had planted them as props for the duration of the visit. This small outlay of cash had transferred Negev with its two hundred thousand Palestinians to the Jewish state. Most of the natives were expelled across the newly drawn border, to the camps of Gaza or Jordan. It was cruel and useless: even now, fifty years later, the Negev south of Beersheba has a smaller population than in 1948.
In order to populate depopulated lands, the Mossad broke and terrorized the Jewish communities of North Africa. The Jews were brought in, sprayed with DDT lice-killer and placed into refugee camps that soon became the towns of Netivot, Dimona, Yerucham. They are still there, in the stark desert outpost towns full of unemployment and misery, drawing social benefits and nursing a deep dislike for the Ashkenazi Jews who lounge in Tel Aviv's cafes. It is probably the only place on earth where you are liable to hear, 'it's pity you did not burn in Auschwitz.'
Thus the conjuring tricks of Revivim, the conquest of Negev, the expulsion of Palestinians and the destruction of the Moroccan Jewish community succeeded separately, but ultimately failed altogether. It could be expected: evil and immoral deeds cannot bear good fruit. Zionist leaders dreamed of making Palestine as Jewish as England is English. They failed. Palestine is as Jewish as Jamaica is English.
The land of Palestine is being ruined now, in front of our very eyes. Its beautiful old villages are bombed to oblivion; churches are emptied of their flocks; olive trees are uprooted. Such ruin has not befallen the land since the Assyrian invasion 2700 years ago. Nothing can comfort us in the face of this great destruction, and certainly the people responsible for it - whether Israeli killers or their American Jewish supporters - will be damned forever.
Still, a wry irony of history will remain as a footnote in the books: the Jewish leadership committed these crimes in vain, and received no gain out of it. Even if the last Palestinian were to be crucified on the hill of Golgotha, even that would not breath life into the virtual Jewish state of Israel.December 18, 2001
* Israel Shamir is an Israeli journalist based in Jaffa. His articles can be found on the site www.israelshamir.net
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Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002