Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nocturn in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket

We were on a rooftop, at a nice party thrown by friends of friends in honor of independence day. There were wonderful chicken wings on the grill and a guitar going around. The sky over the Jerusalem, that sky which always feels somehow like a low ceiling, was warm and peaceful.

I came with Daniel the cellist and his boyfriend Hussein, as well as with the ever adventurous Daniella and another American girl named Emily, who got stranded in the country due to the volcanic ash. In fact, the roof was full of Americans, mostly that particularly lovely breed of religious J Street supporters. I was chatting to an attractive rabbi in the making named Annie. Then the fireworks started exploding over the city.

We turned our heads in the direction of the explosions. The fireworks were being shot from the rooftop of the Sheraton hotel. My mother used to work at that hotel when I was a child, when it was still named "The Plaza". I remember my seven year old's pride, standing on King George street among the plastic hammer yielding masses (this was before they invented the foam or the huge inflatable hammers with the flag printed over them) gazing at up at thunder and color, knowing that my mother worked at this hotel and none of the other kids' mothers did. I was closer to independence day than anybody.

This year I was further from it than most people I know. The legislating of the "Nakba law", which forbids Israelis from observing a mourning day for the Palestinian disaster of 1948, estranged the truly liberal-minded Israelis. What independence are we celebrating if we're not free to decide how we view history?

All in all, the current state of politics here hardly brings out the flag fiend in me. My Prime-Minister talks like the scariest extreme right-wing fringe party leaders in Europe, claiming, among other things, that African refugees take work from Israelis and threaten to turn this into a "third world country". His sidekick, the Foreign Minister, is a fan of totalitarianism, who models his politics after such enlightened leaders as Lukashenko of Belarus. The masses become gradually more affected by the fear tactics these two employ. Change-seekers like myself are now seen as "traitors". A song released to the radio on the eve of the holiday describes us as back-stabbers, literally.

Then there are the old issues, not improving one bit. When I was seven years old and gazed at the fireworks, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip was only 16 years of age, itself a child. Today it's 42. Jerusalem is a city where people are being thrown out of their homes simply because they're Arab. Hostile, reactionary fanatics move in instead of them, with no plans of being good neighbors.

Boom! Boom! the night over the Plaza - green and purple.

The fireworks in these days of white phosphorus bombs turned out to be the same as they were then: not sophisticated or high-tech, not choreographed even to provide even so much as a climax. Standing on that roof, a half-eaten chicken wing in one hand and a plastic cup full of whisky in the other, I found myself looking at that exact moment in my childhood, and that, of course, is enough to shake a strong man. My innocence, that of a child who does not even know he lives on a settlement in the West Bank, who believes his country is always right and will be growing stronger and more beautiful in days to come, exploded in my face, yet it did so so sweetly. Those fireworks resembled a bouquet of flowers that somehow ended up being brought to a funeral, but can't help looking cheerful.

Touched by the distant rumble, I even mumbled: "there's something nice about this nation after all." Hussein, sitting next to me, smiled quietly. Then the fireworks died down.

(artwork: "Nocturn in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket" by Whistler)

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