Published also in Dutch on De Groene Amsterdammer
Nachum was born on the first day of the year 1973 in Kiriat Arba, one of the first settlements in the outskirts of Hebron. It is an ideological settlement founded on the prophesy of the return of the Jews from exile. Nachum was one of the first kids to be born in Kiriat Arba. ‘My mom was a Holocaust survivor. My parents belonged to the first hundred families coming to this place. Their children were the fulfillment of the prophecy, the first sons of the promised land.’
When I spoke to Nachum about our year of birth, he immediately replied: ‘It’s a special year, 1973. They even wrote a song about us. It’s some kind of a national anthem.’
We are the kids of winter 1973
We were born to a wounded, sad country
You looked at us and hugged us and tried to find comfort
When we were born the elders looked at us with teared eyes
And wished that we would never go to the army
You promised us a dove
Promised an olive leaf
Promised spring flowers
Promised to fulfill the promises
Promised a dove
I was also born on 1973. My mother’s family came from Yemen and my dad’s family from Syria. I am what they call a Mizrachi Jew — a Jew ‘from the East’. My parents were the first generation of refugees and immigrants from hostile Arab countries. My grandfather, the story goes, fell on his knees and kissed the ground upon arrival in Israel.
Yom Kippur, fall of 1973. In the village of my grandparents everyone was fasting. The streets were empty, everything was closed. My grandfather, the Rabi of the village, was wearing white, as the tradition tells, when he went to the small synagogue. Then, all of a sudden, around noon sirens broke the silence. Israel was being attacked by combined Egyptian and Syrian forces. My mother still tells me about how she ran to the shelters with me, her first born; about how weak she was from the fasting. And shocked and terrified. In our history books Israel won the war, which ended after 3 weeks. ‘Once this war was over’, my mother recalls, ‘the country was hurt and sad.’ The belief that Israel was strong and superior in the region was shattered and left many feeling insecure for the first time since 1967 when the Six Day War was won.
Waffa was born and raised in Kfar Kara, an Arab village in the north of Israel. Waffa is the eight of eleven children: nine sisters and two brothers. ‘My father was special: he never gave me the feeling it was less to be a girl. He educated us and taught us to be confident and determined, which was special for Arab society.’ Kfar Kara is situated in the green, bushy and hilly Galilea, a region that offers a lot of deep colors and cool relief of temperature — and is one of the centers of Palestinians living in Israel. Waffa’s family has lived here for many generations. The Palestinians received their Israeli citizenship in 1949.
During the Yom Kippur War airplanes were flying low above Waffa’s village. Like everyone else they were surprised by the alarms, but unlike many places in Israel, Waffa and her fellow villagers didn’t have shelters or bunkers. ‘We had a big fig tree with wide branches and leaves that would almost touch the ground creating a hiding place under it. So, we used to go there to hide. Can you imagine? For me personally, when I grew up, war was a far away thing from another place.’
The Egyptian president Anuar Sadat came to visit our black and white TV screen in 1977. The whole family was seeing the repeating images of him waving to the enthusiastic crowds at Ben Gurion airport. Excitement all over. Hope. The next day we sang songs of peace and cut out white, paper doves. And Kippy from Sesame street sang on TV: ‘It’s a very fine world with Jewish, Arab and English speaking children…’. After all: we were all Israeli’s, we were all immigrants.
A year later, when peace with Egypt was concluded, Nachum’s family moved from Kiriat Arba to Beit El, another settlement in the West Bank. There Nachum played with neighbouring Palestinian kids. Nearby the settlement was a Palestinian village called Dura el Kara and the refugee camp Gilazun. All kids would meet to play on an open field, used as a football field, below the settlement. With his mother, Nachum visited the sizzling markets of Ramallah every week, they stopped to tank in the middle of the city, and in a neighbouring village they would buy a goat. In the heat of August, the summer camp programme included a daily swim in the public swimming pool — together with all the local kids.
