29 December 2011

Discovering Haifa (or: my adventure on bus number 5)

(c) photos by khulud kh, all rights reserved (2011)

I think this was the first time in my life that I take bus number 5 in Haifa. Starting point: Carmel Center (after swimming). Destination point: Downtown (office). But what I didn’t know was what a trip this bus had in for me. No mercy here. So we begin our journey – I sit comfortably at the back of the bus. First stop: Carmel Center. A number of people get on the bus, mainly older people with shopping bags. The doors close and we begin to descend – a winding road connecting between the mountain and the sea, not accidentally called Derech Hayam in Hebrew – the Sea Road. In Haifa, the higher up the mountain you go, the higher the socio-economic status of the residents. A historically known fact. Although today it doesn’t quite apply in such a general way. But still, this is reflected in the environment – the streets are much wider, cleaner. The houses – well, standing more erectly. Parks and playgrounds – perfectly maintained. But let’s get back to the bus.

So we go down the mountain, and at one point we reach a bus station with some seven or eight soldier-boys standing around it. The bus stopped for about a minute and a half – which seemed just too long, as I was sitting at the window with the boy-soldiers right in front of me, only glass separating between me and their machine guns. One was smoking, letting out failed rings of smoke out of his mouth. The other one stood talking to him, and at one point sent his hand down his pants to adjust his penis inside them – I guess – and then to scratch around it. Only two had weapons. But these were not the usual guns we see in the public spaces all the time. These were much heavier, thicker. I don’t know the names of machine guns, but the name is not relevant here. What is relevant that they scared me and I was suddenly very happy that none of these boy-soldiers with these weapons got on the bus. Only hours later, when I told someone at work about this incident and asked if there was a military base there, I was told that this is a medical military base. What do they need such heavy weapons for in a medical military base – I couldn’t understand. A soldier-girl came and sat next to me – no weapon. I scooted over, practically gluing my upper body to the steel of the bus. As far away from her as possible.

The bus continued, with three new passengers – the girl-soldier who sat next to me and two boy-soldiers who stood at the back door of the bus. We entered Kiryat Shprintsak – known to be a very socio-economically weakened neighborhood. The buildings – well, all dilapidated. While up on the top of the mountain every other building is being renovated, here it seems like no human hand has touched these buildings for decades. Some buildings actually have missing pieces – there are these metal on most of the buildings, I’ve never understood what their function is, but I think it has to do with wind. Anyway, some metal sheets are missing from some of the buildings. The paint – well, most have no discernible color. Everything seems crowded here. An older couple gets off the bus at one of the stations with a shopping cart. I see an old man walking by, his right hand holding a transistor radio to his ear, the antenna sticking out.

We continue. Now we cross a clear boundary, leaving Kiryat Shprintsak behind with its dilapidated, colorless houses, and entering Wadi El-Jmal. Ein Hayam in Hebrew. The Arabic name means the Valley of Camels, while the Hebrew means the Eye of the Sea. This is the place where my grandfather considered buying a house a lifetime ago, settling finally on Wadi E-Nisnas, as Wadi El-Jmal was very far (back then) to the center of the city. Here, at the first station, a young Arab woman gets on the bus with two small girls. Nobody gets off the bus. The architectural scenery is breathtaking. I concentrate on the old stone houses – the beauty of them. Greenery enveloping them in a wild manner. Other houses are newer, but built in a way that reminds the past.

And then we are out of all residential neighborhoods, on the main Sea road. We pass the Marine museum of Haifa – with two warships being exhibited in front of it, a necessary (un) reminder of wars. After that, the “business” sector of downtown – car agencies, falafel and shawarma places, different workshops of metalwork. All this, among some scattered unoccupied houses belonging to those who were forcefully expelled from their homes back in 1948. These houses are mostly in ruins – some have no windows, the open spaces closed off by blocks. Others were renovated.

I get off the bus one stop before Kiryat Ha-Memshala – the Government district, with its ugly glass buildings and lawyers’ offices. I have only one word to say about this district – ugly.

I cross Ha’atzmaut road and walk to Jaffa road, heading to my office for a day of work, never imagining that I could have such an enriching trip through my own city, traveling through all the complexities this city has to offer – architectural, social, economic, military, national. I went home, making a decision to take different buses and new walking routes whenever I have an opportunity. To discover Haifa and taste it all over again, every time from a new angle and through a new path.

