Friday, September 19, 2014

Wartime Diary (excerpt)

July 10, 2014

My vacation is turning out quite different from what I had imagined. What a rapid escalation since I had left Boston on June 22: following the kidnapping of three Jewish teens in the West Bank on June 12, Israel arrested Hamas activists in the West Bank, threatening to shake down the organization; the three teens were found dead on June 30; on July 2 a Jewish man, assisted by two teenagers, kidnapped a sixteen-year-old Palestinian and burned him alive; meanwhile, Hamas began launching rockets into Israel from within populated neighbourhoods; Israeli Air Force bombed Gaza Strip in response, killing a family of seven in one blow; the man charged with killing the Arab kid is expected to plea for insanity after announcing in court he was the Messiah; the Palestinian militants who started the whole thing might have acted on their own.
            Was this war dictated by a handful of teen-killing lunatics on either side of the conflict? It doesn’t matter now; the Israeli government approved the recruitment of 40,000 soldiers for reserve duty. The air is charged. It carries the acrid smell of revenge.
            I need to remind myself why I came here this summer: spend time with family (meet my new baby niece!), chill out from an intense year of teaching, and enjoy a well-needed sun therapy; after 23 years in the Boston area it is safe to say I’ll never get used to its brutal winters.
            For now, September is tucked away in the future, and my summer seems deliciously long. I’m free as a bird, a single bird—war or no war.
            But did I somehow sense what lurked ahead when I chose to bring along Wartime Writings by Marguerite Duras? Her WW2 experience as a member of the French Resistance was quite different from mine, yet her words touch me: the endless wait at the end of the war for her husband to return from the concentration camp, the daily visits to the centre where truckloads of liberated prisoners were brought, imagining him unexpectedly ringing the doorbell, or lying in a dark ditch uttering his last words; would he say her name? Her mind kept switching back and forth between hope and despair like a pendulum gone haywire.
            I put down the book and glance around the guestroom, mine until August 5: the caving bookshelves shoulder frayed encyclopaedias beside hordes of novels yet read; the walls hung with colourful souvenirs, Thai charms, Brazilian wood-masks; the deep freezer storing enough food for five families; Grandma’s portrait on the table, her hollow stare digging into me. I took this picture when I was a photography student in college. I wanted to create a female generational series: Grandma, Mom, and me. I knew Grandma would soon be lost to Alzheimer’s, yet I had abandoned the project; probably put off by the dreary geriatric ward where she was living.
            I like this house, and this town, Kfar Saba, is far better than my hometown of Rishon LeZion. Too bad I had already left home by the time my parents had moved here, some twenty years back. When I visit Israel in my dreams I often get confused and end up in the dilapidated apartment building of my childhood. Or worse, I find out my parents had sold their current place and moved back to the old one, the neighbours frozen in a time capsule. What about Lior, I now wonder, the beautiful, gentle boy who lived in the apartment below us? Does he show up in those dreams, or do I remember he was shot dead by Palestinians on a remote West Bank road about twelve years ago?

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