The day that Nur took responsibility

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Nur, Christmas 1993

They were four kids from Halisa, this struggling poor neighbourhood on the slopes of Mount Carmel, on the eastern entrance to Haifa. Nur was the biggest of the four. At the time that this story happened, in the spring of 1994, he was about six and a half. Yes, half a year is important at such an age. He was already going to school, a first grade student at the Carmelite school located between Wadi Nisnas and Downtown Haifa.

The other 3 kids were still going to kindergarten, in the Sacred Heart monastery. Hadaf and Yasar were the son and daughter of our good friends and neighbours. Adam, my other son, was not yet three years old, the youngest in this small bunch.

The school and the kindergarten were some 3 kilometers away (by air) and, naturally, we had to drive the kids there every morning and bring them back after school hours. I used to take the four of them in the morning on my way to work. Osama, the father of Hadaf and Yisar, had a more flexible job and would take them back home.

Once Osama came to our house and informed me that on the next day he will be busy and would not be able to take the kids from school.

On the next day I went out of work, initially heading for the Carmelite school to pick up Nur. When I arrived there children were already pouring in a steady stream to the street, some of them finding their parents waiting, others, some of the older kids, walking home or going to catch a bus.

I waited patiently, but there was no sign of Nur. As the stream of kids dried out, I went into the schoolyard and looked around, hoping to find him playing there. But there were very few kids at the yard and Nur wasn’t there. I entered the school’s office and asked about Nur. Yes, he was at school but probably went home… Nobody really noticed.

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Hadaf, Yasar, Adam, Fady, Luay – Probably 4 years later…

Going out I looked in the small streets around the school but there was no hint of where Nur might be. I decided to go and pick the other three kids from the kindergarten, some 500 meters away, before I will think of new ways to look for Nur.

I parked the car in front of the kindergarten. There were no kids waiting at the entrance, as most of the kids have already gone. I went in to take my three kids, but they were not there either. Finally one of the teachers told me: I think their brother came and took them.

It could seem crazy, a six and a half years old kid taking with him three small kids from the kindergarten in the middle of downtown Haifa, into the messy streets busy with traffic, far from home… But, to say the truth, for me this was a big relief after the daunting worries of the previous hour. So, Nur was not kidnapped after all. The four kids will not easily disappear together.

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Nur & Adam, Christmas 1993

I started driving along the road home, but there is more than one way you can drive to Halisa and even more ways to walk. If I remember well I didn’t find them until they came home.

Nur explained that he heard Osama saying that he was busy and will not take the kids. So he simply did what he had to do.

When I think again and again about this day, one of the most frightening in my life, sometimes I think it might show how little trust Nur had toward his parents. But apparently he didn’t think he was abandoned or that there was anything unnatural in his parents being busy or him taking the kids walking home. He used to be a responsible kid, the biggest one in the bunch.

 

 

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My First Protest…

You can say I was a shy and quite kid, in those old days… I lived in a small village and the local school even didn’t have enough kids to open a new class every year. But for some reason, which I fail to remember now, I always regarded myself to be from the opposition, unlike the good kids that only wanted to do what the teacher wanted them to.

It was in the seventh grade, when I made my first public protest. My teacher was a narrow-minded woman that came to the school after finishing a religious teachers-seminar. At about the same time my aunt, which used to live in New York, lost her husband and came back to the village to live with the family. She started teaching English in the local school. At night we would all gather in my grandma’s “Tolstoyan” salon, speaking about life. Making fun of our provincial school was a favorite topic.kindergarten_paid_teacher

One day my aunt taught us an English phrase: “The teacher is not always right, but he is always the teacher”. I liked it. Soon I organized my best friend and together we wrote this phrase (in Hebrew, of course) on a placard, waited after school hours when the classroom was empty, built a pyramid of school tables and chairs, and hanged it on the top of the wall, just near the ceiling.

When the teacher came the next morning she clearly didn’t like what she has seen. She threatened to punish the whole class, so we admitted that we did it. But when she demanded that we put off the placard we refused, and were thrown out.

For several days we spent our schooling time in the yard. I don’t remember what we were doing there, but it could hardly be more boring that attending classes. After some days my best friend told me that he want to surrender – his parents were not happy with him spending his time out of class and he couldn’t stand their pressure. So he went on to remove the offending phrase.