Next destination – the Haifa stairs.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)

25 December 2011

Madness - the Divinest Sense

(c) photo by khulud kh, all rights reserved

So there’s this writer, her name is Asmahan. She has these characters, who have taken off the page and become real. They go to the café with her and sit right next to her – too close at times, enveloping the space around her. They invade her private moments, even in her most sacred moments of solitude. Most often they don’t listen to her. They even have the audacity to argue with her. But what’s most outrageous is that they tempt her – until she can no longer resist and lets them occupy spaces of her brain – and of her reality. They gradually take over more and more, until she sees Shahd downstairs in the library, sitting there among a group of real-life women. The horror on Asmahan’s face! She looks exactly like Shahd – the hair, the eyes, the color of her skin. Even that mesmerizing movement of her eyelashes – like the flutter of a butterfly! Asmahan blinks once, twice. Moves her head to the left and then to the right to make sure she’s not imagining all of this. But it is her – Shahd from “life in fragments.” It can’t be any other woman. Not here, not like this. Fascinated, she listens to Shahd’s voice, and her words are the script she had written down for her the night before.

That same night, Asmahan steps into her own manuscript, and reality merges with imagination. They become inseparable even in her own mind.

Just the rumblings of a mind on the verge of madness… but then what is madness? Aren’t we all mad in our own ways? And isn’t madness a natural part of our lives? And who defines madness? The meaning is so slippery and elusive, that whenever I think of it, I always come up with Emily Dickinson’s poem “Much Madness is divinest Sense.” I find her words comforting at my most despairing moments, just when I am positive that I will soon cross that thin line separating rational thought from complete madness.

“Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –“

Poem by Emily Dickinson.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)

13 December 2011

"What is feminism?" (or - I just want to scream)

(c) photo by khulud kh - all rights reserved

Just wanted to scream.
Ok so I’m sitting in this group. We’re all sitting in a circle. We start like in a feminist Collective with a round of names. Then there’s time and space for thoughts we had since our last meeting. The group is containing. Pleasant atmosphere. Some of the women are my friends. Others are new to me. Then we work in small groups, answering the following questions: “When did I discover I was a feminist? What was my first feminist act?” So I share my thoughts. My first feminist act – I don’t remember. But I do remember my most significant feminist act, which continues to accompany me. That of bringing my voice into the open. The transition from the private to the public sphere in my writing. And with this transition, the contents of my writing also changed from the personal to the political. And this is feminism all about – at least to me.

Then we went back to the group, and we were asked to share personal stories. I shared mine. Another woman shared hers. Her first feminist act was as a young teenager, when she took part in organizing and holding a demonstration. She stressed the collective power, the power to change, and the action in the public sphere. We were both talking about the same thing. From the private to the public – these are our first and most significant feminist actions.

Then, several other women talked, and as I was listening, trying to understand them and contain their different views of feminism, a silent scream began to form inside of me. While thinking of my feminist act, my independence or the fact that I am a single provider for my household, or the fact that I don’t cook – all these didn’t even cross my mind. But this was the main thing these women talked about. They talked about the importance of being an economically independent woman, but at the same time expressed clear antagonism towards feminism. One of them said that she took care of an old lady who never married and never had children, and that this old lady was very sad because she felt she had missed on life. What does this have to do with feminism? The focus of their talk was relationships, with cooking sneaking in every now and then. Oh, and burning bras.

So this is what feminism means to them? I thought and wanted to let that scream loose. None of them talked about social struggles, structural oppression, the rule of hegemony, acting in the public sphere.

This was yesterday. 24 hours have passed, and I am left with some thoughts. Yes, I am an economically independent woman. Yes, I am the single provider for my household. No, I don’t have a husband or a partner who lives with me. No, I don’t know how to cook. Now the question is – is this because I’m a feminist? I want to say no! These choices have nothing to do with feminism. But that would be not looking the truth in the eye. Feminism for me is a wide worldview and a way of life. So I guess the choices – personal or not – I make in my life are always connected this way or that – to the fact that I am a feminist.

But what I want to say is that this is not the essence of feminism, and never has been. Many feminists love to cook, many feminists are married and have children, and many feminists wear bras (YES).

