A Writing Exercise
By Orna Coussin
In this exercise, try to capture fragments of your experience as a deeply worried Israeli beginning in the summer of 2023. Do so amidst constant rallies and other modes of life-affirming activism against a racist, corrupt government, that has begun to dismantle your collective home. Make these notes your attempt to derive personal meaning from a national tragedy (while practicing your English).
Do so in installments of 100 words. not 99, nor 101. exactly 100. This self-assigned limit will keep you alert. Also ask yourself: Is it possible for a country to have a life-span not longer than 100 years?
Many liberals around the world condemn Israelis and condone Hamas’s massacre of Israelis. Shattered Friends abroad say that their liberal acquaintances show them no empathy.
The only way to fix this profound moral failure is to replace Identity Politics with Value Politics. One shouldn’t have to take (nationalist) sides. My friends in Israel fight to free Palestinians from Israeli occupation and fight to end Hamas terrorism against Israelis. We must stand for peoples’ right to live safely and freely and against violent regimes. We must stand by the victims of violence –regardless of their national Identity. We must dismantle patriarchy.
Yesterday Hamas released Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old grandmother who was kidnapped, beaten and held for 17 days in tunnels built by Hamas. When Lifshitz told the world that she was treated decently (“…The medic took the responsibility to bring us medication. If they did not have the exact same medication, they brought us the equivalent…”) many Israelis were shocked and furious. How was she allowed to express her complex experience? For me and others Lifshitz is an inspiring hero. I will never forget seeing her shaking the hand of a terrorist who held her in captivity; uttering the word “Shalom”.
A Tel-Aviv high-school headmistress, highly acclaimed and dedicated, posted a plea to remember that there are human beings living in Gaza. She was instantly bombarded by hate mail. Many demand to fire her. A well-known left wing Haredi journalist posted a similar plea and was attacked physically. He is now in hiding.
Nationalism defeats humanity.
“By ‘nationalism’”, wrote George Orwell, “I mean the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions of people )…) can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’”.
Attacking people because they express empathy is worse than bad.
Michal and I find it hard to decide what to do now for the sake of our girls. We feel privileged – unlike families who lost relatives and homes, and witnessed atrocities; unlike those who’s dear ones are held hostage in Gaza; unlike Palestinians in Gaza who are losing their homes, their life, because of psychopath Hamas terrorist and because of heartless Israeli retaliation, We are only living a routine of two or three daily code red sirens: we walk out to our building’s staircase, hear the sound of falling missiles or their interception, worry about our girls’ fear and future.
“Though many instincts are held (…) in common by both sexes, to fight has always been the man’s habit, not the woman’s (…) Scarcely a human being in the course of history has fallen to a woman’s rifle; the vast majority of birds and beasts have been killed by you, not by us; and it is difficult to judge what we do not share” (Woolf, Three Guineas).
How can we make our leaders think about human beings – Israelis, hostages, Palestinians – as worthy of their empathy? “Obviously there is for you
some glory, some necessity, some satisfaction in fighting”, wrote Woolf.
I found it impossible to write anything in the past few days.
I can’t seem to find adjectives, adverbs, for anything related to that which Hamas’s terrorist inflicted on people in southern Israel. Maybe verbs should suffice? Verbs like killed, burned, raped, kidnapped and beheaded? Allahu Akbar. God is the Greatest.
Now, also, I am deeply worried because our leaders are promising to wipe out Hamas, if not Gaza. Declaring they are going to “win” this war. What a ludicrous Idea – winning a war. One can only start a war, fight it, or end it.
I turn to Virginia Woolf.
After two days of horrific attacks by hundreds of Hamas terrorist on Israeli civilians in their homes, at an out-door party, all over southern towns and Kibbutzim, killing hundreds and injuring thousands, one persistent chant echoes in my mind: “Allahu Akbar!” shouted repeatedly by men killing, kidnapping, burning down homes. “God is the greatest” is their justifying mantra. Could this great God, for whom men kill and cause pain, be the same God imagined as recently justifying the religious Jewish settlers acts of cruelty in the West Bank? Might this imagined “greatness” of God be the very source of evil?
What do you like and appreciate in – what makes you proud of – your Judaism? I presented this question to my Face Book friends and received hundreds of thought-provoking answers. People wrote about mourning rituals (SHIVAA), about the obligation to love the stranger (“mentioned 37 times in the Bible”), about the core principle of “love thy neighbor as thyself”, about the culture of reading and discussing and about Judaism being a communal culture. One said: “The core of the Bible is ‘Remember you were a slave in Egypt’, and the core of Talmudic literature is having to read between the lines”.
I’m fascinated by population data. I’d love to know, and I’m yet to find out, how many Israelis are religious, believe in God the Father, keep Shabbat and a cosher kitchen. How many are traditional, go to shul on Yom Kippur, circumcise their boys, rejoice when achievements are attributed to other Jews. Also: How many jews don’t feel at home within Jewish tradition; How many are looking for a different affiliation, that has nothing to do with deities and rabbis and priests. How many Israelis find hope and inspiration in critical thinking, in Feminism, in Marxism, in Psychoanalysis, in philosophy.
