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book excerpt:

"Third Ritual of Truce — First Confession of Wrongdoing"

Among its its many virtues, Benjamin Hollander's new book is an enticing call to converse, a hand extended in invitation to an honest dance. In a word-world dominated by pre-fabricated arguments, and pre-emptive bottom lines, this book sets a high standard of responsivity and openness.

Benjamin Hollander

from Rituals of Truce and the Other Israeli (Parrhesia Press, 2004)

25 Mar. 2004

Note to readers: "Raja" is Palestinian Writer and Human Rights Lawyer Raja Shehadeh, who lives in Ramallah. In "Third Ritual of Truce," Hollander cites excerpts from his book, The Third Way: A Journey of Life On the West Bank.

Dear Raja,

  I dream I am Ariel Sharon.(3) But the Ariel Sharon I dream is not the man who perpetrated “the incomprehensible massacre” in Sabra and Shatila nor the man who boastfully walked to the al-Aqsa Mosque, but rather the one in almost every Jew — even the Jew for whom Ariel Sharon is a nightmare — whose bunkered identity has been shaped and manipulated by fears of being sold out by the world for oil and which the insanity of his nationalist mythologies have conditioned him to assume and defend because he has come to trust no one. It’s a bit odd, I confess, to be this Ariel Sharon, since I’m fairly thin and don’t have a taste for pork. Perhaps, then, I’m not this Ariel Sharon, but Elie Wiesel, or the Elie Wiesel who secretly dreams he is Ariel Sharon, and for whom “the enemies of Israel are also enemies of western powers.” (4) Or maybe I’m not even dreaming I’m Elie Wiesel dreaming he is Ariel Sharon, but the Israeli who, you write, “proclaim[s] [himself] against the occupation” and for whose “friendly overtures” you have “a deeper and more painful suspicion. . . . For it very often happens that the gesture of friendship is no more than a request for a pat on the back to salve [his] unhappy conscience, or else you are being used as fodder for someone with a theory of world revolution, etc. . . .” One moment he appears “face to face” “as a friend,” and then the next moment he turns his back. Perhaps, as you write, he “expect[s] you to forget . . . the accumulation through the years of the wrongs that his people have done to [yours]. . . Most well-meaning Israelis,” you say, “adopt a stance of ‘forgive and forget’ on meeting samidin — but without any knowledge of what they are asking us to forget. They mean that we should forgive and forget things that they don’t even bother to know about, things that happened to us because they came here.” And though, I confess, I can dream this “well-meaning Israeli,” I don’t think he will confess very soon that he dreams of being Ariel Sharon, which he does when he turns [on] his back to sleep, forgetting the dream he doesn’t “even bother to know about,” like the child at the Passover Seder who is unable to ask the question, who doesn’t even know enough to know what he needs to know about the story. It turns out, of course, that we are all dreaming each other’s dreams, which makes the ritual fairly common, widespread, archetypal, almost Jungian. And this—I confess and you already know—is the root of the problem, which is why it is no dream.

Notes:

3. In September 1982, while Ariel Sharon was Defense Minister of Israel, “at least 700 to 800 Palestinians, and possibly as many as several thousand, were slaughtered in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut by the Israeli-armed and -allied Lebanese Phalange (Kata’eb) militia while nearby Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel looked on and did nothing to stop the sixty-two-hour indiscriminate carnage.” (http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/mideast/mideast4.html)
18 years later, 2 months after Camp David (September 28, 2000), Sharon, “now the leader of the Israeli opposition coalition, visited the site of the al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. Known as Al-Harem al-Sharif to Arabs and the Temple Mount to Israelis, the site marks the spot where the prophet Mohamed is said to have ascended to heaven. Surrounded by armed police and reporters, Sharon approached to within yards of the mosque.
“This crude reassertion of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem came at a critical moment in the Israeli election campaign. Sharon’s opponent, Ehud Barak, had been badly hurt by the perception that he had offered major concessions to the Palestinians at Camp David and had still been rebuffed. Sharon’s visit to the Al-Harem al-Sharif was a clear statement—under his leadership there would be no more Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.
“But the gesture provoked fury from the Palestinians, who demonstrated the following day in Jerusalem. Israeli security forces responded by killing four Palestinians and injuring 200, even though there were no reports of gunfire from the demonstrators. This unleashed a wave of protests throughout the occupied territories that has come to be known as the al-Aqsa Intifada (uprising). The man who triggered it all—Ariel Sharon—was rewarded with a landslide victory in the Israeli election,” becoming the 15th Prime Minister of Israel on February 6, 2001. (http://advocacynet.autoupdate.com/news_view/news_164.html)

4. Elie Wiesel, “Israeli Enemies Are Western Enemies,” The Daily Free Press Online (Boston University), September 12, 2001. “Incredulity, shock, outrage: strong as these words are, they remain too weak to describe what we all, in New York and elsewhere felt as the terrorist “war against our country” began. As Americans were counting their dead and trying to cope with the immense tragedy that struck our cities, in their camps Palestinians were jubilant. . . . What will it take so that all civilized nations get angry enough and discover the ugly brutality of international terrorism . . . ? One thing becomes increasingly clear: the enemies of Israel are also enemies of western powers . . . suicide bombers no longer limit themselves to destroy the lives of Israelis and Jews. . . . Following the orders of their religious leaders, they are all determined to wound and kill Jews and Americans, all civilians, wherever they are to be found.”

 
 

Benjamin Hollander was born in Israel and emigrated to New York City in 1958, at the age of six. He has lived in San Francisco since 1978. A poet and essayist, scholar and teacher, his books include Vigilance (Beyond Baroque, 2004), Levinas and the Police, Part 1 (Chax Press, 2001), The Book Of Who Are Was (Sun & Moon, 1997), How to Read, too (Leech Books, 1992), and, as editor, Translating Tradition: Paul Celan in France (ACTS, 1988).