Saturday, April 30, 2005


Lying on a bed, trembling. Noon time in South Tel Aviv. Images fly through my head: a face of a girl, with fake blond curly hair; 'permanent' hairstyle, they call it here. Her smile is the shape of a perfect crescent, too perfect. Is she human or is she a doll? I can't tell. But I can see she has no eyes, just mouth and ears. The centre of her face is blank. Her image appears in flushes. And now I see a graffiti in the shape of a girl's head, on a stone well in Jerusalem. Short haired, tomboy looking. I think I know her: it might be Esther.
A buzz in the background, coming and going. Like school bell, like an alarm clock, like heavy metalic breathing. Almond trees blossoming, shaken by wind and rain. But it's spring now, it's spring, I think: it doesn't make sense, the rain is gone. I see the blossom, pink and white, I feel the drops, tiny and beautiful, I shudder. I remember now: almond trees blossom in winter, as early as January. Somehow, I find this reassuring.

Late at night, S. calls me. 'can you talk?' 'I'm at my parents, call me in an hour at Arbel's' I say. Was there something urgent about her voice? I wasn't sure. I had this premonition a few days ago, and I was wrong.
An hour later I'm at Arbel's. She calls again.
'How was at your parents?' She asks.
'I feel a flake, I wanted to tell them about the demo yesterday and I couldn't. I kept imagining how they would react - I know they wouldn't take it well - and I just couldn't be bothered. Oh well. What's happening in London?
She hesitates for a couple of seconds.
'We got papers' she says 'sorry babes.'
Somehow I'm not surprised. But after three years of squatting, you can't be surprised.
'When's the court date?'
'9th of May. Pete's been to ASS and they said we have a good chance, because the papers are patched together quite badly. The ownership of the house is not clear, between Mr. Balahi and his son, and the mortgage company. So we might be lucky.'
I've been in this situation too many times to build hopes. I know it depends on the judge. 'Where is it?'
'Lambeth County Court.'
Memories of judge cox come to mind; it was two years ago.
'But hey - I decided not to think about it until May 9th, and you shouldn't either. No one here is stressing out. We can't leave now - we have to wait until the broad beans in the garden are ready. They're getting bigger everyday'.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


I saw the info about this demonstration on Ha'aretz website, in one of the readers comments. "Partnership, not separation: a demonstration at Bil'in, 28.4. Come and fight against the fence and the settlments which create an Appartheit system."
Another reader quickly replied: 'The fence is essential to Israeli security... 1000 israelis were killed in suicide bombings in the last four years. I hope the fence will be finished soon and that you and your lot will be put on its other side'.
True, Israelis who demonstrate against the Wall believe that separation is a bad idea, in general. And here they face a decisive Israeli consensus: most Israelis have no time for arguments about co-existance and integration. But the demonstrations are not about the principle of the wall; this fight is lost. The fight is focussed on the location of the Wall, its route, in places where it is cutting through villages with no justification.
'1600 people live in Bil'in. The Wall cuts through the village's lands, and more land was confiscated for the expanding settlements nearby. Together this will annex to Israel more than half of the village's lands (2300 dunams out of 4000) including all of their olive groves. The route of the Wall near Bil'in is very far from the '67 borders. It is built with the sole purpose of protecting the empty houses of the nearby settlement, soon to be populated.The villagers used to rely on employment in Israel, but since the second Intifada they went back to agriculture and live of their olive groves. Now their groves are confiscated.' In short, 1600 people are driven to either immigration or suicide. Even from a narrow perspective of Israeli self-interest, this is stupid and dangerous. If the wall - which is supposed to stop suicide bombers - drives thousands of people to utter desperation, then it will defeat its purpose. No walls can stop people who have nothing to live for.

I wanted to go the demo but felt a bit apprehensive. I've been reading about Bil'in on the Israeli Indymedia site. I knew that it's been violent there; the army has been brutal. People were injured (one of the infamous 'anarchists against the wall' had a tear gas canister shot at his head). I was afraid to get hurt, partly also I don't have medical insurance at the moment here - I lost my medical rights because I was too long out of the country. But this seemed a lame excuse. I decided to go.

The people assembled near the village mosque. 900 were Palestinians - men, women and children - and about a 100 Israelis - from Ta'ayush, Anarchists against the Fence, Gush Shalom and the Coalition of Women for peace; also a bunch of ISM Internationals. The Palestinian organisers asked the crowd not to throw stones at the soldiers. ''This is a peaceful rally. 'Narchists, please if our friends the Narchists can come to the front'; The reasons for this, I figured, is that the soldiers are less likely to shoot Israelis, and the Anarchists against the Wall are brave enough to be in the front (they have quite a militant and fearless reputation).

On the way, I was given an onion by a girl. 'This is for the tear gas'. 'What do I do with it?' 'Just breath it. You've never had tear gas?' 'No' I admitted. 'It's quite horrible for the first 30 seconds, you feel you can't breath, but don't worry, it goes away. Just don't rub your eyes.'
The crowd was walking and chanting slogans, as usual in Palestinian demos. Years ago, when I was working as a subtitles translator in the Israeli television, I used to get these chantings all the time for the news editions: the organiser shouts a two line slogan - in rhyme - and the crowd repeats it. (Many Israelis remember the one from the Gulf War which goes 'Ya Saddam, Ya habib, Shoot Shoot on Tel-Aviv'). This time the slogans were against the wall, against Sharon, and also against the Palestinian leaders negotiating with Israel 'No negotiation when the bulldozers work'.

We had reached the valley and could see the houses of the settlement, the road works of the wall and the bulldozers. We started descending into the valley, but didn't reach very far. Half a minute later the thuds started shocking the air, and tear gas bombs drew hazy lines of light above us. A group in the front managed to keep walking towards the works. I was in the middle, and like everyone around me, turned back and ran away from the gas. I could soon feel the itch overwhelming me. I looked for the onion and found that I lost it. I covered my face.

Later I found out that it was special forces - Israeli soldiers dressed as Palestinians - that started the commotion. 'Five guys, I never saw them in my life, holding stones and they started throwing them. I asked one of them what was his name and he said Mahmood. I said Mahmood what? he said 'Mahmood Mahmood'. He spoke Arabic with an accent. And then the soldiers started shooting'. The IDF later confirmed to Haaretz that Special Forces were throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers, but denied that they the ones who started it.

Once it started, it was difficult to stop it. All the kids took out their slingshots and were practicing their aim at the soldiers. Tear gas bombs were repeatedly thrown, one of them landed inside a house. The balance at the end of the day: 5 people arrested (3 Israelis, 2 palestinian for assaulting the special forces); about 10 injured, one of them a Israeli member of Parliament, from the ex-communist bloc. The injuries were caused by shock bombs, rubber bullets and salt bombs (which burn and itch quite badly).

For the report from Haaretz, MK Mohammed Barakeh being pushed by a soldier during a demonstration against the separation fence in the West Bank yesterday

The bulldozer kept working the whole time through. We didn't even manage to stop the works for half an hour.

