Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Certain death

When we finally took off from Ben Gurion airport and left Israel and Palestine behind, it was with mixed feelings. I was relieved to have gotten through the airport relatively easily, but I was also unsure of what had actually happened in the six weeks I had been in Ramallah. I had experienced an incredible hospitality and openness and had met people who I am sure are friends and who I will see again. Samar had even invited me to return next year, but I had also experienced something horrible that really affected me. I tried to see the Wall while the plane was ascending through the Israeli airspace (as the Palestinians don’t have any airspace) and I hoped that I would be able to get a last glance at the landscape on the other side but all I could see was a strangely hazy landscape towards the east. I felt like I had been a witness to a natural disaster and was now on my way back to my safe home far from the destruction. My ability to organise and classify feelings and pack them into boxes isn’t very good, and so I wasn’t able to just put my experiences in Palestine behind me and focus on future projects and responsibilities at home even though it would be easier in every way. So this split filled me with uneasiness. We were soon over the sea and Palestine, the Wall, the beers, the dope, SnowBar, the settlements and weapons disappeared behind me at 600-700 km per hour. Everything, though, was also still with me here on the plane and I could feel that it had left deep marks in my consciousness.

Next to me were two young Israelis who apparently were going to Zurich just as I was. I was tired and didn’t feel like talking to anyone. However, I couldn’t help myself from thinking that these two young guys must have been enrolled in the Israeli army and had in some way or another contributed to the occupation. They were young and very trendy with short hair and seemed very confident. So these bodies right next to me were in some way or another connected with the evil that I felt that I had truly experienced. At least this was my immediate feeling, but I shut off my brain with my iPod and a few bottles of wine and snoozed most of the way back to Europe.

When we got close to Zurich, the guy next to me turned to me and said that he wanted to ask me a question. He wanted to know if I knew anything about the countryside in Tuscany. The two guys wanted to get out into nature and apparently figured that I knew something about the possibilities in northern Italy. He said that they were going first to Goetheanum in Dornach to a festival of theosophy for a week. They were Steiner (Waldorf) students. While we were speaking, he was suffering quite a bit from the pressure changes during the landing, but he continued the conversation despite the pressure in his ears. He was very preoccupied by existential questions and seemed to be very inquisitive and we had a quite diffuse but momentarily interesting discussion. He asked me where I had been and I answered that I had been to Ramallah. I’d got used to lying, but thought that I might as well be honest and see where it would lead to as I was out of the conflict area now. He frowned, and asked me what I had been doing there. I told him that I had been invited to teach at ArtSchool Palestine and he seemed quite surprised that there were any art schools at all in the West Bank. We spoke a bit about the conflict and I couldn’t help but ask if they had been in the Israeli army and whether they had been soldiers. He lifted a finger and turned it around a bit next to his temple and said that he had been in the army but couldn’t handle it. He’d had a breakdown after nine months and completed the rest of his service at a desk in an office. He had become crazy, he told me. This was not the story that I’d expected, but then on the other hand I don’t know what I had expected. I asked about what they knew about the West Bank; I tried explaining to them that there are art schools, universities and a vibrant cultural life on the other side, but he looked at me and said: ‘It is widely known that it would be certain death for me, as an Israeli, to go to the West Bank. There are enough examples of that. It would be certain death.’ I didn’t really know how to answer him, but it was clear that he was convinced that he would be killed if he entered the Palestinian areas. However, the only truly barbaric experience I had witnessed in the West Bank was the Israeli occupation.

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