Saturday, March 14, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal ...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance ...
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

ecclesiastes 3:1-8

It's been a week since my arrival in Jerusalem. Not that anyone should be particularly shocked in this department, I am nevertheless happy to report that I have made it through, albeit with an unusually high number of oddities along the way.

For starters, here's the big news: I have decided to take a different route in my ethnographic research this time around. Instead of living in the midst of a Palestinian refugee camp, I am living with a group of young Jewish folks, many of whom have been raised to support the State of Israel without question or concern. Just last night, in fact, one made mention that he had gone the wrong way on a bus in "East Jerusalem", which is the side of town where the Palestinian folks are desperately trying to hang on as Israeli policies continue to displace them at will by destroying the homes that they build there. My new friend's hands issued a pair of "scare quotes" in the air while his eyebrows raised to his hairline. His expression told me that it was my job to agree with him that he was in the "wrong" side of town. Arab folks are the big, unknown scaries to my new set of friends here...

And so, here I am: fully embedded on the other side of the coin I only knew at a distance when I was living on the other side of the wall. And yes, it is as equally banal as it is incredible.

As one might imagine there are certain difficulties that I might encounter in doing such a thing. For starters, I have decided not to withhold any information about what I do and where I have been. There's no need to lie about the fact that I speak Arabic or the fact that I have spent time living in the West Bank. To anyone who asks, I am forthcoming (but very light) about my research. Inevitably, however, two things occur when I begin talking. First, I am asked to speak on behalf of all of the Palestinian people, which I am not in the position to do. Secondly, because my research is on women, I am then asked to weigh in on the issue of "feminism" more broadly, which I am also not in the position to do. In this sense, I am somehow supposed to clarify why some woman that a guy may or may not have met at one point in his life was rude to him for opening a door. Inevitably, I am asked to assure my audience that I do, in fact, wear a bra. In this vein, it becomes necessary to take the time to drop a bit of knowledge on the aforementioned interlocutors...

And frankly, it becomes exhausting.

The thing about doing what I am doing at the moment is that I made the decision to be mindful of the fact that I am here to learn. I'm not here to change the world. I'm not here to enlighten anyone of their ignorance, either. I could honestly care less. If anything, this would be arrogant, and I'm not in the business of bluster. It happens that I am embedded in this specific community for a number of reasons, which mostly pertain to the fact that I realize that there is a tremendous intellectual contribution to be made in doing so. For example, I am actually taking a course entitled "Zionism". Yes, it's actually called Zionism! On the very first day of class, I was asked to disclose whether or not I consider myself to be a Zionist. So fascinating. My way of looking at it is that I am here to learn from the masters themselves. Yes, the masters of Zionism. And so, yes, as uncomfortable as this would make a lot of people in my life, at the end of the day, I am a teacher who is here to be taught.

Margaret Atwood once wrote that it is impossible to bring down the master's house with the master's tools. I am sure that this will be worth exploring later on when time and space give me a generous helping of retrospect. But for now, I am learning about the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by living it from the perspective of the average Israeli-American Jewish folk. I am living in an apartment on a side of town where the tourists of this Holy Land will never see. I'm taking classes in Hebrew every day, and immersing myself in the traditions and social customs of The Chosen People. I remind myself on a daily, if not hourly basis, that I am here to "be". Elbow deep in Zionism, I have once again set out to find my way.

But in the meantime, I will be taking the time to go back over and see my friends in Bethlehem. I have recently learned that my Arabic tutor just lost her elderly husband two weeks ago. This was the man who once attempted to touch me inappropriately and blow toothless kisses at me when she left the room. I can't say that I am especially burdened by the information of his passing because his behavior caused me to visit far less than I would have liked. Still, I worry for her health and well-being. She is the only member of her family remaining in Bethlehem. I can only imagine her mental state at this point.

"To everything there is a season", the Big Book says. In this moment, I suppose it is only safe to work through each day with intention and hope that I'm sowing good things.


1 comment:

VJ said...

I must have missed this post. Interesting turn about, and I hope it all works out for you.

"And frankly, it becomes exhausting".[Speaking about defense of...]

Yes! And universally so too. Especially true for the feminism part, but also for almost any other position. The feminism part due to it's universal aspects that everyone seeks to understand and yet misunderstand at the same moment.

"Margaret Atwood once wrote that it is impossible to bring down the master's house with the master's tools".

Well yes & no on this one. You may not bring down the master's house with his tools. But long history has told us you can modify the house quite substantially with some diligence, fortitude, patience & good effort & industry. You can create new doors & windows. New entrance ways & vistas. You can add on rooms and expand the entire place. You can make common cause with neighbors and dismantle the once formidable fencing, for something a bit more fitting & functional. You can landscape differently, adding entire new terraces, water features & other needed & desired elements. You can add art, light, space, comfort & functionality.

People can do it & have. Legal systems have. Nations & traditions can do it too. Evolve. Sometimes it takes time & a willingness to see & imagine chances & change. Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'