By Marina Triner
“Privilege is invisible”, Michael Kimmel claimed . Has it always been invisible to me? I am an Israeli, Russian, Jewish woman. I was never able to put these in the correct order, or to formulate an order. They change moment to moment. I know that everyone is privileged somehow. Some, like Kimmel, depict the white-male-heterosexual as the most free, the least conscious, the most privileged. The w-m-h is the most blind. But I have been blind, and we are all blind to a facet of our culture, our environment that is privileged, that others could not enjoy, until we are exposed to it.
“I walked in the Arab villages of northern Israel”
“Two realities: the Arab city and the Bedouin unrecognized village. With exquisite tea and hospitality”
Beautiful white buildings.
Dark gloomy shacks.
Those were the Arabs.
I lived in Israel for 10 years. But here I am now, in the part of Israel I have never seen. Arabs? They live here? I have spoken to them before, I have befriended them, I have tried to delve into their souls. But I was only 17, and I am now almost 22. I am different, I am knowledgeable, mostly about my lack of knowledge. This is my new maturity: my ability to understand my lack of understanding.
And I walked through their town. They were kind, but not all of them. How can you categorize a people? So many of us, Israeli Jews, do. And so many of them, Christian and Muslim Arabs, categorize us. Are we us and them? Are we all Israeli? We went around the room. Some said, “I am a Palestinian living in Israel”, and others said “I am a Muslim Israeli”, or “I am an Arab-Israeli”. And I tried to listen.
“Like in a movie, an Arab village in the South”
But it was not through the walks in the town, the market, the restaurant that my privilege was uncovered. It was through conversation, a dialogue, but one where I hoped to keep my piece for later. I wanted to hear.
“We listen with an open heart”
“Schneider, the director, plays with the brother of a Bedouin girl from our program. Sports are always a relief”
Privilege? But I grew up with this story. The story that Israel is a democratic nation that allows its Arab minority privileges that no Arab nation would ever allow.
“On the last day of Passover, when everything is closed. Interestingly named street as well”
My father’s voice echoed in my head. What is privilege? Do I have a privilege when the Qassams (a qassam rocket is a simple steel artillery rocket filled with explosives, developed and deployed by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas) hit so close to my grandmother’s head that she nearly thought she was dead, pieces falling everywhere, heart beating, sinking down to her shoes (This is what my reality could have looked like. This is what the reality of my friends and family looks like. They still live in Ashkelon, Israel). She laughs, my grandmother. She laughs every time she tells the story. She laughs so loudly that I almost can’t get passed the tears inside of her soul. But I still see them through her raging laugh. “Oh, but we’re so used to it. And at least we have not had it for so long like Sderot. We’re used to it. Isn’t it funny?” I want to scream.
I want chocolates so badly, but it is the last day of Passover, and everything in Beer Sheva is closed. We’re at the dinner table and I talk about chocolate for maybe 10 minutes, as I always do. “Alright, we’re going”, Reem says. Beautiful Reem! She takes me to the only open store in the city, and we talk. “I don’t want this country to stop being a Jewish country,” she says. She wants a school, a good school, in her village, so she does not have to drive so far. She wants the government to open positions for national service to the Arab population. Yes, there are about 1,000 spots she says. Yes, each spot costs the government money to maintain. But they do this for the Jews. So many Arabs cannot participate.
The warm summer nights, the smiling people, the giving, loving people. They are not perfect. They are not perfect? They make mistakes. They put some of us first because of our religion. But the Nazis also put some Germans first because of their religion. I don’t want that to happen.
That conversation with Reem, the simple drive after a simple chocolate, which she understood being a chocolate-craver herself, changed me. Ahmad’s decision to keep Passover and abstain from eating bread with us, the Jews, changed me forever, in unimaginable ways. I was touched, I was remolded, I began to rethink.
I am privileged. I want to understand my privilege, and I want to make it visible. This country, which I love, deserves my criticism so that it can grow and become just towards all its citizens.
My privilege was revealed to me.
I am walking on the street, alone. I breathe, I stumble. I just want it to happen, just one time. If it happens one time, and I run, and I’m okay, then I won’t be scared anymore. I will know what to do. It’s so hard to breathe. I don’t want to die. I don’t want pieces of it to enter my skin and to stay with me.
Will it stay with me, or will they take it out?
How far does it have to explode from me to kill me?
How far does it have to explode so that I can stay alive, after a long hospital stay, after the grief of parents who wanted to assure that I will not enter this land again?
