These are excerpts from letters written by Adi Yekutieli, an Israeli artist, and N, a Palestinian in the Balata refugee camp. They were written between the summer of 2000 and the Winter/Spring of 2002, spanning the period of the Intifadeh.
N: I’m ready to open the channels of communication wide. I still assure you that I do not care that much for color, race and religion as long as the mentality is good and flexible; and the person I’m communicating with is ready for understanding and respect.
A: You know there is no other way but talking. Killing is a dead end for all of us. People like us must talk. Thinking of you often....
N: Situations around us force us to take some dimensions. The things to adopt in terms of human emotions are not clear. What is clear is men attempt to form the human visions of our society. Those who benefit are only men, who at the same time are those who suffer the miserable situation women are engaged in because finally, they need decision makers to assist them not only as a servant but a person on whom they can depend on to manage life.
A: This period has so much suspense and opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis. The question is, will the leaders be able to overcome and seize this window of opportunity that we, the people are so ready for. It is all about hanging out and having a heart to heart conversation. It is basically the only way to develop a future without Fear.
N: Peace be upon you (our greeting) We were disconnected but thank god we are back again.
A: There is an unbearable uneasiness about making peace at a personal human level.
N: I have been waiting for this chance to communicate with someone who is likely to have a vision. As a friend of mine said to me: “ If you don’t have a vision do not look for it”. I do not only have a vision but also I look for people who have different ideas and visions.
A: I was in a meeting in Tul Karem yesterday and I was thinking about what makes a conflict. What makes an on going conflict sustain? What is it in terms of human emotions that we have to let go? How does everyone and anyone benefit? In every situation, even situations where we suffer or are uncomfortable with, we must be benefiting something. What is it that we benefit in this conflict? And what is the painful price we pay? Do hope to hear from you.
N: Situations around us force us to take some dimensions. The things to adopt in terms of human emotions are not clear. What is clear is that men attempt to form the human visions of our society. Those who benefit are only the men who, at the same time, are those who suffer the miserable situation women are engaged in because, finally, they need decision makers to assist them not only as a servant but a person on whom they can depend upon to manage life.
A:It rained today for the first time, for just ten minutes. I ran down stairs and outside. I try to do this every year when the first rain comes; anywhere I happen to be. I hope to be able to do it one time in Palestine. As always, my regards to our mutual friend…At the end, history is defined not in what makes sense but rather what and how bravely we deal with histories and imperfections. Take care.
N: It seems that we are two peoples doomed to this situation and the curse of a past that has been wiped out of history and land, but not the minds of some people who had twisted beliefs.
A: I was just wondering when history starts from. From where do we count the conflict? Ten years? Fifty years? A million years? Or do we start from when we start talking…feeling, listening. …At the end history is defined not in what makes sense but rather in what and how bravely we deal with histories and imperfections. Take care for now.
N: You did not tell me from where you are, originally. I am a Palestinian rooted here. Adi, what do you consider yourself, a settler, a Jew, an Israeli?
A: I’m 7th generation Israeli probably about 200 years before Israel became a State. Part of the family came from Iraq. My mother on the other hand is a Holocaust survivor and came as a refugee from Austria as a 12 year old girl to the only place that was willing to accept her; Palestine at the time. T My mother, as a child, escaped the Nazi Holocaust as a Jew mostly defined by the other and settled in what became the state of Israel a few years later. The notion of safety, acceptance, no fear of who she was were basic to her. As for a human being who has lost almost all dear should want. Because of her I recognize that in others. How one considers himself starts from our mothers. My father was the 6th generation in Israel and rooted in this place for over 150 years. When I was in my early twenties, I left this land to try and rest, to detach, to paint. In the 15 years I was away from here, I became a Jew. Again, an Israeli who became a Jew. Not like my mother who came here a Jew and became Israeli. I came to make peace with myself and with you. No easy answers from me to you on this day we Jews celebrate leaving Egypt and slavery. he story is much more detailed and complex as histories are. We will tell and share them slowly. I talked to a very dear friend of mine, a Palestinian living in America now. He complained about the dullness of the Americans who “don’t even know the map of the world”. Lots of food for thought.
N: I do believe that the Americans are dull. They never learn other languages, they work hard to control the world, when they do not know its map. America is known for its cruelty in Vietnam and Israel is known for its cruelty and occupation of the Palestinians who it tried to deny existence by massacre on the one hand, falsifying their history and claiming it for themselves on the other. Anyway, this situation has been literally applied by the Americans on the poor original people of America, the red Indians. We are the red Indians of the 20th and 21st century.
