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aya kaniuk
on beauty, checkpoints
and metaphors

on beauty, checkpoints and metaphors

18 years old Nadim Bidan, three days after his birthday, put on a belt with twenty kilos of explosive imbedded with pieces of glass, brushed his teeth, shaved, washed meticulously, and thought that he needs a haircut, wore a white shirt and brown trousers and a coat although it was spring, and got on bus no 29 in Tel Aviv, sat next to a bent, gray haired man, who has no children, and ten minutes later when the bus reached the corner of Dizengof street and Gordon, and the traffic had just changed, he blew himself up, and the bus, and turned into fragments of dust, and murdered ten people who he didn't know or know their names, and scores of body pieces dispersed all over, and the smell of burnt hair and scorched flesh that will never leave all who were there on that morning, that Wednesday, a year and eight months ago, dispersed in the surrounding air.
Nadim, they will say afterwards, went to kill Jews.
Went to take revenge.
Not to kill those ten murdered. He didn't know it was them he was going to kill. He went to kill a symbol that they were its representatives. He went to kill what the word a Jew symbolized for him that is represented in any Jew just by being a Jew.
For him, the word Jew, was occupation. Was his life. The lack of his life, His life's annulment. It meant no childhood, and his nine years old sister who since they broke into their house in the night, in order to go up on the roof, and locked all of them in one room for a few hours, who still wets her pants, and it was his father, humiliated in Beit Ibba checkpoint half a year ago. A dignified elderly man, dressed in a suit, a good father, an ordinary father, that twenty three and three months old Mati Dekel decided that he had crossed the line.
What is the line? it is an imaginary line on the narrow concrete path where Palestinians must scramble and squeeze a few times a day anywhere they want to go to, or come from. On the way to the clinic, and to work, and to visit the grandmother, or to go to the fields or to the mall, or to give birth, or to receive dialysis. The concrete path in every checkpoint. The concrete path with the same, constant, similar principles: all Palestinians, because they are Palestinians are forbidden to move within their living space. Guilty, until proven otherwise.
Deep in the occupied territories, the entrance to Nablus, the way home.
Nadim and his father visited his father's sick older sister in Tzara probably for the last time, they arrived there easily, the soldiers when leaving Nablus didn't detain them, they stood in line, the soldier didn't even look, because exactly then he was giggling with the girl soldier, and because the rules are arbitrary and change, so they passed, transparent, and on the way back, because this is how the system works, each time different rules and regulations, one time all who are fifty and have brown hair are allowed, and another time not, one time everyone can, another time it is a stopping life procedure, and mostly and always it is an enhancement of the built-in, of the ingrained, which is prevention, and the specific harassment is according to the personal imagination of the on duty brute. This time Mati Dekel. A soldier as any soldier, a soldier in the occupation and oppression army, IOF, standing there with the sole purpose of making all Palestinians' life miserable just for being Palestinians. Mati said "you crossed the line. irj'ah, rooh, yalla... "I didn't cross it, I'm on my way home", said Nadim's father. "Are you being cheeky", said twenty three and three months old Mati Dekel, "go to the jorra (a name for the place soldiers 'stuff' the detained)". And he went. And Nadim went with him. And they sat there for a few hours, until night came, and then until the next morning, when new soldiers arrived and said "yalla, ruchoo", and they went. And Nadim swore that he will do to the Jews what Jews had done to his father.
Nadim didn't see the individual Mati Dekel, he saw a soldier, he saw a Jew, and when he decided to take revenge he didn't search for Mati Dekel, he looked for a representative, a symbol, someone who is a Jew like Mati, and as a Jew he is necessarily Mati, inherently malicious, abusive, guilty. A Jew.

What Nadim had done: a boy under occupation that never knew if he would ever arrive home at the end of the day, if he won't be killed because (always in retrospect) he held a Molotov, or threw stones... never knew if he will be detained for hours, in the lime, in the cold, in the heat, with his back turned, handcuffed or not, forced to crouch or not, if he will not arrive to school in time because today all, for instance, who have Nablus ids can't pass. Why? Because.
He, whose life isn't worthy, not perceived, not seen, Nadim, who every Jew just by being a Jew can (and more so, blessed and praised) stamp him, literally, just because he is a Palestinian, just for being a Palestinian, didn't perceive or see who he had killed. He didn't see Katia, a hard working woman, who has a five years old autistic child who would now be put in an institution where no one will care about her, he didn't see Haim, a boy like himself, who was about to refuse going into the army because he thought Israel was committing a crime against the Palestinian people and would not participate in doing so, he didn't see anyone, he didn't sieve them out or choose them, they were not human beings for him, they were Jews.

