Tuesday, August 28, 2007

cold and lost and sore

...no good reasons. Just am. Which is why I am listening to things I shouldn't be. Like Tom Waits' The Road to Peace.. And Josh Ritter, thanks to GG over at Red,Red Whine. And a couple of other local artists that are equally as sad.

Kind of strange, listening to Waits singing about the Israeli conflict, given that the first time I ever heard him was in Israel, listening to a mixed tape from one of the American volunteers on the kibbutz I was at. She couldn't tell me what the song names were, or the albums, and although I've bought a few of his CDs from about the right time, I've never found them again. But found some other good songs, anyway.

Israel is the only other country I have ever found that I have even considered living in. I like the US, haven't been to Canada, like most of Europe, and a lot of Africa and the Mid-East. But Israel is the only one I could thrive in. And I'm not even Jewish. Then again, neither are a lot of Israelis.

I'm an '80s child, politically. Almost got kicked out of school for 'free Mandela' graffiti. Had politically-aware parents. Migrated across the spectrum from left to centre. Still sitting about centre. Mostly because the government we all wanted so much has proven to be a corrupt ostrich. Head in the sand about AIDS, TB, over-population, crime, economics... so many other issues. Corrupt and hamstrung by alliances and politicking from before I was born. Mbeki and I share a birthday, he and my parents used to socialise together. He is amazingly intelligent. And the worst possible leader this country has ever had and that includes a whole lot of real dickhead pre-94 leaders. At least most of the universe could agree on them being bad. And fight them. Any criticism of Mbeki is waved off as coming from anti-ANC (pick your category here...only thing any of them have in common is not being overly impressed with the current government). Doesn't matter what your beliefs are, or your colour, or your history. The far left, the far right, business, trade unions, rich, poor, homeless or middle-class suburban... All tarred with the same label - the whole if you don't like the current regime, it automatically has to imply that you are an anti-SA apartheid sympathiser. Sucks. I want so much more for my country. I am proud to be South African. I'm not proud of my government and what they are doing to us all. And it's going to get worse long before it gets better.

Anyway - I digress. Israel. I went there in '95/'96, for almost the full two years, across two separate trips. In between I learned Hebrew, so that I could talk to people more - would have learned more Arabic too, if I wasn't so bad at languages - as it was, I found myself sticking Afrikaans words into whatever language I was using because my brain got stuck on finding a not-English word and just grabbed the first alternative available. The original trip was supposed to be 2 months to learn about hydroponic farming from the guys who invented it before I started up on my own here. First place I worked was a kibbutz on the Green Line about the middle of the country. We were a mixed bag. Holocaust-survivors who walked from Poland to Israel, Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians, so-called Palestinian Arabs. And me. As the only woman in the greenhouses, I was automatically expected to cook the breakfast (the first first thing the guys had in common was a huuuge dose of sexism!) - we started work at between 06h00 and 06h30, worked until the first orders were done or 09h00 if there weren't orders, and then ate at work. Because of me being South African, politics was a common subject. The first thing I learned was that there was just about no difference between the men who were born in the area. Israeli Jew, Israeli Arab, Palestinian...we all lived within a kilometre of each other. It was further from work to my room than it was to cross a paper border. The Palestinians lived on the other side of the chickpea field. That was all that separated us, and I walked home across the line to meet their families and have dinner with them. To the guys, the line was an abomination. They were living where they were born, but because of a line on a map they were meant to be citizens of some arb political entity. As one of the guys, who was also my boss, told me...there are no Palestinian men. Only cowards whose parents were cowards, abandoning their land and their future for religious lies. I thought this a bit harsh, and told him so. He reiterated - they ran for no reason, and stayed for even less; bigotry and prejudice at the cost of their children and their children's children. That thanks to them, he was regarded as a migrant worker, and that he and his family were targets for extremists. That he didn't care whether he carried an Israeli passport or a Palestinian one. What mattered was that he lived where he did, and worked where he did, and had the freedom to do both. As his father had done. One of the harshest things he told me was that there would never be a solution. Because a few hundred thousand had run, and a few million expected to claim their 'inheritance', and he blamed the surrounding nations for creating and fanning the conflict. And for maintaining it against all rational beliefs. He was a proud man, and above all he was proud of who he was - an Arab man who was above religious and political schisms. Who owned his home, and supported his family by working at a job that he excelled at. No-one in the greenhouses cared who had what nationality.

Unfortunately, a bunch of hot-heads did. I heard a year or so later that the border that we had all ignored was now enforced. Not by the Israelis, but by a bunch of kids on the other side of a line on the map, and that the guys I had worked with, and for, could no longer walk across the chickpea field to work....not if they wanted their families and homes to be there when they walked home again. Guess I'll never know whether the sweet-faced kids I knew have seen their dreams come true or not. Somehow I doubt it...

Twelve years on: listening to Tom Waits singing about 18-year olds on the opposite sides of an insurmountable divide. If I wasn't so sad already....if I didn't fear for the country of my birth in some of the same ways....ah hell, anything that involves peace on earth obviously doesn't involve the human race.

So why should I be dumb enough to expect that any individual one of us can ever achieve it for ourselves?

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