How long do I have to run? I look at the magnet on my grandmother’s fridge. We, in Ashkelon, have 30 seconds. Oh, I guess that’s not so bad.
“A bomb shelter serving as a bus-stop”
” ‘Somewhere out there, someone is thinking about you’, San Diego 2009: someone wrote inside the walls of a bomb shelter in Southern Israel”
“In a small Kibbutz next to Sderot; there are bomb shelters almost literally every ten steps
” ‘I am a proud reserve soldier’, says the bumper sticker on the car next to the bomb shelter”
How far do I run in 30 seconds? I could run a marathon, I swear.
But in Sderot they have 15, I think. Can they make it?
I breathe heavily. I wish it happened when I was at home. I wish it happened when I was sleeping. Maybe not, because it would scare me to death. I just want it to happen. Just once, and then I swear I won’t be scared. I swear. But I am terrified. So terrified.
And then I think to myself, they have to do this every day. There were days they had to do this 40 times a day. 40 times!!! But why? I don’t have time to think why. I only have time to think about my plan. Wait, when I hide, in the building, do I have to face the east or the west?
I tell my friend, “it’s so funny, in this city everyone goes on walks, no one jogs”. He laughs. “Wait until the rockets”, he says. “Then, everyone will be running”. Where are we running? Sometimes, we curse the day we came here. We curse the moment we came from the USSR, where we were dirty Jews, to this place, where we are cleaner, loving Jews, who have to hide in dirty places from dirty things.
I swear, if it happens just once, I won’t be scared. That’s how they get you. When you’re scared. When you stop your normal life. That’s what my friends say…
“You are a lefty? That’s not good”, my grandfather says. My grandfather is always smiling. Nothing ever bothers him. Except that I’m “a lefty”. Because the Arabs, they are responsible for this. My grandmother, she convinced all her friends to vote for Avigdor Lieberman. There is a hope that he will bring peace. There is a hope his heavy-handed tactics will solve the problem. “We need heavy-handed tactics now”.
My goodness, I’d like to spend one day in peace. Inner-peace at least. But I’m a lefty… lefties don’t get discounts here. And then when I sit at a bar with “the lefties”, and they hear about my trip to the Arab towns in the north and in the south, and without guards, without weapons?!?!?! Stunning. Their eyes get bigger than any eyes I’ve ever seen. But I promise, I say, it’s a 5-minute drive from your houses. Why don’t you try it one day? They are stunned. They are flabbergasted. It is so difficult for them to understand how I visited “the other world”. This is what they manage to say: “we don’t want to offend you but… your attitude is Americanized. You don’t understand”. I hate this dismissal of who I am, what I stand for, what I believe, what I bring to them.
My mind brings to them an idea. I want them to consider it, once their eyes pop back into their sockets.
The idea: Arabs are human beings with flaws and problems and some of them are funny, and some of them are annoying, and some of them are brilliant. And many of them are nice. And no, they are not liars. And yes, they think we are liars just like we think they are. We, meaning they… not me. But I had to say we. I am trying here, trying to make some kind of impression that I fit this nation at all. I do, I fit it with my soul. But sometimes, it just makes me feel like a stateless person. I am not American, I am not Israeli. I have ideas that maybe I should save for myself? I guess it is very out there to assume that some Jews are liars, and some Arabs are liars, and some Jews are more humane than others, and so are some Arabs.
But of course, Lieberman will save our situation.
“I can see Gaza from Southern Israel. It is so close. Maybe a 10 minute drive?”
“A sign details what the viewer is seeing from the Israeli side. What do they see from the Palestinian side?”
“If I hear the word Lieberman in this house, I will scream so loud that no one will hear anything again,” my grandmother responds to the news on her tiny little radio. There is not a single moment when her tiny little radio is not on. “Quiet, it’s the news!” [in Russian]. So I have to be quiet for many hours in the day… Breaking news at 1 and 2 and 3… every hour on the dot.
Here, I am a beloved lefty, at my other grandparents’ house. They used to like the Labor party, but now they don’t. Now they think all the good ones left, because all politicians are corrupt. The Labor party is no longer what it used to be when all the intellectuals were there. Because Lieberman and Netanyahu are not intelligent, according to my grandmother. And everyone who votes for them is also not intelligent. So who is going to save the situation?
My grandmother thinks that Israel is on the brink of extinction. She says that I’m laughing it off like the Jews did in Europe right before the Holocaust. She says we can’t joke with Iran. She says Obama is okay, even interesting, even wonderful. But she says it very quietly, because she does not want to offend those who do not agree. She says there are nice Arabs, like the ones in the north who she used to buy real goat’s milk from. She says sometimes we oppress them, sometimes they oppress us. I smile, quietly. I smile at the thoughts of a 60 something year-old [her age is not mentioned here, because even I am unsure of it exactly. Long time family secret].
