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איה קניוק על שקופים ושקופות
aya kaniuk
about those who aren't






Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

W.H. Auden

I, too, was transparent once. It happened in a dream. I dreamt I was lying in Shalvata Psychiatric Hospital, on a wide bed, tied to it by hands and feet. It was morning, doctors' rounds.

At the end of the world, doctors' rounds are something to look forward to. Normally the morning shift, having read the night shift's report, chatted a bit and had some coffee, would make the rounds through the ward. Usually the professor, usually a man, another doctor, usually a woman, some nurses, at times a male nurse, usually Arab – proceed as a group from bed to bed, patient to patient.
In a world of nothingness, a void stretched out in all directions, throughout a timeless place – the days being one shapeless mass with no beginning nor end – the doctors' rounds are an event of sorts, a certain significance. For you who are tagged. Namesake of your illness. For a brief moment you are contained. Well, not by the name given you at birth, not by your individual identity, rather by how you've been diagnosed. These are your limits. Your essence. Still, eyes surround you suddenly, a slight smile, a pat, a banal question not waiting for an answer, moments of grace at Shalvata Psychiatric Hospital.

That morning, in the dream, I hear them coming closer. I lie there, looking, waiting, they'll be here any minute now. They'll look, soon they'll stop, and then one of them, probably the professor who doesn't know me will ask for my name, and a nurse or the other doctor will tell him something in a hurried whisper, and then he'll smile, that professional smile they acquire, just like that inevitably illegible handwriting, for, after all, they're doctors. And he'll ask me something like 'Well, and how are you today?', or 'Aya… Why did they call you Aya?' and they'll all smile. Their lips will twist in unison, a chorus of twisted mouths, and a voice of one of them, probably the other doctor, in a sing-song usually meant for children or retarded people or the elderly, will say something like 'I see you had a nice nap yesterday afternoon. Good for you!' and before I manage to answer, or think, some will repeat in this flattened niceness that has already shaved me off, 'Good for you!' already turning away, too fast, leaving this huge pothole in their wake.

So here they were about o arrive. They were already standing around Martha in the next bed on my right, Martha who hears voices telling her jokes, and I'm thinking after all what am I and my dull problems compared to Martha's voices, I just couldn't take it all any more and that was that, and was sorry I didn't have something more interesting. And here is the end of the smile meant for her, and she doesn't care either way. Just like them, she doesn't see a thing. They're not even their professional tags as far as she's concerned, only a backdrop for her own world that she never stops knowing and hearing no matter what. And they turn towards my bed, they'll be with me any minute now. They are coming closer, I look, their gaze traveling around and through me, I wait, my eyes braced, and then they pass me by, not stopping.
I am in a state of shock. This cannot be happening. My heart is pounding, and it can be through the air conditioners throughout the room, the ward. They did not see me. I am not there. They saw nothing. They gazed through me and over and behind and around me. I am transparent.
'I'm here!' I scream. But my mouth is closed. Sewn shut. My voice is mere air. 'Stop!' I groan, my lips glued together. 'Look at me', my voice, invisible, un-witnessed, sawing through the silence. A transparent voice. 'I’m schizophrenic' I shriek. 'Depressed. Border-line. Listen!' My vocal cords are frozen. 'I'm here', I sob out, but my tears evaporate. 'I'll be anything you like' I promise. Beg. 'I won't rebel. I won't say
I have a name. I won't say I'm a person. I won't say that I'm not just a disease. I won't say a thing. Just stop. Just see me for a moment. Please. Hear me. Contain me. I promise you not to get out', I scream, my voice molten. 'Tie me forever, take these hands, these second ones, I'll never complain. I won't say I was offended day before yesterday when you passed by too fast or didn't listen when I answered you, or that this professional childish tone of yours is patronizing, and with it you negate my being, you don't see humans. I won't complain even to my own self that I said saying something to you and you just looked through me as if I were only what is written there in your thoughts, and files, and illness reports. Yes I am merely an illness. I admit it. You are right. A mere word. So she is flattened out – what of it? No more than a terminus technicus, so what? You're right. I have neither past nor name. Only criteria. Only characteristics. I'm right there in the latest DSM issue. I just said I'm catalogued and buried. I was wrong. I am nothing. Just please stop. Just look. Just surround me for a moment. Just for one moment. So I'll be something. Not a thing, a word in a language. Contained in one's face and eyes. Just stop by me, please, just see me, for a moment.'

I woke up drenched in sweat, heart pounding. It had just been a nightmare.