Israel does not see their faces. Israel is a terrorist state. What the one Nadim had done, a boy under occupation, desperate and cruel, whose life is no more than crumbs of dust, crushed and stamped on while still alive, who came and killed, and revenged those who did nothing to him, only because for him they were guilty because they carry the identity of the one who hurt him, and others like him, who hurt him day after day. What Nadim the individual had done, not the whole Palestinian people, only him, Israel, with all of her soldiers, and soldiers' parents, and those who are silent, does as a method. Israel upholds an oppression and terror regime of a whole nation. A nation who stamps on another nation. Who murders another people. What Nadim did, Israel does from morning to night as a system. She does not sieve out the guilty. Everyone is guilty. Guilty a-priori. Palestinians, this is their guilt,their crime, this is their essence, this is their fate.

The policy of the army in the territories is to hurt and strike the symbol, each Palestinian because he is a Palestinian. A priori to him, the particular, with no regard or relevance to his particularity, to his individuality, his personal name, his deeds, he is guilty, he is forbidden. At the very best he does not exist, but mostly he is an enemy, he is garbage, his life isn't worthy, isn't seen, his life and his death.
Israel does not look for those who are guilty.
Because all the Palestinian people are guilty, because they are Palestinians.

Nadim, and each and every one of his neighbors and friends and family members are not truly human beings for Israel, because had they been she wouldn't have put them in 'pens', denying them the right for living and health, and daily life, and their water resources, as a system, and killing them either with rifles, or by forbidding patients to arrive to the hospital, or because of imposing mal nutrition, and the rest trampling into crumbs of dust. Had they were human in her eyes she wouldn't have been there, in their lives, in between, with inner checkpoints and roads for Jews only. Palestinians for formal Israel are a symbol, a symbol representing in-humans, an enemy, or something in between.

A Palestinian is a metaphor.

Michal jumped from a twelve story building ten years ago. Rina said she had thought she was a bird. Dani had said it was because of him, although he hadn't known her and was in fact tied to a bed in a mental hospital up north. Mati who had been her boyfriend said she went to meet Jim Morrison. She was so beautiful it stung. Hurt. She spoke a lot of nonsense and I thought she was terribly superficial, but everyone always looked at her. In the university once, she got up on the table, just like that. All the boys followed her, the lecturer too. Maybe it all began with a "trip" she took when staying in Rina Shani's commune, but it was obvious that since a certain day she couldn't contain herself any more. It was as if she wanted to peel herself off herself. As if she can't (anymore) and there is no reason. I knew that she will die. It is difficult to explain but her fate was expected.
I want to tell what happened. We had an older one in the gang, it wasn't his age, more mature, his name was Meir. He used to say "there is no reality just interpretation", he told us about Rashumon before anyone had heard of Kurasawas or Chapek. He also really read Kant and Wittgenstein and not only chosen excerpts. "But reality exists, even if beyond reach, doesn't it?" I begged him, I literally begged.
He told me a story then.
"A brilliant young man, renowned in the village, for his unique wisdom, wanted to find out what was the meaning of life. So he learned and studied and wisened but didn't receive the answer to his question, so he left the village and studied further in other places, so maybe he would find out an answer to his question. He mastered many subjects, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Psychology, Biology, Literature, Biochemistry, he wrote and taught and his name and merit were known everywhere as a learned man, one of his kind, a prodigy, a scholar. Many years had passed. His name was carried by all. Known and admired all over the world.
At the dawn of his life it was said that he was going to return to the village he had left so many years before.
On the day of his arrival some gathered to wait for him on the path leading to the village. Those left, who knew him once, old and wrinkled, some barely standing, with heated, eager faces, full of expectation. He was the one who knows. When they saw him at the distance they stumbled towards him, and surrounded him. And with a trembling voice barely mustering his excitement one asked for all: "so what is the meaning of life?"
For a long moment the wise man was silent.
Then he answered: "A tree".
"A tree?" the man said with astonishment.
"Or not" answered the wise man".