As we were waiting for the taxis to take us back to the road to Jerusalem, I read a notice from the village 'Popular Resistance Committee'. They were asking all the people working in the construction of the nearby settlement to stop working there. And it is the sad reality that the settlements are being built - at least in part - by Palestinian workers. With the current rate of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza - more than 50 percent - they don't have much choice. While the workers are really in dire situation, other people are making profits. The rumor is that the cement for the Wall is supplied by a company owned by the Palestinian prime minister, Abu 'Alla. I don't know if this is true or not.

The people of Bil'in have been demonstrating almost daily in the last few weeks. They are resolute and will not give up. Their chances to stop the works seem meagre. But they don't have much choice.

tear gas

Tear gas

La lilgidar, No to the Fence (made from tear gas canisters)

Works on Modi'in Ilit, the nearby settlment

walking towards the works


Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I went up to Haifa to see an exhibition of 1940s posters. It's part of my research; Shemen was one of the leading brands at the time in Palestine. They were quite clever in their advertising. "The only olive oil pressed under the Union Jack" was one of the slogans.

Later I went to visit T, S's best friend in Israel. Sitting in her tiny flat, I could see through the open front door the green slopes of Mount Carmel. She had made delicious rice, dahl and chapati for lunch; she served them with grated tomato. The view and the sunshine make me optimistic. We were talking about depression. I liked what she said.
'It's important to make the distinction between yourself and your state of being. It's a dark wave, ebbing inside you; a tide which is rising now but will flow out again, soon. If you try, you can watch it, observe it: it's not you, it's something going through you. And it will go away. You have to maintain your position on the face of the water, looking from above, so that you don't get carried away with it, so that you don't drown.'

View from T's garden

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Passover at the Old City

The old city of Jerusalem was packed with visitors; the Passover week is a national holiday. At the old city castle, I found my way to one of the cellars, where a model of the city is displayed.
It's a story for W.G.Sebald. A Hungarian from Bratislava named Stephan Illish, with majestic red beard and magician's look in his eyes, settled in Jerusalem in the 1860s. He started working at the Fransiscan Print shop, but then became obessesed with a project of building a model of Jerusalem. He consulted architects and geographers, and worked carefully, for years. The model was huge; it fills a whole room. It was first shown to the public in Europe at the Ottoman pavillion of the Vienna world exhibition, 1873. From there it went round Europe, until in 1880 the city of Geneve acquired it from donations, and put it on permanent display at the Salle de la Reformation; there it was admired by the public until the 1920s, at which point it was moved to a cellar and forgotten. In 1984 it was rediscovered by accident and sent back to Jerusalem, on loan.

Looking at the model, I realized again how many of the buildings that we usually think of as 'old Jerusalem' are actually from late 19th century.The Mt. Zion church, the Russian church of Gathsheman... and other buildings, many of them are located within the city walls. The real 'old jerusalem' is tiny in size; Jerusalm, or about 98 percent of it, is a city no older than Melbourne or New York. So many people write about the city's historic character, but most of this is just fake, the creation of modern fantasies: the British, the Jews and the Arabs all had their ideas about how this 'ancient and sacred' city should look, and they made it so. Crucial in this sense was the British Governor Storrs decree (1919) allowing only building in stone. No doubt there is beauty in stone houses but when a whole city is built of stone... I've started to think it's awful. It's not human, it's monumential; stone is hard, depressing and eye-straining. What is worse, it serves this discourse about the 'spirituality' of this city.

I was contemplating all this when an ultra ortodox man and his 5 year old daughter walked in.
Father: 'You see there, sweetie, that's where the temple used to be. And today there's a mosque there.
Girl: 'What is it?'
Father: 'A mosque, where the muslims pray.'
Girl: 'Poo'.
Father: 'Exactly. Now let's see the train model'.

The toy train model was in the next room. It was even bigger than the Jerusalem model. It consisted of a European toy city with its train station and middle class houses, train depots, a river. About 7 trains where constantly in motion; one of them I recognized as the ICE (Inter City Express, the german train). The kids went crazy. In the centre of the room was a huge mountain, with grass meadows and little cows were roaming its slopes. Of course, the mountain was needed for the tunnels (a toy train with no tunnels is no fun at all). This strange Bavarian fantasy was built by Josef Ferbourg, 'a train lover', especially for display in the cellars of a Jerusalem citadel.

* * *

Outside the citadel, I bought a bagel from one of the stalls, only to be told off by two little religious (Jewish) girls. "He's eating bread!!!!"

most characteristic of the Passover holiday: the smell of burning, roasting meat from barbecues (manqals) in the public parks and gardens. In some parks, it's bbq per square meter. This time of year is not a good time for vegeterians to visit; in two weeks it will be Independence Day, which is the national festival of kebab.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Life after Zionism

Polllyanna Frank is singing from my computer speakers: Life after Zionism, on the shore. When I heard her performing at the Yellow Submarine, five years ago, I was drawn and repelled. Queer, political, and singing hard words with soft tunes. The nice and straight boy I was found the lyrics a bit in-yer-face.

Make lots of money
Drive really fast
Fuck the secretary
Drink like a man
Always smell bad
And never shed a tear

Yes, I too want to be a hero in the IDF
and I'll have a gorgeous wife waiting for me in bed
When I'll finish dealing with everything
She'll wank me off and she'll say
you're a-m-a-z-i--i--I--n-g

But what I remembered most from the gig was this song, which was just one, unfinished sentence, which I found dangerously suggestive at the time. She repeated it so many times: Life After Zionism, on the shore. It was summer 2000, and post-zionism was becoming a catchy label in some circles, like a fashionable brand. The second Intifada would change all this: it was as if Israeli discourse went back twenty years to some nostalgic neverland. Corny patriotism, however anachronistic, pathetic and fake, now reigns supreme.

Zionism: such a messy bundle of emotions; the way it's used here, by most Israeli Jews ("of course I'm zionist") and by the defying minority ("I'm not Zionist!"); the way this term is sometimes used in Europe, or in Arabic, synonymous with fascism/colonialism/racism. "You've shown your true colours... Zionist!" I once heard a professor at SOAS snap at a colleague: it was as if he expected the ground to open its mouth and swallow the colleague whole. A term so charged and laden with emotions, yet so vague; what does it actually mean, where does one mark the lines, and is it a useful term? Almost always it is used for the sake of mystification; a great fraternity which one belongs to, or a great axis of evil one tries to escape or fight. It's always greater than history, transcending place and time and people. But when a term becomes a badge or an insult it is a good moment to stop using it. This is my own private resolution: to sidestep the whole thing. Like other 19th century ideologies, e.g. Socialism and Anarchism, Zionism was - once upon a time - a term which had more or less a meaningful sense. Of course, it meant a lot of different things to different people. But whatever it meant a hundred years ago really has very little to do with the way people use it today.

