"Flowers of Galilee" - Foreword (p.10-14) - Why I Support the Return of Palestinians (p.15-16)
- The State of Mind (p.17-34)
- The Green Rain of Yassouf (p.35-49)
Ode to Farris or The Return of the Knight (p.50-56) - Our Lady of Sorrow (p.57-60)
- "Flowers of Galilee" -
Israel Shamir: "Blumen aus Galiläa. Schriften gegen die Zerstörung des Heiligen Landes" (ProMedia Publishing House, Vienna 2005) is the revised, supplemented and abridged translation of the book: "Flowers of Galilee. The Collected Essays of Israel Shamir". The German version contains 25 essays, a foreword and a foreword of the publisher, on a total of 214 pages. The English edition (2004, ISBN 1-893302-78-4) contains 57 essays on about16 320 pages. Thus, the German and the English versions are not the same book.
The study at hand deals with the German edition. In the following, the individual pieces will be reviewed one by one, in a way that Shamir and his assertions are characterized from within the text. The length of the individual pieces varies between 2 and 29 pages. The titles are: Foreword, Why I Support the Return of Palestinians, The State of Mind, The Green Rain of Yassouf, Ode to Farris, Our Lady of Sorrow, Olives of Aboud, Joseph Revisited, The City of the Moon, The City of the Beloved, the Invasion, The Last Action Heroes, Hills of Judea, The Wall, Galilee Flowers, Mamilla Pool, April is the Cruellest Month, Is the Intifada over? (3 pages, could not be found in the English edition), Fiesta of St. Fermin, A Yiddishe Medina, On the Move, Phantom of Terror, Bali Halloween, The Shadow of Zog, The Wise Raven is Dead, Sumud and Flux (not in the English version). As the three pages of publisher Fritz Edlinger's foreword are not topical anymore, they are not reviewed here. See the interview in the first chapter of the flowers debate.
- Foreword (p.10-14) -
Israel Adam Shamir wrote the five pages of the foreword for the German edition in Jaffa in January 2005. In it, he deals with the relationship between Germans, Jews and the land of Palestine through history. Three themes catch the eye: the insistence on equality between Jews and non-Jews, the accusation of racism and the destruction of the country, and the description of ethnic groups, sometimes in a romantic way. Shamir begins his speech, for example, with calling the edition at hand a "declaration of love to my German readers from the holy land of Palestine". He uses the terms "German-speaking" and "German" as synonyms. He regards himself - son of an Austrian Jew - as an intruder, who was adopted by the land of Palestine (p.10).
He mentions the fierce Germanic warriors among the Romans, the azure eyes of brave knights, Barbarossa, the German love for work. Such assignments are unusual and in parts confusing for the German reader, who is confronted with the contradicting relationship between Germans and Zionists in present and past here, on the basis of examples from the press. Shamir formulates the thesis that there is no inherited guilt and no legitimate inherited victim role. He mentions that Zionists in different ways have attacked Germans. In this context one misses the reference to the Nazi atrocities which are not mentioned in the the whole foreword, although it would make the overall picture appear more complete. Here is almost sounds as if Jews had no reason to be angry with Germans. But this is not what Shamir wants to say, as will become clear later on.
The main point rather is this: "The Germans have not internalized the morst important lesson from the World War: Jews and non-Jews - be they Germans, Poles or Palestinians - should all be treated equally." (p.13) In this context the "peculiar German 'struggle against anti-Semitism'" is criticized and recognized as philo-Semitism, without mentioning the word, though. Shamir comments on this struggle sharply: "It is not a struggle against anti-Jewish discrimination, for there is none; from Moscow over Paris to New York there are also people of Jewish faith on the corridors of power." (p.14) Apparently, Shamir defines "discrimination" as the official exclusion of groups here. The struggle would neither be about the defense of a small, persecuted nation, as the Palestinians in this case would have to be defended with the same right.
Neither would it be about racism, "because they defend the racist apartheid system in Palestine." The foreword ends with the wish for a "antidote for this poison so that Jews and non-Jews can equally live together again - in Palestine and elsewhere." (Quotes retranslated from the German edition).