I sometimes thought Meir's intelligence was a form of violence, of conceit, a big dark hole that he clutched with his mind's jaws. I also think he was in love with her and it confused him, because it was outside his controlled logic. His eyes drawn in spite of himself to her body lines, to her convexity, to the blood pounding underneath her greenish brown skin. Her cursed beauty.
Yes Meir, desire mellowed you, disheartened you, made your pride rigid, tightened to its utmost force, so to crumble into obedience. How little effect is left for reason against the quivering flesh on the raw nerves, against the nectar, the marrow...... Meir repent and became an orthodox Jew, and maybe he wasn't that smart. Michal is buried in a graveyard in Ramat Hasharon.
Everyone liked metaphors in those days. 'His look is silky', and 'she is flowing underneath the skin gnawing me with her honey teeth', 'these demons are surrounding me and gulping me with their foxy skin and immaculate breath'. We incessantly dandified ourselves with the intoxicating winding of language. We read poetry, and most of us were seeing psychologists already. Even then it was different with her.
I had a fascination then with inversion of word roots. I told them that like in the case of onomatopoeias, for instance, were there is a distinct relation between the words' physical essence and their tonal identity, that they are words especially in Hebrew, that has stayed very much the same as it were in the beginning, and very few other languages assimilated, that are close to the reason from which they were created, maybe the word and its meaning are wrapped in one another. Michal wrote the words all the time. She had a notebook and desperation had become brown painted circles around her eyes that just deepened her beauty. I now understand that her condition deteriorated all the time though we didn't notice. "I want to climb out of the word", she told me and burst out crying. There was so much desperation in her voice. But my heart was closed (to her) then. Not much after that she jumped off the roof.

I have a friend who is writing a story. In his story he walks down the street. His boots clicking, tapping. He would have wanted to be he who was walking, the sound of his boots, he who tells. He wanted to be a shape and contents, together. He wanted what she didn't want, what she dreaded, that the naming will be the essence, with no gap, but he only wanted and could not succeed, because he is strong, because his skin isn't perforated. She as if didn't have any skin, no wisdom. And maybe she was too beautiful.
"Maybe her beauty confined her to an impossible fantasy, people imposed upon her powers she didn't understand, didn't possess, that depended on the frightening fragility of time" Meir said when we left the graveyard. "I won't become ugly?" She used to howl at the corner of the observation room. Yes, sweetheart, you shall become ugly, don't depend on what you have no control over. You are all murderers I thought after Mati read the poem 'Pride' by the poetess Dalya Rabikovitz at her funeral and everyone cried. I dread the dwindling of memory. I want to carve her out of forgetfulness. Yes Meir, I know, to mould, to sculpt not to carve. Meir, who doesn't let me even for a moment, to forget that I only have the words I tell myself, the representation I impose from within, and that what I believe to be Michal, is only a possible angle, a point of view, a presentation in the brain of what is subject to the laws of the observing organism and its characteristics, and ways of sieving and encoding; one possible sculpture amongst others. And even if she exists, in some total way, independent, my interpretation is my only possession. My only reality. What is certain, is that when I knew Michal, the prism through which I told her to myself was woven out of jealousy and bitterness and other such feelings. I saw her the way it was necessary for me to see her. Now, the prism is undoubtedly different, and missing her seems so meaningless. Maybe I want her to live in order to be able to love her but I think that even had she lived again I would have felt towards her exactly the same. The future just doesn't have power over the past, and that's that. I think a lot about what Meir had said. That she was too beautiful. Maybe that is how it all connects. She definitely had an obsession with her beauty, and in that sense I blame the metaphors. My theory is that she committed suicide because of this.
Two days after she was hospitalized in the mental hospital Shalvata I came to visit her. Her face was swollen, and there was a strange rigidness in her limbs that later I was explained that was a parkinsonic condition which is a side affect of the medication she was taking. But other than that she was the same. Or so I thought. She introduced me to the other girls in her room. Nava was a very fat girl with a sewed smile on her face, like a twitch. Michal said that Nava sees the poetess Yona Volach above the clouds, there, she pointed at the corner of the room and giggled with happiness which seemed somehow distorted. Frida was a forty years old woman whose fingers were already black from cigarette smoking. Now and then she would burst out laughing and Michal had explained with enthusiasm that she hears voices who tell her jokes. Although it all sounded like lines from a poem, somehow all I felt was despondency. When I left, I thought, that the difference was, that unlike in poetry, the metaphors for the inmates were concrete. She who saw Yona Volach at the corner of the room which she called clouds, saw it in the same way which I now see that man with the sack full of oranges at the end of the bus, and when Nava told me how she walks down the street and becomes longer and shorter, and at the first moment I though to myself what an amazing existential metaphor. However from her point of view she was describing an objective reality, which wasn't more symbolic than the hideous scrapes the children carved on the seat in front of me.
The strongest thing that happened to me from all of this, is that I stopped loving poetry.
It isn't easy to explain the connection between her suicide and metaphors.

