Tell the truth… (about sectarianism)

(This short story was initially published in the Haifa Arabic weekly Al-Madina on September 14, 2018. You can find the original Arabic text in Haifa Al-Hura.)

May 22, 2017 was a special day. We attended another session of the detention court for poet Dareen Tatour. The Court again rejected the request for the abolition of the house arrest imposed on Dareen, which lasted more than two and a half years until she was sentenced to imprisonment for 5 months and was returned to prison. On this special day, however, the court allowed Dareen to leave her family home in Reineh, the location of her house arrest, for several hours each day, provided she was accompanied by “qualified guards” from her family. On this occasion, to make use of the new crack in the wall for breathing freedom, Dareen and her companions did not return home after the hearing. But, for the first time since her arrest more than a year and a half before, she started wandering the streets of her beloved city, Nazareth, and we were wandering with her.

In this short passage, written more than a year later, I do not want to write another chapter in the famous story of the trial of the poet Tatour. But I want to touch on a passing conversation that took place during our tour of the streets of Nazareth. It touched an exposed nerve and its complex meaning is still echoing within my head even today.

We walked through the alleyways of the old market towards the Church of the Annunciation when we met, by coincidence, a group of foreigners, accompanied by a local activist. We learned that they are active in minority rights movements in the United States, especially Black Lives Matter. They came to Palestine as an act of solidarity on an educational tour, and our friend guided them on their trip to Nazareth.

We were pleased with this opportunity to get acquainted, and we requested the guide to tell the respectable foreigners about Dareen’s case as well. He began to explain, but was not familiar with the details. With his permission I explained all the issue of the trial from Dareen’s arrest until the last court hearing on the same day. My explanation was brief but it was ample, and I felt that the guests were delighted to have the opportunity to meet in person one of the conflict stories.

But, when I stopped talking, it seemed that our guide friend was not satisfied. He told me, “Tell them the truth.”

I thought I had explained the details of the case accurately and honestly and did not understand what truth he wanted me to tell, so I did not respond.

However, it seemed that this truth that I couldn’t grasp was clear to other members of our small group, except for the foreigners. Some of them, Arabs, Jews and foreigners, urged me: “Yes, tell them the truth!”

I was confused. I was, as they say in Arabic, like “a deaf in a wedding”. I didn’t understand. “I have told the truth as I know it,” I said. “If I made any mistake, please correct me.”

“No, you were not mistaken. But tell them you are a Jew!”Dancing Monkey

At this point I lost my nerve. Some of my beloved friends felt that the foreigners, who were of different races and ethnicities, and who heard my balanced and objective words, could miss the main “attraction” – that the person who spoke this was someone of Jewish origin… Seeing such a scene should be regarded like seeing a dancing monkey in a street show.

“OK, OK, I will tell the truth,” I laughed.

“You have to know that we live in a society steeped in sectarianism,” I explained to the guests. “Zionism has taken control of all our thinking and we have stopped dealing with people as human beings. We are dealing with them first and foremost according to their sectarian affiliation. But even our concept of sectarian affiliation is wrong, distorted by Zionist misconceptions. Judaism, as I know it, is a religion. And any religion is based on faith and a set of convictions. As of me, as a person, I do not believe in this religion and have nothing to do with it. But Zionism wants to convince us that religion is transmitted by heredity through our genes… and that the son of a Jewish mother is definitely Jewish. I regret to tell you that, but my friends have requested me to introduce myself to you as a Jew.”

Thus I spoke the truth, as I found it in my heart, to the respected guests, to my beloved friends and to you, my dear readers.

 

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Alice in Wonderland and the Treasure Box

“When I speak with you,” Alicia said with her big smile, “it is a bit like falling into a legendary world, with all these unbelievable stories that just can’t happen in real life.”

As if to stress her point, there was this new unbelievable event just as she came to visit us for the first time this June.

When we bought the house 22 years ago, the old lady that went to live with her daughter told us that there is a treasure buried in the small patch of land behind the house. She didn’t know exactly where it was and felt too old and too tired to dig for it.

This stayed the most neglected part of our small garden, with wild thorny roses and even wilder, all-scratching, Lantana competing for space under the mighty Olive tree that expanded over the roof of the house.

But this year we finally cleared the impenetrable bush and planted some vegetables. They grew to be an unprecedented success. They even were so kind as to supply us with fresh micro-tomatoes and an odd cucumber every now and then – so we had a good reason to visit this neglected piece of land almost every day.The pit in the garden

One morning, one of the first mornings after Alicia came, just as I went to see whether there is anything to pick in the back garden, I saw something strange.

Someone dug a hole in the back of the yard. The hole was some 40 centimeter deep – but there was not much mud around the hole. And the inner shape of the hole was suspiciously square. It couldn’t be anything else. 22 years later the old owners came and dug their treasure box. The crime tool was still there – an old iron pole that used to be part of the fence but was for a long time thrown useless in the garden. The fresh earth was still glued to it.

They didn’t mess around in the garden. Apparently some heir found the treasure map and came for it, digging exactly in one place, about one meter to the left of the garden’s end, near the rear wall.

I call Alicia to show her the unexpected scene.

“I told you so”, she concluded.

The pit and the crime tool

Walking on the pavement

I read a long article in “The Economist” about the decisions that pedestrians make in order to avoid colliding with others walking towards them in the opposite direction.

It said that the natural behavior of most people in our Euro-American culture is to veer to the right side of the road when someone is coming toward us.  It is important that both sides will make the same decision in order for this tactic to be effective…

According to the article, people in East Asia tend to veer to the left side, so there could be more collisions in our future as globalization mixes people from all around the globe.

I was walking on the sidewalk… The trees planted along it provided relieving shade but left little space for maneuvering.

A man was walking hurriedly toward me.

I looked at him; he didn’t look East Asian.

I started taking the right side of the road, but he continued walking on this side, his left side.

Then, just as I decided to give up on my quest for the right, suddenly he made a sharp turn to his right to avoid me.

Crash! Boom!

His head was as hard as a rock and I saw stars all around me.

– Sorry Sir. I really didn’t mean it. I was reading in a magazine…

– Better watch your step and don’t read magazines while you’re walking on a public road!

man_walking_reading