Why I Support the Return of Palestinians (p.15-16)
The individual texts can also be read without the context of the collection. This one is at the same time the introduction of the original English edition. On two short, half-literary pages Shamir explains that the Palestinians are the soul of Palestine: "Fantasy about a Jewish ingathering has collided with reality. We must end the delusion." (p.16) This point is central in Shamir's writings, he regards the element of the "Jewish character" of the country to be the wrong way. Strangers from all parts of the world would be brought into the country, claiming Jewish roots, but having no relation whatsoever to the country, whereas "those who still hold true to the Jewish traditions are isolated in the Jewish state, as was the late Dr. Yeshayahu Leibovich, or imprisoned like the Moroccan Jewish Rabbi Arie Der'i." (p.16) It is interesting that Shamir does show a positive attitude towards the/a Jewish tradition and that he does not reject all Jewish, as one might assume from the more polemic texts.
On the first page of the text the Palestinians are defined in a romantic way, as counter-parts of the olive trees, the wells, canyons and memorial places: "Palestine and the Palestinians are inseparable." Although this idea is reflected in Palestinian folklore also - Shamir mentions the poet Mahmud Darwish - it is, in the first place, a posit and a construct. The proto-typical Palestinian for Shamir is the farmer and peasant. The Palestinians would not be "an obscure, mean folk", but one that created the Star of Ghassul, composed the Bible, built temples, palaces, mosques, harbors: "They walked with Jesus, defeated Napoleon and bravely fought at Karameh. In their veins the blood of Aegean warriors, Bene Israel, David's heroes, the first Apostles of Christ and the Companions of the Prophet, Arab riders, Norman Crusaders and Turkmen chieftains blend in unique composition." (p.15) He also mentions the "wisdom of the late Edward Said, the perfect olive oil, the fervour of prayers and the valiant courage of Intifada." At least in parts this description can be called an idealization of a society or a people, as the picture remains one-sided and leaves out, for example, the patriarchy, corruption and the backwardness which can also be found in Palestine. Many modern Palestinians, for instance the writer Sahar Khalifa, do not have much in common with Shamir's account. But alright. He tells us that he likes Palestinians per se.
This declaration of love to the Palestinians is balanced by Shamir's proposal of a coexistence in equality like in New Zealand or South Africa or the Caribbean, where children "have blended into a beautiful new race." (p.16) The provoking word "race" loses its sting in this naive-humanist sequence. He wants to build things up and to abolish borders, he wants them all to live together: the children of Palestine, of the first settlers, of the Moroccans and Russians. In some aspects, Shamir's world seems to be old-fashioned, yet his passion credibly speaks of love, like in the closing sentence: "Let us tear up our Declarations of false Independence and write a new one of mutual dependence and love."
The State of Mind (p.17-34)
The essay is divided into six parts and deals with the "idée fixe" (this is the German title) of a Jewish state. Like in other essays, many historical and political details are interwoven here. The validity of these details cannot be examined
within the scope of the review at hand. Our focus is an overall assessment of the book and, derived from that, of the author.
In "The State of Mind" Shamir appears as an acting participant in the text. It is a stylistic devise to a certain extend, because in this way he can vividly tell the story he wants to tell on the basis of his impressions of the journey and experiences. Apart from that, we learn something about Shamir's personal thoughts, feelings and about his behavior. In the introductory part I. the first-person narrator is situated in the Wadi Keziv / Wadi Qura'in (he uses both expressions) in Western Galilee enjoying the landscape, while historical episodes cross his mind. On his walk in the direction of Acre he encounters a Kibbuznik supervising Thai workers: "I joined him for a smoke and a drink of cold water." And although the conversation of the two shows that they basically are political opponents, Shamir shakes the hand of this man at the end and leaves with a greeting. It would be wrong to ignore that Shamir shows great tolerance here. So he does in the episode from part II., when he talks with a journalist who shows off with her bringing one million Russians into the country by announcing a pogrom in the Moscow Echo radio station. Shamir does not get angry, but lets her be. He thinks to himself that this act would not have worked without the support of the "American friends of Israel".
