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natna נתנה
part one 'חלק א

מאת איה קניוק
by aya kaniuk

Giotto : Saint Francis*
Santa Croce, Florence


I've always suspected givers.

Can't buy me cheaply on that one. People do what's best for them. What they need for themselves. Giving is one more thing people do. Some like to sail, others love car racing and little children. Someone likes to go mountain-climbing, someone else enjoys giving, and yet another doesn't. Nothing wrong with that, as long as whoever does it likes to do it, but it's just another way to some people to be themselves, because that's the way they are, no more, no less.
What I really admire is when someone sees. The other. As he or she really is. According to who he or she is. But that is for another story.

"I want to give of myself," said Gal Yardeni at the end of high school when I asked him why he was trying out for all the army crack recon units. "You don't say", I chuckled, looking not that favorably at his exuberance. His pretentiousness. His empty clichés. Army-boot manhood.
"Why?" I asked Ran Itali whom I considered more refined. "Someone has to do it", he told me. Rhinoceros, I thought to myself, who're you putting on, I know everything.
I mean you always had all those hot brand-name sneakers and majored in math and physics even though you loved Bible study so much, because those were brand names and that's where all the 'brains', go so now, too, you're choosing what's cool, never mind what it is, never mind what it means to serve in the army, what you'll actually be doing there.

"Why?" I asked Ditza, the store manager, pleading, because she is grownup, she's no adolescent, "Why are you pushing him to choose what only appears to be his own choice, but is in fact yours. Why him?" "We raised our kids to contribute to society" she said. Convinced, reassuring herself. Sacrificing her children, for the sake of 'bourgeois' values; a shallow, easy life, of togetherness, of the herd, of 'do what everyone does, regardless', the value of 'equality by grace of identity, not of action', where children follow the rules of the tribe, for bourgeois life reigns supreme and everything is enslaved to it.
And I left my job.

A possible child named Nuwar sits in a little house in Gaza, waiting for his death. He doesn't yet know he'll die, and whoever will kill him doesn't know that he will, the fate of both is sealed.
He who will kill him is also a child, just a bit older, a grown 18-year old, no special traits about him nor any special intention, as normal as they come, a born rhinoceros, typical of his age and epoch.
Now he is a child, in a year he'll be bullying soldier, another year and he'll be a killer, an abuser, a starver. He'll be an oppressor, necessarily, he'll prevent people from moving around their lives, he'll trample them for he'll be a soldier.

A boy will graduate high school, enlist in the 'Israel Defense Forces'. In order to give of himself, his mother says, contribute to society, for he is a citizen and someone has to do it, and he's better than others, she'll say, his devoted mother, proud, offering him in sacrifice.

No, not youthful juices and the herd instinct pushed him to serve in the army, but rather a noble social commitment. Not because that's what everyone does, because it's automatic, because it's not easy not to, because it's 'in', because it's respected, because it's to be like everyone. For what if everyone will refuse, he learned to say, and someone has to, and serving in the army means contributing to society, his Leftist father will say, who was in the army, and in the reserves, and oppressed and shot and wept and oppressed and wept and got wounded, four times, and once he saved his buddy's life. To contribute means to serve, that's the law, never mind what you contribute, never mind what the law says, synonyms, identical terms.
To contribute by stoning a woman, if that's the law, is that a contribution?
Guarding a concentration camp, if that's the law, is that a contribution?
This is no concentration camp. Okay, it's not. But if it were? Then yes. If that's the law. But it's not.
That's how it's written in the nation's dictionary. In history's blood. "You have chosen us over all other nations to carry your throne, and you collect our blood in jars for it has no other gatherer".

This year's hot crack unit is the Matkal Recon Unit. All the cool guys want in.
Not because it's 'in', not because it's respected, a brand. Because it's noble, it's more of a contribution. Giving. Not just any kid. A high-quality kid. With brand shoes and an A in astrophysics, and he's been raised to give of himself, so he's been running on the sand dunes for a year now to shape up, and lifting weights, all in order to give of himself, to everyone, to society, to others. It's not at all about him, it's for the sake of others that he's done pre-military training. To sacrifice himself. It's for the sake of the State and its security, and because someone has to go. He's been raised to contribute, so he's trying to get into Matkal Recon, or pilot training, doing 400 push-ups a day in pre-military training. That's why he's going for pilots' training or crack recon units, and not for quartermaster or artillery. For the sake of our homeland. For our sake.

