Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Rhyming Life & Death

The siren caught me by surprise this time.

I was alone at home. My wife was at the cemetery, my son at school. I was at my desk, working when the mournful wail began...

I often wonder about how people mark moments such as this in private. Do they jump to attention, even though there isn't the risk of incurring a censorious stare (or worse)? Do they immediately stop whatever engages them, even it means - for instance - allowing water to gush over one in the shower as one counts down 120 seconds? Do they fart, belch and wilfully disregard the solemnities of the occasion, simply because they can?

Me, I thought about death. I thought about the families of the dead, the 22,000 men and women whom have died in the uniform of this country. I wondered many of these families might feel that their sacrifice was needed, necessary, and how many might wonder whether their loss might have been for nought?

On the television, the names of the dead roll past; name, rank, date of death. I once met someone who told me that he always tries to be close to the television at the appointed time, to see the name of a relative who died...

"Each year the time changes, a little or a lot," he told me. "If there was one thing on earth I could wish for to happen, it would be to know precisely when to look for (the) name each year."


Whatever one thinks about the present prime minister, one must accept that whatever he says today at Mount Herzl, he speaks from the heart.


"You'll always find them side by side:/Never a groom without a bride."

It's a stanza from a poem that runs through Amos Oz's most recent book in English, Rhyming Life & Death. Essentially, it is a fiction about duality; black and white, night and day, ying and yang. About opposites, and the presumption that they must complement one another.

The juxtaposition of Yom HaZicharon and Yom Atzmaut - Memorial Day, today, and Independence Day tomorrow - puzzled me when I first moved to Israel. Now, I suppose, it makes sense; the narrative of Israel's history makes no sense if one fails to place the ecstasy of liberation against the sorrow of the sacrifices that were - are? - made to maintain this.

There will be another juxtaposition, of a different kind, of two opposites tomorrow - Israel's independence, and the Nakba of the Palestinians.

A not-uncommon opinion, on both sides of the fence, is that the one is necessary for the other; That the continued suffering of the Palestinian nation is a direct consequence of Israel's independence, or conversely that Israel's struggle for self-actualisation necessitated - necessitates - the subjugation of the Palestinian people.

I'm too cynical to believe that there will actually be peace between the two whilst I'm alive (Just so you understand, I intend to live for a long time yet). But I don't think the "Peace" - whatever that means - is a terribly useful concept any more, in this part of the world. First, try to live alongside one another without wanting to rip each other's eyeballs out. It's not impossible. But first, one has to learn how not to predicate one's pain upon another's joy. Or vice versa.

I'm not a big fan of dualities. I believe in looking for the spaces in between...

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