People in glass houses
A Yiddish children’s song evokes the huge gap between the legacy of East European Jews and current sentiment in Israel.
[see our previous posting Palestinian schools should teach forms of resistance which includes Amira Hass’s earlier piece The inner syntax of Palestinian stone-throwingand responses to it;, and, below, Mairav Zonszein’s Israelis who don’t know occupation can’t preach to Palestinian stone-throwers: only those who have seen occupation can understand]
By Amira Hass | 15 April 2013
Stone-throwing features prominently in a children’s song that the mother of Yehoshua Kolodny, a Hebrew University geologist, sang to him. Kolodny, 79, won the Israel Prize for his work in earth science in 2010. He’s a native of Pinsk, today in Belarus.
A few weeks ago he attended an event at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque organized by the Center for the Defense of the Individual in honor of another Pinsk native, attorney Tamar Peleg-Sryck, who’s 87. Peleg-Sryck began studying law at 54 (in tandem with her work as assistant dean at a college’s art school).
In 1987, shortly after the so-called intifada of the stones broke out, she began working at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, where she remained until 1995. She then worked at the Palestinian branch of Defense for Children International, and for the past 15 years at the Center for the Defense of the Individual. She retired only recently from her work representing administrative detainees and other Palestinian detainees in military court.
Kolodny approached me with a mischievous look in his eyes in the Cinematheque’s mirror-paneled lobby and almost immediately began reciting lines from the song he had been brought up on. “Loifn polizei farbei − di kinder varfen shteyner.” (“The police are running to and fro − the children are throwing stones.”) He remembered it as a song of the Bund, the socialist Jewish workers’ union that advocated cultural autonomy. He believed the song had been written around 1905.
Jewish workers rise up
It turns out that the song, “Barikadn” (“Barricades”), was written in the 1920s and describes a workers’ uprising in Lodz. The author was Shmerke Kaczerginski, a communist and later a partisan − the man who in 1943 wrote the brilliant poem on Ponary, where 70,000 Vilna Jews were driven into pits by the Nazis and shot (as were gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and opponents of the Nazi regime). With a lullaby-like melody written in the Vilna Ghetto by 11-year-old Alexander Volkoviski (later Tamir), “Ponary” was a childhood song for many of us.
The morning after the event at the Cinematheque, Kolodny sent me the lyrics of “Barikadn” from the Hebrew website Zemereshet. The site also provides a Hebrew version − which, except for the definite article and some prepositions, bears no resemblance to the Yiddish original.
The first verse of the Hebrew version reads: “I went out to the field / And picked narcissus blossoms. / I saw a pretty young woman / And fell in love with her.” The huge distance from the original could be an essay on the topic of fear in the Land of Israel of the legacy of the Jewish workers’ movement in Eastern Europe − a legacy of resistance to oppression. Elik Elhanan, an expert on Yiddish literature (and who, like his father, took part in one of the Gaza flotillas that was intercepted by Israel), translated the lyrics for us from Yiddish to Hebrew:
Fathers, mothers and children
And groups of workers
Walk about in the streets.
At dawn, Father left home
To go to the factory.
He will not come back at all
To the room today.
The children know very well
That Father will not come.
He is out on the street,
Carrying his gun.
Mother also went out
To the street to sell apples.
The pots and pans
Stand orphaned in the kitchen.
There will be no supper,
Hannaleh tells everyone,
Because Mother has gone out
To help Father.
Suddenly: crack! A bullet
Pierces the little room,
And leaving a hole in the wall.
If that’s how things are, says Hannaleh,
Then, children, come with me!
Motye, bring the basket.
Meyerke, bring the table.
We’ll bring the bureau drawers
And the old barrel.
We’ll build barricades here
In the middle of the neighborhood.
The barricade stands.
Nobody stays in the room.
The police pass by running;
Children throw stones onto the street.
Supper? What supper?
The cannons roar.
The children of the house
Help their parents.
Fathers, mothers, children
And groups of workers
Walk about in the streets.
Elhanan added “onto the street” to make it rhyme. But Kolodny, the geology professor, wrote in an email: “[Stone-throwing] is therefore an old Jewish custom, and the children of the intifadas did not invent it.”
Stones of the opposite kind, of those with power, were thrown Thursday morning at Hammad-al Sleibi, who went to attend the plot of land he and his brother own in Wadi Abu Rish at Beit Omar. We’ve stopped counting the number of times the olive and fruit trees of these two elderly farmers from the village of Safa have been mutilated, and the number of times the two have been attacked by unknown, brazen men who come down from the settlement of Bat Ayin at the top of the hill, as I described in Haaretz on January 28.
That day the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by the Israel Defense Forces, police and Civil Administration to dismiss a petition by the Sleibi brothers submitted by Rabbis for Human Rights. The judges ordered the authorities to state why “they will take no additional measures to prevent attacks against the petitioners and their property.”
