Tel Aviv Diary August 5, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from August 5, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

August 5, 2003

The Hudna seems to be deteriorating almost beyond repair. We free prisoners who tried to kill us but didn't succeed and feel strange about that - they say it is a joke. People are disappearing here daily, shot at, etc. and we too break the truce. We uproot olive trees for the fence - there is an outcry about the value and history of the trees - and we plant them somewhere else. (Were we going to do it anyway? Was this another photo-op we planned and screwed up?)

The daily call-in question here on channel 2 news this morning was - should we leave the settlements outside the fence? - and the answer seems to be yes.

I thought to escape it all yesterday when I went for my annual multistation checkup at Ichilov. It's one of those systems where you sit in a waiting space in the middle of a whole bunch of doctors' and technicians' offices and get called in for one test after another. It's a great system except sometimes it gets a little boring in the few minutes between visits. So yesterday I had for company some very important government person.

And here's the big scoop on government: he was more interested in getting his certificate of health so that he can lift weights than he was in solving the political and economic problems of the country with me.

Now I know this must be a shock to you. But even when we were nearly finished with our tests, and the challenges of cardiograms and hearing acuity had been met, he just wanted to talk about how to stay up to date with colloquial English... was still traumatized by the first time someone in washinton said to him, "take care" and he stood frozen in the hallway for a very long moment trying to figure out what it could possibly mean.

He may not be too smart, but he's a cool guy.

And he's in great shape.

I hope they give his something to do in the government soon.

I mention all this because it is still true in Israel that the actual physical distance between leaders and citizens is not that great. It means that there can be an impact. That politicians can be influenced by the people, even if our represnetation system sucks.

As long as the politician is not Bibi.

It has been a while since I've discussed our old friend, Kurt Gerron. Not because I have lost interest in him (we still discuss issues together and he still irritates me in his yeke-ness - but since he's only a portrait I can just leave the room when it gets to be too much). But because all the material I ordered about him from all over has not arrived. The film that was up for an oscar this year, "Prisoner of Paradise," about his filming "Hitler Builds a Town for the Jews" seems to have disappeared - it wasn't shown on PTV as far as I know, and is unavailable for purchase. The film about his organization of artists in Theresienstat, "Kurt Gerron's Carosel," was sent to me months ago, but never arrived.

But perhaps I will move for a time to a spin-off of the story of Kurt Gerron's portrait. The story of the painter.

All I know of Shalom Sebba, or Siegfried Sebba, was that he came to Israel from Germany before WWII, painted like crazy, and, becoming disillusioned by the materialism here, returned to Germany in the 70's.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the greatest painters in Israel, and deserves a place up there with the greater modernist painters like Beckmann, but his politics (like with Gerron) were not politically correct at the time. That is, he, like Gerron, has been ignored by the Israeli and the German culture - in part because both are something of a PC embarassment.

Which is why i despise PC in art.

It always limits vision.

And now the film arrived - and of course i dropped everything to watch it - and of course the character of the man, Kurt Gerron, fills up the screen. Even though there is so little known about him except his professional ardor and great success, his great tragedy is so clear and so understandable to me: a person who thinks that being the best artist possible will save his life.

why do you think i keep a diary?

August 6, 2003

Think of it, you are an actor who has swayed millions of people in the 70 films you've made, in the countless performances and cabarets and stage appearances. Your only fear is of not being noticed (I have a letter Gerron wrote to a critic in Vienna in 1929 complaining that he didn't mention Gerron in his review. "Was I so bad?" he whines.) You make a movie in Theresienstat having been ordered and promised your life will be spared. You are sure that getting all these people on film will also protect them from terrible fates. Everyone is looking to you to save them with your art. And then the actors disappear. And then you are on your knees before the commandant pleading for your life, reminding him of his promise. And then you are brought handcuffed to Auschwitz...

Lehavdil as they say in hebrew. I don't mean to assume a comparison in the dimensions of the situation, but when I started this diary I was sure i was in mortal danger daily, and that those i love as well. Documenting their situation would somehow lesson this danger, mollify it, give it significance.

Now we are not in the same kind of danger - not only because there is for the time being a hudna and the number of attacks have lessened, but also because we are far better equipped to identify and deal with THIS kind of terror.

We are, however, in a far greater danger. Not just because people are disappearing here in the middle of their lives - like Eliezar Zusia and Dana Bennet - but also because we're totally confused and lost. Today, on the eve of Tisha B'Av, the mourning of the destruction of the Temple, we are so fear-driven we can't find solutions to simple problems. The problems seems to become more and more complex. Take the fence. When the government was against it, I was saying "Good Fences make Good Neighbors." Then as the terror increased it seemed obvious that we have to separate, and it looked like "Bad neighbors need good fences." Then as the fences started to get built in places that seem to be only tangentially related to any agreed=upon borders, it began to look like 'spite fences.' but if their idea of the border is a few meters past the sea shore how many alternatives are there?

So, to return to me and Kurt and the role of the artist, i know from kurt's experience that art does not save us. And i know that whatever i document, it will change daily, and i will only be getting a sliver of the perspective. And i will get angry letters from people who say i am too one or the other.

and so i keep a diary.

Hen just sent me these photographs of Dana Benett, missing for a week already.

