A simple human story & an inspiring article by Ilana Hammerman: ‘The Illegal Entrant (Male), the Illegal Entrant (Female) and I’

Haaretz, 17.09.2015

Hebrew: השב”ח, השב”חית ואני / http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/.premium-1.2733021

My translation (with thanks to Sol Salbe, who put me onto this marvelous article, which I wish all my friends would read, and I wish them & all of us what the author wishes us in it):

I ended the year 5775 and my 71st year by smuggling a Palestinian laborer and his young niece from their village on the West Bank to my city, Jerusalem, where two days of work had been found for the laborer and two days of fun awaited the girl. The laborer got into the boot of my car and the girl sat in the seat beside me. Family members stood to the side and smiled with embarrassment, and the three of us set out on our way: the one folded up in the back, concealed, the one sitting erect and lovely and visible in the front, and also the one sitting in front, me – the excited driver, who’d been given the opportunity to do a good deed [a ‘mitzvah’] to end another year according to the Hebrew calendar and another year of her life, and in this way to wish herself and those traveling with her that [here the author cites a traditional Hebrew new year’s wish] may a year with its curses end, and a year with its blessings begin.

May a year with its curses end: I will not number all of those curses here, only those little ones that led me to do this deed, not for the first time or the last: the laborer has been unemployed most of the months of the year because in the area where he lives there is no work, not for him and not for thousands of others in the neighboring villages. In Israel there is occasionally work for him, but he, like those others, lives under a military closure order and Israel refuses to give him an entry permit to within its borders that it has fortified and blocked in the heart of his [home]land. True, he could have walked for hours, detouring around the roadblocks, squeezed through breaches in the fence that everyone knows about – hundreds do this and the army hunts down a few of them and turns a blind eye and lets the majority of them pass – but this laborer is not enough of a sportsman and not enough of a hero. He could also have chosen the surer way and bought a permit with money – but he doesn’t have enough to pay the price, more than 2,000 shekels [approx. US$500] a month, and the prices are rising fast as the distress increases.

So much for just a few of the laborer’s troubles, because of which, or maybe it just seems so to me, he looks so painfully gray. Because of them too, perhaps, he’s also skinny enough to squeeze into the boot of the car. While the girl’s still flowering in her youth. True, her father’s unemployed too, and neither she nor her brothers – she and they study at the university – have a chance of finding work when they complete their studies, but in the meantime she’s still enjoying the boon of youth and the talents and the grace she has been blessed with. All she lacks is a little more living space, to travel and tour in, and to broaden her world of experiences – she’s a girl who is full of life and full of curiosity. She’s already driven to the beach with me, and since then she hasn’t stopped asking me to take her to visit in Jerusalem. On that day I suggested that she join us and for the first time in her life see the city that is holy to her – a half-hour’s drive from her home to the roadblock and about a quarter-hour’s drive beyond it, and Jerusalem would already be spread out before her, and now she would enter it.

And so. peacefully and securely, the three of us reached the city center. We dropped the laborer uncle at his place of work, to fill in holes in walls, to smooth and plaster and whitewash them with his skilled hands and his work tools which had squeezed in with him in the boot, and his niece and I went out to tour and wander around and unwind in both the western and the eastern parts of the city. We walked and we traveled on the light rail, we went up to the tops of buildings to view the spectacular vistas of the Old City, we strolled through its alleys, entered its churches that were full of pilgrims, ate in a restaurant, had a dessert in a café, and with the waning of the day we sat for a while in the garden of my home. We made plans for the next day and lay down to sleep, tired but happy.

The next day the sun shone, the laborer worked, and we toured and unwound. And again the day waned and again we set out, the illegal entrant (male), the illegal entrant (female) and I. And we returned peacefully and securely to their homes in the imprisoned village south of the walls and the fences, had a dessert there with coffee and fruits, and I returned to my home to their north, which is imprisoned too, although in a different way.