There is no solution in her book, no prescription. Maybe a conversation with them, with our neighbors, is a nice start, she says.
I am an educator, so I educate. I educate about the Jewish Israelis, the people I grew to be part of. I educate about the Arab Israelis, or the Arabs-48, or the Palestinians living in Israel, the people who I’m getting to know well, slowly learning more and more words they use to define themselves, explicating the immense complexity of this land, of these peoples. I am an educator for an incredible, courageous, true experience called the Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI) (http://jitli.org/) . I am an educator for a program that does not run from the truth, that aims to “seek truth without fear”, like Judah Magnes said.
I am not fearful, not with one grandmother, nor with the other. Not with Israeli Jews on the streets, not with Arabs. Only with guns, and rockets, and hatred. Then I am fearful. Then I grow silent, then I stop seeking and speaking.
I want to understand you, and you to understand me. And how must we do this? It is so simple, yet so complicated. But we’re getting there. Talk to me, I am here, I am listening. I am sitting in a bomb shelter, and I am waiting for you to come in and tell me how it hurts, even through your wide smile . I am sitting in the hut, the messy, dirty school, and I am waiting for you to tell me that you wish for more, and you wish to be just like the others, and for the Israeli government to give that to you because you are first and foremost a human being. I am sitting in my beautiful, groomed, quiet university, and I am waiting for you to tell me your story, and for me to tell you what they told me about their stories, and what I can tell you about my story.
I want to educate about a HUMAN conflict. I don’t want to talk about money, weapons, blockades, walls, terrorists, extremists, rabbis, imams, or God. No, others can talk about that. But no one talks about what I want to talk about. What about me? What about Reem? What about my grandmother? What about Ahmad? What about Maya? No one talks about them. Everyone is busy with their propaganda. Everyone is busy with a blog, an Ethnic Studies blog, a Divestment plan, an investment plan, a pro-Israel plan, a pro-Palestine plan, a pro-peace plan, but not really, an AS Resolution, because look how noble and righteous we are, and how neutral.
I want to talk about a human plan for human contact. Can we talk for a minute?
“Typical Middle Easterner. I am caught in the midst of an explanation. I can only explain with my hands. My two friends in the back get it…”
I just finished telling you my story. There is human pain and human suffering in my story, so much of it. There is this pain in the souls of Israelis, of Palestinians, of Jews and Muslims and Arabs. There is also joy in their eyes and happiness and love and warmth. Do you want to see these things? Do you want to know their soul and understand THEM? Or perhaps you only want to understand propaganda, and then you want to acknowledge how much of it there is, and complain that you don’t have another source to understand “the conflict”?
This is not our conflict. It’s their conflict. It’s the conflict of the politicians. They have interests that are a bit beyond ours. So talk to me, and talk to all of us, UCSD students, who were there. The human stories, the human pain, this is something that all of this globe has felt. The human joy also. You will understand, and I will not rob you of that understanding. Let’s talk about this HUMAN situation. I am not pro-Israel, I am not pro-Palestine, I am not pro-peace (what does that even mean? Everyone is pro-peace, aren’t they?) I am pro-stories. Narratives of individuals who have lived in shattered moments and shiny moments. These stories, they carry with them on their backs. These stories you can know, because they are eager to tell them, because no one really listens these days. The articles are much more exciting. But these human stories, they will prevail in the end. Their justice will prevail, and the world will smile again, and humans will become even more human in their flaws and wonders. This I believe.
We talked. A lot.
For more pieces like this and to follow Marina Triner’s journey through Israel please visit Prospect Blog
The Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute
(JITLI) was created in 2000 with the assistance of the United Jewish
Federation of San Diego County. The Institute realizes the vision of its
founders to create a program dedicated to the education and leadership
development of young people in the context of interaction with other
cultures. By creating a partnership between the Communities of San Diego,
Sha’ar Hanegev, Segev Shalom and Lakiya, JITLI aims to break down
stereotypes and building lasting relationships leading to a vibrant and
JITLI offers the opportunity for the participants to appreciate their
similarities, acknowledge their differences and understand each other’s
JITLI will impact the lives of the young participants forever, imbuing
them with the knowledge, the tools and the will to affect their own
futures and those of their peers and communities.
For more information please visit the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute website here.
Photos by Marina Triner.