Sunday, August 22, 2004

Never forget, never remember

There are reports of rampant human rights abuses by the Israeli army coming out of Nablus (no surprise there). In one of the latest reports from ISM activists, a six year old boy was just shot to death. I suppose he was throwing...well, pebbles, maybe? International activists have been arrested, hooded, threatened, and moved to some undisclosed location, etc. So, with all of this going on, why am I not in Nablus?

The short answer is that I arrived just after an ISM training, and my trip is too short, this time, for it to make sense to wait for the next 'class'. The longer answer, however, is that I've gotten caught up in thinking about the filter through which people, particularly Jews, view the occupation and the conflict, in general.

For most Jews I know, the world as relates to the conflict is largely divided into four categories of people: righteous Jews/Israelis, scurrilous Arabs/Palestinians, righteous gentiles who support the righteous Jews/Israelis, and anti-Semites. Even for many of the folks who oppose the occupation, or object to particular Israeli leaders or policies, this seems to hold true with remarkable consistency. The problem is that, so long as the conflict is viewed in terms of this framework, justice will remain a pipe dream. I've come to believe that we must recognize the truth of what we have done before we can even hope to change what we are doing.

I'm sure that many people who are even marginally informed about the conflict have heard of Deir Yassin. Just in case, this was a Palestinian village located 'on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem' that was destroyed during the war of 1948. It was the site of what is generally acknowledged to be the worst massacre of the war; somewhere between 140 and 240 men, women, and children were slaughtered by the Stern Gang and Irgun, with help from the Haganah. So I found myself wondering, where is it now? And I went to look.

It turns out that Deir Yassin was practically on the border of Jerusalem, and the village site is now actually *inside* the city, well East of Yad Vashem, for instance. I went looking for the village's remains, armed with my trusty map, and wound up sitting next to a twenty-something observant Jew on what I hoped was the correct bus. This young man lived in Jerusalem until he was 11, then moved to Wisconsin, and had been working as a graphic designer in New York City for several years before returning to Jerusalem (with his wife and young son) for a year of yeshiva study. I told him I was looking for K'far Sha'ul, and it turned out that he lived only a few blocks from the hospital. He asked me why I was interested, and I responded, with an expectant wince, that I was looking for Deir Yassin. Nothing. Didn't bat an eye. He'd never heard of it.

With some help from my seatmate, I hopped out at the appropriate stop. The site of the Deir Yassin massacre (to say nothing of the village's long years of life) is now almost entirely covered by K'far Sha'ul, an inpatient mental hospital. I found one village building outside the grounds; a couple more appear to be in use inside as supply shacks, or the like. I approached the young man working security at the gate, and once again explained that I was looking for the ruins of Deir Yassin. He looked puzzled, then said, yeah, he thought he'd heard of it, and went back to looking puzzled. He was completely surprised when I told him he was sitting on the village's land at that moment; I say surprised, not shocked, because there was no emotional reaction. The effect was one of momentary contact with celebrity, like finding out that a minor rock star from the 60's used to live in your neighbor's house. When I asked who the hospital served, I was told that the patients were around 70% Jewish, and 30% Arab; thank God for small favors!

As the guard pointed out, one isn't allowed to pictures and video footage at a mental hospital. I could hardly disagree. Yet, as I turned to leave, I could tell it still hadn't occurred to him that there was a reason why this particular spot had been blessed with a gated mental health facility.

A little bit to the east, at Yad Vashem, millions of dollars have been spent to proclaim a vital message to the people of Israel: "Never forget!" But at Deir Yassin, a message every bit as critical to the 'Jewish' state has been delivered, and at far lower cost:

Never remember.