It seems I have failed in my attempt to read books as a diversion from the realities of the occupation. After finishing Maya Angelou’s autobiography (see the blog Caged Bird), I picked up a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. It is a true story about a group of seven young girls who for two years gather weekly in the home of Professor Nafisi to discuss literature ~ “harmless works of fiction.” The theme of this informal class is the relation between fiction and reality.
A mere 22 pages into the story, I am struck by Nafisi’s description of the world depicted in Invitation to a Beheading by the Russian novelist, Nabokov ~ The principal characteristic of this world is its arbitrariness; the condemned man’s only privilege is to know the time of his death – but the executioners keep even this from him, turning every day into a day of execution. Nafisi goes on to say: What Nabokov creates for us is not the actual physical pain and torture of a totalitarian regime but the nightmarish quality of living in an atmosphere of perpetual dread… Those of us living in the Islamic Republic of Iran grasped both the tragedy and absurdity of the cruelty to which we were subjected…
These words jolt me back to the present reality ~ they so clearly describe the arbitrariness of the occupation ~ Which roads will be closed this morning? Will the service van be stopped by soldiers today? Will I be hauled out and humiliated as happened last week? Will I be allowed through the checkpoint? Will I be searched when I enter Jerusalem’s Old City? Will my children be harassed by settlers on their way to school? Will my family be able to access the olive trees for harvesting today? Will my home be there when I return? Will the bulldozer come today? Or perhaps next week? Or next year? Or?
The irony is written large ~ I am reading these words in a country that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, and yet for countless Palestinians the Israeli occupation turns every day into a day of execution ~ a nightmarish quality of living in an atmosphere of perpetual dread. I am not sure if art imitates life or if life imitates art, but I know that the tragedy and absurdity of the cruelty of the occupation is a reality and not a fiction. A cruel reality that must end!
I have only had very minimal experience of living with such threat and cannot imagine how I would fair if the anxiety was a daily reality. The question remains, how do we influence the powerful Israelis who believe that their actions are justified and that all Palestinians are terrorists or wanna be terrorists? They not only think they are the only democracy, they believe that they are the champions of ‘human rights.’ How do we help the scales to fall from their eyes, to let go of the historic fears that they are now inflicting on another people? How do we say that their behavior has nothing to do with security?