Does this sound evasive? Maybe it is in a sense. Understanding that I no longer want to call myself a Zionist was, for me, a moment of both crisis and emancipation. But I decided not to wear the non-zionist badge, because I feel that the word is given magical power which I personally find harmful. It's taking sides in a debate which I think is no longer relevant. Ulrich Beck calls these terms 'zombies': ideological constructs, remnants of the 20th century, which live amongst us like ghosts, and still carry great emotional appeal. But when you look carefully at them, you see that these terms have long lost their meaning: they are hollow, no more than an empty costume. I think it's time for some exorcism.


There's a dressup party on an underground platform. Everybody dressed and made up and it's crazy. He's tired, worn out, his face bruised and bleeding. He's following someone through the partying crowd. At the end of the platform, a room is concealed behind a door and a warning sign. He turns left and goes inside. The music does not fade out: it's getting sronger.
This moment, the colours, the make up: the dark room. When his eyes get used to the dim light, he notices two people fucking. He tells them to get out: they leave. it's time to face the deamons. It's time to fight the monster. The beat is keeping steady, getting stronger.

I can feel my heart beating. I've felt it before, that overwhelming deadly mixture of fear and excitement, bubbling through me. London gave me these moments. When I had a chance, I always walked into that dark room behind the corner. I ask myself: would I still do? I know the bliss which takes you when you walk into the room, but I'm afraid that one day I might go in and never leave.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A car near the Shuk. The note on the window says:
"With God's help. This vehicle is for sale in whole or parts.
This is not junk for tatting. All the people who took the wheels,
engine components etc are requested to return them or
to call me, Shlomo (phone number).
With thanks."

Thursday afternoon I was sitting at the Shuk (the market) with my friend L. We went to a workers' cafe called Azura. It was four o'clock, and they were almost out of food. "hummus and Gulash, that's what left". We went for hummus with foul (broad beans). L is studying fine art at Jerusalem. She was telling me about a project she did in Paris, at the book shop 'Shakespeare and Co'. She asked the customers and the workers there to pose for her on the sofa, and she took pictures. 'Did they all agree?' 'All but one. Actually they really wanted me to take their picture, they were totally excited to do it. One guy refused to get up from the sofa. Another demanded to take my picture on the sofa."
Funny, I said, I think of all the theoretical writing on photography I've read: how it's usually described as a product of an objectifying gaze, creating and maintaining a power balance, where the photographer captures the subject, in more than one sense. But hearing you I realize that we forget how the subjects are not passive, how they play their part and sometimes demand to be photographed; this power dynamics is not simple and unchanging.
'I think that it helps a lot that I'm a woman. I think people are more happy to be photographed by a woman' says L. 'But you know, I wasn't happy with those pictures when they came out. And my tutor said to me something I liked: don't take pictures, make pictures.
Suddenly there was a commotion from the cafe on the other side of the alley. A man who was sitting and eating rice and salad got up and grabbed a chair, all angry and shouting. He ran up to a guy that was standing with a fancy digital camera. "Don't take my picture! Why do you take pictures here?" he still held the chair in his hands, threatening to throw it at the photographer. A girl standing next to the photographer was looking pale and shaken.
'It's so strange, we were just talking about this.' I said to L. 'I wonder why he was so angry. But maybe it's not so difficult to guess: nobody likes to feel like an animal in the zoo'.
'And some people don't want to be photographed while they're eating'.

Thinking back, I realize there's more than that. Differences of class and ethnic origin play behind the scenes. The man that got angry seemed not-very-well-off; the photographer had a flashy camera, he was dressed as a cool student. The man looked Sepharadie, from middle-eastern origin; the photographer looked Ashkanzie, European in origin. Ashkenazie Jews in Israel are usually better off, more educated, and usually enjoy better social position (for example all Israeli Prime Ministers were ashkeanzie). But the shuk is not an Ashkenazie place.
One reason I like the shuk is that these tensions are always felt there - nothing is kept under the carpet. All the sellers are right wing. There's Lots of religious nutters. The workers are mostly Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Many of the workers are kids as young as 12 year old. I don't want to portray the shuk as a heaven where all differences are forgotten because of the wonderful vegetables and fruits and food; it's not like this at all. Differences are felt there in a raw, and sometimes unpleasant way. But at least it's all on the surface.

* * *

That very evening I talked with M. on the phone - he just came back from three days in London. He told me of two violent incident he witnessed: a stabbing in Camden market and a brawl in a Pub. "These two men, both of them very nicely dressed, one minute they were talking and drinking their beers and next, out of the blue, one of them hit the other in the face and he started bleeding from his cheek.' M said he was shocked by the abruptness of it all.
I thought about the man at the Shuk who threatened to throw the chair at the photographer. There was something so pathetic about the whole gesture: the chair was a plastic one, you can't really kick someone's brains with a green plastic chair. And he didn't even throw it. He stood over him and shouted and a couple of times motioned as if he will throw the chair, but he didn't. He just went back to his lunch muttering.
Bravado is very typical for Israeli men. There's a lot of shouting and scary facial expressions, but street fights are actually very rare. This rooster-style machismo saves the need to fight; so much energy is wasted on aggressive language and hand gestures that when it comes down to it nobody can be bothered actually hitting eachother. I think it's a Mediterranean thing.

* * *

For the next week no wheat-related products can be bought in most of the shops. No bread, no beer. It's Passover, and the Passover meal is tonight, a big family dinner in which we read a religious text, the Hagadah. I can't say I'm looking forward to it, but it's never as bad as I expect it to be.
I found myself thinking about sentences from the Hagadah in the last few weeks: the text is very much about Jewish memory. This triggers many questions for me, about Israeli-Palestinian history, and about how we remember the past. I might write about it here in the next few days. Anyway, happy Passover everybody.

Passover wheat-free cookies at the market

Monday, April 18, 2005

for a brief moment I had a respite. Sitting 8 feet high on a tree branch, picking lemons. I remembered suddenly how useful is physical labour for lulling the pain. But it was an illusion, which soon shattered: the owner of tree came out and was angry with me. I picked too many, way too many, she said. I had no excuses. I offered her all of the lemons, I said I did not have any intention to take what is not mine, and I'm sorry for getting carried away. "I'm going to pickle some, I will come and give you a jar". No need, she quickly blocked my clumsy gesture. Had I lost my grip on normal notions of possession? I didn't know. I don't think she was unreasonable, of course not. And I apologized. But there were so many lemons on that tree, and I picked only the ones on the top... why do I do these things. Cycling back home with a pannier full of lemons, I thought of Pete.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

In my dream, I learnt of an atrocity, which was kept silent for many years. During the war, a respected Jerusalem magistrate used emergency powers to execute five people, arrested for vagabond and homelessness. The men were previously held without trial at the Old City barracks. The magistrate - an old Israeli woman in my dream - later became a leading State attorney, and a supporter for the racist right wing. When asked about the executions, she did not flinch: she reiterated that this was in accordance with the Law, and that society is better off without these elements. She spoke of them with thin contempt; in my mind I could see them as five nameless, defenseless human bodies.
In a second version of the same dream, the magistrate was my Yoga teacher from London, a seventy year old English man. The story was identical - five men executed in secrecy - and this time I discovered that the executions were administered by hanging and lethal injections. Again, my teacher did not deny the facts when I confronted him in the yoga class. I started shouting at him, murderer. Some people in the class joined me. I knew then that the first of the five men was me, and that the poison was still working its way through my veins.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Amman, Jordan

'Whallah, I'm waiting for you' he said when I called him up. 'Where are you? I'll come and pick you up.' I sat outside the big hotel, enjoying the sun, and trying to read, but I was too excited.

