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Enough!- Another Israeli-American Says No to Zionism

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Rachel

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*This is a work of Creative Non-Fiction which was awarded best in its category by the SUNY Geneseo English Department*

 

 

Rachel

     Rachel Corrie was twenty three years old when she left the comfort of her home in Olympia, Washington to fight and die for what she believed, while I spent my days riding horses. Little did I know at the time what an impact she would have on me; the anxiety, the guilt and above all, the shame that were born with her death and the events that followed are memories I will always carry with me and regret.

     What is referred to as The Second Israeli Intifada was ignited in 2000 when Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud party, accompanied by a troop of bodyguards, barged into the Palestinian section of Jerusalem to visit the Al Aksa Mosque or, by its Jewish name, TempleMount. As is the case with nearly everything in Israel, the side you happened to be born on, separated by only a few kilometers, shapes your world entirely. What Israelis call targeted killings of militants, Palestinians refer to as the murder of innocent civilians. Where Palestinians see martyrs for the cause, Israelis see hateful, fanatic slaughterers. What Israelis see as a meter high “security fence” with a man made embankment built up to its edge, planted with flowers, watered by a dripper system, the Palestinians see as a nine meter high cement wall tormenting them, watching their every move. And as an American Israeli I was considered both a friend and an enemy. Above all I was confused.

     I say that Sharon was the one to ignite it all though this is probably an unfair statement; since its establishment in 1948, Israel has been a melting pot of cultures, religions and ideologies, a pot that never settled.  A pot that went through periods of overflowing, where the thick red stew, the color of blood, spilled over the rim sizzled and hissed as it dropped onto the flames, the times of war.  In between these were the intervals where the embers underneath cooled, where borders or political leaders were exchanged and it appeared as if this godforsaken fire might finally die out.  This never happened. There was always someone to fan the ashes until a spark appeared and set the cycle in motion again.  Maybe it was just the desert breeze.

     I can remember now the footage of the Palestinian father and son hiding behind a cement block in the street as Israeli soldiers fired profusely at them and other civilians who ran away screaming. I remember the suicide bombers detonating themselves in front of malls, in crowded markets, on buses and right in front of the photo shop where we had our pictures developed. I remember the stories of children shot dead by soldiers for playing in the streets after curfew and the false condolences from the army afterwards. I remember the women in labor detained on their way to hospitals while troops searched the ambulance for weapons and explosives. I remember the news: “Two airplanes have hit the WorldTradeCenter” and a woman who worked at my stable saying: “Now those Americans will know how it feels.”

     This was the way of life I had become accustomed to.  Despite the atrocities that were occurring all around me, I was never truly scared to go about my daily routines. I went to the movies, the mall, out to restaurants (even to one that had been a site of a suicide bomb in the past) without a care.  It’s hard to explain how I could feel so safe in a time of such danger; but this was life, I couldn’t change it. The winter of 2003 was coming to an end and in two months I would be fifteen years old.

     The old saying, “opposites attract”, couldn’t have applied more to two people than my parents; My mother, Patricia, attended a Catholic elementary school, was a cheerleader in middle school, and upon graduation from high school, went on to two years in a community college because there was an unspoken understanding while she was growing up that her task in life was to study typing and eventually marry.  When she was twenty one she left her parents’ home, after I suspect, an argument with her father, moved into a small apartment in “The City” and began working for an insurance company. She brags and tells me she used to have a secretary and wear sophisticated suits and heels to work. My father, Yaron, is the son of Holocaust survivors, a First Generation Israeli, a Sabra. After high school (where he was often caught smoking in the classroom; after all, it was the seventies), he went on, like all Israelis, to serve in the army where he moved up in the ranks to Company Commander.  Once his time in the military was served he went on to pursue a civil engineering degree at PolytechnicUniversity in New York City and met my mother. My father ate his eggs over-easy and made them with olive-oil; my Mother ate hers scrambled with butter. My mother was a runner; my father completely disregarded his physical health. My mother loved to dance; my father may just as well have had three left feet. My father was Jewish, my mother was Catholic, a “Shiksa“, and my grandparents threatened to disown my father unless she converted, which she did halfheartedly.

     In 1992, when my Grandfather’s health and age began hindering his capability to manage the family business, he asked my father, who was raising his young family in New York (which consisted of me, age four and my sister Ava, a year and a half), to return to Israel and assist him.  Five years he told my mother, we’ll try it for five years. Ironically, during our fifth year in Israel my Grandfather died of a heart attack in his office and the business was dumped onto my father’s shoulders, leaving us stranded there for good. 

