יום שבת, 22 בדצמבר 2012

Zionism 101 - A Story

I met Maryam of all places, at tailor's shop in Salah ad Din street in East Jerusalem. She, waiting for her own stuff, made few remarks on mending my jacket here and there. It was rather unexpected of a woman in East Jerusalem, to communicate in this manner with an unacquainted male. She was tall, well built and attractive. Although the dark complexion, dark brown hair and dark blue eyes made it clear that she is an Arab or Sephardi Jew, her body, the way she carried herself, and clear unashamed look toward the person she spoke with, were more Slavic like. She seemed to be in her early thirties.

We had coffee in the not to far away American Colony hotel, speaking  about life in Jerusalem, carefully avoiding political connotations, which make friendship impossible. She was a professor in Al-Quds University and did research on comparison between notable Arab families in Nablus and Hebron, Al-Halil, in Arabic, work that she started some time ago doing post-doc in Princeton Institute of Advanced studies. I told here about my work in bio-engineered vectors, weakened parts of AID viruses, in compound with antibodies to serve as anti-cancer precisely directed "missiles."

We continued to meet once a month or so, either in Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv; she had a "blue" Israeli identity card and was free to move inside Israel and abroad. We became friends without pushing into an affair, notwithstanding Freud's claim that all sympathy is at its  core sexual.

Then rather surprisingly one day Maryam said:
"After reading many papers, including essays of Ahad Ha'am and Ben Gurion diaries, I still don't grasp what Zionism really is."
 Except of well worn cliches I didn't have an answer. 
"Let me think about that. Tell me about the different views of life in Nablus and Hebron."

And we went on. After few weeks I asked her if she would like to have breakfast with me and my friend in Ashdod.

"A woman?" she asked.

"No, rather a gentleman of certain age."

We met next day in a restaurant called HOF, or coast, at quarter to nine next morning. Few minutes afterwards Ron joined us. I introduced him to Maryam, they shook hands smiled and exchanged greetings in Hebrew.
"An athlete with high brow, unusual combination. Not a single excess pound in his body. Ironic smile, more about himself than about the world. Was he sixty? Less? More? A mixture of modesty and confidence. Must have been an attraction to women when he was younger." 
Those were the initial impressions of Maryam.
"Maryam is in Al-Quds university. She asked me a question I was unable to answer." -- I said.
"What do you study, teach, research?" -- Ron asked.

"I am learning from all my teachers, and most of all from my students," -- she answered quoting Pirkey Avot, the well known Sayings of the Fathers chapter of Mishna, adding, "my current research is comparing between notable families in Nablus and Al-Halil."
"If I remember correctly, the historian Ytzhak Ben Zvi, later to become the second President of Israel, claimed that two thirds of people of Nablus were Samaritans converted by force to Islam by Ottomans." -- Ron commented.

"I'm not sure it was by force or not, but basically he was right and his paper is still quoted by many researchers." -- responded Maryam.
"Well, what was the smart question that my friend was unable to tackle?" -- asked Ron.
"It is far from smart. I don't have a clear idea, or perhaps a concrete feeling, about what Zionism is." -- Maryam.
"Nationalism is  a new idea, not adequately researched yet. Nation-state as we experience it now didn't exist even in the quite near past. What does it mean to be a Spaniard, or a Catalan, or a Scott, or an Israeli for the matter? Nationalism is still an unsolved puzzle, which, as everything where Jews are involved, gets even more complicated with Zionism. I can't make generalizations, but perhaps I can explain it a little personally." -- Ron.
"Please do." -- she said.
"For me WWII started in 1941 few days after Barbarossa began and Germans entered Vilno, now Vilnius. After short time, still several weeks before the ghetto was established, mass killing of Jews started  in Ponary forest near the city. My father was taken away and murdered. When Jews were ordered to ghetto, my mother, her brother and I moved on forged papers as Poles to a town 50 km east of Vilno. Most of the time I was hidden, because if I had been found circumcised, we would have been killed.

In 1945 short time after the war I was sent, this time in the heart of Poland, to a school as first grader. The first lesson was religion; the priest asked me to wait outside. I left home and refused to go back.

Next year I went to second grade in another city. I was a single Jew in a school of 1000 students. I was harassed twice a day and beaten at least twice a week. It was terrible. I dreamt of being among Jews in their own country.

In 1950 we came to Israel, until the first love this was the happiest event of my life. Ironically when I mentioned Zionism to my school friends in the Rehavya High School (Gymnasya), they laughed at me. For them Zionism was an old fashioned word of old people, used to spin and moralize, and insincerely so. Years later when I was again abroad and heard antisemitic remarks, I couldn't have cared less. My frame of reference was elsewhere." -- Ron.

"So is Zionism just a response to antisemitism and harassment?" -- asked Maryam.
"No, it is much more than that. When you are a single Jew in a school of 1000, it is not only harassment. The school is your main term of reference. When it is taken away, you are reduced to non entity and must find something else.

The young teenagers and youth of Second and Third Aliyah didn't just come to Ottoman Palestine. They, similarly to Jewish revolutionaries elsewhere, wished to create not only a new Jew, but a new human being." -- Ron

"And the people living in Palestine, the Arabs, were they  absolutely ignored?" -- asked Maryam.
"When I came to Israel I was 12 years old, quite unaware of the intricacies of relations between Jews and Arabs, but in my simplistic logic, the land was divided, and thus a reasonable solution possible." -- Ron

"And the refugees?" -- Maryam
"Look, in 41 we left Vilno to Oshmyana, in 45 from Oshmyana to Lodz, in 46 to Walbrzych, in 50 to immigrants camp in Lod, then in 51 to caravan near Rishon. Being a refugee was never pleasant but it was a part of existence, not of victim-hood. Being a refugee, as all survivors of the Holocaust were, was not considered a disaster." -- Ron

"Do you think Arabs are antisemites?" -- Maryam
"Meeting Arabs face to face, I never experienced antisemitism. Talking about antisemitism among Arabs, I always recall what the Jewish Bulgarian Nobel winner Elias Canetti wrote in his "Psychology of Crowds," in a manner that would be politically incorrect today, that every man is just that, a man, but a crowd of men behaves like a single hysterical woman." -- Ron

"Do you think peace is possible?" -- Maryam
"First of all Palestinian Arabs have to decide what do they want, and who politically speaking they are." -- Ron

"Isn't this a polite statement that Israel has no partner?" -- Maryam

"You don't make peace with partners, only with rivals and enemies, but I mean something else. Jews had thousands of years in which outside world forced upon them the need to create an identity. In the last 200 years they were trained into entry into the modern world. Palestinian Arabs didn't have this "luxury." To put it in another way, rephrasing Sari Nusseibeh the President of your university, they have to analyze honestly in their own mind, why did they fail so far in their struggle against the Jews."

Changing the subject she said: "Tell me about ski surfing?"

"Do you want to try it?"

"I don't have proper cloths."

"We can take care of that, to view a beautiful woman in the marina of Ashdod."

She laughed. "Next time."

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