In the pictures I saw on his blog he reminded me of my friend Yuvla, whose ancestors came from Aden. But in real life he was different: his hair was light-coloured, blondish. He said it's his Palestinian side. Not long afterwards we were sitting in the roof balcony of a trendy, cozy café, overlooking the old city. The wall was painted with huge blue flowers. I felt strangely at home. He told me of his countless ideas for projects. We talked about ourselves, and about Iraq and Jordan, about the American and Israeli occupation, about Jerusalem and Amman, Baghdad and London. About Palestine and Israel. About families and religions. It was so much in such short time. I was telling him how hideous the separation Wall is.

'Ya akhi the physical aspect is not the real problem. We can overcome this' he said. 'When I grew up all around me were symbols of huge invincible power, palaces and security forces, walls and fortresses. And then one day when the ideas behind them were gone, all these symbols of power crumbled, because nothing was holding them up anymore. We can take down the wall. We will open it in a few places and paint it with nice colours and it won't even look too bad. It will be very easy. It is the thinking behind the wall that we have to dismantle. The mental walls.'

* * *

It was almost dark when we passed Salt. The taxi started following the turns of the road, descending sharply to the Ghur, the Jordan valley. I was still overwhelmed by meeting R and N. I thought how lovely they were and I wanted so much to return the hospitality.

There was something so confusing and contradictory about the whole experience. What happened seemed so simple, so easy, so straightforward: you read someone's blog. You write them an email. You drive to their town and spend a few hours with them. And this is how it felt. Yet the fact is that in this place it sounds completely unusual, crazy even. 'And you weren't afraid?' someone asked me later. Most Israeli Jews belive they live in an environment that is essentially different from them, a region that will always stay hostile. They think of Israel as a stronghold. I asked Yuval, who was sitting next to me in the taxi from Amman, if he thinks we could ever rid ourselves of these notions. 'You're asking when will Israelis realize that they're not so different from the people around them? That they have much more in common with the Arabs that they believe?' he shrugged his shoulders. 'Don't know, Akhi.'

The car kept descending. I kept thinking, quietly. I don't have an answer. The idea of a continuity from Amman to Jerusalem filled me with hope. I don't want to think about Israel as a gated community, 'our villa in the jungle' - to use former PM Barak's expression. I think surrounding yourself with walls of suspicion and fear is the worst thing you can do to yourself. And the irony is that all the physical and mental walls couldn't cut Israel off. What started as an East-European project became thoroughly Middle-Eastern. Some of this can be seen as tactics of cultural appropriation; this is not the only place where colonizers adopted elements of local culture. Most of it, however, was not calculated and conscious, but the result of a 100 years of contact with Palestinians, and the large numbers of Jews who came to Israel from Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab countries. Listen to our music. Eat our food. Watch the way we speak. We can't escape it.

A few years ago my uncle was visiting us in London, and we went for a drink in Brixton. He soon started his racist rants against Arabs and Moroccan Jews: 'What do I have in common with those people? I'm from a totally different culture!' He shouted, waving his hands in the air. 'I'm European! I'm European!'
I looked around the pub. Nobody was shouting, nobody was waving their hands. I thought to myself: maybe you want to be European, but thank god, you will never be one. It's too late: you're Middle-Eastern. It's time you admitted it.

* * *

When R told me his father left Jenin for Jordan after '67, something inside me clenched. Just the previous day, I was walking in Jerusalem, and I found a book in the street. I like finding things on the streets - like it too much, some would say - so of course I picked it up. It was a 7th grade textbook, one that I remembered well from school. I opened it at random, and found a piece about the refugees from the West Bank in 67. It was written by a Israeli soldier. I leaned on a stone fence and read.

...we left Jenin and headed for Nablus. We were terribly tired. Suddenly - a strange thing happened in front of our eyes: the empty and deserted roads started to fill with life: refugees!

we looked carefully at the faces of the adults and asked ourselves:
- Who of them was a member of the murderous gangs before '48?
- Who of them stole the border in recent years to attack people and property?
- Who of them is a Jordanian soldier that had quickly changed his uniform to civil clothes?
- Who of the children is already poisoned with hatred towards us?
- How will the children remember this strange encounter with IDF jeeps?

What level of self-persuasion is necessary for someone to look at families fleeing their homes, and only think of them as murderous enemy. What level of self-denial is needed in order for a soldier in a military jeep, watching children walking barefoot to the border, to feel that he is the real victim of the situation, an object of hatred which he does not deserve. The piece is titled 'It's Hard to be a Jewish conqueror' (sounds like a parody, I know). A few lines below, I found myself reading the well known mantra:

We knew well: we did not start this war. We did not harm them, we did not expel them, we did not hate them. We did not know why they were leaving...

I took the book home. On some level these things were ingrained in me, long ago; it's important to confront them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The settlers' direct action tactics are quite imagineative, I must admit. This morning they locked the gates of 167 schools in Tel-Aviv with padlocks. I'm sure they made many teenagers very happy. The police were quite embaraced about it.
The most popular right-wing slogan against the Gaza pullout is 'A Jew does not expell a Jew'; all other options are OK by them, I guess. Well I can tell from my own personal experience that they shouldn't count on it. Two years ago we were evicted from a house in the East End by its ultra-orthodox Jewish owners. They were developers who wanted to build loads of tiny yuppie flats over it. The old eastenders who were living across the street called the owners 'Jewish mob' (they also called Bangladeshi people 'Ayatollahs'). The house was really magical; it wasn't lived in for forty years. Anyway we tried to play the Jewish card; it was September, the time of the High Holidays - Jewish new year, Yom Kippur and Sukkot - and we asked them to let us stay until they do something with the building, or at least give us an extra few weeks, until the Holidays are over. They gave us one extra day. After the eviction the building stood empty for another 7 months.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Last night I went with Arbel to have a beer at the Zigmonim, a small cafe-bar on the corner of Gaza st. We drank Goldstar beer, munched bitter olives, and talked about the French artist Sophie Calle. "I think she does amazing things, but I would never want to be like her. She completely obliterated herself, there's nothing left there" said Arbel "she keeps trying to find herself in other people and through them; that's why she's chasing ghosts all the time. There's nothing real about her anymore, she's completely cut off from herself."
Outside I noticed an old men with a beret sliding down the street on a push skooter. He was smiling blissfully. He stopped outside the Zigmonim to have a rest on a bench.
"I think artists have to be outside everything all the time. They must be constant observors, of the place they live in, of themselves. It's unrelenting and very demanding. I think I preffer to live my life" she added. "Maybe this is why I can't be an artist."
The man on the bench stood up, corrected his beret and took off on his push skooter.

