Writing About Gaza From Comfort of Debra Winger's Manhattan Pad

Destruction and Outrage Seems Far Away — and It Is

haaretz

By Sayed Kashua

Published July 26, 2014.

(Haaretz) — It’s so weird to be writing from here. To be writing from New York, where we decided to make a week-long stop before going on to Illinois. How can I write about what’s happening in Israel when I’m not there? How can I sound credible writing about the children in the Gaza Strip while sitting in a pleasant apartment in Manhattan that belongs to a good friend named Debra Winger?

Of course, I’m not able to disconnect from the news. I wake up early in the morning in a panic and rush immediately to find out what new disasters have occurred in the interim, because of the time difference. Still, it’s very different to read the news from here, different when I watch reports on American and international news channels, and read the Times every morning. Even if, generally speaking, the American press can be considered pro-Israeli, at least here they also report the Palestinian pain, choosing agonizing photographs of the war. And, yes, even the American press knows that the war is being fought in Gaza, against the Gazans.

It’s so hard to write for Israelis when I’m not “hooked into the vein” of the media over there, when I don’t hear Army Radio announcements of air-raid sirens going off, don’t see newspapers with huge front-page photos of soldiers’ funerals, don’t hear Channel 2’s Roni Daniel and the rest of our war- and Arab-affairs correspondents talking about a just war. About another war of no choice. About the problematic neighborhood in which the ultra-compassionate, humane Chosen People – so very humane even when it rains down tons of explosives on residential buildings – finds itself.

It’s hard to write from a place in which the dead of the other side are also given some consideration.

It’s so hard to write for Israelis when I see reports about the events in Gaza filed by real reporters, who are there on the ground, despite the destruction, the danger and the supreme efforts by the Israeli government to embitter their lives.

How can I write that I am no longer afraid of the prime minister, even if I sometimes dream of him, standing there and imbuing the nation with hatred and fear as only he can, in order to prepare it for war?

How will I write when I no longer feel like a hostage, when I no longer live among you and have no need to choose my words in order to protect myself, to survive? It’s so hard to write when declarations by Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman about boycotting Israel’s Arab citizens sound here like fascist barking, whereas there, if I were in Israel, they would have fateful consequences.

I am afraid of the very fact that I am no longer afraid. I am afraid because I feel that I can write about anything – if not in Hebrew, then in any other language.

I always knew I had to find a special way to write my stuff. After all, I chose to write in Hebrew, chose to address the Israelis when I knew that I would never be part of the legitimate discourse, the internal discussion, the Jewish critique within the family. I knew that I would always be considered an enemy and that I would have to weigh every sentence, every word.

But I also knew that the day would come when the internal Jewish discussion would also stop being legitimate. I always knew that anyone who stops seeing certain people as human beings, anyone who is not capable of thinking about Palestinians as human beings, will very quickly also stop seeing Jews as human beings.

Because of all this, and because I am far from the inferno, I don’t feel that I have the right to write about the war.

With all the pain, it’s different to hear about the ground invasion of Gaza when I’m sitting in the Big Daddy diner on Broadway where golden oldies are playing, and there are pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe on the walls.

I’ve been in New York for only a week and already feel like a different person, a lot more relaxed. Relaxed even though my wife still shouts the same things at me that she shouted in Jerusalem. Because it’s different here, it’s very different when she screams at me on Madison Avenue than it is in the commercial center of Kiryat Hayovel.

We’ve fought on every corner of this city. This is the first time my wife and children have been in the United States of America, and they want to see everything, and fast, when what I mostly want to do is to rest and sleep.

“Since when have you become such a miser?” my wife yelled at me below the Statue of Liberty. “Everyone told me I have to go to Century 21.”

“All right,” I said, trying a gentle approach. “We’re not here on holiday, we’re here to stay. Take it easy. There are stores in Chicago, too.”

I answered her in a soft tone of voice that I’ve never used before – I tell you, I’m turning into a different person, and I am very much afraid that after another few days here, I will start to be considered a supportive, considerate husband.

Our biggest argument took place in front of the Museum of Natural History. It was a brutal affair. It started with the children kicking each other at the entrance. My wife started to shout at them in Arabic and in Hebrew that they have no shame, that she’s had all she can take of them, that she’s wrecking her feet so they can see as much as possible of New York, while they are busy quarreling. And over what? A doughnut.

I put a little distance between myself and the family, and watched them as though I had no connection with them. Two black women stood next to me, stunned by the shouting at the children, shaking their heads.

“It’s awful what she’s doing to those kids,” one of the women told me, apparently on the brink of calling the city’s welfare services.

Yes, I replied, but in American: “Yup.”

“What language are they speaking, anyway?” the woman asked.

“French,” I told her. “Looks to me like they’re French.”

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