In part III. Shamir travels via Nahariya to Jaffa. When he sees an armed soldier on the train he remembers his own military time: "A young paratrooper pleased with my red boots and Uzi sub-machinegun. I was in training not far away from the places we were passing now." (p.22) He does not say what years this was, but his biography tells us that Shamir came to Israel in 1969, remaining in the army until, at least, 1973. He participated as a fighter in the Yom Kippur War. This is a very important detail: Shamir was existancially part of the conflict and significantly speaks out of his own experiences. Here, he tells the story of the encounter with a Palestinian peasant with whom he communicates through a wire fence at first, and later at the coffee-table. Again there are no reservation or fear of contact, only that Shamir feels more comfortable than with the Kibbuznik, as can be read between the lines. In this context, we learn more about Shamir's background. He envies the peasant from Sannur (p.23 f) for the cool springs, the vineyard and the slopes: "Why have I found myself locked up in an urban ghetto 'for Jews only'?"
It is the concrete background of his circumstances that makes Shamir think and ponder. The motif is repeated in the beginning of part V., when the traveling narrator arrives at his home in Jaffa, describing the neighbors. An imam, a Moroccan family, an Armenian, a Russian painter. Thus his urban ghetto is not completely "for Jews only". Still the reproach is valid, because a mixing between Jews and non-Jews is objectively tried to be prevented by the officials. In the analytical sequences the first-person narrator steps far into the background, disappearing on the final pages, yet is replaced by a sporadic "we", referring to all inhabitants of the country sometimes, and to "we children of Jews" (p.33) at other times.
Concerning the contents, the essay at hand deals with the contrasting of Israeli realities with the "ghost" (p.25) of the Jewish state. The theme is introduced in the mentioned scene with the Kibbuznik. While viewing the scene, the author reconstructs its historic genesis. According to his account, the story started with Jewish troops expelling the local peasants in the area of az-Ziv thirty years ago. At first, they cared for the soil themselves, then came Thais to work for them, until today. They are sometimes supervised by Russians.
Part II. deals with the Russian immigrants in Maalot. The thesis is presented that the different groups in Israel partly have only little to do with Judaism. By way of a detail Shamir summarizes the situation like this: "After the dreadful explosion in the Dolfi discothèque it created a visible problem: the religious undertakers refused to bury the dead Russian girls in a Jewish cemetery, even as the Israeli government was bombing Palestinians 'to avenge Jewish blood.'" (p.19) Polemic is the following sentence about the Russian immigrants: "They are being taught a brief version of the modern Jewish faith and its single commandment: 'Thou shalt hate Arabs.'"
Part III. is about the encounter with the Palestinian and subsequently a critical view of Judaism in relation to the fate of the Palestinians. The original emancipational idea had been the overcoming of the ghetto and by way of "locking Palestinians out" (p.24) "we" came back to the ghetto. The scenario Shamir has in mind here, is conveyed via an allegory to Mel Brook's cinematic Frankenstein parody. He describes the founding of the State of Israel as follows: "The founders wanted to begin their lives anew, to become 'Israelis', another of the tribes of Palestine. They dropped Jewish names, dropped the Jewish language, dropped the synagogue and Talmud, and learned to work the land and use the gun. They were joined by many people who never knew their way to a synagogue in the first place. But the Jewish fate descended upon them all and returned them to the ghetto." (p.25) I admit that I do not understand this part. Wasn't it explicitly the Judeazation of the country which went along with the founding of the state? Rather than the dropping of names, language etc. Moreover, the emphasis of a "Jewish fate" to me seems to complicate the argumentation. It is not really clear whether he talks about a construct, because he does not describe it as a construct. He says, "we" began to live according to the Jewish fate (NB: There is a difference through the translation. In the original it reads: "We began to fulfil the predictions of our enemies.") and thus fulfill every expectation of an anti-Semite. As examples he names details of the oppression of the inhabitants of before 1948, he also talks about laundering cash, cooperations with dictators and high rates of interest. One can conclude that anger is expressed here, anger with the own group. Especially, this is how the part closes, as it is all about a ghost, which is chased with this behavior, and not a realistic or even humanistic idea.