Another two years and he'll commit murder.
No, not murder. No. No, not kill. No way. He'll eliminate. Assassinate. Targeted assassination. From his air-conditioned plane. To the sound of his Ipod. Up in the clouds. A great kid. Nature-lover. Dreamer. Enjoys hiking, and giving of himself.
Top-quality guy. He'll take down the faceless top-terrorist and his entire family,
I mean, why were they there in the first place? It's not fair. What beasts.
He's not like them. He's alone. Between the mountains and the clouds, not in a house, in a neighborhood, in a town, not among innocents. He is different. A Jew. He kills because he is good. Because he is so good, he kills. Because he is good. He is a Jew. He's not at home so that someone will come and assassinate him. Only he will die, not the innocents. For he's not like them. Oh, no - he does not assault the symbols of the group from which someone came out and hit, if he hit. He acts within the law, not as a member of some unlawful organization. He acts on behalf of the State. He's no terrorist. A State terrorist is no terrorist. He's a soldier. A soldier is no terrorist.
A soldier is within the law.
But no one will come take him down. They have no planes and sights and the strongest army in the Middle East. They launch Qassam, not sophisticated one-ton bombs. He's not like them. He's no primitive. He's modern. He's sophisticated, and proud, he's an A-student in biophysics, and in literature.
Sorry, in bio-sneakers, or is it bio-loafers, or bio-homeland.
Not literature, God forbid.

A boy. And boys will be boys. As silly as a boy. Predictable and ridiculous.
A child of his time. Aiming to please. And do the normal thing. One of the fold, Consumed with local norms of youth. Just as, when everyone else wore jeans with three rips, he did, too, because he's top-quality, he's crack unit material, full-blooded, and he's got not three but five rips in his jeans, for he really wants to do his part, and when everybody enlists, so does he, but not plainly enlist, no. That would be the automatic thoughtless pattern that only secondarily and habitually mobilizes fancy clichés of sacrifice and contribution.
Oh, no. He's not enlisting like everyone because that's what they do. He's enlisting because he wants to defend his homeland. He's thought about it, pondered over it day and night, deliberating whether to join Matkal Recon or the GSS death-squads, or be a pilot, or top secret intelligence operative. So secret that people's eyes nearly pop out for sheer envy. It's so absolutely top secret.
No, he went in with a will to give of himself. For others' sake. Not his own.

Another year and he'll be a brute. A murderer. An abuser. Another year, even if still a child in age, he'll be a criminal. For the sake of obedience, or of norm. For the sake of his parents.

Saint Francis is said to have given everything. His shoes. His food.
And what did he get?
His sense of religious superiority. The sense of fulfillment, the finesse of his asceticism to which he has surrendered with growing passion, the passion of abstention… One could also say of little Hussam that he did it for his own sake, and it's true, he had to, needed to rest a bit from this mess the world keeps handing him. And they, too, the saints, perhaps they wanted to earn the sympathy of everyone, that too is true, and it's true that it's all in the eye of the beholder, and that nothing exists in itself, and there is nothing but language, and even if all we have are mediators, who have traits, that get mixed up, and go find out what is the world.
Still, the second time I saw Hussam (and I didn't know his name is Hussam, and he didn't know my name is Aya), and he didn't remember me, he only saw I had lost a glove, and he ran, a little child under Occupation, five years old, with packs of chewing gum in his hand, and gave me the glove, and smiled. And I thought, perhaps he wasn't giving but rather taking, I mean that's what he learned, that one must, or that God is looking on and tick off his daily deeds, or because it's in the genes so that evolution pushes him to do this, to spurt his genetic chances, but first and last, he gave. He gave me the glove.

The Occupation gave me Qalandiya. I must say this, too.

I don't know whether she wanted to be Jesus or Prince Michkin when she was little. But surely it was an obsession. Like tearing out your hair until you go bald, or washing your hands until the skin peels off and eczema sets in. And her compulsion was – 'giving'. She gave all the time. As though she'd die if she didn't. And, in fact, that's what finally happened. Strangely, she disgusted me. I say strangely because she just wouldn't stop giving me things. She gave me plenty. Everything she thought I lacked. Another strange thing, perhaps, was that I hated her, I think mainly because I took from her. This crazy, exceptional generosity tempted me. I think we don't ever tend to love whoever gives us. And eventually there's just guilt. And guilt is a kind of hatred. There are those who give in order to be loved a little. The pit of non-love they feel is so large that they think that if only they'll give enough, this pit will be filled, perhaps something will fill it, perhaps they'll be loved just a bit. Or they'll just have permission to be, just to be. But it simply doesn't go together, and that's that. And there are those who give in order to gain some kind of control. Again, you are tempted and you take from them, but you sense the sharp edge of that concealed, subversive righteousness.