On a Wednesday evening at Checkpoint Qalandiya, a man – neither young nor old – arrived with a big new samovar. Just after the turnstiles had been installed. Some time has passed since.
He arrived and couldn't manage the obstacle with his samovar. And one soldier, his eyes soft and long-lashed, his long hands woven with veins, said pleasantly, 'I'll take your samovar.'
And we were all amazed at the soldier who agreed to carry the samovar over for him to the other side of the turnstile, amazed that he would not let a person be crushed there as the opportunity presented itself.
And the man stood in line, and it took time, as it always does, and crossed and reached the other side, and asked for his samovar.
'I gave it' the soldier explained, pleasantly.
'You gave it?'
'Yes' the soldier looked at him with wonder, young and naïve and cruel.

The soldier received the samovar from a Palestinian and gave it to a Palestinian.
One word, one identity, one essence, one person.
He did not see a problem. His eyes wondered, almost offended.
He didn't see a particular individual, one or the other. He saw a category, an ethnicity, and took the samovar from its hands and returned it to another Palestinian who, from his point of view, was identical to the one from whom he took it, for his identity is his ethnicity.

For the soldier a Palestinian is not a human being, a particular individual who was born and given a name. A Palestinian is a symbol, an essence.
A Palestinian is a metaphor. Not a who, but a what - a Palestinian.

The Palestinian people is transparent. This human mass that has no face, no nuance, no particularities - is transparent. Its humanity is transparent.

This is no dream.

Last week at the central bus station, on my way to Tel Aviv, two soldiers stood very close to me. As usual I contracted my belly and held my breath as long as I could, shutting some internal eyes, waiting… Soldiers. I don't see a thing. I don't want to… Can't bear the actual fact of the guns dangling from their shoulders, and their uniforms and what they necessarily do because they are soldiers and all of that so close, so crowded, I don't want it, I don't see it, I don't look, I hardly breathe. Soon they'll go away, soon I'll think of something else. And then I hear, 'How are you?'
This can't be meant for me. Still, I look. A soldier. With a rifle. How can a soldier be saying hello to me? Then I recognize him. A soldier from Qalandiya smiles at me, embarrassed, next to him – a friend. And I smile back at him. It happens automatically, in spite of myself, in spite of everything. I smile at him, too, and answer, pleasantly, confused – 'And how are you?' Out of context. Away from Qalandiya.
I have seen this soldier dozens of times. A soldier in the Army of Occupation and Oppression, the Israel Terror Forces, one of the keepers of Checkpoint Qalandiya, a full partner to the denial of people's right and privilege to move around in their own land, from their home to their home, within their lives, to work and to hospital and to the village or to town to visit their aging mother. An active partner by the mere fact that he stands there, a willing partner to the fact that children from the refugee camp are being shot and murdered and will be slain because it has been decreed, it is so integral. Partner to the fact that people are beaten up, prevented from reaching their dialysis treatment or school or gas station. Partner to the fact that Yusef, the vendor who is just trying to make a living is beaten up for coming back to the checkpoint again and again, and all the dresses and trousers he was selling were thrown to the ground. Whether it was this soldier who raised the butt of his rifle and thrust it at Ibrahim, and beat him up some more, or only kept silent while others did, whether he himself urged "Git, git!" or just persisted in whatever he was doing, whether it was he who pointed that particular rifle and shot 14-year old Omar Matar with a live bullet in his neck as the child was running away, Omar Matar who died, murdered – it makes no difference, for this soldier was there, took part, stood by and with, a more or less prominent screw, thicker or thinner, in the apparatus of evil known as Qalandiya, known as the Occupation.
And I was there facing him. At Checkpoint Qalandiya. Dozens of times. Watching him work. Harass. Maintain this sinister reign that aims to injure for injury's sake. I, angry, fuming, hated and hating, I, who watched time after time, not greeting him, seeing him as a criminal, responsible. And here it was me that he greeted, intimately, at the central bus station. For my ethnicity is stronger than myself. Because the color of my skin and my accent are stronger and even more concrete for him than my hatred for him and for what he represents, more than my wish – which he does not even begin to guess – that he not be allowed to travel freely in Europe, that countries will shut their borders at his face, for having served, for having necessarily committed crimes as a soldiers. That people in the street will yell at him, 'Scum! What have you done?!' and slam doors and windows at his face. He greeted me, who am seen not in my name but my identity, my proper identity, at me he smiles. My hate is transparent, not seen. My existence - that emerges in spite of myself and my opinions - is the flip side, the identical inverse of the Palestinians' transparency.