Or what is the connection between 18 years old Nadim who blew himself up in a bus and died and murdered ten people, and 20 and something years old Mati standing in Beit Ibba checkpoint day after day preventing people who did nothing to him from the simplest life possibilities like arriving to school, or work, or the hospital, just because they are Palestinians and metaphors.

The metaphor, is a possibility, a cognitive thinking possibility for dealing with reality, it evolved and sprung in the gap between stimulus and response, the space, that was refined through evolution, and is another facet of the immense flexibility of the human brain, which is expressed and manifested in the ability to find equivalences even in the most different phenomenon, and to place them one instead of the other. And this flexibility has an important survival role in dealing with unexpected situations. That is why it was refined and fixed in the evolution process. This ability has a role in a changing unfixed world, for which a rigid response cannot give a good enough survival answer.
There is a wide spectrum of places that reveal this flexibility; phenomena like sucking the thumb as a substitute for sucking the breast, because there must be a flexibility in the baby's brain in order to (discern and 'notice') that the thumb can be a substitute to what the breast means, and is. This is in some ways similar to our ability to create sentences like 'he has dark thoughts' or 'a fried idea'..... to metaphors.


But this possibility holds the edges, the pathological outcome like in Chaplin's 'Gold Rush' when the hero sees his friend as a turkey. The extent of his desire for food, his hunger, enhances to the absurd that congenital, built in capacity to identify and recognize similarity in such supposedly different things. To impose on his friend the inner mould of his desire.
Isn't like a metaphor? One thing which represents another, as a substitute, and requires some ability to recognize and see similarity in very different things. We call this ability symbolizing, or abstracting, or in the words of Psychoanalysts projection.
And language, culture, art and evil are derivatives of constant processes of substituting one thing for another.
It is the capability to see similarity which makes language a tool, that gives validity and meaning to art, and that enables genocide.

Warmth, sweetness and light for instance are an early powerful experience of satisfaction, ingrained in out biological nature. That is why they are so convenient to be used as ready made metaphors for experiences that carry a positive nature. 'A warm friendship'.... 'a sweet child'.... 'a bright mind'.... 'a brilliant deed'.....
The importance of desire for sweetness as an innate inclination and tendency is partly explained by sugar being immediate energy for the brain, and essential in stressful situations when immediate energy is needed.
The love of light, too, in rooted deep in our biological nature. Light represents and is, in the most universal wide spread way, the source of life, and all living creatures seem to have some built in, congenital relation to it.

'Black' for instance represents mostly metaphors carrying a negative value, negative meaning, echoing danger, or disaster. Is may be because black represents the night the inability to see, danger, lack of control, and the inversion and opposite of light which represents life, and is a symbol of life. It may be why black is used for metaphors carrying a negative value like 'dark thoughts'..... 'I had a black day'..... 'a shady dark personality'.... 'a black soul'.

Height too is used as a metaphor carrying positive value. Man forever depends on nature in order to live, and is helpless in front of its dangers. Nature 'begot' the first identities of the gods, and the hierarchy of the gods in all cultures has connection to the natural conditions they live in. Nature, mostly, comes from above..... and maybe the same innate relation to light is also manifested in the fact that the sun god or the sky god everywhere, in all cultures, will stand high, prominent, in the ladder of importance, and was also the first monotheistic god.
Is that why blond hair and blue eyes seem to be considered beauty symbols, or is it all culture oriented depending who has the power, who are those in power who determine what prototype the world will revolve and unfold according to, and its inclination and taste and physiognomical features become the ultimate beauty, the prototype beauty, not in the eyes of the beholder but as if by a deeper objective meaning....
The western religions it seems sprung from this religious magical world, and absorbed the high and low coordinators as having bearing upon value, (while low may have been imbued with negativity also for being the inversion and opposite of high, and not necessarily because of anything deriving from its nature itself). This way 'supreme, upper power'.... 'the nether world'...
This is what I read somewhere....