* * *

I'm back at work. Spent the day in a library, reading and taking notes on the economics of British-ruled Palestine. For lunch I went to Shalom, a Yemenite Falafel place. They're one of the oldest - and most famous - falafel joints in West Jerusalem. Their falafel is a bit dry and spicy, the mixture is slightly red.
When I got to the counter I could see that the falafer vendor was angry. A customer was standing there, nibbling his pita and chattering. I couldn't tell if he was over cheerful or over stressed. "My brother believe me I'm in a terrible difficulty but don't worry God the All-mighty will help us all and with his blessing I'll pay for this tomorrow, we should all trust his mercey and we shall be rewarded and you will be blessed a thousand times". There was something slightly camp about the way he talked. His clothes were pretty conventional, and unlike the falafel vendor, he didn't wear a religious head cover. "So you're not paying for it now?" asked the falafel guy, and snatched the pita out of his hands, not waiting for a reply. "Yes?" he turned to me, still irrate.
"Falafel in a pita, please."
"Do you want his falafel"?
I was a bit struck by this.
"Sorry, no, forget about it. I'll make you a new one".
"We shall all be blessed, forgiveness is a great virtue, and if you help others, you will be rewarded" started the guy again.
The vendor was getting angrier.
"I'll pay for him," suddenly said the woman that was standing there and eating her falafel. "Give him his pita back".
"Thousands blessing and wishes and God will help you many times always and forever" said the customer, as he received his falafel and quickly vanished.
"Have you seen this idiot?" said the vendor to his brother, who came out of the kitchen at the back.
"Yallah, forget about it. Nothing happened" said the woman, who kept cool about the whole thing.
"It's nothing for you, but we can't allow it. He can start coming here everyday. And he's not the only one around here".
"Blessed be his name and he shall bless you a hundred times and you shall win good fortune" the unpaying customer suddenly reappeared from nowhere, added generous amounts of Hilbeh sauce to his pitta, grabbed a few serviettes, and disappeared again.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Disconnection in progress

In June 2000, when the Israeli army pulled out of South Lebanon, the Israeli prime-minister at the time, Ehud Barak, termed it a "unilateral withdrawal". Most Israelis supported this move - nobody saw much sense in staying there - but hated the term "withdrawal". It smelled of defeat. Nobody likes to lose, but worse than losing is admitting it.
Sharon is much more clever from Barak in this sense. He termed his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza "Hitnatkut", which is usually translated as disengagement, but is actually more like "disconnection". It's a strange term, in Hebrew as in English. There's something so digital about it. So 21st century like. Like closing your internet connection, or ending a conversation on a mobile phone. So very simple: one button click, and it's over, you're disconnected. Easy, painless. No human suffering involved, at least nothing you can see - who knows what happens on the other side of the line, after you disconnect? And who cares?
It's very appealing for most Israelis. They want nothing to do with Gaza. And 'disconnection' promises them so much: that after 38 years of occupation, it's possible to forsake all responsibility for this place, and forget about it. Even the word 'separation' which is also popular here in political discourse (if there's something most Israeli Jews agree on, it's that they don't want to see the Palestinians) carries with it a notion of ending a human relationship, like a separating couple. 'Disconnection' has nothing human about it. It sounds clear cut, clean, technological. No wonder the word caught on so quickly.
There are less than10,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza, or 1300 families. They live in the midst of 1,300,000 Palestinians. The Gaza Strip is quite small - 360 square km - but the settlers occupy about 20% of it, and this includes the some of the best land, for agriculture and on the seafront. They specialise in 'hydrophonic agriculture', growing herbs and vegetables that are not planted in soil but suspended in the air (irony irony). The workers are usually Thai immigrant workers, who knew nothing before they came there to work. Few of them were killed in recent years in Palestinian attacks on the settlements. Poor guys.
I've visited the Gaza Strip twice, before the current Intifada. I remember seeing the settlements from the top of the high Red Crescent building in Rafah. Within this over-crowded urban landscape - this is the most densely populated area in the world - suddenly you see a spacious village, one storey cottages with gardens, heavily protected behind watchtowers and fences. Probably the most hard core gated community on this planet. It's surreal, absurd, distilled colonialism.
Apart from occupying Gaza's best land, the settlers are a daily nightmare for people there; The Israeli Army often blocks the roads between Rafah and Gaza so they can travel to and from Israel. Palestinian houses and fields bordering on the settlements are always in threat (snipers fire, house demolitions). In some settlements, a crazy fundemantialist bunch of 100 people are protected by a whole battalion. Most Israeli soldiers hate going there, and many of them hate the settlers. Under the Oslo agreement all the settlements stayed until Final Status negotiations. So even though there were no Israeli troops inside Gaza for the last 14 years, Israel still effectively controlled the Strip through the continued presence of the settlements.
The Disconnection plan means pulling out the settlers and the Army from the Strip. It will happen around July, the settlers had to be given 6 months notice under the Israeli law (Palestinians are given two hours usually). They are promised compensation and housing. They are promised compensation and housing. In another euphemism, the organization dealing with their evacuation is called "the Committee for Supporting the Gaza Settlers". Newspeak can go in many ways. The illusion of the word 'disconnection' also promises easy eviction of the settlers. But it's not been easy so far - they really tried their best to stop it, and there's huge campaigns against Sharon. Yet Sharon is patient and obstinate. It's very difficult to stop him once he starts something. This time his ruthless brutality is set against his own creation: the settlers. And most Israelis support him. It's really not clear what his motives are, why he initiated the whole thing. The most likely guess is that he wanted to win precious time, and avoid international and internal pressure by 'doing something', but still keeping the occupation over most parts of the West Bank. Who knows. It doesn't really matter what his aims are.
Will the settlers' campaign end in armed resistance to the eviction? In Israel, the media is obsessed with this possilbility. Special elite units are reported to be preparing for this scenario - as well as for the difficult task of transporting the settlers' cemetery to inside Israel. There's a heated debate whether the houses should be demolished or not. I personally think that when the day comes, there's a good chance it will go through without much or any violence. But a clash with the settlers is not a bad thing: it has the potential of radicalizing Israeli public opinion against them. As long as they don't win the day.
As I've written here before, the real problem is that the obsession with the Gaza pullout means nothing is much likely to change in the West Bank in the next 4 months, and this is really bad news for Palestinians, and whatever hopes people have for negotiations. And the other thing is that the pull-out will be a great relief for the people of Gaza, but it will not solve their problems: the unemployment, the poverty, the inability to travel outside the Strip: Israel will retain control on the borders, and in this sense, even in Gaza, the occupation will continue, albeit in remote-control mode.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Yaffa, Tel Aviv

