With pomp and circumstance the Jerusalem International Book Fair opens this Sunday. A closer look at the festival's programme shows the limits of what this book fair considers to be "international". Norway and Russia, Holland and Lithuania, Austria and France, Poland and Italy. Even Germany is all right nowadays. The European Book Fair it should have been called. The White Book Fair. Because, between you and me, the Arabs, the Blacks, the Chinese don't really know how to write. Theirs is not really a Culture. They didn't exactly produce an Anna Karenina, a Ulysses or a Faust.
I started to wonder about the history of the institute that hosts this fair. A quick search of the Zionist Archive website reveals this outline: There was an Arab village called Al-Shaikh Badr. A war started (who started it kids?!) the Arabs ran away. Bulldozers climbed the hill and demolished the villagers' houses. On the bare hill, they built Binyanei Ha'ooma, the National Building - the location of this book fair.
After desolating Al-Shaikh Badr and erecting Binyanei Ha'ooma on its ruins, an exhibition opened there entitled "The International Exhibition and Festival of Making the Wilderness Bloom LTD". No joke! At the end of this successful festival they opened a permanent exhibition called "Making the Wilderness Bloom LTD, A Continuous Exhibition." What a perfect name. "Continuous Exhibition". How continuously it has continued until today.
In the book "The Israeli Project: Building and Architecture 1948-1973", by Zvi Efrat, I found another fact to add to my collection. In a cabinet meeting, government ministers discussed how to divide up the budget. Invest the money in Binyanei Ha'ooma or in transit camps for new-coming homeless immigrants. They decided to plump for culture.
I know. A historical research using Internet websites is not a serious study. So today, Monday, I thought I'd go to Jerusalem myself and spend half a day in the Zionist Archive and half a day at the book fair. But I didn't. Not enough time, too much to do, a living to make, bills to be paid, the whole damn rat race. Nevertheless, here I am, sitting and writing a comment to Ha'Kibbutz newspaper.
All the land Zionism razed had to be quickly claimed and possessed. For this purpose, grand projects were needed. In the cities they built monuments - this Binyanei Ha'ooma is an example. Parks, car parks - Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv is a further example. Tel Aviv that was built out of the sand - on top of the Palestinian village of Manshiya. In the countryside, they cultivated. Turned refugees' land into sheep grazing.
After the Palestinians' expulsion in 1948, the land had to be quickly divided. That was the purpose of the 1948-1966 Military Rule, which put strict sanctions on Palestinian's freedom of movement in the new Israeli state. Not only were the remaining Palestinians in Israel excluded from the new division of land, but looking at the map, I wonder what criteria Mapai used, for example, to divide the land between the poverty stricken town of Migdal Ha'Emek and the surrounding kibbutzim. I don't know. But in the Upper Galilee, which I know well as it is where I was born, the extensive land that surrounds Kibbutz Amir and the town of Kiryat Shmona was actually divided between Kibbutz Amir and Kibbutz Dan, where I grew up. Kiryat Shmona was the poor little town where Kibbutz representatives went to preach socialism to the politically backward Moroccans, and then returned to work their vast fertile fields.
The years following the '48 war were rough for the Zionist left. It was indeed difficult bridging the gap between ideology and reality. How could one bridge a gap between international comradeship and farming your Arab neighbors' land? The gap between the notion of equal rights and the practice of military rule? A rule that back then, just as in the West Bank today, is theoretically applied to territory but in reality is not geographic but ethnic? How to bridge the gap between equal rights and apartheid? Indeed, not a simple stand to take.
The occupation of the Palestinian territory in '67 redeemed the Zionist left. Thank God for the Green Line, thanks to which the "Palestinian Problem", like a commodity, was exported abroad. Now finally we can be good and right and even have someone to blame; the settlers. Look - we are the good guys - it's them! But the finger of blame that points at another is a way to deflect blame from yourself. In fact there is not much difference between the good old days of the Wall and Tower settlements and the caravans settlers park on West Bank hills to make facts on the ground. But pointing a finger away from yourself recreates a reality based on the politics of: we are right, always right, and no matter what, there is someone else to blame, and always someone else to pay the political price and take political responsibility.
Instead, the kibbutzim could and still can function as pioneers for a co-operative, humanistic and just life. Imagine this: Instead of building more neighborhoods for the sons and daughters of kibbutz members, that is, endowing property acquired in lieu of the Arabs and poverty stricken new immigrant towns, kibbutz members could stand up and say: In the spirit of equality and co-operation, which we still believe in and which was the basis for establishing our kibbutzim, we will open our fence-enclosed kibbutzim to the outside world. The land will be re-divided again in an equal and co-operatively based way among Ein Hashofet and Mashrifa and Yokneam Illit; among Migdal Haemeq and Yifat and Yafi; and among Ayelet HaShaher and Hatzor Haglilit and Tuba Zangria.
We will not assign anyone else with the responsibility for ending the war, which will soon reach its 60th anniversary. Instead, we will initiate courageous political action and take real responsibility. Not turn the wheel back, but turn it in a new direction. Being a pioneer does not mean sticking a flagpole on every possible piece of land but rather to trail blaze. "To open or prepare for others to follow", says the Longman Concise English Dictionary. If ever kibbutz members were real pioneers, in the politically brave meaning of the word, please lower your finger of blame and look at your role, not only as those who cultivated the wasteland but also as those who wasted it.
The Kibbutz movement could then have a great future ahead, as could everyone else who lives here between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. But if the acknowledgment of some Israeli Jews and sons and daughters of the kibbutzim regarding the destruction on which they established their own houses is reduced to a kind of kitsch, romantic nostalgia, of what good neighbors we once were and what a pity it is and really, some of my best friends are Arabs, and nothing tastes like the humus of Abu Yussef, but you know, we should move on and leave the past be, and take more and more land - real estate - for us and our sons and our daughters, if that is the case then I, personally, have no interest in all this. Dear members: you can still pick up the gauntlet.