The first time I ever met a German, I slept with her, or rather - next to her. I had no choice. I was 18 years old and trapped on a chilly mountaintop on the island of Crete. With me was a Geordie chap my age named Alex, whom I met on the ferry over. We missed the last bus descending to the valley and ended up building a campfire not far from two blond girls who were putting up a tent.
Finally we amassed the courage, invited them to sit by our fire and in return received an invitation to sleep the night in their tent. The chill was intensifying as we entered, they saved our lives, no less. I lay by the chubby one, careful not to disrespect my hostess despite the narrow space. She giggled through the night in her sleep, as sweet a person as I've ever known.
Hitler came up the next morning, as we all descended into the gorge of Samaria. I think I brought him up. I've been bringing him up since when meeting Germans, an act that simultaneously breaks and forms the ice. Ultimately, young Germans and young Israelis are like-minded about history, although I did find a few of my German friends to be undereducated about it. I would use German terms such as "Einsatzgruppen" (SS death squads, responsible for systematic massacres) and notice a raised brow. My teachers taught it, theirs didn't.
Then again, you speak to young Israelis about the massacre of Kafar Qasem, inspired by the same Einsatzgruppen, and recieve a similar raised brow. We never like to look at our own faults, but we do like to look at the faults of others and in that Germany is an underprevilaged nation. While all of Europe is taking the case of the Palestinians and faces Israel with hard questions, the Germans are forced to go easy on us. No one likes to have "Look who's talking" thrown in their faces.
This isn't a new story, of course. I heard that journalists who get a job with "Bild", Europe's most succesful tabloid, published in Berlin, must sign a form stating they will never write anything critical of Israel. These days, as international media screams in joyful rage, Bild journalists must be tearing their hair out much of the time.
The Bild is unhelpful, but in general the German media's dillema is a good thing. Bereft of the mandate to be unreasonable, it must be mature in its treatment of Israel. Those who read my blog regularly know exactly how much I encourage criticism of Israel, but if it isn't fair it's not pragmatic. Germany is a country that can produce mature, helpful criticism at this time, and I hope it picks up the glove and does so.
Not only the press is influential. Last night I had an astounding theatrical experience. Frankfurt's Mousonturm theatre brought to Tel-Aviv it's production of "My First Sony", a theatrical interpertation of a Hebrew novel by Benny Barbash. The director, Stephane Bittoun, is German-Jewish. He staged a terrificaly subtle presentation of one Israeli family's decomposition, one that is so humorous and elegant one doesn't quite understand how come it moves us to tears. This is the greatness of German theatre since Brecht. It does not seek to emulate life, thus it is life.
All the family's misadventures are recorded by one of the children on a primitive tape recorder. The entire play is a record of things that have been, which is what our present is due to become. Bittoun's all German crew treat Israel's enormously complex present with a mix of courage and elegance. Everything is there, the settlements, the Einsatzgruppen, the emotionality of being Israeli.
Itka and I were standing outside the Kameri theatre, wiping tears from our eyes. "My First Sony" was a promise. There's a culture besides our own that shares our history and has the capacity to contribute to our future. It's endowed with the sensativity to see what's happening here and the responsibility to treat it tastefully, carefully, maturely. I wouldn't expect much from "Bild", but other Berliners can be true allies to all of us here, Israelis and Palestinians alike.
I take that promise seriously and am glad for it. Hence, I will be rooting for Germany on Sunday as it faces England at the world cup. Somewhere out there, my kind German host from that Cretan mountaintop will be cheering along.
(Image on top is of my dear friends in Berlin-Neukölln, twin city to Bat-Yam, Israel.)