Strand of a Thousand Pearls

Strand of a Thousand Pearls


First Impressions

I was born in Israel in 1972. So what can life possibly be like in Israel for my generation? How is daily existence for the hundreds of thousands of young people who are now, more than ever, at the broken heart of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict? It may sound paradoxical, but the place and date of my birth are also the reasons I cannot answer these questions.

Words are needed to explain the pictures of the dead bodies of boys and girls in an Israeli coffee shop or of a Palestinian child bleeding to death in his father's arms. But nothing is clear here any more. The situation is so complex, disheartening and full of contradictions that whatever I say will be right. And wrong. In the space between a declaration of war and surrender to terror, there has been left in Israeli society a formidable hollow. No responsible politician, no sober-minded journalist, no person sitting beside me on the bus has a real suggestion for ending this conflict.

People interview themselves and respond with a frustrated internal monologue full of questions: am I the soldier who polices the roadblock near the Arab town of Tulkarem and wounds an Arab child of five? Or am I the Israeli five-year-old who is wounded in a terrorist attack at the pizza bar in downtown Jerusalem?

It seems that even those who knew where justice lies have discovered how lightly Middle Eastern justice can move, how quick and cunning and slippery it is: how, in this western, we are the bad guys in the morning and the good ones in the afternoon. Reality no longer troubles us as before, but forces its ambivalence upon us, as pervasive as the 100 F heat wave, as painful as an illness, reflected from every mirror, every eye.

But the town squares are empty. Because my generation is depressed: like my fingers when I am asked to write about it, my generation is completely paralyzed.

The collective Israeli consciousness, which was the cornerstone of the foundation of the Zionist state of 53 years ago and which bound the immigrants from all parts of the world into a people, into a nation, is no longer our consciousness. This is the archaic, too idealistic outlook on life of our parents that arouses in us a concealed snigger at the Sabbath-eve family dinners. According to it, the individual has to sacrifice his own good, his freedom, his life, for the common good. This outlook has not succeeded in upgrading itself to a modern, sophisticated version.

The generation born here began, at the start of the 1970s, to shake off big words, as a reaction. Our parents gave us economic wellbeing and the omnipotent illusion of security that stemmed from our victory in the six-day war. And we watched television.

Had Maccabi Tel Aviv not won the European basketball championship, we would no longer have felt shivers of pride when the national anthem was played, nor would we have shed a tear when the flag was raised. We told jokes about the Holocaust and related to the history of the Jewish people as one more examination subject for matriculation. In order to say far less sacred things, we put the Hebrew language on a diet: we anglicized it. We preferred to travel abroad rather than celebrate our bar mitzvahs or bat mitzvas. And we had sex and talked about it. And we said: "Who cares?"

And when we were taken, on the annual school trip, to the monument of Joseph Trumpeldor, the legendary fighter for independence, who allegedly said before his death in battle, "It is good to die for our country", my generation asked wearily, remotely: "What's so good about dying?" We asked it of our teacher, our youth counselor, the escorting parent, whoever gave us life or was appointed to guard it. And at the age of 18, when this generation went into the army-our "small, clever, important IDF"-it discovered that it is bad to die for our country and certainly for someone else's country.

My generation could have been like the young generation in any other place. It had an immense desire to be normal, to live life. Not to be an example and not to be an ethos, just to be. But then the war in Lebanon broke out. And that intifiada, the first one. And if, for a short, scintillating moment the waves of attacks in the towns were curbed and the peace process got as far as Oslo, it was shot together with Yitzhak Rabin. And wasted with Benjamin Netanyahu and terminated with Ehud Barak.

Again, it's not certain. Not altogether. Because the prime minister's life was taken by a young man of my age who grew up not far from my playground. And nevertheless, with his terrifying, murderous idealism-his readiness to pay a personal price on behalf of the collective-Yigal Amir resembles far more the members of the young generation living opposite who wrap themselves in the Palestinian flag and girdle their waists with kilograms of explosives. And commit suicide in malls just when we are shopping.

Yes, shopping. That is what we do instead of writing political articles, instead of gathering in the squares, even instead of voting it the elections. We all have our own lives, our fragile lives. And we live them knowing that in every bus stop there might be someone ready to die so that we die with him. Knowing that this person's own death means more to him than his own life, as long as he takes our lives as well. We learn that we can not be too sure about being alive. Just by going to work in the morning we jeopardize ourselves.

And we go on, suspecting that any Walkman can be a bomb and that the person sitting next to us can be a suicidal terrorist. So he is making us behave suicidally as well, merely by leaving home. We are fully aware, yet we are terrorized. So much so that we turn on our won. Walkmans as loud as possible, until we get off the bus.

We have the talent we have developed while living in this country-to evade, suppress, detach ourselves. It is so different from the fervent political arguments that were carried on in our parents' sitting rooms. They were always so involved, regardless of whether their views were right wing or left. At the pips before the news, they raised the volume. We turn the radio off or, out of guilt, we want for it to be over. Wearily, Let the facts remain with the newsreader the chaos not be absorbed.

It is not that we are indifferent-us, indifferent? -to the pain, the suffering, the bereavement, both Israeli and Palestinian. But we zap. We move over to the channel with Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, the MTV Europe. And we eat and drink. We die today of fear that tomorrow we will die. And we bite our nails and grind our teeth while sleeping. We drive violently on the roads.

And if we go into the army at all-if we do not form part of the statistics testifying to the dramatic rise in the number of those refusing conscription for psychological or ideological reasons, or just because we don't feel like it-then as soon as we are demobilized, we vanish to the most distant place possible. To the ashrams of India, the jungles of South America or in some mountain in New Zealand.

After a year or two we return home. Or not. Or to our Jewish religious toots, deep, deep into the bosom of God. Or we swallow ecstasy or LSD and visualize the God is the DJ and we dance and dance. WE turn Tel Aviv into or of the world's trance club capita from so much dancing to the dumb, blunt music that beats in our heads.

A number of us live in Galileo meditate and rise above every thing. Others settle in the disputed territories, read psalms and also rise above everything. A small but eye-catching group makes a lot of money and is swallowed up for 12 hours' work in an air-conditioned high-technology office with double glazing.

And a larger group just sinks unseeingly into the ordinary middle class, stupefies itself with normality, has children and promises them that when they grow up they will no longer need to go into the army. Like our parents prayed for us. Like they lied to us.

On September 12, I bought the leading local Tel Aviv magazine, the one that every week updates young readers on the hottest parties in town, the trendiest new discotheques. It's on the cover, like on most of the world's newspapers that day: the felled, smoked skyline of New York city. The bold headline that was spread on it rephrased the random, escapist state of my generation that so miserably detaches itself from the chaotic ongoing violent existence in the Middle East.

"There's nowhere to escape to any more," said the headline.

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Excerpted from Strand of a Thousand Pearls by Dorit Rabinyan. Copyright © 2002 by Dorit Rabinyan. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.