Part IV. contains the main argumentation in respect to idea and reality of the "Jewish state". According to the author, the Zionist experiment has practically collapsed. (p.27) Shamir summarizes the situation: unemployment, massive immigration of strangers, the tourism industry going down, waves of emigration, violence against Palestinians, destruction of the country. He sees the biggest part of the responsibility to be with American Jews. He writes: "The Jewish state of Israel is a state of mind, a projection of the American Jewish mind." On the page before it reads: "For the sake of this spectre, important American Jews squeeze pennies from their employees and countrymen, cut down on pensions to the old (...), demand the destruction of Iraq, bless the bombing of Afghani refugees, keep Afro-Americans in their ghettos, undermine their host society and make enemies for themselves and for America." Although it is undoubted that the USA in military and ideational terms support the State of Israel more than any other country, the passage at hand can put readers off. It surely is not only the Jewish US Americans who are concerned here. That the Jewish Americans cut down on pensions in order to maintain the ghost of the Jewish State seems to be an absurd combination of theses to me. I do not find the thesis constructive that Jews undermine the American society. Had Shamir written "Zionists", I could relate, because Zionism is an ideology. Certainly, one can also use Judaism for ideological purposes, the same way it happens in Islam, in Christendom and other book-related cultures, but Shamir in this passage only talks about "Jews". Let us keep this in mind and see what else he writes.
Content of part V. is the geographical and historical description of the city of Jaffa, as an example for the development of the country. After a literary and descriptive account of the city Shamir commemorates the day of the UN partition plan of 1947. Shamir says this partition was not necessary and not wanted by very most of the concerned people.
Again Shamir insists on living together. Apparently, this is the point that explains his anger with American Jews, for he writes: "We could live together as brothers, and eventually create a new nation, uniting Jewish fervour and Palestinian love of the land. But American Jewish organisations supported Ben Gurion and Golda Meyer, advocates of partition." (p.29) Where are the sisters? Let us keep this in mind, too. The shelling of Jaffa and the radical decimation of the indigenous population from 100.000 to 5.000 is mentioned as an example of the effects of this policy. This tragedy means the loss of paradise to the author: "Our Jaffa remained a lingering memory of One Palestine, Complete, the Paradise Lost." (p.29) Shamir regards - this is unusual - the war of 1967 as a chance: "There was a good opportunity for solving the problem in 1967, when Palestine was reunited." He emphasizes that by returning the refugees old quarrels could have been settled: "We would not be an exclusive Jewish state, but we would be happy and content people." (p.30) So far, so good.
But is the cause of the imbalance in the country adequately described like this: "If American Jews did not bribe Israelis on a large scale, we would just forget about the Diaspora and dissolve into the hospitable Middle East as another of its tribes." Is bribe indeed the mono-causal core of the matter? I do not think so. There surely is a number of Jewish US citizens who seek to maintain the illusion of the Jewish shelter with dishonest means, but there are many other players in the game. Moreover, money is not the decisive factor for the conditions in the country, although it plays an important role. I regard the group-related assignments in passages like this to be problematic. Likewise in the end of the part which is heralded by Shamir with the words: "We are master-sellers of illusion." (p.30) Had he written: we Jewish Israelis have plucked out Palestinian olive trees, then the self-criticism can be understood. "We are master-sellers of illusion", on the other hand, creates an atmosphere of diffuse assignments with a provocative connotation. He recounts the anecdote in which Kibbuz inhabitants in 1946 had planted fresh flowers on short notice for UN visitors in order to arose the impression they could bring the desert to bloom, a procedure which is said to have been successful in front of Churchill in Tel Aviv before. The author remains on the level of discussion and argument, though, as he recounts the event in the context of the causes of the partition of the country. The part ends with a commemoration of the expulsion of the native population.
Part VI. is a parallel to part II: part II. is about the culture of the Russian immigrants with the example of Maalot. The first half of the final part VI. is about the Jewish communities of North Africa. In both cases it is the intention of the author to show how the population of before 1948 was replaced by other groups. Moreover, the examples are used to elucidate the hierarchical social structure in Israel. A further parallel can be found in the assignments towards these groups. Shamir writes: "The North African Jews are a fine but broken people." (p.31) The Mossad is said to have persuaded them to immigrate to Israel and only few remained in their home countries: "Now they are ministers and advisers to kings."