We drove through the dark backstreets of Jaffa, in a commercial area; the metal grills of the shops were all rolled down and locked, and the streets were deserted. Except for this one: we parked the car and walked to a lit up Cafe, where tables and armchairs were placed outside. The air was warm. A small band, two violinists and a percussionist, were sitting in the alleyway, playing Persian music for the diners.
The music was slow and lyrical; it took me a few minutes before I got into it. There was a big table of middle aged men and women who were clearly enjoying it. I think they were celebrating something, maybe a birthday. In one song they all joined in and started singing. 'It's "Anur Anur"', said Yuvla, 'the Persian most popular song, something like Hava-Nagila. Anur means apple.' How do you know this? I asked. 'My aunt's persian.' A tall woman wearing pink boots came and sat down, on he own, at the table nearby. She took out a cigarette. "What do you think she's here for?" asked Yuvla. She was looking at the band, as if waiting for a cue. Then she was suddenly gone.
When she reappeared, we found the answer: she was the bellydancer. Wearing coloured veils and fake long blond plait, she danced beautifully; her delight was clearly visible. There was a shy smile on her lips, like a schoolboy who gave the right answer to a difficult question. She approached the big table, and the men started putting bank notes in her bra. They knew how to dance: in careful steps, jumping in and out, not anything I would know to imitate. A small gathering formed in the street, the chef came out, and people walking by stopped and watched. Some cars even stopped on the road, and the drivers pulled out their digital cameras; The deserted streets of shut down shops and metal grills gave the show a dreamlike feel.
A man and a woman were rummaging through the bin nearby, looking for bottles to recycle (they get paid one shekel for four bottles). The waiteress gave them all the glass bottles from the cafe, and they took them in their trolley. Many people make their living this way; they're out on the streets at night, pushing shopping trolleys around and looking for bottles.
"Come with me to Toronto" said one of the men from the big table to the bellydancer. "We're 250,000 Persians there".

It's half past eleven but the evening has just started; We leave to check out some bars. We start with a Minerva; yuvla tells me he's been there two weeks ago. "At first I thought this is heaven: so many girls" he says "but then I noticed something strange. None of the looked at my direction. I'm not talking about giving the eye, I'm just talking about general browsing. There was none of it. They were not interested in the least. So I called the bar girl.
What's the character of this place? I asked.
it's a bar, she says.
She wasn't making it easy, and I figured I would have to be more upfront.
Are you aiming for a specific crowd?
Well... it's popular with dykes, as you can see. But don't worry, everyone's welcome. No one would eat you alive. In fact, that much is guarantied."
When we get there, we find a notice on the door, "we are cross gender, gay, trans, straight, everybody". Inside, yuvla points the local celebrities to me; the DJ used to be a soap star, and the woman on the corner is a writer (one that I actually really like, Alona Kimhi). We drink one beer and decide to move on, but other places are not as nice. Everywhere's packed with people."It's Thursday night, that's how it's like" (the weekend here is Friday-Saturday) It doesn't feel like recession here, everybody's partying. It's too much for me.
I'm getting tired, so we decide to go home. When we get back to the car, we find a piece of paper on the windscreen, offering "medicinal massage, satisfaction guarntied..." Yuvla tells me about a nurse he was dating last year. "She dealt with a lot of geriatric patients, and they had to give them a catheter, so they wouldn't piss themselves. But these old men would get a hard on, instinctively. There was nothing they could do about it. And you can't give them catheter when they're like this. So she had to help them.
You mean...
She jerked them off?
Exactly. Imagine these horny dirty old men, too demented to do anything, and they get a handjob from a nice girl with huge breasts in a nurse uniform. That's medical dedication for you.

* * *

On Friday evening, after we had lunch at the harbour of Tel-Aviv, Yuvla dropped me off at the central bus station. I wanted to catch a shuttle taxi to Jerusalem, but had no money. I was planning on using the cash machines, but the bus station was locked: it was almost six o'clock, and the Sabbath had already started. I asked someone about the cash machines.
Norhing around here. You'll have to walk to the old station, he said.
Slightly annoyed, I started walking in that direction. I soon forgot my annoyance. The street was like a crazy market, full of people, and all of them were immigrants, speaking so many languages. A whole world in one street. A cafe full with Ethiopian men. A phone shop with adverts in Thai. Many Chinese men, drinking beer and redbull, and smoking, holding their cigarettes crooked, like only Chinese do. Women from Central Asia selling clothes. A Romanian guy selling brick a brack: a computer with no screen. a watch, some clothes, and Russian dolls. Arabic music coming out of the shop selling fake dvds and cds. Not many Africans. I think many of them were deported over the last two years. People speaking Russian, some with Central Asian accent. Most of the women I saw were Philipino.
As I got closer closer to the old disused bus station the area became dodgier: sex shops, peep shows, places offering massage. Sex-workers stand outside some places, with high heels and silver-colour skirt. I passed by a place with no sign, but with 5 lights in different colours, and a red background. The door was half open. Through it I could see three men, cocky looking, and one woman sitting down to have lunch, in take away tins. She was dressed in skimpy clothes, and wearing make up. I looked curiously inside, but their looks back made me pick my pace quickly.
The streets nearby were quieter. Many houses were crumbling, with no glass in the windows. The ficus trees are taking over, trodding over fences and walls. The moist air of tel-aviv, the sea air, is giving its effect on the walls and paint... Do people live in these houses? I wasn't sure. There is something so beautiful about decaying urbanity, especially when it's so much alive. I wanted to move there.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I was walking around Rahavia this morning and feeling more or less alright. Rahavia is an old bourgeois neighborhood from the 1920s-1940s; a lot of German Jews settled here in the 1930s when they left Germany (Walter Benjamin's friend, Gershaom Shalom, is perhaps the most famous). When I lived here, I think everybody in my building had ancestors from Vienna or Germany, except me that is. But today most of the original residents are very old or dead, and it's more a students' neighborhood. I lived here for a year, as did many of my friends at the time. Many of the houses are real gems, Bauhaus architecture. The streets are called after Jewish scholars of the middle ages. Alfasi; Ben Maymon; Rabbi David Kimhi; the Tibonim; Ramban; Ibn-Ezra; Ibn-Shafrut. The streets are lined with carob streets, and you can find carobs on the floor.

It was sunny and I enjoyed all the new graffiti. I might take pictures and post them here. Graffiti last in Jerusalem for ages, nobody cares much about taking them off. The one saying Zionenut ("ZioOnanism") has been on the wall of the Zionist Federation for the last two years. A more recent one says:
Join the armed resistance
Fall in Love

But then I saw someone with a T-shirt saying in bold letters "I buy from Jews only", and I felt like throwing up.