I’m fascinated by population data. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released data today showing that the population of Israel is estimated to be around 9.795 million people ahead of Rosh Hashanah.
There are currently about 7.181 million Jews in Israel and the West Bank settlements, constituting 73 percent of the total population (Palestinians in the West Bank are excluded from this data). Approximately 2.065 million Arabs make up 21 percent of the population, and about 549,000 other residents comprise 6 percent of the population. How many people like me are jews by descent but are atheists and shun tradition?
All 15 judges of The Supreme Court of Israel will convene tomorrow to discuss the abolition of the standard of reasonableness—or of extreme unreasonableness—a standard designed to protect citizens against the abuse of government power. Our current government wishes to eliminate anything that may stand in its way to absolute power. I should be joining the big protest rally in Jerusalem today but I also need to take my daughter to her tennis lesson, and spend some quiet time thinking about a writing project that I’m working on, concerning Patriarchy as the core source of our nation’s disaster.
I am reminded now that I was privileged to participate in the annual alternative torch-lighting ceremony held by Yesh Gvul on Independence Day. In my speech I suggested to rewrite Israel’s anthem, HaTikva:
As long as in the heart, within ,the soul of a Jew still yearns, and yearns also the soul of a Palestinian, And onward, towards the ends of the east,
an eye still gazes toward Zion; Making sure that each and every soul between the sea and the Jordan river will be free (…) Our hope is not yet lost.
Hope is not a value. Solidarity is.
I want to read everything by Jacqline Rose. And by Naomi Chazan. Rose says that in the context of Zionism, as in the context of feminism, we “need to be endlessly vigilant in not allowing victimhood to become who we are.” Chazan told Rose, in the Guardian piece: “Survival is not a value… tolerance is, equality is, peace is (…) Survival is the means to something else.” For Rose, to hear such a thought coming from an Israeli is mind boggling: “I don’t think she is aware of what an extraordinary thing it is for someone Jewish to say this.”
I’m reading a fascinating profile of the critic Jacqueline Rose by Parul Sehgal in the August 21 issue of The New Yorker. I arrive at this passage: “Rose describes herself not as anti-Zionist but as a critic of Zionism, a reader of Zionism, focusing on the nationalist movement’s insistence on its own innocence. She warns against letting victimhood (…) become an identity.” I google Rose and find an article in The Guardian about two visits she made to Israel. Rose quotes Naomi Chazan, a former member of Knesset: “Palestinian self-determination is not antagonistic, it is the route to Israeli survival.”
Catchphrase of today, marking the end of shame: “Sorry, (SLICHA) Muhamad”.
The couple of words was uttered yesterday, on August 23rd 2023, By Itamar Ben Gvir, the Minister of national security. He was Talking to Muhamad Magadli, a channel 12 Arab-Israeli commentator, on primetime TV. “My right, My wife’s and my children’s right to go freely in Yehuda Veshomron (the Palestinians’ territories)”, said Ben Gvir unabashedly, “is more important than freedom of movement for Arabs – SLICHA Muhamad”, he patronised and kept talking.
Breaking news: An Israeli leader says out loud what they all have been thinking, all these years.
Just back from a short, heart-warming and mind-soothing vacation with my brother and his family in Long Island, New York. What does it mean to be back in Tel Aviv?
Our girls are getting ready for school. There is a looming teachers’ strike that might put off the beginning of school year. The long-anticipated underground is open – everybody is excited. It will not operate on Shabbat; people are furious. It is very hot and humid. Our friends and family are nearby. Shapira IPA is perfect. Rallies resume on Saturday. Arab People are killed almost daily. Angst and unrest seep in.
Angst and unrest – why? It’s not merely the fear of violence. Rallies we have attended a few months ago – chanting and waving flags and even blocking roads – while guarded by the local police headed by chief Ami Eshed, have lately become sites of police violence after the good chief had been fired. Can you smell the stench of “The Scunck”, a police weapon against protesters – used in a recent rally near the Knesset? could the bad odour be a metaphor for the repressed unconscious knowledge of constant military violence suffered in our name all these years by our Palestinian friends?
MUAKA, a non-translatable Hebrew word, has been my central feeling, shared by many, ever since Israel’s Minister of Justice introduced – in January 2023 – a legislative package aimed at concentrating absolute power in the hands of the right-wing coalition. Despondence, malaise, unease – are a few words suggested by dictionaries. But neither seem to get it. Maybe a mix of angst and unrest? In the beautiful HAZAV MAZAV by Dafna Ben Zvi, Mazav goes out on a quest to meet MUAKA, a mysterious creature, in order to come to terms with that which troubles him. I try to do the same here.