Others moved to France and "gave the world Jacques Derrida and Albert Memmi." Those, who emigrated to Israel, on the other hand, would supply 75% of its jail population. One is reminded of biblical social concepts. He speaks about the Russian immigrants in a similar way: "The Russians are a nice, hard-working but confused community." (p.21) It is not easy, especially because of the half-literary form of most of the essays, to assess such clichès. There seems to be a certain conservative elite thinking. He goes on to describe the social discrimination of the North African Jews in detail, using examples. The Kibbuz movement, too, would descent. All this, says Shamir, indicates that the attempt "of making Palestine as Jewish as England is English" has failed: "Palestine is as Jewish as Jamaica is English." (p.33) It follows Shamir's conclusion of the whole essay: "We children of Jews have a great luxury of choice." / "Personal choice remains in the hands of each individual." (p.33) He means the choice to live the way one wants and to keep up any group identity. Violence would not be necessary for this. In this context, another attack is launched: "If American Jews would forget about us for ten years, we would sort out our problems and reach a new natural equilibrium in Palestine." (p.33) He adds that they could financially support the Afro-Americans, if they had too much money. Even clearer he names those he regards to be responsible for the destruction of the country at the very end: "Israeli killers (and) their American supporters." (p.34) It would be an irony that "the Jewish leadership" had committed these crimes in vain, as they failed in their aim to create a Jewish state.
The Green Rain of Yassouf (p.35-49)
Stilistically, the first three pages of this essay belong to the best that Shamir has written. At the same time, we meet a criticism of Judaism/Jewry in the final part, a criticism the effect of which is recognized by the author: "'But where are the good Jews?' the reader hastens to enquire. 'For the balance.'" (p.48) - The whole piece is a report about the experiences during an olive harvest in Yassouf in the Westbank. In the opening scene the author describes an ideal world: peasant families who, together with internationals, harvest their olives. Everything worth knowing about olives is described in a literary way, most of all the olive symbolism and imagery and their relevance in everyday life, combined with an account of the landscape and its history. This village in Samaria/Salfit, according to the text, has been permanently populated for 4.000 years. In its changeful history there were also phases where it was under Jewish administration. Most of the native inhabitants are said to have adopted the Christian faith in the course of time. About the present Arab population it is said that parts of them have traveled a lot. Many also had to make experiences with Israeli prisons so that they learned Hebrew. (p.35-37)
This (almost) ideal world is sharply contrasted - after an intermezzo dealing mainly with the confiscation and delivery of Yassouf's land to Jewish settlers - with a second report which describes the attack of Jewish zealots and soldiers on the olive harvesting group (p.40-45). Subsequently, a further part is attached, in the frame of which the harvest group continues its work while having a conversation. There is background information and a criticism of Israel and Judaism/Jewry interwoven in the discussion (p.45-49).
The following passage made me laugh spontaneously: "Palestinians are so friendly, so open, so ready to talk to you." (p.39) Shamir holds the thesis that the good things in the world, for this and other reasons, like the "fabulous hospitality", should be given to the Palestinians. What made me laugh was the contrast to my own idea about Palestinians. Of course, I, too, had noticed a certain openness and a lot of friendliness, but this is not the whole picture. It is necessary in this context to recall that Shamir is regarded as a friend and bearer of hope among those who he visited, and this position will be reflected in the way people deal with him. Bur how do the fabulous Palestinians behave in conflict situations within the own group? Whar about cases like this: North of Yassouf, not even 30 kilometers away, Palestinian siblings had a fight about the soil heritage of their late father. A procedure that is incomprehensible to me. I do enjoy reading Novalis myself, but in the journalistic context Sahmair's canticles about the Palestinians can appear remote from reality and make people forget that the main point is the human rights, not the Palestinians.
I read eye-witness reports about brutal assaults of Jewish setlers on olive-growers and civil population before several times. They were similar to the accounts presented by Shamir. Soldiers with a Brooklyn accent appear before the oliver pluckers and harass them by throwing stones and with threats, in order to sabotage the harvest. They are followed by three
"young men in Jewish ritual dress" (p.40), carrying shooting weapons, attempting to expel the group. Shamir talks with them and receives the answer that this would be the land of the Jews and that the Goyim, the non-Jews have no place here.
The reproach of anti-Semitism is uttered by the armed men, too. Shamir rejects this reproach in an overall way and names famous people who had been labeled anti-Semites in history: "Nowadays, if one is not called an anti-S, this means one is clearly in the wrong, sandwiched between Sharon and Soros." (p. 42) Thus, Shamir assesses the reproach of anti-Semitism to be merely part of an ideology.