N: Strange is history. but recorded as well, so the history was well known. The land of Palestine was not “the only place willing to welcome the Jews to live in or survive anyway”. First of all – who decided upon Palestine welcoming the Jews to come and live here? Other places were offered to the Jews in 1895. Jews insisted on Palestine be their land to occupy, to evacuate its people by any means.
A: Yehuda Amichai, a wonderful poet died this morning. When poets die, the words appear even stronger, saying what people can’t. Poets and artists in general have abilities that nations seem to never “need” but we know that they are the ones that define the human parts in us all; thoughts we never dare to say; thoughts that define the gap between our abilities and incapable desires.
N: When great poets die, words can never express the great catastrophe. Regardless of their nationality, religion and race, poets can formulate the hopes, dreams and visions of the nation to which they belong. They, furthermore, can touch the deep sites of our human deep inner self. I am a poet. I write poetry in my own language, I therefore can feel how the spring of words and ideas is cut suddenly. For me, a poet dies before his word end.
A: The last day before the evening of the Jewish New Year it is a custom to greet friends and family. Most people send greeting in writing. You are the first one I choose to greet in writing. Maybe because wishing new friends is so special. What can I wish for you? That whatever you want for yourself will advance a step, softly, without fighting for it. We all got used to experience life harsh and hard like the water, the wind and the sun. I hope for the softening of the soul this year. For the need and ability to let go, and, mostly to believe in art; to talk in art. To negotiate with an image and vision of a future without fear for you, for me, and everyone.
N: Just before the beginning of your New Year, Sharon made a provocative visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque. As a result, seven Palestinian men were killed defending our holy places to assure both our right and our readiness to die as martyrs for this sake. What I hope right now is that God will rest the souls of our martyrs in peace and will free our land from the Jewish occupiers. Anyway, thanks for choosing me to be the first to whom you send your wishes, happy new years for those who deserve it and for you and your family. Take care. Adios.
A: I can’t stop crying for the innocent souls who were killed today. I worry about the many people whom I love and care for in Balata in the year I have known and learned to care for all of our souls. Why is it that the souls of peace have a hard time winning? more days and nights of tears. A feeling that those who work for peace on both sides are a statistical error. They are not needed. Only violence, righteousness and anger rules.
N: I don’t like or even want to be harsh but no tear would ever apologize for the massacre that took place against the Palestinians. No words will ever recover the wound or return the martyrs of all the massacres the Jewish had perpetuated against the Palestinians and Arabs in Israel.
A: I do believe in humans. Humans that don’t play the ego games we all fall victim to. Sometimes I feel like the myth of Sisyphus who was rolling a big stone up the mountain, every time as he reached close to the top it rolled back down. Then, he started stubbornly all over again. That is the stone of humanity I deal with every time and everyday again and again. There is so much more then you imagine I’m willing to do or give for that stone of peace to reach the top of the mountain and hold. Any other way does not make sense. I feel I owe it to those who died and will die.
N: It is really difficult to believe that there is a Jew feeling ashamed of what is happening, or feeling sorry for ninety souls, mostly children who have been slaughtered in cold-blood.
A: It is raining this Saturday morning. War takes a break when it rains. I always wondered why? As if it get ‘difficult’ to fight in the rain. Does that mean on the other hand that it is ‘easy’ to fight when it is not raining so hard? I wake up in this land, we share its fate, and wonder what is the right weather for making peace? And why are we missing it every year for the last 100 years? What is wrong with us all? Easy to blame the ‘weather’ (political climate) on the other. In the last three months I have been painting murals with 20 youngsters from Tiebe and Kefar Kasem. Visual statements about the right weather for making peace, I think.
N: Rain in Palestine is not as that in other countries. It is of the Holy Land. Our grandparents’ skin used to absorb the rain and to smell it before it came. They belonged to the heart of this land and never ceased to fall since 1948.
A: I would not be writing for so long just to be right. Being right benefits no one in this conflict. It does not lead to any peaceful solution. This is all I wish for, peaceful land, peaceful times, peaceful people. Try to believe it. If not, even the two of us is a tragic proof of the inability of humans to create change. I find the pace of understanding and changing too slow. Changing is in a way accepting reality and progressing to non violent peace is something our or ours leaders don’t have an understanding of yet. S., my friend from Nablus, called me minutes after the election results were known. We clearly agreed that the older generation of leaders Peres, Sharon and Arafat, can’t make the transition toward peace. Our generation has to push and demand peace without the support of the old ‘wise’ generation. What do you think about all of that?