And what between all this and Michal? that this possible tendency to experience a visual quality as equivalent to a moral quality is not only as a result of improper upbringing, it isn't only because of some behavioral flaw or limitation, it expresses what is natural.
That what is natural can be horrible.... on the same continuity line... what is a surviving tool with wonders at its end, it, in itself, enables people to be nothing to each other....

For an animal, a cockroach is always a cockroach, no more no less, and a man just a man.... For a man and only for a man, only for he who exists in language, a man can be a cockroach.
Why do certain features, certain convexities a synonyms for 'beauty', and why on earth is 'beauty' a metaphor for positive value?

What is Michal's road of death made of?

Is it this rotten culture and the interwoven connections between beauty and value, woven in the fabric of language. With fairytales you grow on where the beautiful are wise and good and the ugly are bad, as if their physical characteristics express their moral value.

With many mammals, an instinctive preference was imprinted through evolution towards features, and characteristics that will make sure, of the birth, of stronger healthier offspring, with better potential to survive. In the case of humans, an instinctive inclination and preference for the visual appearance of characteristics with biological value.
Like healthy, durable, young, symmetrical, that are contained in what we call beauty, no? So it could be that beauty as a metaphor for positive value is rooted in this congenital preference for characteristics with potential biological positive value (positive not in terms of morality but evolutionary wise).
Does 'black' however carry an inherent meaning, value, or is it culture dependent, is the word beauty as a synonym for something 'good', with moral quality, inherent or learned - are not the questions I can answer nor am I putting them forth for discussion.
All that I care to do is to show the presence of visual symbols of value in the lingo, in common language, and beauty in particular - as inherent to language, to thinking, as inseparable to the congenital structure of the human mind, and as a result in man's sense of reality and the horrible implications that derive from this. The danger that lurks in the automatic and natural linking between physical reality and value. Because on a person whose skin is black one might assume and project characteristics which carry a negative nature, just because black is used as a negative metaphor of value.

There is a manipulative use in all sectors of life, of the instinctive inclination towards visual characteristics, which acts subversively underneath consciousness: in advertising, propaganda, brain washing, art, psychology and in the other daily manipulation in the media...

It was a few years ago, when I worked in the bookstore Keter, when I met Mati who was her boyfriend, again, who still looked like Jim Morrison although it seemed rather pathetic. "She loved you" he told me and my heart twinged. "She was a beautiful girl who wanted to be somebody else's story. She wanted something"... We spoke a little, there wasn't much to say. "Hey seller, are you willing to stop lecturing and give me a good book". That was all I needed. "A good book?" I turned to him with ridicule and anger that confused him for a moment. "You want a book with characteristics of generosity and love of the other... is 'good' any particular information, or maybe, let me dare say, what you are asking me for a book that critics said is 'good', and you of course don't even consider the possibility that it is nothing but their personal, private, taste, rendered as universal". "Babe, do you have a good book or I'm going to Steimatzki?" It is hard to explain what happened to me at that moment. Maybe what frightened me the most was that in spite of my judgemental condescending aggression towards him I knew exactly what he wanted. It wasn't that I didn't know that I was talking like a mad woman, that everyone is staring at me, that there is no justification for my hysteria but I suddenly became very concentrated, with a kind of peace, emptiness in my stomach, my mind crystal clear, and I felt my thinking like a sharp fine chisel. "You understand, that is why she died, you murdered her, you and this language, you and the metaphors". Tears were pouring and wetting my shirt. From the corner of my eye I saw Mati felt uncomfortable and ashamed that he was with me but I didn't care. I think that up to that moment I hadn't realized how much pain was left with me since then. What void her death had left in me. I had to speak and they were standing there. So I spoke to them. I think my voice didn't stop trembling. It isn't as if I was exactly thinking of Michal. It just that everything was connected all of a sudden, and got a new and precise meaning. They are moments like that. It is hard to explain.
"You understand", I went on talking to all the astonished customers, but maybe I was really just looking at Mati. "It's like children-soldiers who will die 'a heroe's death' on the alter of death metaphors, where every dead becomes special here, distinguished, wonderful and holy, you can be quite ordinary, not liked, or popular or wise or anything, but after you died you have become a hero.... it is you and I who murdered her, like the poets murder so many poor children who are trapped, and have no choice but to be trapped, because language doesn't only interpret, or mediates between us and life. It is in itself life, reality.