So, what did I want to say? Oh yes, I just wanted to let that scream out and make clear the fact that my feminism is about the political. It’s not about cooking, not about bras, not about living (or not) with a partner. It’s about my right to be present and act in the public sphere. Mainly, for me, at this stage – it’s about my voice! About my voice having the legitimacy to be heard in the public sphere. There you go – I let my silent scream out.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)

6 December 2011

I REFUSE (or: on unpaid, indefinite leave from the conflict)

I was told the other day I’m using the strategy of “escapism,” as I claimed that I don’t have time to read the news! Now, that’s interesting. There are more racist laws being put on the Knesset table, the democratic space is shrinking right before our eyes, the next war is being planned out in the open, and what do I do? I write love poems! I don’t write any posts condemning what is happening, I’m not commenting on the Iranian “threat,” nada! I even stopped following the news. I have crawled into my seashell and decided that all that matters now is to write that perfect love poem. To find those elusive words that express that which words cannot express. Like being “intoxicated by the letters of – your name in my blood.” There you go! Words expressing that which cannot be expressed. Conflict? Nuclear weapons? Democracy under threat? Racist legislation? Now really – it’s the same old same old. And anyway – how much of this shit can one mind contain?! And didn’t I already say that I have taken unpaid, indefinite leave from the conflict? So for a while now – all I will be posting is love poems and fragments of my novel-in-progress. You don’t like that? That’s your problem, and to be honest, deal with it. And if you don’t deal with it, see who cares! Like seriously now – am I expected to put my dreams hopes goals loves on pause until all this shit ends? Am I supposed to be immersed in it and stink from it 24/7? Well – I REFUSE!!! I want to love I want to write I want to dream I want to love I want to be left alone I want to be me!

(c) all rights reserved for khulud kh (2011)

28 November 2011

Oren Yakar אורן יקר

I googled you Oren, but you just don't exist in cyberspace.
Barak interviewed me for a documentary he's making on you. Originally, I was supposed to just read For You, Oren, but then we started talking and all the memories of you flushed me. Of course I needed this after almost 20 years.

I brought the diary with the drawings to the interview - just as an afterthought.
But really, I think I had the feeling that not many paintings or drawings have survived your destructive hand.

And since there is nothing out there in cyberspace about you, I thought to post these drawings here to share them with others - I didn't realize I have a treasure.

So I hope this will ease the pain, and help me heal the open wound...

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh. (2011)

18 November 2011

For you, Oren בשבילך - אורן יקר

(c) photo by khulud kh (2011)

Do you remember, Oren, how I used to hold your curly head and caress your shoulder as you bent low over the window to throw up?

Do you remember, Oren, when I used to lay on your bed – naked.
And you would sit on the floor with a piece of charcoal in your hand.
And you would draw me – naked.

Then, when you finished your masterpiece, we would both look at it for a while – before you shred it into pieces – beautiful art for the sake of art, to be discarded.

I wrote you poems, and you just laughed them away and graded them.

Then, one day, we stood at the top of the stairs, and you told me: “I will push you down these stairs.” And you almost did.
That day, you also told me, “If you leave me, I will kill myself.”

And then I left – all the way to the other side of the world.

And when I came back, I wanted to see your face, run my fingers through your curls, just this one more time, before I go on.

I dialed the number, etched into my bones.
Olivia answered.
I asked, “Can I speak to Oren?”
Silence on the other side. Then, a shocked voice dripping with agony, “Who is this?”
“It’s me,…”
“Oren is gone.”
I wanted to ask when will he be back, and could she please tell him that I called… but then… the agony in her voice enveloped me, and I understood. Oren is gone. Gone.

“If you leave me, I will kill myself.”

Oh, Oren… I am carrying these words inside me wherever I go, along with the memory of your face, the feel of your curls, and the sweetness of your smile…

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh, 2011

16 November 2011


When I saw you for the first time – down there in the library, I was mesmerized.
Mesmerized by your beauty, the softness of your movements, the way you held the pen between your fingers, and the way you leaned on your elbow. The whisper of your voice.
You made me break my silence with –
the flutter of your eyelashes, like a confused butterfly.

But I knew you are not for me – I was sure of this.
So I just smashed the feelings into the corner of my stomach.

And then… all of a sudden, you surprised me the other night… leaving a small opening for me…
Will I dare to…
Or was this opening just a teasing? Was it just a joke to torture me?

