September 1, 2013
I do not like to watch Tel Aviv disappear from above – the Mediterranean Sea coastline a small strip of white that barely holds us from the immensity of blue that continues as we head west on the plane. I raise the window to watch it disappear until my eyes cannot take the sunlight anymore. Still this is better than closing my eyes and not being able to witness every moment of this vanishing, of the physical separation. Not knowing if it will be for the rest of my life that I have left her, this region, which each time pulls me closer and closer. I lose myself staring down until there is no white speck of Tel Aviv left. I feel sadness.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we remind you to please close your windows, so that other passengers can sleep during the flight.”
I lower my window shade, but it’s too late, the image is burned on the back of my eyelids and like other images that arise as I hear the loud thuds of my heart pounding against my ears: the fields of olive trees stretching into the Kibbutz, the receding Dead Sea, the remnants of Harod’s centuries crumbled, once lavish temple rising high above the valley of the desert, the winding outer wall of the Old City in Jerusalem, the cool evening waters of the Mediterranean, and the countless hours of storytelling by friends over large spreads of food like nothing I’d ever taste in my own Guatemala. It is a different, more ancient world here where history has become habit, breath, embodiment and intertwining with the present.
Many worlds exist in a physical area that if it were in the U.S. could be driven in a day. What you see is not what you get here, and so to know the layers beneath which meaning can be understood is to also experience the pain that goes with it.
“What is Ramallah like now? Tell me what it looks like,” my eighty-three-year-old host Rivka asks me one morning while we’re sitting at her breakfast table. “I only saw it once many years ago when we could go cross.” I tell her it’s beautiful, that when you drive the hills, you feel you are in labyrinth and when the sun sets a golden reddish light falls on all the buildlings, on Arafat’s tomb, on the trash even that lies next to empty trashcans. It is modern, it has bars and five-star-hotels, art spaces, cafes for the foreigners who live there. In the evening, the cool fresh mountain wind that blows will catch in the women’s hijabs and the trees will sway with it.
The Israelis cannot legally experience the curving hills of Ramallah and the Palestinians cannot see the sea. No one mentions it until a foreigner stumbles upon it and then these facts of their lives are shared with the same resentment and underlying hurt of neighbors having wronged one another. There cannot be forgiveness nor forgetting.
The moments of stillness can sometimes be felt as peace, but the peace has an unease about it in Tel Aviv, I notice it while sitting with my friend Eitan on Saturday evening around midnight when people are still drinking, eating, talking on the night before a workday. I ask him why people are not home getting ready for work tomorrow. He laughs. Here again the foreigners has no idea of the hidden minefield.
“In Tel Aviv, people party like there will be no tomorrow, precisely because we don’t know if there will be a tomorrow,” Eitan tells me. Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” and then Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” play again for the second time over the speakers. We are sitting outsides among a cluser of tables where half-eaten pizza, salads and empty mugs of beer sit on young people’s tables. I notice the tension in people’s movements more readily now.
The last few days have been more unsettling than usual in this region because we are all waiting on the world to do something about Syria, the nearly 100,000 that have been killed there in the past two years, and most recently the biological warheads launched against civilians and children which violates every human rights treaty and agreement on how to behave during wartime. Specifically the world is waiting on the United States.
“Your President refuses to drop the bombs on Syria,” Eitan says, half in jest when referring to President Obama’s decision to wait on the reconvening of Congress the second week of September to get a decisive vote on whether or not to act against Assad. “You are the only ones that have enough of a moral backbone right now to drop a bomb on Syria and punish them for doing this unethical thing.”
As if killing thousands wasn’t unethical enough for the world, including the U.S., to respond a year and a half ago. I tell him, a bomb on Assad will not stop him. He will not stop until there is nothing left. So a war will need to be waged against Assad and it cannot be the U.S. alone in this because the whole region will become an abyss we won’t be able to extricate ourselves from. We all feel this restlessness and unease about the next couple of weeks in Syria.
The world is paralyzed, the way people I have seen people in Guatemala freeze like shadows, observing as lynchings, mass murders, violence against protestors, accidents, acts of violence happen in front of them. In Guatemala it is a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder where after thirty-six years of war, the violence has been normalized and at the same time there is fear to act and a sense of helplessness in action. Even if I help, what could I do? What difference would it make? There is too much risk for me to help. Someone else must help.
But Syria is different, it is something none of us could ever be prepared for or could recognize from the outside as part of a larger pattern of how war is waged in the most horrific of ways. It is a challenge for us to create a global ethical brain that can respond faster and in more skillful manner to the new bully or murderer in this case. The new evil will inevitably come from humanity, until the whole thing explodes.