     We lived in what real estate agents would call a “very desirable” area, a town built on the ruins of an ancient port-city erected by the Romans thousands of years ago called Caesarea. Nowadays a home to celebrities, politicians and Israel’s only eighteen-hole golf course, Caesarea was fortunate enough not to be a target of the violence around us. It was unbelievably easy to detach myself from what was really going on (settle into the “bubble”, as I like to refer to it), and I became very involved in my horseback riding.

      My trainer Ilan was in the process of leaving the stable where I took lessons and opening his own barn. After a great deal of inner turmoil, I decided to stay behind and give the incoming trainer a chance, though I knew very little about him except that his name was Noam and that he had studied riding in Holland, famous for its excellent riders and horses.  I had recently started competing and the thought of one day importing a European horse and competing in the big shows was incredibly enticing.

     I’ll never forget my first lesson with him; he stopped by during his mandatory military service period (which all Israeli men are called in for a few times a year until they are forty five), and looked horribly intimidating in his uniform. I watched him come into focus as I approached the arena; I could see how upright he stood, his brown army boots planted steadily in the arena sand. Closer yet and I was able to differentiate between his dark hair and his dark complexion.  Closer, and now I can make out his facial features. He’s young. He’s cute.

     He introduced himself to me in the usual fashion and had me ride around a bit to evaluate my level. My pounding heart and the instructions I was giving myself in my head (“Try to look cool,” “I hope you’re not sweating,” “Suck in your gut!”) were so overpowering that the reins kept slipping through my fingers, becoming loose.  Noam had me come into the center of the arena where he stood.

     “Hold them like this,” he said while putting his hands over mine and squeezing the reins. I’m sure I replied with an oafish mumble of some sort or an embarrassing chuckle.  Inside, I was ecstatic.

     After that I was prone to be seen at the barn every single day. I went with my friends in the early afternoon and often stayed until eight or nine in the evening, riding, grooming, even mucking, I couldn’t care less what I was doing as long as I was around him.  I remember one particularly dreary evening when the two of us were the only ones left in the barn and he showed me how to braid a horse’s mane.

  “I’m no good at this,” he said as one of the strands of hair slipped through his fingers,

  “My girlfriend used to braid my horses for me before shows, but we broke up.”

Such a pity, I thought to myself.

  “Looks fine to me,” I replied instead.

  “My fingers are too coarse for this, it requires gentle hands,” he said. I wanted to melt.

     Just as I was beginning to find my comfort zone, and beginning to come into my own, my mother’s feelings of isolation within the community and disgust with the Israeli government were growing enormously.  She began attending weekly protests on a street corner in front of a busy strip mall with members of the Women in Black organization.  She made the signs at home and my little sister would often help color in the bold letters that spelled out “End the Occupation.” The reactions they received were seldom supportive; many times my mother would come home distraught and tell us about the men who shouted awful things at them, cursing at them for wanting peace with the Palestinians and for supporting the Two-State Solution.  My mother had devised a mechanism for dealing with these people: restraining herself from giving them the middle finger (which is never lost in translation), she would raise both her middle and her index finger, turn it into the symbol for peace, and shove it in their faces with the same intensity.

     Often she asked me to join her, but the fear paralyzed me.  I knew in my heart that what she and the others stood for was true and good and honorable but the thought of standing there, being watched, being hated for what I thought was overwhelming.  My mother had stuck no less than three “End the Occupation” stickers on the back of her car and I swear I noticed dirty looks from people as they passed us on the street.  I didn’t know any other families that were against the occupation; as far as everyone else was concerned, Israel had gained those territories fairly in a war and all the Palestinians were trying to drive them into the sea.  All of my friends were determined and proud to be joining the army after high school while my mother, when asked if her children would serve, replied with “Over my dead body.” It had gotten to the point where every time we were in a social gathering I would pray for the conversation to stay away from politics.  She has ways of insinuating things ever so slightly so that they often go unnoticed to anyone but me (I know how my mother’s mind works). Other times her comments were noticed and a panic would rise in me as an argument broke out, often with parents of my friends. I would become flustered and generally try to get out of there as fast as I could. Once, as she was driving a few of my friends and me to school in the morning she mentioned that Yossi Sarid, the ex minister of education who is very much against the occupation, was giving a speech in our town and that it would be a good thing for us to listen to.

  “Mom stop” I said as I felt the pressure eating away at my stomach.

  “It would be a good opportunity for you all to hear another perspective,” she continued.

  “Enough mom, can you stop? Please?” and I felt tears.  Why couldn’t she just be like all the other mothers? Why couldn’t she play golf and get her hair done? Why couldn’t she come to all my riding competitions instead of going to protests on the weekends? Why couldn’t she live in the bubble everyone else I knew lived in? We pulled in front of the school.