I never told my parents about the whole issue. But a few days later, when my mom waked me up, she had something to tell me. “I hear you make problems at school.” She told me. “Your teacher talked with me. I don’t know exactly what you did. And I know that your teacher may be sometimes narrow-minded… But…”

“Yes, mama, I know. She might be wrong, but she is always the teacher.”

“Yes, exactly”

It was a special joy to be punished for telling the truth.

 

Down and Out in Amsterdam 1973

As I was visiting friends in Amsterdam lately, I remembered my old days in Amsterdam in the autumn of 1973.

I was a shy, long haired, village boy and just finished my first year in the University of Jerusalem. I flew for a vacation to London and had an open return ticket from Amsterdam.

The war started while I was still in London. I continued according to plan and took the ferry to Amsterdam, but I definitely didn’t want to go back while the war was still raging, so I had to wait it out on low budget and hope for a fast ceasefire.

Amsterdam was a pretty good place for a young guy to kill time in that period. I embarked in a cheap youth hostel near the center. There were flocks of young people from all over Europe wandering around, still infected with the fever of the youth rebellion of the Sixties. You could sit with everybody to hear music for free in the open air. I was already pretty serious by that time about my political activism, but I wouldn’t say no to a joint if it passed by me.

Israelis looking for war

Wandering around just to keep myself away from war, I met some Israeli guys that were just looking for a way to go home to take part in the war. They were no regular flights but there were rumors about some flights that might fly to Lod from Amsterdam or some other European airports.

I remember especially one of them. He left Israel and already had good life in California. He came to Amsterdam as he heard that there may be some flight he could catch. It was not his first station in Europe. He told me how unlucky he was as he was only 18 in 1967 and just missed the war. He enlisted to the army later and continued to the USA, but he wouldn’t let himself miss another war. I still wonder whether he finally succeeded to get himself killed.

Criminal or just polite?

At the time you could hardly pass by in the streets near our hostel without having somebody whisper in your ear: “Hash, hash, hash… want hash?”

I could see where they took the willing customers. There was a middle-aged man seated always at the back of the longue in the hostel. They would seat with him while another guy would bring the stuff and soon they will go away.

Once I was hanging around in the street myself while one potential customer turned to me: Do you know where I can get hash?

Like the other guys (but without whispering in anybody’s ears), I brought him to the reliable source. I thought I’m entitled to get my fees for the service but decided to leave it like that, just being polite to everybody.

It was not a simple decision, as I was really running out of money.

Money problems

I was really naïve at the time. I had my last hundred dollars, and I tried to buy something in the street. The seller took the hundred dollar bill and requested me to wait while he is going to bring some change. He never returned. The other sellers around were looking at me like saying: you brought it upon yourself.

The war already finished and I had my flight back home, but for the last night I didn’t have money to pay the hostel, not to eat, not even to pay for the bus ticket to the airport.

In the evening I was wandering around in the streets of Amsterdam, just killing time, when some people called me. “Hey, they said, we know you from the hostel”. As I explained them my situation, they said they plan to sleep out on a boat and invited me to spend the night with them. I don’t really remember but I assume I even received some unexpected meal that night.

ComplicationsAmsterdam boats

Sitting with my new benefactors under the deck, I was not sure it was such a good luck. They were planning a robbery for that night. They went to sleep out so that there will be no evidence that they left the hostel in the middle of the night. There were maybe five men and one woman. It was her role to wake them up at around four o’clock in the morning.

I don’t think I slept much that night. But I was too egoistic to help my new friends and wake them up when the woman failed to do it. When they noticed it was already maybe six in the morning and the city around was starting to come to life – no good time for a robbery.

Happy End

I went to the station to take the bus to the airport.

As I arrived there I turned to the first man that happened to pass in the street.

“I have a ticket to go abroad, but I don’t have money to get the bus to the airport”, I told him.

He looked at me wearily.

“I know you’re lying. But I will give you the money anyway”.

I thanked him.

If you know him, please, thank him again.

 

 

Security Affair… in the Kindergarten

The following – completely true – short story is dedicated to all those people that are longing for the “democratic past” of Israel under “Mapai”.

In the middle Seventies, I was active in “The Workers’ League”, a small organization of the radical left that split from the famous “Matzpen”.

Two of our comrades were a couple of new immigrants from France. They came as Zionists but soon were disillusioned and became active in the Anti-Zionist organization. At the time that our story begins, the wife was working in a kindergarten that provided special care for children with Autism.