Waffa tells similar stories about her childhood. She remembers freedom, movement, exchange of people, diversity. Gazans roaming the country to sell their goods in the villages. People would buy in wholesale, because there were no supermarkets whatsoever. Her father had many Jewish friends. With his tractor and wagon, he’d call all of the village kids for a drive. Offering the adventure of leaving the village and driving through all the towns, including the Jewish ones. ‘There was no separation like today’, Waffa recalls, ‘but we could see that the Jewish villages were better looking, more organized, developed. We saw the green grass, nice houses, and quiet, clean streets. That’s Jewish for us. Though the borders were blurred, we always felt we had less.’
My grandparents’ village — full of Yemenites — was situated next to Ben Gurion airport and just before the so-called green line. This was the demarcation line set out in 1949 after the Arab-Israeli War. The village breathed the Arab culture of my grandparents — the language, the way of dressing, the food. I strongly remember the smells. My grandmother spoke mainly Yemenite at that time. Officers of the immigration office would bang on her door demanding her to speak Hebrew. The Israeli authorities in fact did everything to get rid of Arab backgrounds like the one of my family, in order to create a new Israeli identity, a new solidarity.
I remember we used to play this game on the road. The Israeli version of ‘I see, I see, what you don’t see’. The number plates on our cars were yellow, but Gazans had white ones, and blue was for the West Bank. Whoever recognized a license plate and called it out loud first, won. Them having another number plate didn’t occur to me as problematic. Still, it was a subtle reminder that despite our childhood feeling of togetherness, there was also a distinct ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Nowadays Waffa has an office in Kfar Ara, in the north. The office functions as a support and training center for Arab-Israeli women. Public transport that takes you all the way to Kfar Ara is hard to find. Waffa thinks there is a bus three times a day. It’s not from our main bus company, so it is difficult to find the timetables on your phone application. The bus towards Sde Boaz however, an illegal outpost where Nachum lives these days stops behind Jerusalem Central Station three times an hour. This bus is comfortable, bullet-proof and air-conditioned. When leaving Jerusalem and approaching Bethlehem, the bus went into a tunnel to avoid going into the Arab city. Young women with colourful hair wraps, orthodox and fashionable, were giggling in the back of the bus. After the long dark tunnel, suddenly the green shielded bus popped out the other side of the mountain which carries Bethlehem. We didn’t see a single house in Bethlehem, not even one resident.
Nachum says that they, the first children, were considered the beginning of redemption. ‘Do you know this word? It means that the Messiah is coming, that there will be world peace and everything will be good — and the greater land of Israel will be whole again. We were told: you are the fulfilment of this. It has been a strong upbringing, almost psychedelic, to see our elders so convinced, their eyes shining with spirituality and belief.’ Nachum concludes: ‘Today, I think that this way of upbringing created a great blur — of reality. It was such a blur that we actually didn’t see what was really happening, that there were other people here as well.’
The First Intifada came out of nowhere. That’s how I felt it. We were fifteen years old. Though we were all taught repeatedly the heroic and bleeding history of our country, the images of riots, people violently protesting against Israel, against us, shocked us. Young Nachum couldn’t understand why: ‘Why would they be so violent? What do they want?’ A lot of connections and friendships with Arab-Israeli’s and Palestinians started to unravel. People stopped going to work, many settlers stopped buying stuff from the Arabs. ‘Look at that crazy tunnel under Bethlehem, through which you travelled today’, Nachum says, ‘built to make sure there is no contact at all. Not even on the road. An illusion of safety in the end: they will not disappear, we will not disappear.’
The riots of the Palestinians turned into a constant threat of violence. Bombs in public places, and later suicide bombers walking into buses and cafes. ‘Everyone was worried about family and friends, Jews and Arabs’, according to Waffa. Then she paused and apologized for her Hebrew. She was looking for a word. Then she said: ‘power’. ‘I lived in a society that is supposed to support me, but it didn’t, so I had enough of feeling powerless. However, I couldn’t join the happiness some people felt about gaining power by violence. It made me furious, and embarrassed. But I couldn’t say it. I didn’t know what to do with my anger.’