* * *

This time of year is very good for skipping in Jerusalem. Spring clean is reinforced here as a religious tradition: Jews have to clean their house thoroughly before Passover. So the streets are full of wonders. So far I've found a wicker armchair, a few shirts, and a shoulder strap bag. Arbel is especially good at skipping. Yesterday she found a beautiful black tin box, marked from the outside "19 STEN". Inside it were newspaper clippings, yellowish and crumbling. There's no date on them, but from the content I can tell it's probably from 1951. The text reads like from another century - but then again, it is. This is how Israel was once upon a time, or at least believed itself to be:

A Miraculous Development in All Fields of Life: Industry, investments, Electricity, Education...
When the state was proclaimed, we had 277 agricultural settlement. In three years 254 more agricultural settlements were added to this, and all the Jewish congregations, from Europe, Asia, Africa and America participated in this important project. We have 75 new villages of East European immigrants, 46 of Yemenite immigrants, 32 of North African immigrants, 8 of Iraqis, 8 of Bulgarian, 8 of English and American, 7 of Persian immigrants, 5 of Turkish immigrants, 4 of Yoguslavia, 2 of Indians, and 2 of South American immigrants.
This project of settlement has changed the face of the land, and transformed the entire reality ... Modern history does not record such projects in such a short time: the projects of immigration and settlement. The settlement is just one side of the reception of new immigrants. The other side was the expansion of industry. Here as well we're facing a phenomenal growth ... The number of workers employed in industry increased by 140 percent, the annual income by 155 percent, exports doubled...
The Zionist-socialist workers' camp will gather its all might. Our struggle is on the very essence: the creation of a labouring people, in command of its land, its state and its mission - the gathering of Jews of the Diaspora.

All this is from a speech by David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. Below, in a black box in bold letters:
Because of power cuts most of the news items and telegrams were not included in this edition.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Shekel coins are nicknamed 'Jookim' (cockroaches) in Hebrew, perhaps because they're small and easy to lose.
Yesterday at the market I was buying pitta bread, and I witnessed the following conversation:
an elderly man wearing a beret, to the vendor in the Pitta and Bread stall: I dropped a Shekel coin in the gutter in front of you stall.
Vendor: what do you want me to do about it?
Man: I want 10 pittas and 5 bread rolls.
Vendor: That's 7 shekels.
Man: Ok, here's 6 shekels and there's one there in the gutter.
Vendor: I don't care about the one in the gutter.
Man: But how I can I take it out? take it, it's yours.
Vendor: I don't want it.
Man (turning to his wife, talking in North African arabic): he doesn't want it. What can I do?
Man, turning back to the vendor: here, take 6 shekels. There's another shekel in the gutter
Vendor: What are you paying for? 10 pittas and 5 bread rolls? that's 7 shekels.
Fearing I'll find myself locked in a time bubble of eternal recurrence, I pay for my pittas and quickly walk away.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The gate was not locked: it was just tied with a piece of string. It was dark when we got there. We couldn't see much beyond the guard's position. Someone decided to drive along the fence, on the patrol dirt road. We followed it for some minutes - the barbed wire fence was open in many places, and there was nothing in sight, only barren desert hills. We drove on until we reached a small hut. It took me a minute to realise this was the guard's post: we've come full circle. We found some ground to put our tents up. A military antenna towered above our heads. Two of us went to scavenge firewood from the deserted buildings nearby; we made a little fire. We cooked some soup and rice, and talked. Someone asked me if I still live in a squat. "What's a squat?" somebody else asked. "It's a house people occupy without the landlord's permission". I felt my reply falling down like a ton of bricks.

In the morning I had a few minutes before we left for the hike. I made my way to the big building at the centre of this deserted army camp. From outside I could see no windows, only walls, and it looked a bit like a monolithic temple. I came in through something that looked like a garage or workshop: plastic pipes and torn electricty cables were hanging from the ceiling. The toilets were smashed, and all the small windows broken. I went upstairs. Behind the corner I found myself in a huge, empty hall, with dark cement walls. My footsteps echoed all around me. I could hear Drum-and-Bass music in my head, and my blood felt sweet, rushing through me. I thought of London.

The desert was beuatiful. The valleys are green, after a relatively rainy year. Every once in a while, a holy tree stood in the creek, old and twisted and strong. Walking outside for the whole day made me feel good. It was sunny most of the time, but not too hot: this part of the desert is 900m high. I love the desert, the too bright colours of the hills. I thought of the green fields of Norfolk, and how they felt boring and foreign. How they never felt like home.

Half the group were young physicians, in their first years in hospitals. Again and again, the conversations came back to patients and nurses. "and then the infenction got worse.. so we treated her with X, but it didn't improve.." I kept trying to escape these conversations, fearing they were caontagious. Many of them came from my highschool in Jerusalem, and there were lots of talks about funny math teachers etc; talk about military service, or about backpacking in Africa or South America. I played dumb, didn't join in, as if I didn't belong.

I wanted to run a survey in the group, but didn't dare to. Instead I asked Arbel, who knew most of them through common friends. How many of them have a Polish descent? -Probably almost all of them. - How many of them would describe themselves as Zionist? -Probably all of them. Maybe one would hesitate. But then she got irate with me: I think she found me condescending. "Yes, it's nice when you come from abroad and you can think of everything as interesting social phenomena, but when you live here you can't afford to do that, you can't keep that amused aloofness. I usually don't say I'm not a zionist, because people don't know how to take it. I think you forgot how it is here, it can get so dperessing. It's a real struggle sometimes".

The food was excellent: and for me it's almost as important as the scenery. For lunch break we had Pita with salad and Tahini dip, which was made on the spot with freshly chopped garlic, squeezed lemon juice and parsley. Homemade Tahini dip is becoming a real addiction here, all my friends are doing it.
After lunch we had a rest, lying lazily on the bottom of dry valley. After a few minutes, one of the guys said "OK. 60 seconds".
- It's easy to tell you were a platoon sergeant, said Yishai.
- I was and I still am. I was a professional sergeant, like in the US army, signed for seven years.
- Seven good or bad years?
- Depends who you're asking. Three soldiers killed themselves.
- Only three?
- Well, I don't count the fourth as my fault, because he had problems with his family.
- You're joking, right?

When we got back to Jerusalem, it was raining, not common for April here. In Arbel's flat, we found the glass in the living room door shattered: the wind had slammed it hard.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a short article listing the leading candidates to become the next pope. Readers of the online Hebrew version left comments. Here are some of them:
1. Can we vote by sending texts? my mobile is giving white smoke.
2. These antisemites, none of the candidates is Jewish, not even for the sake of pretence. And afterwards they say they're for equality
3. (responding to 2) actually one of the candidates, cardinal Rodriguez, is probably from a Jewish Murano background
4. Why not Shimon Peres? give the man a chance.
5. Why not Hillary Clinton?
and so forth

Friday, April 01, 2005

It#s 11 o'clock in the morning. I find it difficult to get up. I'm not sure about smoking that spliff last night.. I try to write the Eleanor way: in bed, in my sleeping bag. With my laptop on my tummy.