At the time there were not many institutions caring for these children. The kindergarten, in West Jerusalem, was affiliated to a local hospital. Our comrade was a specialist in her profession and did her best to help the children. She was loved by the management, the children and their parents.

Then, for some bureaucratic reason, the responsibility for the kindergarten was transferred from the ministry of health to the ministry of education.

As every Arab teacher knew very well at the time, in the ministry of education the last word about all appointments was given to the almighty Shin Bet – the Israeli secretive “internal security services”.

It came out that the Shin Bet’s authority didn’t spare Jewish teachers also, even not a kindergarten teacher that cared for autistic children. As soon as the ministry of education took control of the institution they informed the management that the leftist teacher should be immediately fired from her job.Dangerous_teacher

Finding a new qualified teacher for the hard task was not easy or fast, but the security authorities in the ministry refused even a temporary stay of execution until a replacement could be found. The parents faced a real problem also, as they couldn’t send their kids to the kindergarten without a teacher. Many of them had to skip work and stay at home. They organized a protest of their own, but, of course, their selfishness will not deter those responsible for the state’s security from fulfilling their sacred task.

All this was regular “no news” in the “Jewish democracy” under the “leftist” Labor Party. I wouldn’t waste your time with it unless there was a strange twist in the plot.

The teacher’s husband’s father happened to be one of the leaders of the Jewish community in France. When he heard the story he thought it is too foolish to be true. He didn’t support his son’s and daughter in law’s political activity in any way. But he thought that there is no reason that the teacher will be removed from work in a kindergarten where she obviously couldn’t have any subversive influence on the kids…

He remembered that he has a good friend. They went together to the same school and were active together in the Zionist movement. His friend made “Aliya” long time ago. By the time of our story his friend was already a pretty important minister in the Israeli government.

So he called his friend and told him of the extraordinary senseless persecution of his daughter in law. The minister quickly agreed that this doesn’t make sense and promised to speak with the responsible people and solve the problem.

The old French Jewish leader waited for a few days to hear from his minister-friend. There was no news. He tried to call him, but his good friend, untypically, was not answering his calls. He left messages in his office and home – but couldn’t get any response.

It was only a long time later when the two old leaders met by chance… The question of returning the daughter in law to her job was not relevant any more. The Israeli minister came to his old French friend and apologized: “I really tried. I did my best. But, you know, it was a security issue. I couldn’t do anything about it!”

 

How technological progress made me like everybody else?

Travelling along the streets of the occupied West Bank in the seventies and the eighties, there was a pastoral view that caught my imagination. Many kids of all ages were walking to school along the narrow roads. Apparently they had to walk like this for many kilometers. The view was even more surrealistic due to the eye-catching unified school dress that painted each section of the road with different colors and unnatural designs. But what really impressed me at the time was that many of the kids, boys and girls, used the opportunity to read, probably rehearsing their studies.Read_Walking

Like so many other things, I tried to learn this virtue from the West Bank kids. It worked for me very well. Mostly I was reading “The Economist” to keep myself updated with world affairs.

Over the last decade I’m using my dinner break at work to go to the sea shore, walking and reading. Sometimes with long white hair blowing with the wind – I made a strange figure.

Once a police patrol stopped near me and I heard one of them saying: I know this man, he ran away from Tira. Tira, originally Tirat Al-Louz a Palestinian town to the south of Haifa, ethnically cleansed and renamed to Tirat Ha-Carmel, a poor Jewish suburb, is the location of the main local hospital for the mentally ill. I succeeded to make myself calm and normal enough to pass this encounter and go on walking my way.

Read walking became such a central feature of my life that I even wrote a short story about it.

The problems started as the economist’s distribution network in the area stopped functioning. I would make the extra tour from the road to the beach to the books’ shop only to find that the last issue didn’t arrive yet. Try tomorrow, they would say, day after day. Finally I made a subscription to get the magazine by mail. But it didn’t really work either. After an initial grace period the issues were arriving four at a time, three weeks late by average.

Being deprived of my drug, I started reading the paper from my smartphone. It worked wonders. For the first time I could read the paper before readers in London…

Walking and reading my phone completely transformed my public image. As I was walk-reading along the beach, some guy looked at me, saying: Well, these new phones are really indulging… He smiled at me, sharing understandable human weakness.