What followed the attacks were the counter-attacks of the Israeli army. Due to the Intifada the militarisation inside of Israel — and in the West Bank and Gaza — went fast. Everywhere police checks, in entrances to crowded places, restaurants, shopping malls. Segregation increased, just like the growing distrust for the Arab-Israeli community. Everything Arab became suspicious. Racial profiling became an issue. Also for Mizrachi Jews. We looked Arab so we would be singled out in many check-ups, we needed to raise our voice in Hebrew to identify ourselves as native Jews.
At Waffa’s home there was not much conversation about the Intifada. Silently the kids were allowed to watch the news, peeking behind the backs of the adults. Participation however was out of the question. Israeli-Arabs did not join in the First Intifada. ‘You would be shut up if you even put it on the table, you would be warned that such ideas can jeopardize your civil and academic future in Israel.’ Today, there is much more dialogue, as there is information available, on the internet, Facebook. ‘Back then’, Waffa says, ‘it was just father, the word in the village, and the news on TV.’
I was confined to my Mizrachi family narrative. I quickly understood that in order to integrate — and be Israeli — we had to denounce all our Arab attributes. Joining the youth movement of the Labour party when I was a teenager, was my first step out — and the beginning of my (political) re-education. We were engaged in the heat of the primaries in which Shimon Peres lost to Rabin. Rabin was a hawk, and his ‘iron fist’ policy towards the Palestinians was a direct cause for the uprisings and the First Intifida. Rabin was an army man, a general. Very tough. And certainly not a man of peace then. Me and my friends were not in his favour. In our traditional blue workers’ shirts with a red lace, we would march the streets and started attending pro-peace demonstrations on the central square.
Then I moved to Tel Aviv to join art high school. Against all odds, since I was strongly advised by my school advisor not to do so: some like me — a Mizrachi Jew from a small suburban city — wouldn’t bare a chance. Attending this renowned school and being in Tel Aviv had a huge impact on me. A new world opened up. A more progressive, intellectual one — more white also.
Despite the First Intifada, the violence, the oppression, Rabin’s harsh and uncompromising politics, I clearly remember feeling hope. My idyllic image of my country remained. I was injected with patriotism, and the knowledge that the conflict was forced upon us. I admired our democratic system, which allowed us to raise our voice in the youthful and energetic gatherings outside in the city, filling us with the belief we could achieve peace and create social change.
Nachum tells that the security feeling of the settlers back then was strongly undermined. ‘Our trust in our government was hurt. We demanded more security and power to defend ourselves and continue to develop our settlements.’ Which is exactly what happened: more army, more protection leading to more isolation, and thus more separation.
In the course of 1991 we all got our draft order for the army apart from Waffa. ‘I always knew without asking. How can I go to the army and fight other Arab brother nations?’ Waffa agreed to marry, once she realised that there was no money for her to study. She and her husband lived — and still do — above her conservative in-laws. ‘I was still dreaming of having a job. But I was not allowed to work or study. I was a woman, not a girl anymore and they didn’t want me to bring shame on them. So, I shut up. I became like water, quiet like the waves, weak and powerful.’
Nachum joined the army in 1992. He was selected to the elite forces of the IDF, after intensive training. But then personal circumstances made Nachum drop out of this elite unit. During the preparation Nachum met my dear friend Orki from Beeri, a kibbutz in the south, who was drafted at the same time.
‘I did what was expected of me’, says Orki, ‘it was not about being a warrior, just about being the best. When I was in school, I did whatever I wanted and everyone said: oh, how will he manage in the army? I showed them, I could do very well. They always told me I had potential, so the army was my chance. I practiced, I ran in the fields almost all the way to Gaza and back, and I would swim. I got my condition right. I was seventeen, and strong. There was no political statement in this for me. It was the challenge. I didn’t think about killing people. Luckily, I can say now, I got injured and dropped out.’
‘I think a lot of my kids and the army, I don’t talk about it much though, but if I do, I tell them that it’s fucked up. They should never become warriors. My mother told me the same, but it didn’t help. My father never said anything. He was a warrior, he fought during the Six Day War. He never speaks about it.’