The whole scene reminds Shamir of the Morlocks and the Eloi from "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells. When the harvesting group gets menaced with weapons the soldiers do not intervene, on the contrary, they threat to arrest the harvesters. "The army takes care of the Palestinians, and the police state will be visited upon us--this simple ruse is one of the more inspired inventions of the Jewish genius." (p.42) While the injustice in this situation can readily be understood, the notion of the "Jewish genius" is confusing. Is this Jewish? What is Jewish about it? Doesn't Shamir say himself that the Jews are a very heterogeneous group? Massive injustice HAS TO come from such ruses, be it in Palestine or elsewhere.
While the group ascribes the guilt of the events to the Jewish settlers, Shamir focusses on the political backers, for him the responsibles: "On one end of the chain of command, there was a crazy Brooklyn settler with an M-16; on the other end, Bronfman and Zuckerman, Sulzberger and Wolfowitz, Foxman and Friedman." (p.44) His differenciation is quite fine, which stands in contrast with general assertions like "the Jewish genius".
The harvest scene ends with the group's permission to continue working "in the bottom of the valley". The scene closes with a sentence which is quite typical of Shamir and which proves an overall humanist attitude: "We are made different, and it is a good thing, making the world more beautiful and various, if we remember our common humanity." (p.45)
In the final part (p.45-49) the conversation between Shamir and the Palestinians continues. One of them, called Hassan, tells the group how in former times he had worked in Tel Aviv painting houses for a Jew: "My Yemenite employer was a decent man" (p.45) Shamir calls the arrangement, according to which the Palestinians could earn some money in Israel, "profoundly unequal but bearable." (p.45) Thus there is no principal rejection of all Jews in Shamir. The criticism refers to political developments: "The arrangement was undone, when the Jews began their land snatch." (p.46) And so it happened in Yassouf. "The Jews" does not denote the totality of all Jews, but refers to the Jews in contrast with the native population.
It follows a critique of Judaism, starting with the statement of a reverend: "Christ said: 'everybody is chosen.' The Jews replied: 'sorry, only we are.' Now, Palestinians say: 'let us live together in this land.' And the Jews reply: 'sorry, it is for us only.'" (p.46) The argument of being the chosen people, which in parts of Israel has delusional proportions, seems to me to be a legitimate point of criticism concerning Judaism. Nevertheless is the thesis that "the Palestinians" want to live together with the Jews, not correct for the majority of the Palestinians. Shamir continues by telling the group the talmudic story of the two men who argue about a shawl. One of them claims half of the shawl, the other one wants the whole shawl. The egoist in the end receives three quarters of it: "That is the Jewish approach." (p.46) At that, one of the Palestinians mentions Solomon's judgement in the case of the two mothers and the child. Shamir resumes: "The Palestinians, like the true mother, did not agree to partition." (p.47) While I agree with Shamir in that the country cannot be partitioned in a meaningful way, I do not think that the situation can be analyzed in this black-and-white way. Solomon is from the Old Testament, this is also Jewish. Shamir reproaches the settlers of reading too much of the Babylonian Talmud and too little of the Palestinian Bible: Shamir himself converted to Christianity, this should be mentioned in this context.
His criticism is pointed at the liberal Jews, too, not only the settlers/chauvinists: "Both kinds of Israelis were united in their rejection of Palestine." (p.48) The conquerors are said to have missed to assimilate. Yet the reason for this behavior is seen by Shamir in the "Jewish". On the last page it becomes pure cliché: "Take a Jew and he will create a ghetto." The Palestinian, on the other hand, will plant olive trees. With this, the colonisation of Palestine is declared to be a Jewish phenomenon, something which I do not understand, for there are clear parallels to the colonial history of America, Australia and Africa, a fact that suggests general mechanisms to be active here, and not an alleged essence of peoples or societies, respectively.
What are the roles of women in this essay? One of the harvest helpers, the British Jennifer, courageously confronts the settlers ("Fuck you!", p.42). The Palestinian peasants went "with women and children" (p.42) to the olive harvest. Thus, the women here are a mere supplement, similar to the traditional Arab view. At lunch-time a woman appears, Umm Tarik, she brings bread (p.45) and in the evening shy daughters bring in sweet mint tea (p.49). All other acting characters are men.
Ode to Farris or The Return of the Knight (p.50-56)
(Update August 14, 2006, to be continued)
Our Lady of Sorrow (p.57-60)
>> Chapter 4
16: The English edition is available to me as a Word document. (back)