Notre-Dame is a big Catholic complex opposite the old city, with a church, a convention centre and a guest house. It's quite hideous in its Parisian architecture, completely out of place. I went there yesterday to hear a presentation on Israeli and Palestinian public opinions. I went mainly to hear Dr. Khalil Shikaki: I've been reading him for a few years now and found him one of the best commentators on Palestinian affairs. He and his Israeli colleagues are conducting a series of public opinion polls in Israel and Palestine, in the last five years.
One of the ideas behind Dr. Shikaki's and his Israeli colleagues work is to fight prevailing stereotypes in both societies as to the other side's beliefs. To put more clearly: even when a majority on both sides supports more-or-less the same political framework for a peace settlement, both sides believe that the other side rejects it. Both sides believe that they want peace and the other side doesn't. Palestinian-Israeli opinion polls, conducted every few months, and try to publish their findings as much as possible, so that people have a better picture of the other side's opinions.

I try to follow Dr. Shikaki's lecture, with all the complicated graphs and coloumns. It's a bit difficult to understand. The person behind me, who was reading carefully a newspaper clipping with a magnifying glass, dropped the glass to the floor. I looked back and see that his heavy breathing is snoring.

Dr. Shikaki presents the conclusions of the latest survey. For the first time public opinion on both sides shows clear support for what is called here the Clinton framework. This consists of a two-state solution, dismantling of most settlements, Jerusalem the capital of both states, return to 67' borders with minor changes, and a solution for the Palestinian refugees (in which only few of them will be allowed back into Israel). The major difference is that Israelis want to get there very slowly, step by step, and the Palestinians would like to see it happening as soon as possible, being sick of interim agreements which only prolong the occupation. And for the first time since 2000, Palestinian public opinion is resolutely against the use of violence against Israeli civilians (suicide bombings).

As someone there said, the next two years are perhaps the last chance of a viable two-state Israel Palestine solution. Is it going to happen? I personally doubt it. Israelis are totally focused on the pull-out from Gaza, and the clash with the settlers there. They are happy about the ceasefire and the end of the suicide bombing, but they fail to see that for the Palestinians the daily reality of the occupation has hardly changed. The Palestinians in West Bank or Gaza are living in a huge prison, where movement between cities is often practically impossible; the economy is doing miserably, with no jobs, most Palestinians live in dire poverty. The Wall is continued to be built, and in a few months it will cut East Jerusalem from the West Bank. If nothing changes in that respect, if the roadblocks are still there and the economy stifled, will it be possible to sustain the level of Palestinian support in Peaceful settlement, and the opposition to violence? The current Palestinian President, Mahmud Abbas, is identified with the Oslo process. If he fails, I'm not sure his successor would be as keen on the two-state solution. Nothing will happen of its own accord: the Israeli government is reluctant to give up its totally control over Palestinian lives; the only party with influence here is the US, but it is only mildly interested in what's going on, so the chances of meaningful negotiation taking place anytime soon seem slim. Perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps - like a lot of Israelis believe - the pullout from Gaza will create its own momentum.

As I go out of the lecture, I notice that the heatwave is over. It's much colder, the sky overcast and dark, and storms of sand sweep the streets. The dust flies into my eyes as I'm cycling against the wind.

* * *

Last night I visited my friends Yoav and Lily. I told them the usual squatting tales: this time its about the landlord's visit we had a few months ago, which became a strange and confusing situation. Yoav was of course sarcastic, taking the landlord's side. But he's not alone: all my friends here do the same. "You don't really think you're in the right there, do you? I mean, it's his house". Again and again I find myself explaining: the house was empty for years on end; the last tenants made it a hazard for the neighboors, dumping their shit into the neighbours garden, so the council evicted them and and declared the house condemned. We came in not to make it our property but to live in a place nobody else cared about. We are making good of something which was left to rot. What makes it his house? He hasn't been there for decades; he hasn't taken care of it; he can't live there because the toilets cannot be used (we use a composting toilet); he hasn't even paid the mortgage. In a few years it will be the bank's house.

But then we come to talk about yoav's house. It's what we call "Arab house": a Palestinian house that was left during 48', when many Palestinians had to leave and became refugees. The house is in Abu Thor, a the neighborhood which was partly taken over by the Israeli army in '48. "This was the the last house before the border; the next street was Jordanian territory, right here, below our window" yoav says. "You can see the bullet marks on the iron railing" he shows me the twisted bits of metal. The empty houses in the Israeli side soon became populated by Jewish immigrants. The other part of the Abu-Thor was under Jordnaian rule, and since 67 it is a mixed neighborhood, Israeli-Palestinian. Not much integration, but not much tension either. Israeli and Palestinian Kids play football in the big yard. But they don't play with each other.

Yoav and Lily bought the house 6 years ago. "Have the original landlords ever come to visit?" I ask. Yoav says he believes the house was owned by Armenians, but they probably rented it out. During the last renovation, before they moved in, he saw some people hanging around the house, looking at it in a strange way. They didn't say anything. Maybe they used to live here.
But no one ever knocked on your door, with a big suitcase in hand, I ask.
No, they say.

I sometimes think about this in London; it complicates squatting for me. When Mr. Balahi showed up at the door, I could not help thinking about Palestinian refugees and their houses, and about the house my grandmother had to leave in Poland. Who is the rightful owners of these houses? And how should we think of the people who moved into these houses, in Palestine, in Poland? Ruthless usurpers? Intruders? Squatters? Refugees seeking a haven? The story can be told in so many ways. A good starting point is to hear as many stories as possible, to tell stories not from one vantage point.

"Maybe I've told you this already" I said to Yoav "But when I was here two years ago, I went to an election meeting with a Parliamentary candidate, member of the ex-Communist bloc. The meeting took place in Ein Karem, in an old 'Arab house'. The village was taken over in '48. I asked him about the right of return for refugees. "The rights of refugees have to be acknowledged. But I don't think this is the main problem, and it can be solved in negotiation, through political agreement" he said, partly evading the question. There was a murmuring approval in the room: the crowd was Jewish, Liberal lefties. I looked at the room, the beautiful stone walls: this was a Palestinian house, once upon a time. The people that lived here are today refugees. You're sitting in their house - shouldn't you acknowledge this in any way? And how can you be so sure the problem is solvable, for them?"
"But they can't go back to the houses. They will get compensation. That's the only possible solution" said Yoav.

I didn't disagree with him: I don't see a possibility of massive return of refugees into Israel. And I don't like the discourse of 'right of return'; I'm pessimistic about the chances to rectify the past after 60 years, and I don't like to think of politics in terms of 'rights'. A few years ago I read someone saying: "Why can't people on both sides understand? We can't redistribute the past, and probably we cannot redistribute the present, but at least we can try to share the future together, as equals". I like to think this way; sharing the future is difficult enough, so sharing the past is probably impossible. But I belive we should at least face the past. We should talk about how people were forced to leave their homes. We should talk about what happened in '48, we should listen.

"When my parents go hiking, and they go a lot" I said to Yoav "they can pay careful attention to some archaeological site from 3000 years ago, or the remains of a Roman house, but they totally ignore the traces of Arab villages that were destroyed after '48. They're not interested in knowing their names, and the stories behind them. It's as if they don't see them at all. It's as if they try their best not to see them".

Yoav suggested we go to the Dir-Yasin memorial, next Thursday. I said I'll come with him.