Orki and I are driving around the kibbutz. ‘Here, you see this tower there behind the hills? That is Gaza. You see the smoke? That’s where they burn their garbage. It is so close, you can walk there. I think its 2 km to the fence.’ When we drive closer, he asks: ‘Do you see the print factory back there? This is where I work, they can see me from Gaza.’
In our last year of school the army service became a recurring topic in the corridors. We didn’t want to be like those soldiers in the news, fighting women and kids. This is when I heard for the first time about the ‘letter of the graduates’ which would be directed at the Prime Minister announcing the refusal to serve in the occupied territories. The message was: we will not fight civilians.
The first generation of Jewish pioneers had built the country and fought for it. They had to. For our generation, fighting was a political decision of governments. For us, the question was: what are we going to die for? Because if there is no peace process, no solutions on the horizon, then we are dying for implementing the occupation. The patriotic cause, normally the warm glue for the young country Israel still is, had now started to crack. We just needed better reasons to die for.
Still I enlisted in the army, like everybody else. The army is an important pillar in our educational system, a way into adulthood — and the first step out of the family house. Especially for someone like me from the lower socioeconomic class and the periphery. So, I found myself wearing uniforms and learning how to shoot guns. It didn’t last very long: after six months I married — and got out. Too much difference in ideology, not able to tolerate such a disciplined and hierarchic institution. I received much heat about it. From my family, and all my friends in the army. I was considered outcast. My mom asked me to avoid telling people about it. I stopped going to family events for two years.
While we were in the army — and out — Waffa became a mother and took care of the household. She raised four children. At one point her husband suffered a back injury. He had no personal insurance, so the family was left with no income. Waffa gathered her children and told them she had no intention of begging for money. ‘Finally, it was so bad that I went to work, I came out of my bottle.’
Typically, Waffa couldn’t find work because she had no education or profession. Finally, she found a job in farming via a neighbour. ‘On the first day my husband cried, because he didn’t want me to go. My oldest son needed to take care of the seven-months-baby, whom I was still breast feeding. I felt a bit ashamed on one hand. On the other hand I felt this was my chance to develop myself.’ Waffa worked with other women in the orchard, picking pears in the heat of the summer. It was a tough job.
They would squeeze twenty women into a van fit for fourteen. Waffa was surrounded by nineteen women scared to lose their place or cause trouble. ‘I couldn’t stop seeing the exploitation of the women. It made me mad. I didn’t know anything about rights and unions, but my reaction was instinctive: the contractor and the farmer must have been making a lot of money behind our backs. And we women were voiceless. Our society is patriarchal, not equal at all. Actually, some Jewish women live in similar conditions, but in our case you are also isolated, discriminated and humiliated. ‘I told you I am like the waves: I get stronger, I get desperate and overcome again. For this you need power. I had power. Just like my father told me.’
On a summer morning in June 1992, Rabin won the elections over the right-wing Likud party. He then put together a narrow, center-left coalition, including the Arab parties. Even more so, he committed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by declaring he would exchange territory for peace and security — a progressive, but highly controversial move.
When Rabin shook hands with Arafat, I was excited. My family was huddled around the TV. The ceremony in Washington DC was displayed on the national channel with translation into Arab and Hebrew. My mother was shivering though. While she covered eyes, she said: ‘Oh, he is shaking the hand of that murderer!’ The next day we all gathered on the central square in Tel Aviv, a hundred thousand came to celebrate this euphoric moment. It was peace. On the other side of the square, there were a few right-wing demonstrators showing their disagreement and disgust about the peace and our celebration. In our eyes they were just a crazy and extremist minority.
Waffa describes a feeling of hope. Having Arabic representatives in the Israeli government sparked euphoric feelings in her village. She felt this could be the start of a new era, an end to the violence and the segregation. Still, Waffa is careful in her wording. Now she holds the opinion that the Oslo Accords created an unhealthy situation: in her eyes the Palestinian Authority (PA) arose as a subcontractor of Israeli occupation, while Israel’s government continued to build settlements. She is not inclined to repeating the old sentiment.