My Israeli grandmother was a bit like that, I remember, she was already dying, and I stayed with her for a while, sometimes filling in for my aunt. My grandmother had to be active as much as possible, and not depend on anyone for as long as possible, even though at times her need to do things on her own was really nerve-wracking, I mean after all it's easier to spoon feed someone rather than have everything spilling out. Okay, since then I've already learned how selfish that thought of mine was. And how insensitive. And what really counts. And that it was perhaps the last bit of respect she could demand. But that's not the point now. Anyway, I bought her a thermos bottle. I thought it was a good idea. The kind that retains heat, but could also be used to neatly pour water into a cup of tea or coffee. I thought she'd be glad. This way she could have guests, once in a while. "Why did you bring me this?" Her voice got harsh, and mean lines stood out around her mouth. She was very beautiful, but at such mean moments those lines would stand out and look like black streaks, and her mouth would be drawn in. That's my nightmare, those lines. I don't mind wrinkles, and white hair, and loose skin, only those furrows around the mouth. "Why did you bring me this?" Her voice sounded accusing. "I didn't give you anything". Looking back, I think that in spite of this she had been a kind grandmother. Actually she gave according to some kind of unbreakable rules. She opened bank accounts for us, and went to pay health insurance for my father, who resembles a 4-year old in anything that simply touches life. Who might complain he has no money and then hand out 500 shekels to someone going from door to door selling old Rumanian napkins. But her giving was always overbearing. And receiving would totally disorient her. Perhaps this was how she would lose control, I think. I mean receiving, just like that, not for a holiday or birthday. I learned from all of this how important it is to know how to receive as well, and it's hard for me, too, at times. And I also inherited this compulsion to give, not always considerate of the other's needs or feelings. For example, I had a poor neighbor, and when he wanted to give me something, like ice-cream, or a book, I would cringe and want to scream – no way, why, keep it, I mean what have you got anyway… but I would take it because I remembered her. And how I should learn to welcome such people's need of giving. And to know how much happiness this might cause them, just like that. For no complex psychological reason.
Because of the smile that breaks out all over your face when he hands you something, or because your eyes would suddenly shine to him, for he suddenly thought of you, saw you, and gave you something, however small. The joy of giving because someone needs, and you don't. And there's that simple joy, so accessible, that gives a sense of balance to this chaos everywhere. Like scattered pieces of a puzzle that would all fit if someone put them together. There was another instance with my grandmother. A really bad one. someone came to visit her and asked for a phone token. Public phones still worked on tokens back then, which now sounds like pre-history. Anyway she didn't have one on her, so I offered a token. What's a token, after all. I didn't think twice and hadn't noticed then what I later recalled, those lines around her mouth, like sharply ploughed furrows… I should have known.
She sent me to the post office, to the healthcare clinic, when my aunt couldn't go. When I got back she was standing. She was already wheelchair-ridden by that time and we had to hold her head straight so it wouldn't collapse. She was standing. Her purse was open, and she said, with real revulsion, "there", as though handing me some filth. "No, Grandma, why?" I was all confused, and how for heaven's sake did she manage to stand up with all that cancer all over her body.
My father would swallow two valiums before coming to visit her and at least another two afterwards. I thought about him then. "Here", she repeated harshly, her voice somber and crushing and I thought then, even if this sounds really sick, that she would kill me if I don't take that token from her.

So there was this girl who wasn't really sane. It's terribly cruel with the insane. Because there should be a place in the world where everyone is treated as equal. The way it's supposed to work with priests. Or in hospital, except it doesn't work that way. And she made everyone sick. The first time she was hospitalized, she gave her pajamas to someone she thought was cold. On top of everything else, her nudity was repulsive. She was a walking skeleton for she would always force her own food on others. "Get dressed right now!" nurse Ita yelled at her, revolted. And everyone agreed with her. Her thinness was not pitiful, just sickening.
And perhaps that's why she did it all, for the sake of not being hated.
Now I think about her with a sort of compassion. But that's because she is already dead, and I don't have to hate her any more – for she no longer makes me feel guilty and humiliated while accepting her gifts, and hate her for not being strong enough to refuse them – with that inner disguise that this is her own need, and that after all the stuff is terribly practical, so why not… She had this habit, when she was thanked, of making this kind of dismissing hand-gesture, like saying 'oh, nonsense', and changing the subject. She had money from social security, a pittance. And even that she handed out to embarrassed people on the street. When she ran out of money she gave her shoes, such stuff. Even when she volunteered with elderly people they complained she was impossible, and didn't even explain. She had to be told to leave.
After all everyone is cruel. Just somewhat differently.