  “Why? Do I embarrass you?” she yelled.

  “Yes!” I cried.

She stared at me with a disappointment I had never seen before in her eyes.

  “Right now you embarrass me, Keren.” That hurts more than anything, because I want to be brave and proud and sure, but I can’t.

     My mother is furious when reports of the death of a young American activist by the name of Rachel Corrie are in the paper.  On March 16th, Rachel stood in front of a Palestinian home in the town of Rafah in the Gaza strip that was scheduled to be demolished. The Israeli “Defense” Force (IDF) is known for routinely tearing down homes of civilians under the pretense that they house terrorists and manufacture weapons. Her intent was to serve as a human shield, believing that the IDF would never harm an American civilian who was committing an act of civil disobedience. She was wrong. She was wearing a bright fluorescent orange vest, the kind construction workers wear and waving her arms up and down while standing on a pile of rubble. Eye witnesses claim the D-9 bulldozer buried her with dirt which knocked her down, ran over her, reversed and ran over her again. The soldiers never stepped out of their machines to assist and she died in an ambulance on her way to the hospital.  Mom and the rest of the peace movement in Israel are outraged and begin writing letters to newspapers and politicians as well as publishing newsletters that circulate within the movement.

     Meanwhile Noam seems very busy; his cell phone is ringing off the hook and he has to stop our lesson so that he can talk to the people on the phone, military personnel.  I know Noam is a Company Commander and works with tractors, just like my dad, so he must be a very important figure and everyone must need his opinions and approvals.  I hear the tail end of his conversation,

“If we were in any other country, she would have been shot dead the minute she entered the restricted zone; all we did was run her over with a bulldozer.” That trembling fear is in me again and I clench my teeth. I can’t look at him. As I leave the barn that day he tells me to watch Illana Dayan’s Oovda (the Israeli equivalent of 60 Minutes); they’re running a story about his company. I watch it with my parents; my mother cries and shouts at the screen and I sit there nervously, knowing.

     Months pass and the U.S never demands an official inquiry into Rachel’s death.  The IDF calls it “A Very Regrettable Accident” and continues their demolitions in the Gaza Strip.  I continue riding horses. I persuade my parents to lease a horse for me. He’s a gorgeous 17.1 hand Dutch Warmblood named Eddie and I spend my weekends traveling all over the country with Noam competing. 

     It’s late one evening and I’m riding Eddie in the arena all by myself. Noam is standing outside giving me occasional pointers. My mother pulls up in our white truck with the three stickers on the back and parks facing Noam’s old, dusty GMC van. The way they’re parked makes it look as if her truck is about to pick a fight with his. She stands next to Noam and they start chatting. I say Hi to my mom as I pass her on my way around the arena. There’s no reason for me to be nervous but I am; I never know what she might blurt out. The next time I come around the arena she asks me the Hebrew name for Rafah, since that’s the way it’s pronounced in English and she doesn’t speak Hebrew. Oh God, I think to myself, that’s where Rachel was killed.

  “I don’t know”, I reply casually while cantering away from them though I know perfectly well that it’s pronounced “Rafee-ach”.  I’m cantering faster and faster and I can still hear them talking behind me.  I wish I could jump the fence, take the short ride to the beach and gallop away on it for miles. Maybe I could fake a fall and they’d come rushing towards me and forget all about her. From the far end of the arena I see my mom get into her car and drive away fast, leaving a trail of turbulent white dust in her wake. We spoke less and less of Rachel Corrie after that and I never learned for sure what role Noam played in her death.

     In the summer of 2004 my family and I got out of Israel so that I could go to college in the U.S instead of doing my time in the Israeli army, and because my mother couldn’t bear living there any longer, too much killing, too much injustice.  I often wonder what her reaction would be if I ever told her about Noam, what I knew he had done. Would she be angry? Would she be saddened? Would she be as disappointed and ashamed of me, as I am of myself? I suspect she would look me in the eyes, cry, and say that she knew all along.

      I find that I’m distancing myself from that part of my life. Maybe I’m trying to forget.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in school work and social life that I made the BBC my homepage just so I can get a small glimpse of the world in between my mindless excursions on the net. I can feel myself nestling into that same familiar bubble I lived in for all those years, oblivious and apathetic to the destruction both my governments are causing and to the suffering of others around me. The same bubble, only this one is less likely to be burst. That’s the real American dream, isn’t it?

            

 

    

 

 

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Written by Keren Carmeli

June 25, 2013 at 9:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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