‘After Oslo there were a series of gruesome — and deadly — terror acts’, Nachum looks back, ‘and our reality here in the settlements was like: it is our blood which is allowed to flow here. The Palestinians are killing us with the weapons which the Israeli government is giving them to build up and protect their society. We were feeling a strong sense of betrayal, we were left to die. We were furious.’ Nachum admits he did many things he is now ashamed of. ‘I used to go out for revenge trips. We went to road 60 which connects Jerusalem through Hebron to Schem, the main road. It was a nasty game. If they threw stones, we threw back. And so forth. And it got worse: if they would throw molotov cocktails, so would we.’
In 1994, I left Tel Aviv to attend Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam. Another chapter of my re-education. While defending my homeland, I also learned facts about Israel, about the Palestinians, which had not been available to me before. From my student room I read about the rising tension in my country about the peace process. Clearly, those who opposed Oslo could not be ignored anymore. The new voice of the right, Benjamin Netanyahu, was speeching in front of enchanted crowds; his words were full of anger, accusations and threats. He played into the emotions of many Israeli’s by focusing on the security situation and the suggested territorial sacrifice by Rabin. In a sketch book of mine I’ve found crowd pictures of ‘Rabin in SS uniform’, ‘Rabin with a kafia on his head’, and people waiving with ‘Rabin = traitor’ signs, collected during a summer visit in 1995. And hand-written letters of mine: I won’t be back.
And then Rabin was assassinated. On the centre square of Tel Aviv, surrounded by almost 200,000 supporters of the peace process. For Nachum, Waffa, Orki, and me, this was a defining moment. We were twenty two. We had just heard Rabin on the radio. He was not man of showing much emotions, but at this event he declared with great enthusiasm: ‘I am very excited to see so many people showing up here. I always knew that when it comes to peace we’d have a quiet, solid majority that doesn’t want violence and is hoping for peace.’
Three shots. It was all over the news. Nobody understood what happened. Chaos. And then it was declared: Rabin was shot. Disbelief. More chaos. Soon it was announced that a religious guy from Bar Ilan university shot him. Nachum, sitting alone in a bus heading south to visit his sister, recalls being terrified and saying out loud ‘brotherhood war!’. Real fear seeped into him.
The news that the killer was a Jew, brought relief in the house of Waffa. But then she remembers thinking: ‘They really don’t want us…’. Waffa never felt close to the Israeli governments. ‘Rabin was actually never my leader, but when this happened, I felt connected. I was mourning.’
Orki remembers taking his soldiers to Rabin’s grave in Jerusalem. Rabin — in person — actually awarded him his officer’s stripes. The picture of this memorable moment is casually pinned on the wall in the living room. ‘It was emotional, I didn’t know how to eat this. Rabin dead. Beeri, where I grew up, was a peaceful kibbutz on the fringe of Gaza. Its inhabitants used to drive to the beach through Gaza, take ‘Arab’ cabs with no fear, hitchhike… since then things kept escalating; look at us now, getting closer to yet another burning war.’
Waffa tells that ‘after Rabin‘ many things started to change. ‘Suddenly, slogans such as ‘We want peace’ and ‘We give a hand to peace’ were worth nothing anymore. Instead we got no peace and more separation. Each society started to live on its own. No conversation. Nothing. We got more scared. The peace process, the hand-shake, the plan for peace — a new era was about to commence, but it collapsed before it actually really started.’
Orki finds the impact of Rabin’s assassination on him personally hard to describe. ‘I do know that that year I started smoking joints. So many of us smoked at the time. It was a social thing, and felt like a national ritual. A war period we would call a ‘dry period’. Any tension on the borders put alert on police and army, which then wouldn’t allow for the daily drug trafficking, especially from Lebanon or Egypt. This created a shortage of hash, while you were in dire need of a smoke due to the stress of war time.’