Finally I became like everybody else.

 

I was so afraid…

It was in the beginning of the eighties. We were cooperating with the Communist Party and its fronts in “The Committee for Solidarity with Bir Zeit” and “The Committee Against the War in Lebanon”. Usually we would agree on a common platform between their two-state position and our conviction in ODS. But, at that specific occasion, they decided to make a leaflet calling explicitly for “two states for two peoples” – so I told them I wouldn’t take part in its distribution.

The leaflet had to be distributed at “Beit Ha-Kranot” in the middle of “Herzl St.” – not exactly “Tahrir Square”, but at the time it was regarded the place most likely to see some spontaneous gathering in the middle of sleepy Haifa.

I don’t remember what drove me to Beit Ha-Kranot at the designated time, maybe I just passed by or I felt uneasy to leave the comrades alone…

As I arrived there, I saw that only one comrade was leafleting. He was almost fifty (at the time I thought it was an old age), a respected professor from the Technion. I knew him as a very calm and peace loving person.

He was surrounded by a small crowd that clearly didn’t like the message in the leaflets. People shouted at him. Some young guys were teasing him, closing on him and tried to prevent him from distributing the leaflets.

I pushed my way into the crowd, trying to use my supposed neutrality to defend him. The crowd was becoming ever angrier and the scene could become really violent at any moment.

To say the truth, I was relieved when the cops came. Maybe some of the cops recognized me, or maybe my neutrality was not so convincing, as they arrested me also.

As we climbed into the police van, I sat near the professor. He was clearly stressed, but now he stretched his body, as much as you can do inside a police car, and smiled at me:

– I was so afraid…

Well, I thought I understood him very well. But he continued:

… I was afraid that I would beat them!

I could not hide my astonishment.

He told me that while he was a student in the US he made a living as a professional boxer. Later he became a pacifist, avoiding any violence. He was satisfied that he endured this experience without beating his attackers.

I told him that if I knew that the only danger was that he might have beaten those right wing racists, I wouldn’t bother to intervene.

I hope I was wrong.

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My November 7 Story: The Incident of Officer Stoller

My November 7 Story: The incident of Officer Stoller

First a small question to tease your friends with: When did the great October Revolution happen? The answer is, of course, November 7.

As a devoted Socialist I see November 7, 1917, as the most important date in the calendar. It was the first time in history that the poor masses did not only revolt against exploitation and tyranny (as they did for thousands of years) but actually took control of the state apparatus in order to create a new type of political and social order. As we all keep trying till this day, November 7 may be defined as the beginning of modern history, of the period when the toiling masses are not only the subject matter of history, but a first class active and independent player.

But here I don’t write to repeat what you all may know, but to add a small historical fact that may have slipped off the pages of history.

First I have to explain how I came across it.

When I was young and became a Socialist in the Seventies, it opened the door for some old people to tell me stories that they kept deep in their hearts in the Zionist desert.

My grandmother, Fania Marek, used to live in Moscow before and during the Russian revolution. As the 18 years old daughter of an established Publisher, she was one of the first “victims” of Bolshevik dictates. There was a law against “parasites” that forced everybody to work or study. So, in 1918, as everybody was fighting the civil war, my grandmother enrolled to study arts in the Moscow University. She told me it was the most beautiful days in her life, as the revolution was all about “Sbovoda” – Freedom.

Her sister was engaged to a tall bearded Jewish officer in the Tsar’s Army named Stoller. When I knew him, some fifty years later, he was still a very impressive person, living in a Kibutz near the Sea of Galilee. When he heard that I’m a Socialist, he had a story to tell.

He told me that in the heydays of the revolution he was stationed in Moscow and joined the Bolsheviks with his soldiers. On November 7, 1917, he entered with his soldiers to the Winter Palace in the act that symbolized the seizure of power by the proletariat.

Then he told me what happened next. He said that his soldiers were mostly interested in the wine in the palace’s cellars. When he tried to stop them from drinking the Socialist Peoples’ wine, one soldier tried to shoot him. The next day he was a deserter from the Red Army.

I don’t see any special lesson from this story. I tell it just because it is what I heard.

It didn’t convince me to desert my position in the Socialist struggle, as uncle Stoller might have wished to do. Maybe it was good for me to see, from the beginning, how in the heights of the revolution the most heroic, the horrible and the ridiculous may meet and mix.