The stewardess picks up the leftover food. I didn’t eat anything, the thick pasta wrapped in aluminum foil didn’t look very appetizing.
I’ve been preparing for months for the Israel trip: occupation studies, Shoah testimonies, Diaspora and Israeli memoirs, chronicles and short stories. Now it’s over.
Something relaxed in me when I walked through the tree-lined streets of Tel Aviv; I felt emboldened by a public space that is hegemonically Jewish, a contradiction in terms if there ever was one. It was refreshing not to feel the tension of Diaspora.
I am always suprised by the frankness and openness of the political discussion in Tel Aviv, which can be shocking, too. I met a Tunisian Jewish artist who spent six months in a prison in Libya for accidentally taking pictures of one of Gadaffi’s generals. Even though he lived in the country – or precisely because of it – he fumed when talking about Israel. He told me the story of a Tunisian friend who had been killed in the attacks to a kosher supermarket in Paris and whose father had travelled to France to pick up the body, only to realize that it was no longer there, but in Israel. “This country wants Jewish bodies.” He told me “Dead or alive! Jews in Tunes have been living there for two thousand years. Two thousand! All of a sudden Israel comes and tells us to leave and come here ! Why?!”
The discussion confirmed what I suspected from reading Aciman’s biography Out of Egypt: some Jews in Arab cities like Alexandria were kicked out because of alleged support of Israel. After the Six Day War the Egyptians were so ashamed by their defeat that they turned on them, acusing them of spies and conspirators. A women who worked with refugees in Lebanon and Syria told me that there was some truth to the theory that Israel sought to destabilize the conditions of Jews in the Arab world to make them emigrate. She didn’t elaborate, but just the thought blew my mind: these type of discussions would be completely shunned within the Jewish community of Mexico, I would be ostracized.
The topic of Jews in the Arab world struck a more personal note the last day, when I met a women and a man that shared my last name. We sat there trying to find out if we were connected in some way, but they had no access to their European past: the grandfather who carried the connection had long disappeared from this world, and they had been left with the Iraqi side of the family.
All of these encounters are deeply related to my identity. Like before, my monoloythic view of Israeli society had been somehow blocked by all that I’d read from afar. I will go back to Mexico and reinvent, once again, the lenses through which I see global and personal affairs.In my backpack are ten new books on the Middle East, from Edgar Keret to Noam Chomsky.
The dialogue with Israel will continue, for some time to come.