‘The biggest change in me’, Nachum says, ‘… I grew up in a religious reality with an ideology that is convinced that the state of Israel is the state of God, in the land of God. This land was promised to us and we, having returned to this land, were heading towards redemption. Everything would turn out well. We would get world peace. Rabin’s death crushed that belief, that peace was attainable. I realised that nothing is promised. Worse, if we would continue like this, and not persist to see the other, be brave, and strive for change so that we all can live here, then Israel might not at all exist in a couple of generations. That would be the complete opposite of what we, the settlers, actually aim for. It would be against our perception of following God’s promise.’
In November 1996, Nachum’s neighbour got killed in an attack when their car got ambushed. Both the mother and her little boy were shot from close range. This hits Nachum close to home. He asks himself the important question: why is this all happening? According to him, the answer is not about space nor territory. This is about the fear of the ‘other’. It becomes clearer and clearer, as Nachum tells, that the Messiah will not come tomorrow. ‘We can’t sustain the messianic tension over time’. Nachum had shaken of his past, in particular all ideology; he turned to poetry and had become an alternative voice in the community of settlers. Giving his readers insights into their closed society and expressing the ideas of the second generation settlers.
Nachum and spirits alike founded an organization called Eretz Shalom (Land of Peace). Its goal was to create dialogue between the settlers, Palestinians from both sides of the ‘green line’, and left-wing Israeli’s. Eretz Shalom was not right- nor left-wing, it is neutral in essence. The founders encouraged ideological and religious dialogue, which they believed was the only way to open the deadlock of the peace process, in place since Rabin’s death. According to Nachum, solutions should be found ‘in good neighbourly structures, which will allow everyone to keep their houses.’
During a special meeting where Nachum met the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for the first time, he asked him to acknowledge the presence of a Jewish minority as a part of a democratic Palestinian society. Abbas answered: ‘Ahalan usahaln’, ‘Hello and welcome’. ‘I know he has said many disturbing things before’, says Nachum, ‘but here I meet someone who wants to be my neighbor.’
Nachum’s outpost, Sde Boaz, is not more than few caravans casually parked on a rocky land like blocks of lego. Illegal, even for the Israeli’s. His youngest kids were running outside, in between the rocks and the green bushes. Then my eye caught a young girl — in army clothes and with a gun — walking in between the caravans. ‘She is patrolling here,’ Nachum confirms. I ask Nachum why does he stay here? ‘I am full of contradictions, but I am not confused’, replies Nachum, ‘I am here with a mission. My first target is to enter the awareness of the settlers, so I can cause some change in the way they see this world they live in. If I wouldn’t live here, nobody would listen to me. I also live here because I was born here in the West Bank, it means a lot to me.’
Some of his neighbours don’t talk to him anymore, since his meeting with Abbas. ‘The hardest is the gap between what I believe in and what’s real. Despite the creativity, the spirituality I live in, my daughters can’t walk to the next village. It is simply too dangerous. Though they should be able to do this, just like me when I was young. This is my paradox.’
Summer 2015. Waffa stands on stage. Proudly she opens a debate on the position of Arab women in Israel during a conference organised by Da’am, a small leftist, Jewish-Arab political party. She tells about how meeting Ma’an, one of Israel’s worker’s unions founded by Da’am, changed her life. At the beginning of the century, Waffa, started working through the union. ‘I remember feeling represented for the first time in my life.’ Still she was suspicious at first: ‘My Arab neighbor was exploiting me, so why wouldn’t the Jews exploit me?’ Neither her Arab employer nor the people around her, approved of this collaboration between an Arab woman and a Jewish organisation. ‘My employer even started to threaten me.’
Nevertheless this step resulted in a higher salary and improved working conditions for Waffa. ‘I felt like I was getting millions, and the contractors didn’t shout at us. I was in charge of myself. I felt like a normal worker. And safe.’ Then, as Waffa recounts on stage, she started representing Ma’am. She proudly says: ‘I persuaded women to get out of the house and recruited them for work. And soon I saw them becoming more independent and outspoken, even participating in demonstrations.’ Waffa felt that these women, stronger and more influential, could become the game changers for the Arab community in Israel. She concluded her speech by saying ‘we can’t fight for human rights, while we are suppressing a gender ourselves.’