The last thing that happened was when, at a bus-stop on Ben Yehudah St. she saw a woman without a hand. Right there on the corner next to a florist stand. So she went there and asked them to borrow a pair of garden sheers for a moment, then went to that woman, up close, and cut her own hand off and handed it to the woman. The woman passed out. An ambulance and the police were alerted. And took her away. That very night she died of blood poisoning. I don't know if it's something to laugh about, but she got the wrong hand. She was right-handed so instinctively she hacked off her own left hand. The crippled woman had no right hand. The bus-stop was all splattered with blood.

The first thing I did after hearing what had happened was to collect everything she had ever given me. A radio and a stove and clothes and shoes and bookshelves and books and socks and a television set… and went to the empty lot not far from my place which was about to turn into a construction site. And burned it all. I poured some benzene over everything and waited for it all to disappear. And then I poured more benzene over the ashes and lit it up again. And again. And again. Until morning, perhaps, I don't remember exactly. I was hospitalized when I started begging her forgiveness. For burning.
Why did I incinerate the stuff. It was like burning her up. They don't understand, they might think I'm crazy too, and they did, and they're probably still thinking that. And I really don't care.
But all my life, like a prayer, like an oath, I'll be begging her forgiveness.
Why did I burn it all, it was like depriving her of all meaning. Like erasing her. Why, why did I have to do that, why didn't I hold back.
So what if she had an obsession. So what. Who doesn't. So what if she was ungraceful. So what. After all, she had this pit, this huge fear in her, and she tried to abate it. And what had she done, for heaven's sake, she gave. She gave. Who ever gives anyone anything.

All in all when I try to think about Hussam and about her and about my Israeli grandmother it doesn't really matter why they gave or whether and to what extent it was in order to receive something in return or how much they wanted that or not for what did they do, after all, they gave. Hussam gave me corn on the cob and a smile and was ready to give me his little yellow car-model and she gave me anything I lay my eyes on and my grandmother gave me a savings account with which I bought a bicycle, and all in all it's rather nice to receive something, what's so terrible about that.

Years have gone by. At first, any time I would take something from someone, every time I said yes, I would pinch myself blue, for I'd remember her. With the years I no longer did anything like that. Just thought. And after some more years I no longer said, before sleeping, 'God, in whom I don't believe, forgive me. I didn't mean it. I never meant to burn all her stuff.'

I have mended since then, I think, as much as possible. I don't feel that guilt, that Molech-like needs to be fed all the time, with sacrifices, like a pulse, and I'm no longer burning holes with my imagination instead of touching and instead of bearing life's complexity.
I don't do awful things or wonderful things, and sometimes a day goes by and I think it was really good and have coffee and a cookie, and for a moment there's just so much air in every direction.

What I know now, is that I cannot bear or accept the word 'giving' in the context of army service. Just can't. Call it sick and commit me again, but I'll stand anywhere in town and in the world and say, and say once more, that this is not giving. It's many things, all bad. It's actually maintaining something that is wrong and criminal, and it's trampling, and oppressing, and taking people and crushing them. Regardless if everyone does this, or that this is how things are done or that this is the law. All this doesn't change what that is, regardless.

Words are reality's borders. That's true. The world is revealed through their echoes and is saturated with them. Not the word 'guilt' is proof of reality, nor the word 'Occupation' nor the word 'love'. It's the deeds that do. The acts. The word is only a word. No more than that.
When young and old say that service in the Occupation and Oppression Forces is 'giving', it's just a word. A cliché borrowed from Christianity. Instead of looking in the mirror. Instead of standing out. Instead of paying a price. Instead of really seeing the 'other'. Instead of giving up the warmth of togetherness regardless.

Let them go oppress Palestinians if they want, trample them with their boots and mark a V for every murder victim and call him exterminated or targeted or detained or wanted, let them eject their youthful urge playing with the lives of others only because they can do it, but don' let them say this is 'giving'. It's not only irritating and exhausting, it's really really an exaggeration.

Now I think that because she was so caught up in her own obsessions she didn't realize the Palestinian people even existed, but I forgive her. I forgive her anything.
Not just because she's dead. She just had no more room. Really. She didn't.

But only now I know what it is to give. For years have passed, and because I've met someone but I'm not going to tell about her because she's not connected to this. Only that I've learned that at least as far as I'm concerned, giving means that the fact that the other is whoever he or she is, makes you happy, not because of being your own extension, or for you or instead of you or against anyone. It's not a contradiction of anything. It doesn't give anything nor take anything away. It's as natural as sneezing, or eating when hungry, or blinking away the dust. That's giving. And there are such moments. Very small. Without which life would be just one sunless black trail.

Translated by Tal Haran

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