N: I only ask the Jews to rethink what a being is, the one threatened by a stone, we have no guns or even simple weapons to defend ourselves. We have nothing except that stone, which, as it seems, is able to shake a whole entity and make its leaders shake to death as cowards.
A: At very rare moments, human moments, when the pain overcomes the body I realize that anyone who wants to live in this area with its destructive long and painful history must not judge or blame. Those who want to drink the same water and warm in the same sun should be careful not to take apart the human bridges, even if they become more and more fragile almost to the point of no return.
N: But, all who we lost are few among many who are still ready to scarify their souls just to defend our holly places in Jerusalem and all of Palestine. Thanks for caring for the Palestinians you say you know.
A: After all of this killing, will there be a few to make some peace? Or maybe we will need to wait another 100 years because killing makes everybody’s righteousness stronger? I want the children to live with hope of life. Isn’t that basic? Blaming is a too easy way of discussion. My heart is in great pain.
N: After all of this, killing almost more then 250 martyrs, widowing women, orphaning children, demolishing houses, taking our right to live on a land that is not only part of our blood and lives, but of our heritage and history, all the other violations to the basic human rights, may there will be some understanding that peace is basic need!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A: I wanted to be with my friend S. from Nablus, to come and stay with her and her family. She begged me not to come, afraid for my life. We talked several times since. I care for her and others I have met over the years when I visited regularly. My pain is strong and gentle all at once, the nightmare of yesterday’s reality, the killings of the innocent and anxiety for the ones to come.
N: Have you ever tried to live in a prison? This is our live. We can never go to other cities. Then we try we are usually chased by the Israeli soldiers as criminals. Believe me, they enjoy horrifying us. They enjoy just torturing us. Do you believe they stopped our car going to Ramalla for one hour and a half for nothing except opening the windows and doors and let us sit there is this cold weather.
A: We have become part of a collective enemy responsible for our leaders’ unacceptable actions. By that we forget our own souls full of hopes and pain. It seems that these days will be stored in boxes of bitter memories. We will have eventually to arrive to the place of mutual respect. Nothing has ever worked before in history. Nobody ever wins in wars. Even the winners loose the most precious of all, dignity, integrity. “I always remember that an open hand was once a closed fist” (Y. Amichai). Painful as it may seem, talking is the only hope we can give those who can’t.
A: Is there any chance for a change in time for this game of war to stop and the game of the souls who desire for peace to start? Where are the souls of peace? Let them be heard. They are stronger then hate.
N: Have you seen the Israeli concept of the future map of Palestine? Do you like it? Can you imagine living in ‘quarantine’, separate places that are vaguely connected by a road, a people who have had land confiscated, owners killed and they (Israelis) are still trying their best to evacuate the rest.
A: I listen around and it seems there is no interest in peace. As if peace is a commodity that went suddenly out of fashion. And I wonder, was it ever there? Is there really capability to perceive peace. You know there is always talk about peace, but is there a real understanding of what it means? It’s like something that was paid ahead of time but was never delivered. I wonder at times if there is a meaning to life here with no peace…
N: It has been a long time before being able to write to you Adi, not the collective but the representative of those who claim to be human, but killing us cold blooded. I am very angry right now because Ramalla is closed and I do not have a chance to regularly check my email or do my duties. And when I decide to, this Palestinian city, under a tight blockade of Israeli Army, a soldier stopped our car and asked for the ID’s in Hebrew, then began making movements using his hands. He was asking us to raise our ID’s up in the air and was counting and clapping his hands to congratulate us for understanding his humiliating order. These soldiers on the checkpoints stop us for long hours during which nothing happens until they approach us. Can you ever imagine such disrespect to human values, time and life?