And I am quite sure that when the tangibility of death changes from poetry to prose, when it really is close to the threshold, when it really happens, not only intellectually, when dying begins and the body is screaming with pain of the flesh, no metaphor will hug the one who suffers and is about to die with a last hug. This is what happened to Michal. She was trapped in the fetters of the metaphor. She suffocated under the terrible meaning they 'read' in her beauty. She didn't have means to break out to release herself. People linked her beauty with meaning, inherent, and wove quality in her beauty which wasn't eternal, that probably existed only as concept, in the eyes of those who saw it. You understand, she who I was jealous of, she that people always wanted, suffocated and perished from the attention given to her through this treacherous route, that of her beauty. She was scared the walls crumbled, there was no floor, no skin, only the sound of the approaching axe. The brittle nature of time, how right you were, Meir. She didn't have enough confidence, enough wisdom not to be drawn into these death traps. To develop an independent personality, which the sense of worthiness that accompanies it, is not subordinated to time which cannot be clutched, or controlled or trusted... she wanted to break out of the word, I didn't understand it then. She wanted to be released from the metaphor".
I saw he was shocked, embarrassment was welded in his face but I had no compassion for him, no mercy. "I haven't thought about her in a long time" he stuttered, blushing, "and I have a girlfriend for the last nine years". God, how stupid he is I thought before I stopped seeing him. I think by then I just stood and cried when Nitza the bookstore manager hugged me gently and led me to the office.

And why am telling, speaking, now, about Michal. I can't explain, only that all these lurking metaphors, 'purity of arms', 'killing for family-honor's sake', a man as a synonym for character, a woman as a synonym for weakness, I don't know, maybe because of the checkpoints, maybe because what Israel does to the Palestinians and because I feel it cannot be stopped, and that it is happening a breath away but they aren't eyes that see.... or they are, but choose not to....

Do you remember the murder of the taxi driver from Herzelia, it was already many years ago, three fifteen year old's 'of a good family' murdered a taxi driver, was then published. If it had been a Palestinian taxi driver then they would not have murdered but killed. 'Of a good family', how many undertones are folded in this sentence. How many assumptions, and preconceptions. 'Good', a word which represents a moral value, is a synonym to an economic ethnic class, to the extent that no clarification is needed. Them being Ashkenazi is welded and imbued with their being 'of a good family'. If they were from another ethnic group or class they wouldn't have been 'of a good family' any more? The word is used as a preposition. 'Of a good family' is of a better family. Is the 'higher' (height as a value metaphor) race, economically speaking, does the white Ashkenazi ethnic group, represent necessarily, inherently, congenitally, superiority of moral value? By the way, I'm not looking at the crime but the debate about it, and at the language with which the incident was chosen to be depicted. About the reality revealed through the words that tell it. And about the a priori interpretation and outlook on life and the layers of information which aren't relevant, that are exposed in this talk.
The discussion is about Michal and me and about the brute and bully Mati Dekel who serves in Beit Ibba checkpoint, and the problem when a very laden terminology like this, when blurring between physical descriptions like color or beauty, or characteristics like race or economic state and values, not only represents reality but also creates it. The term 'of a good family' is equivalent to the term Jew once, and Palestinian today, or Black once and today as an abusive term, representing a moral inclination according to race. That way different groups are born to a priori identities with different imbued assumed value characteristics which are not determined by and don't derive from them as individuals.