While no written response has been given so far on why the authorities can’t stop these routine attacks, Sleibi discovered Thursday that another 100 or so of his trees had been damaged: 55 3-year-old grapevines, 44 3-year-old olive trees, which had already been damaged two years ago, a quince tree and two mature olive trees.
As Sleibi walked dismayed among his amputated trees, several people who looked like observant Jews came down from the settlement and − according to Sleibi’s testimony − threw stones at him. He wasn’t hurt. This abuse of the Sleibi brothers, which seeks to drive them off their land, is another expression of Israel’s policy against the Palestinians. If this case stirred one-eighth the outrage my op-ed piece did on the right and duty to resist a foreign regime, the attackers wouldn’t feel so sure of themselves.
Only Those Who Have Seen Occupation Can Understand
Mairav Zonszein, 15 April 2013
Last week, veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass stirred up a controversy in the media here with an op-ed in Haaretz that opens: “Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” Hass, who has been living and reporting from the occupied Palestinian territories for 20 years, goes on to suggest that Palestinians should develop an educational curriculum on resistance to Israeli occupation that, for example, teaches to distinguish between soldiers as legitimate targets vs. civilians.
It was published just days after an Israeli court convicted a Palestinian of murder for throwing stones at a car in 2011, resulting in the death of the driver and his baby – and was the main argument of those who condemned her and the paper. Some went as far as to accuse her of inciting to violence.
Regardless of what one concludes about the article, or one’s stance on what constitutes legitimate resistance to Israel’s violent and protracted occupation, Hass is an example — albeit somewhat extreme — of an Israeli who has “crossed the line.” She has chosen to be exposed to life under occupation first hand, and thus capable of empathy with the Palestinians. Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean agreement or support, but it does mean having the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This is something practically impossible for the average Israeli to do, whose only experience in the West Bank, if at all, is either as a soldier, a settler, or maybe a tourist to a historical site.
Most Jewish Israelis will admit the “occupation” is bad, but few have ever gotten a taste of what it feels like to be anywhere near the receiving end of it. To do that you’d have to choose to experience it as a civilian alongside the Palestinian population, confronted with Israeli soldiers or settlers, which almost no Israelis do. No matter how liberal an Israeli you are, if you have not experienced it in some way, first hand, the concept of Israeli occupation has an entirely different meaning to you than someone who has.
This fact separates the majority of Israelis from the tiny minority of activists, journalists and NGO workers who have experienced it. I remember the first time I was in a West Bank village when the IDF entered and started shooting live gunfire. I remember the first time I saw little children in settlements no older than 8 or 9 throwing stones at Palestinians and myself and other Israeli activists; the first time an IDF soldier laid his hands on me and pushed me and repressed my right to protest. I remember being in the Bedouin village Al-Arakib (demolished over 40 times) when dozens of special army forces showed up at dawn in tanks, fully armed, to dismantle the homes of these citizens of Israel.
I remember when IDF soldiers stood and monitored Palestinian youths trying set up a little soccer field in the South Hebron Hills, just to make their presence known. I remember being arrested and watching countless other Palestinians and Israelis being arrested over and over again, for breaking absolutely no laws and causing no one harm.
These are incidents I had to see to believe. Once I experienced the plausibility of incidents that seem so implausible, they became a part of my working assumptions and impacted how I read every news item in the media about life here. I was an anti-occupation leftist before these experiences, but after them, I actually had a cognitive and physical understanding of just a bit of what it is like to be a Palestinian living under Israeli control.
An American journalist friend highly critical of Israel who recently visited the region for the first time told me that until he actually spent time in the West Bank, he found some reports he read back home showing Israel in a bad light so far-fetched that they were hard to believe. For example, a Palestinian detained after being assaulted in Hebron by a settler, who was not detained because, as the policeman explained, it was already the Sabbath. (Yes this happens, it just happened recently).
Most Jewish Israelis either don’t know what the government and army are capable of, or more likely are in denial about what the Israeli occupation is. Without actually spending time in the West Bank, it is impossible to comprehend how much violence Israel inflicts against Palestinians on a daily basis.
Hass’s empathy with the Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli control is deeply rooted in her exposure to and knowledge of the implications of that control, which she has been writing about for two decades. Her article addresses all those Israelis who have not crossed the geographic, ethnic, national, political and cognizant lines to see Israeli occupation with their own eyes. Out of sight really is out of mind, even in this tiny place. This is what ultimately separates the majority of Israeli society from the paucity of citizens who can see her article as an honest depiction of Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Jewish Israelis may have forms of resistance they prefer but it is ultimately not up to us as the occupier to decide how the occupied can resist.
Mairav Zonszein is a writer and editor based in Israel. She blogs at +972mag.com.