A: If there is no comfort between any two people, there is actually very little communication as I see it. Why do you insist on writing to me as if I’m the collective other? Isn’t this conversation between us – me and you? I disagree very little with you. There is no need to address the tragic conflict we are in and in between to blame. There is a need to talk from one human to another. Only human compassionate, personal and attentive approach to the other can advance us toward peace. Only that can overcome our bleeding sad hearts and notions. How can one know there is peace in another soul? I wish you could try to look for that part in you always. I wonder if you can even notice my willingness through your absolute judgment. When there is no talking what does it mean? Even if you think of me as the enemy. We must continue talking. It is the only chance we have. You keep on treating me as the collective that I understand. Nevertheless I am who I am and I yearn for the same life I think you do. I know it is the right starting point. We must never leave this talking to those who can’t, not to the old or the ones who remain after the killings. At the end the only way is talking and compromising. Will you join me realizing this is the way for our children?
A: I think that very few in this region remember how to talk softly even about pain. It does not make it less relevant or less strong or true. We live in a painful reality. Each one of us holds tragic versions of the same story. Can we talk for a few moments in a different way? What kind of peace can we dream of if we can’t do that?
N: Why do you want war against us? Why do you want to destroy our holy places? Address this issue little bit differently this time? But show us that you want it, you at least care. The following is what I wanted to say long time ago but was busy with loading the atrocities and crimes committed by you, the Israelis, and you not considering the right of Palestinians to even defend themselves and their land.
A: Holy places that become storage places for fear and hate are destroyed spiritually. With no spirituality, compassion and caring for humanity at large, these are not holy religious places any more. It is insane. Religious vibrations are leading this madness, the cruelty and arrogance of the settlers are making this conflict based in religious issues, not political. This leaves us with less chance to resolve the problems some day. A conflict that can’t be resolved is destroying the ability to believe in humanity.
N: This is the first time that you talk the way all Israelis should talk and view the whole situation in Palestine. Insane madness, cruelty and the arrogance of the settlers. This is the message Powell should bring the world asking the Israeli government and the settlers to stop the violence they wage against unarmed Palestinians who are not numbers but humans the way the whole world is. You talk positively concerning our cause. This is a step on the way toward the recognition of our rights and our sacred right to defend and protect ourselves against the continuous Israeli occupation forces and settlers assaults on the Palestinians. By the way what do you consider yourself, a settler, a Jew, an Israeli or any other, and how these differ in your opinion?
A: S. Yizhar an 85 year old Israeli writer wrote 50 years ago a morally powerful story about ‘Occupation and Massacre’ by the Israelis of the Arabs, talked this week about his current reflections: “ I thought there are things that Jews don’t do because of their history, because of what they have experienced. Very fast I lost my naivete and I told myself that there isn’t anything Jews don’t do”.
N: Palestine is our first and last mother. It is the place we were in before you left Egypt escaping slavery. Don’t ever believe that what happened in America will happen here. You the Jews will never be able to falsify the history of this land and people. Believe me, I tried to put myself in the position of a Jew who came claiming that this land is his but I could never believe the story you have spanned but have you ever tried to put yourself in the place of the Palestinians?
A: Organizing the endless history of wars, fighting and conflict of the gods is impossible. That absolute yearning of yours and many others, on both sides, to figure out right and wrong, human and inhuman, is in a way simplistic. We live in a land that can’t clean its table of its history. The marks are engraved permanently and impossible to ignore. Yet, if we want to take part in changing history, we have to pave and find a path that is different from our history. All paths of war and destruction have been tried by our ancestors, unsuccessfully.
A: Long time since I wrote and our people have been exchanging violence. My older brother died a month ago waiting for a heart transplant in New York. I miss him so very much and feel less protected by his love and total loyalty, matters of the heart, pain of the soul and longing that will never end. These two realities, personal and general, make no sense and create so much anger, questioning fate and faith. The heart is the beginning and the end instrument of life itself. The personal and collective heart – both can’t stand this inhuman injustice. Basic expectations of the heart that just beg to drum life itself! I feel for what you say and send you as I do every night and morning my unreligious prayers for change of the heart.
N: I don’t know how to console you, but, if death is not caused by violence against the other it would seem very natural and less hurting. Every day we send condolences to a dead Palestinian family for the death of a person and best wishes for recovery of the wounded. It is hell here. Israeli soldiers are blocking Palestinians’ movements and humiliating them by every possible means. Isn’t this worse then death?
A: All deaths are worse then any life experience. Death is a cruel invasion that stops life. War and violence are the most painful invasions. This obvious notion to me has never been internalized by human history. Why? Nonviolence rarely rules. I don’t understand humiliation. Why does it give a sense of power and control? Are we all doomed to live a life in fear? You and I describe the situation as it is. Now we need to describe it as it can be in the future. Can we?
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