And that - as we heard years ago in the conversations after the massacre that was committed by the Jew Baruch Goldstein in Hebron towards Palestinians, that a Jew is always a victim, as an identity, as an inherent characteristic not depending on his actions. Whether the abuser or the abused, the chaser or the chased, the murderer or the murdered. And if he is a victim he isn't the attacker. And if territories are 'released' and not 'occupied', and settlers are 'pioneers', and the occupying army is the 'defense army', and checkpoints are 'passages' and Palestinian is not an individual with a private name and a personal identity, an who he is and what he is derives from it, a Palestinian isn't a who but a what, he is a concept who represents the enemy, a principle of a man, his identity and inclination are unrelated to his particularity, because he isn't particular, he isn't a private person, he is a concept, which comes prior to his individual identity, he is an essence which is a priori to him - is the evidence and testimony. The testimony and evidence of the existence of the evasive and elusive killer within us.

This gap between stimulus and response, the delay mechanism, the flexibility, the possibility of finding substitutes for the automatic rigid procedures in an unpredictable, un fixed changing world, and in a world of language (sublimation and search for meaning and metaphors), at one end is art and poetry and at the other end it is what emerged one day on an evening of a Wednesday at Qalandiya checkpoint about a year ago. One man, not old, not young, arrived with a big new samovar. They just put in the revolving obstacles, the turnstiles.
He arrived and couldn't pass with the samovar through the contraption. And there was this one soldier with soft, tender eyes and long lashes, whose long hands are woven with veins and with bright affability said 'I'll take the Samovar for you'.
We were all stunned. That a soldier will agree to pass the samovar through a convenient doorway. And won't purposely (if the chance is given) deny, anything that the Palestinian wants, and won't allow someone to be squashed and crushed inside the turnstile the revolving obstruction if chance occurs. That was beyond belief.
And the man stood in line, and it took time, like always, and he crossed and passed to the other side and asked for his samovar.
"I gave it" explained the soldier affably.
"You gave it?"
"Yes", the soldier looked bewildered and slightly surprised, young, innocent and cruel.

The soldier received the samovar from a Palestinian and gave it to a Palestinian.
He didn't realize there was a problem. Because he didn't see a private person in front of him, he saw a caption, an ethnic identity, and when he took the samovar he took away from a Palestinian and returned it to another Palestinian, that from his angle is identical to the one he received the samovar from, because his identity is his race... because for the soldier a Palestinian isn't a person, a particular one, who was born and has a name. A Palestinian is a symbol, and all Palestinians are representatives of the symbol. A Palestinian is an essence. He isn't an individual.
A Palestinian isn't a private person, a Palestinian is a metaphor.

The metaphor which is part of our biological nature, part of our ability to deal with unexpected situations, means for survival developed and refined through evolution, is also sometimes our moral grave.

My aunt told me that according to Judaism god created the world with a word. There was chaos which is like saying there was everything, then god said: Let there be light. And there was light and there was the world. The word didn't create the light, god didn't create the light, he gave it a name, because the demarcation creates the reality. One cannot separate reality from the word, the naming. Maybe when Michal wrote the words, incessantly, it was as if she was trying to pin herself into something. As if the concreteness of the pen, pressed on and into the sheet of paper, was a wedge, in her world which started crumbling. The inevitable distance between the name and the object, the inaccessibility of life, for her wasn't a philosophy. When she wanted to 'extract' herself out of the word, it wasn't yet another metaphor.
Our preoccupation with words which gave us a sense of uniqueness, for her was only chaos. Bricks on the path upon which she was pounding along right in front of us to her ruin.
It would not have helped Michal to know that her existence was carved into me, that I cannot undo her. She lies in wait for me in bookstores, lurks in the words I say, or write, she lights up meaningless and the meaningless of the preoccupation with it, she cries out of the poem 'you have chosen us of all'.... or 'don't say your essence is from the earth, it is from he who died instead of you'.... from the massacre in Hebron, from damn Qalandiya checkpoint, and from the prevalent sentence commonly reiterated by the soldiers, the oppression, and occupation soldiers: "they" know... Michal, to me, is a metaphor. The word Michal binds the sense of no way out, the need to break out, the staleness, the edges of the past, the lack of choice but to live without answers, the ambiguity between taste and value. Her hangman, is my walls, my protection. And she, she isn't anything. I didn't love her, and I wouldn't of loved her more, had she been alive. I create her in a way which makes her meaningful, however, she could have been like that as well as different, depending who tells, depending who listens.

 
 
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