How are you? And you? At the Tel Aviv central station we greet, part, he off to the duties of the Occupation, I to the duties of resistance, two "Jews" (as a metaphor, for at least in my case it's not even exactly correct. And who knows how "Jewish" he is, come to think of it… But in the metaphoric world in which the Palestinian people is occupied and persecuted, yes we are "Jews", whether we really are or not) in a racist occupation one cannot refrain from maintaining.

He is the son of my past friend. I say past because she will never again be my friend after I say what I am about to say.
He stands in the turret of a tank. His rolled-up sleeves reveal his light-skinned forearms, first time in the sun this year. No body hair is visible. Perhaps because he is fair. He smiles at the camera.
In two days and four hours' time he will kill.
This time, in Lebanon.
A soldier. In a tank. A symbol of beauty. Purity. Grace. Morality. Perfect childishness. Barely budding maturity. Heart-warming.
His mother, who was my friend, looked at his picture, her face bathed in warmth.

How can you.
How can you rejoice.
How can you be proud.
How can you send him off to kill and die.

This fair-armed boy sits inside a tank. Bearing a canon. Whose duty is to shoot. Shoot to kill.

Now tell me, I say to her, how the hell can such a thing arouse tenderness in you? Pride? A warm motherly thrill? Would the executioner of the greatest criminals (convicted in court) be photographed standing by the electric chair? If you were his mother, would you look at his snapshot by the electric chair and hum with embarrassed pride?

That's right, you wouldn't, and he wouldn’t have his picture taken, I agree with you. But why not? Why? After all, he kills those who deserve to die. He is your son. He is moral because he is your son. And just because he is your son. The son of your race. So why not feel tenderly proud, looking at his picture by the electric chair which he would be about to operate?
How is he different from your son who is about to shoot a shell from his tank, which will reach the bad or the good guys as they try to escape their collapsing home? Why would that other possible son of yours who exercises the laws of his society and executes people whose guilt has been proven not as handsome and as moral and winning and pure-looking as your own actual son standing in the turret of this movable electric chair?

Very simple. Killing is killing is killing. And a murder weapon that is meant to kill, whether the bad guys or the good guys – oops, our mistake –cannot be a symbol of goodness.

Tell me, how many people will your son kill? How much blood will drip from his hands? How much life was and is no longer, because of him? Because of you? Because of your hollow captive obedient vanity?

Your son is still alive. Full of the nectar of youth, manly and trite and cruel.

How many dead-in-vain pass through this terrible failure of language?

And even if he goes on calling whoever he killed 'terrorist' just because he killed. And even if he goes on saying he saved the lives of 'Jews' when all that happened is that the lives of Jews and those who are not Jews have become cheap, because for every pounding he and his mates carry out, the Hizballah shot back just as it had promised.
Kill us, they said, and we'll blast you. Promised and were true to their word. They also said, if you don't kill us, we will not blast you. Your son saved no one, he murdered. The poor Lebanese people who were sacrificed by everyone, and the Israelis who were murdered as a result of flat, dull racism and the imbecile manly lust for fighting.

You sent him. And he went.

With me in the psychiatric hospital was a poor lonely woman who wanted love more than anything, and did not get it. Neither from her mother nor from anyone else. When she swallowed all the pills, one by one, I think of her imagining herself dead and everyone mourning her, knowing they had not loved her, and feeling bad. Knowing she had indeed existed, and remembering and regretting terribly. And so it happened. After she died everyone knew she had existed and wanted love and never got any and they all felt terribly guilty. But now she was already dead.

I got out of the hospital. Untied. In my new, other life, doctors who know nothing of my DSM name look at me without knowing my former transparency.
I am not the name of my disease. I am not nothing.
No one ever ties me to a bed, or ever will.
The different, however, is that my former transparency was not called the enemy.
And even if I had no name but that of my disease, still whoever did not know my name at lease tried to help me, as far as he knew. For even without seeing me amidst myself, amidst the words that surrounded me, stronger than me, without knowing who I am or taking the trouble the know the possibility that I am myself. I was in a grave. But a grave from which one can get out. Possibly. For even if not according to the doctors who will only see my properties as a function of a certain moment and not of myself, of my medical diagnosis, still for whoever is no doctor I have a name. I have a name of soemone who has a name. A 'Jewish' someone.

