Negation of the Diaspora

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Brooklyn Rail, Mar 5th, 2015

Clowders of cats wander the streets of Tel Aviv like stranger kings to whom all must pay their respect. Lying under chairs, sitting on top of cars, relaxing in cafes, they settle on other people’s property without regard for anyone or anything. A friend tells me a story: When the British ruled over Palestine, there was a massive rat infestation. To solve the problem, they introduced cats all over the country. One population was displaced, and another took its place. This story, like most narratives that circulate about Israel, is false. There were always cats here, and they come not from some mistaken British policy, but from the ecology of the region itself. Yet its falseness contains a moment of truth: no origins are given here, nothing is taken for granted as a fact of history—everything is contested terrain.

Here’s another example. Sitting in a café in the hip Florentin district of Tel Aviv, I ask a few leftist friends about the war in Gaza last summer. “Horrible, unnecessary,” they say. “Some people just cannot believe that not every war is absolutely essential for the survival of the country, that some are rather functional to maintain the occupation.” Tell me about the anti-war protests. “We were attacked, called traitors, no one from the left parties would officially endorse the protests either.” None except the Jewish-Arab Marxist party, Hadash, which has only a few seats in the Knesset. Not even Meretz would support the protestors.

On a different night in a different bar with different Israelis, I ask the same questions about the summer war. “Horrible, unnecessary,” one woman answers. “Some people just cannot believe that we are constantly under attack, that these wars are necessary for our survival.” She tells me about the tunnels that Hamas built, the rockets, the sirens, the bomb shelters. The “hippies” who protested at Rabin Square enraged her. “Fools” she says, “but they have the right to be stupid.”

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