A simple human story, a most fitting one to close the bad year that has ended, and to wish that the one that’s beginning will be blessed with thousands of similar stories. May 5776 be a year when we don’t just sit on the porch, but get outside our four walls and listen to the voice of our hearts, and make it happen that, between the sea and the Jordan, Palestinian and Jewish settlements and streets will be filled with Palestinian and Jewish men, women and children; that more and more Israelis will ignore the huge red signs planted at the entrances of Palestinian settlements to warn and to frighten and to threaten, and will ignore the laws and the arbitrary military orders and all the stupid and evil policy of separation and hatred – and will be guests there and hosts here. And will find out, like myself and others who are already doing this, how pleasant it is to be a guest and to be a host and how interesting it is to get to know the neighbor, the other, closely, face to face, to become acquainted with different human and cultural vistas, to share similar personal joys and woes; and, especially, to learn the taste of overcoming the fear and the siege that is imposed here upon all of us – the taste of freedom.

After all, how marvelous and liberating it is for an ordinary Israeli man or woman to take into their hands not the law but the liberty to knock down partitions that are internal and to ignore partitions that are outside; how good it is to be friends with our Palestinian neighbors in this small plot in the Middle East that is not yet as destroyed and torn and bleeding like its neighbor to the north, and most of its inhabitants want nothing more than to live their allotted portion of life on this earth in tranquility. To dwell with their families and among their communities, to eat and to feed sufficiently, and from time to time also to rest from their toil, to slightly release the reins of routine and to travel and tour and have a good time.

* * *

“What’s wrong with you Israelis, why won’t you allow us to breathe? During the month of Ramadan you permitted all the Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Israel, to drive to the beaches, to Jaffa, to Acre, to Haifa, to visit friends and relatives, and the people were happy and no bombs exploded and no knives were drawn – right? Believe me, I no longer care about the politics, not about the State of Palestine not about the State of Israel: I want to be a citizen in a state that will allow me to live and to earn a living with dignity and to be a free person.” – the words of an Arab taxi driver I rode with not long ago.

I’ve been hearing these things from Palestinians for years now, and of course I don’t agree – after all, I’m a political person, and from the heights of my comfortable position in life I side with a political solution. In the past, when it was still possible, I sided with two states for two peoples, and now, when it appears that it’s too late for that, I side with one state, a state of all its citizens, but since this solution too is not shining for us from the edge of the horizon, not for the millions of Palestinian Arabs and not for the millions of Israeli Jews who live here, and neither these nor those have another place to go to – since this is the case, I find myself at the outset of the new year once again fondly remembering the humane inspiration of my teacher and mentor from distant days, Albert Camus, the courageous author and intellectual. For even though I didn’t agree with the political position he took during the war in Algiers and later I also despaired about his humanism – now, when all hope is almost lost, I nevertheless find myself seeking to hold on to his simple and innocent humanism, and also trying to implement it in myself.

In the spirit of what is written in his book “Algerian Chronicles 1939–1958”, published this year by Carmel Publishers in a Hebrew translation by Shoshana Kerem [the quote below is from Justin O´Brien’s English translation of “Appeal for a Civilian Truce in Algeria”, 1956]:

“I know that the great tragedies of history often fascinate men with approaching horror. Paralyzed, they cannot make up their minds to do anything but wait. So they wait, and one day the Gorgon devours them. But I should like to convince you that the spell can be broken, that there is only an illusion of impotence, that strength of heart, intelligence, and courage are enough to stop fate and sometimes reverse it. One has merely to will this, not blindly, but with a firm and reasoned will. People are too readily resigned to fatality. They are too ready to believe that, after all, nothing but bloodshed makes history progress and that the stronger always progresses at the expense of the weaker. Such fatality exists perhaps. But man’s task is not to accept it or to bow to its laws.”

And I add here, inspired by a term coined by Camus, “The Rebel” [the coinage is in the original French: “L’Homme revolté”] – not to bow , not only to the laws of fatality but also to the laws of men, when your heart and your mind tell you that they’re not legal and not humane and not just – and when civil courage and love of humanity and of liberty give you, give us, the mental and emotional powers to rebel against them. This is my hope and these are my wishes for the new year in the Hebrew calendar and in my life may we be blessed with these mental and emotional powers.

Amen and so may it be willed – by our will.

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2 thoughts on “A simple human story & an inspiring article by Ilana Hammerman: ‘The Illegal Entrant (Male), the Illegal Entrant (Female) and I’

  1. A simple human story, insightful and moving that shatters the not-so-simple narratives of power, possession, and national paranoia.

    Like

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