Susanne Langer theorizes that
. . . in this physical, space-time world of our experience there are things which do not fit the grammatical scheme of expression. But they are not necessarily blind, inconceivable, mystical affairs; they are simply matters which require to be conceived through some symbolic schema other than discursive language (Langer, Susanne. Philosophy in a New Key. Third ed. Cambridge MA: Harvard U Press, 1970. 88).
If I were a poet or a painter or a sculptor or a novelist or a writer, I would be able to express some infinitesimal part of what I have experienced in the last eleven days in Palestine in a way that would communicate better than I can through the “grammatical scheme of expression” which for me is so limited.
The situation, in general, as I see it (as I with no expertise or real knowledge of history see it – in fact, I may find that this is so polemical that I have to delete it; however, it is my immediate reaction having left Israel less than 48 hours ago):
Certain Jewish persons living in diaspora managed through manipulation of two or three Western governments in the first half of the 20th century to confiscate the land of an entire people, and brought about a two-tiered untenable situation for that people: diaspora or living in absolute subjugation in their homeland.
This project began half a century before the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust at the hands of the German Nazis, but the Holocaust was used to convince the guilt-ridden Western governments to bring the project about to help assuage their guilt for ignoring the Holocaust.
What those Jewish persons managed to create is a society (it is hardly a nation in the sense that a nation has a stable constitutional structure and a legal system that is adhered to in daily life) that can never be safe, secure, or “happy, joyous, and free.” Just as it is impossible for the playground bully in an elementary school to relax and live peaceably with the other children, the State of Israel must forever be on guard, must forever make itself more and more ridiculously belligerent, must spend more and more of its resources (and that of other countries, particularly the United States) to be ready to pounce in preemptive attacks to prevent any other playground child (nation) from threatening its position as the master bully.
It is, in my humble opinion and through my un-authoritative observation, impossible for any citizen of Israel to be happy.
The certain Jewish persons (Zionists) who were successful in taking over a land belonging to another people have, in effect, created for themselves a state in which they are barely more secure than so many of their brothers and sisters were in Warsaw before 1940. It may appear that they are making the desert bloom, but the bloom has a rot in its roots that will never allow it to be healthy.
On November 11 (the day Americans and Canadians celebrate the victory of “freedom” over “oppression” in 1918 and honor veterans of their wars) I posted the following mournful statement on Facebook:
Israel can be described in one sentence: it is a lawless society. It has no constitution. The “settlements” (background) where one-fourth of the population live are illegal under international law, the depopulation of 400 Palestinian villages (foreground) is illegal under international law. Laws are made piecemeal based on medieval ideas (the Talmud) forced on the Knesset by religious fanatics who pay no taxes simply because they are fanatics and their support was necessary for the creation of Israel. One such law is that a religious fanatic who murders a non-Jew must not be prosecuted. If this is democracy, I will choose to live under tyranny.
I have begun scholarly research about this. I do not know for sure if the Talmud actually says that Jews should kill non-Jews (and if it does, do scholars and religious leaders actually say to follow it – I would appreciate any reader’s help in discovering the truth). However, something has prevented the Israeli government from prosecuting those they know are responsible for firebombing the Dawabsha family home in Duma village, killing the parents and their infant son. This is far from the only such failure of the law.
There are too many examples of the lawless oppression by Israel of the Palestinian people, both Muslim and Christian, to begin to write about them here. I will offer one experience of last week. Our group drove by bus through the Israeli settlement (on confiscated Palestinian land, in contravention of international law) of Pisgat Zeev to arrive at the only Palestinian Refugee Camp inside Jerusalem, Beit Hanina. The drive through the two neighborhoods – separated only by the Apartheid Wall – was startling enough, but when we arrived at our destination, one of the hundreds of Palestinian homes demolished by the Israeli government in Jerusalem, we came face to face with the physical reality of the lawless state.
As we walked around in – what? horror, grief, anger? – two Muslim women who had been neighbors of the family whose home was destroyed approached us. Our Palestinian leader translated as they spoke of the fear and depression of living in a neighborhood where their homes could easily be the next to be destroyed. This is not an irrational fear.
One of our group asked them what makes them happy. “Nothing.” They live only in fear and hope.
That is all. Fear and hope.
In the “physical, space-time world of our experience there are things which do not fit the grammatical scheme of expression. But they are not necessarily blind, inconceivable, mystical affairs. . .” They are lived realities for several millions of persons, Palestinians, Arabs, Christians, Muslims.
You do not need to trust my completely biased and incomplete thoughts on these matters. If you want to begin to understand, there are writings by scholars and historians. Three of the most accessible:
Khaidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.
Pappe, Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006.
Shalim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
(All are available at any online bookseller. All are available as NOOK books.)
“SINGLE ADDRESS FOR THE POST,” BY ABDEL RAHIM AL-SHEIKH
On my way to them, I pass Him by,
(as, on his way, God passes me by)
for as we go our separate ways
we see no one but those on high.
The beds are allotted before the violet dawn.
The back and endless night is spent alone
and then the cataclysm comes
that will seed them from the borders of Palestine
the Great Thorn.
They are the only roses that grow.
From where they stalk the edge of paradise
the first paradise.
From where the children use thorns
to draw maps of this paradise.
From this spot.
We raise in the sky a glorying arc
the first milestone to Mecca
and we leave a kiss for those who left
with neither luggage nor papers for their passage.
This is the way the journey will always be.
They leave their bags for the postman to deliver
He takes them from the hands
of those who follow
And those who follow leave their packages
as the first ones do.
It’s hard for the post to make it to paradise.
There is no address
neither here nor there.
—translated by Rachel McCrum
Abdel Rahim al-Sheikh is from Jerusalem. He teaches philosophy, history, and creative writing at Bir Zeit University and the Qattan Center in Ramallah, and is the author of many literary and academic books.
From A BIRD IS NOT A STONE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY PALESTINIAN POETRY (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014) –available from Amazon.