Sunday, December 24, 2006

Queues, Cartography, Language Barriers and British (NOT ENGLISH!) arrogance.

I am standing line what looks nothing like a line, in order to get into a bus headed towards Ranana in order to light Chanukah candles. I am being screamed at by a randomite Israeli woman because she is claiming that I am pushing her “Can’t you see the line?” she says in Hebrew amongst other things, I felt like saying “No I can’t see the line, this looks nothing like a line, this is so far from a line that it might as well be a circle, but I really truly do not feel the necessity to argue, because I know that we will all get on the bus, I can see there is room and if I am gonna pick a fight over this, then really, I will have to start pushing people, and I just can’t do that”.

Then I started thinking about Israeli attitudes to lines and queues and the general habit of pushing in and claiming your space and how this might translate to larger concepts. If this is what the common Israeli considers a well ordered queue then what do they consider a well ordered border?

In my studies of Israeli history, I know that I can really blame the British for the current borders of Israel, they just seemed to have some need to draw these straight lines throughout Africa and divide land on maps using a ruler. While this is all well and good, when looking at a modern day map of the west bank, you will notice that Israeli Arab, Palestinian and Jewish villages are all dotted in between each other, and the concept of drawing a straight line, wall or border in the area is near impossible. Borders are now looking more and more like squiggles…since we are side by side already. What is stopping this co-existence from being a peaceful reality?

My thoughts jump to populations that we do peacefully co-exist with such as Christians. I am currently going through a Christian phase. I am really fascinated, about how this religion spread so far without internet, when if you look down at the nitty gritty it makes not a lot of sense (to me anyway, looking from a Jewish perspective). Whilst in our past we have crusades, lack of acknowledgement and apologies – Today Christians live side by side with Jews in Israel. They can observe their festivals, have access to all their holy sites which we can see as well and I have. The Jerusalem Municipality in conjunction with JNF gave out free Christmas trees. There is a Christian edition of the Jeruslaem Post and I generally get the feeling that they do whatever they want and we do whatever we want, we peacefully co-exist.

A few weeks ago I visited the Monastery of the Cross. It is built on the site where the tree that was used to make Jesus’s cross grew. The story behind this special tree involves Lot planting a tree as an act of repentance after sleeping with his daughters it was believed if the tree grew he would be forgiven. Here is a story based on people who are in my heritage as well, but where is the truth? Here I am standing in this old building looking at a piece of ground where some tree used to grow, which now has these beautiful mosaics and building surrounding it and it means something to someone – so what is really important out of all of this?
I feel like the common ground here, is we both believe in something, that is guiding our lives and this gives us common respect for each other. I might believe that my path is the correct one, but here we are, passionate people, creating communities, celebrating life and that is what is important…as much as they might be mutually exclusive, the are interconnected because we are side by side, doing it together and it makes me happy to see that this is in fact possible.

Language Barriers
Then I start thinking about the borders between people. In Australia, you can not treat a patient in the hospital unless they understand what exact treatment they are receiving. There must be a translator present. In the hospital here, it is my fault if I do not speak their language. When previously musing about being arrogant because I expected signs in Spain to be in English, I translate that to my experiences in the hospital. I am proud that I have picked up words in Russian and Arabic, in order to treat people. Now all I need is Persian, Kurdish and Yiddish. The thing about language is it opens up an entire culture.
A friend of mine was commenting to me how her new parents in law, laugh at the language that her new husband and her have created between Hebrew and English. At first he spoke to English now they speak Hebrish. It’s about meeting half way, it’s about putting in an effort.
When I mentioned that in the hospital most Israel-Arabs understand Hebrew, but most Israeli’s do not speak Arabic, and maybe we should learn it more since it is a national language I was put in my place at the Friday night dinner table and the argument was purely based on numbers…there are more Jews than Arabs, so who cares that it’s a national language..they have to deal, I think perhaps the idea being communicated is “If they treat me badly, why should I have to put in the effort to understand who they are”.
At first I did not put in the effort to learn the words I needed in the different languages and thought to myself, look, they have to learn the Hebrew, but then I slowly came around because, it’s me that wants to communicate the message, so it’s my responsibility to communicate it effectively.
At the end of the day, I think that if there has to be an effort on both sides to communicate, but we need to create a language of our own so there is some common ground between us, if we can not speak, if the lines of communication are not open, then a relationship has no hope.

British Arrogance
I was recently informed by an English man that I should never call him British because it would be like calling me Australasian and how would I like that?…Who cares? Well he does. He cares so much about being English that he can’t sit through one conversation about Australia. He can not put in any effort to learn anyone’ else’s language and I pity him, because the common thread through all of this is arrogance. If you think that you are better than someone else, if you think that you know better, if you think you deserve to be treated in a certain way and forget the rest, then there really is no point in interacting with larger society.

So my friends…don’t sweat the small stuff…choose your fights carefully…if “land is the only thing worth fighting for” (Gerald O ‘Hara – Gone With the Wind) then I think someone needs to get off their moral high horse and onto the ground and experience what everyone else is experiencing until they see that perhaps they are not so special, perhaps we are all equal. If you want to peacefully co-exist with someone then you need to put in the effort to break down the barriers, pay attention to your neighbor and create your own language between yourselves. I can see that Israel as a country is capable of this and this is what makes me proud to live here, but sometimes I wish that individuals who reside inside heeded this message.


Blogger tafka PP said...

I was put in my place at the Friday night dinner table and the argument was purely based on numbers…there are more Jews than Arabs, so who cares that it’s a national language..they have to deal

That is a very hollow argument which was used against you: You were 100% right to say what you said. Further, the national languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic (English was dropped).

Great post.

2:05 AM  
Anonymous Queen of Katamon said...

I was at the airport in NY once "massing up" to get on the plane and this couple, for sure in their 60's literally pushed in front of me and then looked at me and laughed, like that was a clever thing to do. So I fake laughed at them, made a face and turned away. They then proceeded to harass and insult me all the way to the plane, I tried to out run them, but this elderly couple were literally yelling out obsenities at me from two stories above, in Hebrew for daring to point out that cutting lines is not an Israeli characteristic one should be proud of.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Sterling into Shekel said...

You are turning into a leftie. I am glad to see this transformation. Hope your dad doesn't read your blog.

9:09 PM  
Blogger gils said...

Point of Clarification: What I am tryign to get across is, that because of our uneasy history with Christianity, you would think that there would be a lot more problems between us living in modern Israel. Yet there aren't. Our relationship has 'seemingly matured'. I find this fascinating. So when looking for a place to start in order for our relationship with Islam to mature, I think that communication could be a good things. Just ebcause I think a relationship is two-sided does not make me left. I would chain myself to my apartment if anyone would come and tell me that this no longer belonged to me just like anyone in Gush Katif did. I have personal borders as well.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My name is Malia and I live in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. I have been reading/lurking on your blog for several months now. I think I found you via my Site Meter.

Your blog is fascinating to me. It's a window into a world I may never know and a compelling way to look at the world through the lens of someone very different from me.

This post has been in my head ever since I read it a couple of weeks ago. I am a Christian. I live in what in America is called, The Bible Belt. The thoughts that you put out there about peacefully co-existing with Christians in Israel was very poignant and profound to me.

I want to share what you have to say on my blog, but before I do that, I feel the responsible thing to do is to "out" myself to you first, to let you know that I'm reading your blog and linking to it.


9:08 AM  

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