That night, I went to bed with your name softly making its way into my body. The rhythm of it.
And the last thought before giving way to the other world – was that of tasting your lips.

All this is brand new, brand fresh for me… don’t think I’m a master of it just because I dare come closer… my whole body is shaking from excitement, but also fear…

Will you come and sit here with me in this Diwan, let me hold you, let your hair loose and let me caress it… just softly walk my fingers up and down your shoulder… only this, and a soft kiss of your lips… nothing more. I promise.

And if you don’t want to – that is alright with me too.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh, 2011

5 September 2011

Women in the public sphere and language

A few days ago, I was watching a program in Arabic on television. I can't remember the name of the program, but it was an interview with an economist. He was analyzing the economic situation of Israel in the context of the economic situation of the Palestinian community within Israel. I liked what he was saying, though the idea itself was not new. He was saying that the Israeli economy cannot thrive unless the economy of the Palestinian community inside Israel thrives also. This idea caught my attention, so I continued listening to him. Then he went on to talk about the OECD, providing data and making an impression that he knows what he's talking about. So far, so good. What he was saying made sense. A country cannot thrive economically if it leaves out a whole group of people from the process. But then, in one moment, or actually with a few words, he completely messed up. He said the words "business men" and "men of economy" [although in Arabic there is a word referring to economists, he chose to use the words "men of economy" instead].

At this choice of words this, I stopped listening to him. I was enraged. He was recycling the same oppressing discourse and practices. He was talking about the state not providing fertile ground for Palestinians inside Israel to thrive economically, while he himself was using a language which oppresses women.

What, can't we women be business women? Can't we women be economists? Again, in the public sphere, only the men count. This view, this ancient patriarchal discourse, this whole frame of thought has to be eradicated. I am sick of being marginalized and excluded from the public sphere! I want my equal space in it – it's my basic right. And, guess what? Just like this man was saying about the exclusion of Palestinians citizens of Israel from the country's economy, the same goes about the exclusion of women from any process – be it economic, social, cultural, or other.

No society can thrive if it excludes women from its public sphere. Women have much to contribute to their communities and societies in all spheres of life, and it is high time to acknowledge our contribution and its importance.

I shared this thought with a close friend of mine, and he said that in Arabic, when you say a plural verb or noun, it is generally used in its masculine form, while referring to both women and men (in contrast to English, where the plural form is gender-neutral). But this very fact is also significant. The very choice to use the masculine when referring to both genders is inherently stating that men are more important than women. Although his claim was baseless in this case, as I was talking about the word "men," which does not refer to both genders at all. Close attention needs to be paid to the way we use language and words, as language shapes and designs reality.
(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh

28 August 2011

A "Flat Taste" - Consumerism Insanity

We have a new product on the shelves!!! Wooohooo!!! “Flat Pretzel Rings” by OSEM. Of course, I was tempted to buy a bag and try them. Taste-wise, I couldn’t detect any change… on the contrary, I like the good-old kind much better. So, yet another marketing trick to raise sales. That’s what I thought to begin with. No big deal, huh? Most companies do these tricks every now and then – selling the same product but changing the packaging, the color of the package, the size of it, the shape of the product. And all just to make us consumers even more confused, and to raise sales. Well, so far so good. After all, it’s a free economic market and there’s a lot of competition out there. Not a big deal. But! What I discovered is the insane price of these periodic innovations. Here’s what OSEM had to say as a reply to the higher price of their Flat Pretzels: “In order to bring consumers the novelty of Shtuchim (Flats in Hebrew), the company invested more than 30 Million Shekels (more than 8.5 Million US Dollars) for over two years in developing the product and in establishing a new production line.” WOW! More than 30 Million NIS!!! And for what? Manipulating consumers.

In light of the Tent Protests all over Israel, demanding social justice, and the fact that in today’s “free” economic market big companies are making their profits on the backs of consumers, I have something to say here. As a person. As a consumer. As a feminist. To all these companies that believe their way to economic profit is through manipulating us:

We don’t need the same product in a new shape. We don’t need new Pretzels in a Flats shape. Instead of investing the 30 Million NIS in a new production line, why don’t you try to win my heart through socially responsible actions? I promise to buy your products if you in turn invest the 30 Million NIS back into the community. So many social change projects are waiting for your involvement in the community. And you know what? Spend some money on advertising your contribution and involvement in the community. Why not? Write on your products that you are supporting this or that social project for the welfare of this or that marginalized or disadvantaged community. And see how your sales rise. You don’t need engineers for that. All you have to do is come down from your tower and taste the life on the ground. Become socially responsible – do something for society. After all, you have 30 Million NIS to spend. For me, your 30 Million just went down the drain, and I’m not buying any more Shtuchim!

