Where You Living
With the exception of certain moments of punctuated reality, I usually act as if I am still in America even though America is someplace very very far away. But it goes both ways, and there are times where I can—to the degree that anyone in any country around the world can ignore America—ignore America. The trade-off, of course, is having to think about where I am now.
Recently I read Sadness is a White Bird. I wrote a review about it too for Full Stop, but there were a few other thoughts that I couldn't fit into what I wrote there. Mostly this: there's a frustrating fact about the subject of the book that it is hard to separate from the book itself: why should it be necessary to even tell this story?
Any decent person with empathy and a basic understanding for human rights wishes for a world where there is no Occupation, where the injustice of the Nakba is addressed, and where there is a full instatement of rights to all Israel’s citizens. In a world like that there wouldn’t be a reason for Sadness is a White Bird to exist. To some extent, this is a book, or any book where an Israeli leftist chooses to fictionalize a plot with the message that The Occupation Must End, has an author who must resent the book’s existence.
Characterizing this idea—that this moment, the Occupation, should already be over—is the timelessness that the narrative of Sadness is a White Bird seems to have. For most of the time I was reading, it felt as if this was a story that was taking place in the late 90s. It was a feeling that was punctuated only by those moments when the characters are using technology that root the story in a specific, mid-Naughties: Google, Skype, texting. Culturally speaking, Israel always seems about a decade behind everything that is happening in the United States, so in some way this effect to me definitely identifies this book as a piece of Israeli literature.
That’s a designation that doesn’t come naturally for a novel in English written by an American transplant. Among Israelis, the book would never properly be called Israeli literature, the same way that my book, which was written in Israel, could never be called Israeli literature. No American would call it that and especially no Israelis would call it that. It fails on two levels: one it is not in Hebrew, and two, it is written by an American, and in that sense, no matter how much time is spent in Israel, no matter how Zionistic or not, not by an Israeli. Of course there are exceptions.
However it applies to literature, it is a situation which underlies the identity of the American transplant to Israel, one part of what’s referred to here as the Anglo community, that there is always a distance between this identity and your identity. Rothman-Zecher already moved back to the United States, so we know where he stands.
This is not one of those times that I can ignore America. I wonder what I can do from America that I am not doing here, and if I were to move back to the States would it implicate me any less in the Occupation than if I were to stay. The US embassy already opened in Jerusalem back in May, we're already a fully participating member of violating Palestinian rights. Hell, we just pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, checking out of the world with specific reference to where our empathy falls on the Israel-Palestine spectrum. Would moving back to the States just trade that off for all of the crimes against humanity that are currently being carried out by Americans against the people and children who arrive at our border and are forced into concentration camps? Being here doesn't excuse me for that. There are no trade backs. We are to blame no matter where we live. Now it's time to do something about it.
[Top image: NYC2TLV at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons]