Friday 13 February 2009

Back in business for 2009

A month and a half gone by, and only now can I re-establish myself as someone who writes - too many other pursuits, some of which turn out to be satisfying.

One of them is the New York Review of Books, which friends are passing on to me in bundles of 6 at a time. They are big and heavy. So much to read there, all excellent. Too time-consuming. One has to choose, a difficult thing. Afterwards they go to friends, who pass them on to someone else. The original subscriber lives in the US, I think.

I just read Kate Atkinson's thriller, When will there be good news? (Doubleday, 2008). I had read the first chapter on-line and was pleased to read the rest. It almost takes off properly at times - "Give her a medal" she says, a leitmotiv reminiscent of Vonnegut's "And so it goes". A good story, enjoyable.But weak from the point of view of the differentiation between the characters. The strong ones all seem the same person to me, the weak ones fade into insignificance.

Before that - from the ridiculous to the sublime - I had managed to get hold of a major book edited by Walid Khalidi, entitled All that remains. Khalidi is a Palestinian, born in Jerusalem in the 1920s, an historian who has taught at Oxford, Princeton and Harvard. He left Oxford in disgust at the role of Britain in the Suez Canal crisis.

The book documents precisely and factually the fate of 418 villages in what is now Israel, villages which have mostly been destroyed. For someone who has an allegiance to Israel, it is a devastating document. It notes which land had been acquired from the Palestinians prior to their leaving, and which had not. Also the manner of their departure. Deir Yassin is there.

I was glad to see that 95% of the land of Gal Ed, a kibbutz I have a connection with, was Jewish-owned before the Palestinian tenants were asked to leave. I wished it was 100%. That was at the time of the War of Independence: six Arab armies threatened the new state on the day it was formed. The Palestinians were caught in the middle, thought putting it like that makes them seem uninvolved, whereas I am sure that they did not want the Jews.

This book is a blue-print for financial compensation. It is one of the reasons I believe it is important. It is based on reliable sources and is careful in the detail that is represented. In NZ, a copy of it is held at Massey University. Maybe elsewhere as well, but that is where I found this copy. It is a big book, expensive.

Some things it is impossible to put right.

When I was young, I saw delapidated, abandoned Arab houses in Israel and asked why: someone, an adult, said "They ran away". The houses that are in good condition have someone living there - in some of them, Jewish families. (Not in all of them - over a million Palestinian Arabs live in Israel today, voting and represented in Parliament.)

History repeats itself.

I visit the house my grandfather used to own in Nuremberg.

It reminds me again of Yehuda Amichai's poem,Jerusalem 1967, Poem No. 5. He wrote that poem in 1968. He stands facing the shop of a Muslim in the Old City in Jerusalem, a shop similar to the shop his grandfather had owned in Poland. It is Yom Kippur, and in his heart, he asks for forgiveness.

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