The audience is remarkably mixed with Israeli-Arabs and Jews, which is very uncommon these days. A lively and sometimes loud debate follows, during which quite a few Jews speak fluent Arabic; no need to challenge the Arabs to break their teeth on a language that doesn’t allow them to fully express themselves. Sitting front row, I enjoy the intimacy of the simultaneous translation. I want to call my dad who speaks fluent Arabic as well and ask him why he didn’t teach me. I could have used it now.
Nachum is heir to a famous quote from the well-known Rabbi Menachem Freeman: ‘The settlers will be the fingers of Israel’s outstretched hand for peace.’ In his outpost he drives me around the area. He points out to me the crossroad where the three boys got kidnapped and killed last year — which instigated another bloody war in Gaza. After a while we meet Hassan, a Palestinian who also appears to be from 1973. They know each other well, we drink tea. Hassan says that the first twenty years were better, that being together was better. He describes the present poverty, the unbearable unemployment among Palestinians. Settlers like Nachum and Palestinians like Hassan seem to be aware of the power of reality. A reality which supersedes their conflicting ideologies. Whereas both leaderships failed to offer solutions to the conflict, they realise that they share a common destiny.
Nachum suggests to drop me at the main crossing. I see people hitchhiking. Two soldiers are stationed there, securing the bus stop. They stop every car with a Palestinian number plate — which are white these days. I don’t feel safe. ‘In my narrative, we didn’t occupy the land we occupied the people. I truly believe in the connection of my people to this land. It is our historical birth place. It is ours.’ Nachum shows no doubt. ‘My identity as a Jewish person is clear about this. Of course, they have another narrative and I am ready to listen to it and connect them both. The challenge is to understand and respect two different narratives. But I won’t disappear from here. Not even if I have to be a minority in Palestine under a Palestinian regime.’
Orki sits on his spacious balcony in his house in Beeri. Relaxing summer, lazy beat. He lives the harmonious, communal life in the kibbutz, financially secure. The kibbutz offers that kind of peace and comfort we only know from bungalow parks. With the difference being that Beeri has a front seat during the wars with Gaza: ‘We suffered many hits in the last episode of this on-going war. Actually, a long time ago we stopped calling it ‘war’, we talk about ‘an operation’. We do this since the Yom Kippur War, so it feels less big.’
During the last war, summer 2014, soldiers were everywhere in the kibbutz, resting, and ready for battle. ‘Four times a day or sometimes even more, the sound of the alarms filled the air. My youngest daughter stopped sleeping then, she continues to be afraid. It was horrible.’ The kibbutz is well-protected: each house has a build-in concrete bunker-room, each kindergarten and daycare is fully covered with a concrete roof. During the war however they evacuated most families to other parts of the country to hide. Still, Orki tells me, he lives a peaceful and creative life with his family in Beeri. He wholeheartedly wants peace, he would agree to give up territory, and if necessary all this lifestyle. ‘But honestly, I am not doing much for it. I don’t even vote.’ His trust in the system, in the leadership is close to zero, his apathy is striking. Sitting in his comfortable rocking chair he shows me how he could watch the missile launches, where they would rise into the sky — soon followed by anti-missiles coming closer and eventually: ‘boom!’. From here he was watching the war, while smoking a joint.
The song about ‘the children of 1973’ keeps coming back to me, this time via the car radio on my way home. This song is a true national anthem. Like many other symbols in Israel it is appropriated by the mainstream to be a ceremonial song. Completely deprived from its political meaning, from its accusation that our leaders failed to achieve peace. Rabin wasn’t given the time to fulfill his promise and maybe he never would, but in this wait for the unfulfilled promise our denial is encrypted as well, the passive attitude of a generation that is now in its 40’s and has to create the next promise to the new generation.