He was perhaps nineteen or twenty even if he looked younger. He stood by the roadside at Burin Junction (also named Yitzhar after the neighboring illegal Jewish settlement). And we passed by him and he looked, and his gaze stayed, stopped, gripped, and he said "sabah al kheir!" (Good morning) and we stopped. He held out his two hands, his mouth trembling even though he tried to hide this, exposing the inside of his wrists, painfully young, skin that does not yet know its hourglass too has already been turned upside-down, skin that knows nothing of its near, fated end… On his wrists were fierce fresh red marks. Soldiers detained him, as they always do, because they feel like it, took him out of the cab, because they can, and told him to kneel on the ground, and handcuffed him for hours, there on the roadside. And then they released him, for that's the way it is, this is the Occupation… He was not trying to complain through us. And he did not ask for any help. He just wanted to tell us what had happened to him, and be contained by our eyes, in the name of his pain, in the name of the injustice he had endured. In the name of his youth that is hacked off day in day out by over-privileged youngsters his age who do not see him as a human being, who have no name for him, see him only as one of his race. He wanted to be contained there for a moment. To be with a name.

At the hospital was – probably still is – someone who had once been a soldier. He shot himself in the palm of his hand, got discharged from the army and was committed.
Been there ever since. In a place without time. All he does is sculpt. 'I am a sculptor' he introduces himself, and holds out a hand. The center of his palm shows an old wound that has gathered in the edges of skin and left the palm of his hand somewhat cupped, never able to straighten out, some of whose nerves are deadened. He cannot write with this hand, or sculpt anything with it, only shake another's hand.
For hours on end he would stand in the ward, next to the potted plants of all places, his back to everyone, facing that sculpture of his that no one else can see. He takes transparent clay from a transparent bowl by the not-transparent flowerpots. Slowly he smears the transparent clay onto the transparent sculpture that is coming into being.

Was it he who once hit one boy or another. Who restrained or shot or beat up those faceless ones, crushed them in the name of their namelessness, denied their existence and murdered them for their blood does not flow, for they are not like 'us', for they do not hurt, for they are brown, for they are only what "they" are, they who aren't anything. Is he now sculpting transparent sculptures and claiming they are real because of what he did in the army, in view of what he did for the mere fact of his being a soldier and as such he did what he did if he was there; negated someone who has a name. And in the name of his namelessness, abused him one way or another in the name of his own name, and the name of his race, the name of his justice.

Probably not. He probably just could not take it any more.

When I think back to this boy at Burin Junction who showed us his wrists and wanted to be contained, I remember again and again that I did not ask his name. I wanted to but was afraid of seeming rude, invasive, asking for what he did not volunteer to say. I did not dare to ask before I said my own, and I don't speak Arabic and hardly understood anyway, what Tami later explained to me in length. I did not get around to it. And I want so badly to go back in time to that Saturday and ask him 'what is your name?' and tell him mine and say to him, you have a name. You do.

‘As soon as we put something into words, we devalue it in a strange way. We think we have plunged into the depths of the abyss, and when we return to the surface the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer resembles the sea from which it comes. We delude ourselves that we have discovered a wonderful treasure trove, and when we return to the light of day we find that we have brought back only false stones and shards of glass; and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered.’
The lava ash raining over Pompeii enveloped the molten bodies as they were, and created a phenomenon so strange and earthshaking to the mind's eye – bodies of nothingness, witnessing the absent being that has been consumed and left its outline, its impression, its testimony, its screaming nothingness.

The Palestinian people exists, breathes, groans, millions of people who have names, every one of them. Even if he or she are not seen or contained as and in the name of their names and rights by the occupiers, (some or most of those who belong to the occupier's 'race', and who each have a name too) who trample on and through them as if they were transparent.
And just as silence is not silent, the Palestinians' non-being shrieks out of the flattened gaze, flattening… Their transparent names rises inside history and rips the silence of an indifferent universe.

Their voice will be heard. Their non-being flows inside the blood of the skies, and if today is bad, tomorrow will be worse, until it will get better.
Until things will change.
It is doubtful whether Israeli Jews and their offspring, full of occupation supremacy and losing their humanity, will be witness to this change. They are probably denying the 'other''s name and their own ability to live in this region for any length of time.

The words that have become a cliché that is no cliché – 'a people without a land came to a land without a people' – exist like punctuation marks, within the pulse, inside the sun and clouds, inside the dust seen in rays of light.

Nelly Sachs said of those who came out of the Holocaust: We came back without footsteps.

But they did not come back without footsteps.

There was a people in this land, there is a people in this land, there is no walking without footsteps, there is no silence devoid of speech, there are no transparent people.

Translated by Tal Haran

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