Hen also sent me this site Hevra Hadasha. It is a pretty amazing new cultural and political organization but it's only in Hebrew at the moment.

so is Corinna's diary . take a look.

Robert wrote me to ask why I didn't write about the Palestinian prisoners who were freed today, and it made me think about how angry I was at it. Shulamit Aloni said tonight that we are a nation who negotiates through power and not through reconciliation. And this one-sided gesture, freeing prisoners who were due to get out anyway soon or even today, instead of negotiating a list of people to be released, is proof Aloni is right.

August 6, 2003

Today is Tisha B'Av, the mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. So this is a day when we should be reviewing history. Learning from our mistakes - the temple was destroyed because of 'gratuitous hate' it is said, and today the media is filled with people voicing their anger at the freeing of the Palestinian prisoners. Sharon said - it had no significance. And indeed it doesn't - and even showed to Palestinians that if we can screw them out of a photo-op we're satisfied. In other words, we are not real partners for peace. There is a real reason for their feeling of being insulted here. Even Bush wasn't impressed by this 'gesture' and returned to the subject of the sadistic fence we're putting up.

Now these are mistakes we can still learn from. Gratuitous hatred was our downfall then and will be again. Unless we learn.

And yet, we do seem to learn sometimes. Today's Haaretz magazine has a cover article on Agi Mishol, a wonderful Israeli poet, whose poem "Shaheeda" (something like suicide bomberess in english) is translated at the end. I don't know why she's getting such mainstream coverage, but its great!

Robert Whitehill, whose mind and knowledge I greatly respect, sees it completely differently:

The so called road map says nothing about prisoners in the first place, and Israel would be foolish to release any but the least dangerous. Why do you think Abbas wants them back? so they can play mah jonng with their grandmothers? The various terrorist groups are using the hudna for recruitment----and seasoned terrorists are quite in demand.

Bush, contrary to what I understand from your diary, was, according to inside reports, not at all sympathetic to Abba's complaints about the prisoners.

Nor was he sympathetic to the bluff that the PA is currently trying to pull: to crack down on "militant" groups would bring about a "civil war" in the PA, so goes the official line in the PA, despite the fact that the road map does talk about the PA's cracking down on terrorists.

As for Israel working out of strength, to the dismay of Shulamit Aloni, what region of what planet are we talking about?

The hudna was called in the first place because the Palestinians came to the conclusion that they had lost the latest intifada. If they were winning, do you think that they would have stopped, even to regroup?

Note that the prisoners in the buses --there were lots of photo opps in all the press here---the huggings and the weepings, the joyful mothers and grandmothers and all that-- in most of the phoots the prisoners were holding up the V for victory sign. for them victory does not mean two states living side by side, and it never has.

Your diary today was written as if the delusional Oslo talks and all the murderous events of the past three years had never taken place. I would have agreed with you if you had written this in 1993 --but today? Puh-leeze. Although I continue to disagree with some of the conclusions, and still think we have to be as honest and straightforward as possible, especially in the light of all the corruption and deceit that keep coming out about this government, and making unwelcome gestures is something to avoid, this is a very good and significant case, no?

August 8, 2003

because - as thoreau said - my life is the poem i would have writ, but i could not both live and utter it, i will have to talk about today tomorrow. Sorry

for a hint, check out BarbiAugust 9, 2003

I promised a little report about/from yesterday but that too will be abbreviated and serialized as today goes on. AS you see I'm falling behind.

That's one of the reasons I haven't been writing about the personal/political experience lately. The other is that whereas once upon a time it was important to write every day in order to show friends and loved ones i was still alive, at this point writing every day demands a terrible constant criticism of myself and the society around me. Not only what i write about but what i choose to DO. Why am i not demonstrating about Gilad Sharon or the demolition of a house or any of the hundreds of events that are in need of attention? Why have I not attempted to organize educators against the abominable ministry of education - run by fear and ignorance? why have i not visited the minister of culture again and again or written to people i know about the budget closeouts for the arts and literature here? whateve i do i haven't done something equally or more worthy somewhere else. and it kills me to admit it to myself. to admit it on these pages is even harder. but it also relieves a bit of guilt, and that's even worse.

Nevertheless life goes on as usual around here.

One day: After the usual Friday sex morning (sex is an anagram for 'siddurim, kniot, sponja' - or chores, shopping, floor cleaning) we headed for Steve's birthday party in Omer. And because we used to go to Beer Sheva a lot and know the road well from the past (I went twice a week for 4 years in the 70's when i taught there - Ezi built the silos near Lahav) we can recognize every dune, every tree, and wonder at all the changes - new roads, trees, crops, houses, etc. What's more we hit awful traffic, accidents and unexplained roadblocks both ways so we got to see even more of the scenery than we wanted. Instead of 1 1/2 hours on the way back we took about 3, for example. But the watermelons and camel combination was almost worth it. (Of course the party and the people were wonderful, but that's not part of this journal, right?)

and at one in the morning we found ourselves at Barbi listening to the wonderful Sharon Moldavi (at his best), Dudi Levi and Dan Toren. Three seasoned singers - with four versatile and professional musicians - reminding me at close intervals of the heyday of israeli rock in the late eighties.

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