11 August 2011

The Tent Protests - Haifa

(c) Photo by Dina Alterman

The “tent protest” is spreading and getting larger by the day.
In the Haifa Arab neighborhood Wadi Nisnas, a number of tents have been set up on the roundabout at the entrance to the Wadi. The activists came up with their own local demands from the government, which include demand for attainable housing solutions for Haifa’s young Arabs, free education for all from kindergarten all the way to university, real development of Haifa’s Arab neighborhoods in cooperation with the residents, cancellation of the discriminating policy according to which no mortgage is granted for apartments and houses in Arab and weakened neighborhoods, cancellation of all discriminating criteria in mortgages, anchoring the right to education, health and welfare in law and making them basic rights that are granted free to all, cancellation of all discriminating criteria in the employment market and in higher education and, most important (to me at least), ending the occupation and directing resources and budgets to housing and social needs instead to settlements and militarism.

Yes, definitely a political protest. The connections have been made.

The government and IDF still think they can brainwash the public and recycle the same old strategies of instilling fear. Lt. General Benny Gantz of the IDF said that they are ready for any kind of cutback, but it will mean they will not be able to purchase any new defense systems. He further talked about the continuous threat in light of the political uncertainties in the area.

So, it’s the same old tactic. But really, now, do they think the public will continue to believe in this? I mean, can’t they get a bit creative? It’s clear to all that the budgets for reforms will have to come from somewhere, right? And it’s more than clear that the IDF gets the biggest part of the budget pie. For crystal-clear, and “justified” reasons. After all, isn’t Israel surrounded by enemies whose only purpose is to destroy the Jewish State?! They are so enmeshed in this that they can’t see anything else. Maybe, just maybe, there is a non-military way of existence? Maybe there is another way, if we just stopped thinking in terms of “defending ourselves from the enemy” and instead begin thinking how we can all live in this place together, and how we can create some kind of a sane and sustainable reality for us all.

Anyway, I went to the demonstration in Wadi Nisnas yesterday. Though I was dead tired, it was important for me to be there. Because this is my protest also. It was very different from the demonstration in Horev Center two weeks ago. It felt much, much more political.

After that, we went to the Hadar Tent. This tent is different from the one in Carmel Center. In Carmel Center, they have “cultural” evenings. I haven’t been there myself, but I heard that they have poetry evenings, lectures on different issues, political discussions. And most of the tent people are activists. In Hadar, it’s not like that at all. I was there last night for about an hour. There were very few activists. Most of the people were residents of Hadar. One woman told us that she’d been living without electricity for nine months. Most of the people I saw are from the very lowest socio-economic strata. Children eating watermelon. Although I myself am struggling economically to survive, and feel that this protest is my personal protest, I couldn’t help but think of the differences between us.

(c) Photo by Dina Alterman

It’s true, I’m probably considered lower middle class. I’ve got a Masters degree, got a good job (actually two part time jobs), stable income, a rented apartment, electricity and running water. I even have a swimming pool subscription. My teenage daughter doesn’t lack anything. And still. I feel that I am barely making ends meet. Still I have lots to complain about in terms of my economic situation. I can’t afford to buy an apartment, and I don’t have any substantial economic security-net. And so when I think of the woman who lives without electricity, I see my situation in a different light.

It’s important that this protest doesn’t leave anybody behind. Not the middle class, not the weakest socio-economic groups. The solutions have to be such that will enable dignified living for all groups. The voices of the weakened and the marginalized have to be heard and taken into consideration.

This is a social political protest. All encompassing. To meet the social needs of the different groups, including housing, health, education and welfare, resources need to be redirected to these issues. Both the public and the government know where these resources can be found – national security. So the first connection has been established. Now the second phase of redefining priorities, redefining concepts, redefining security.

28 July 2011

Tents everywhere - winds of change

Waking up, waking up. The burnt-out middle-class is finally waking up. Tents set up all over the country. And I mean – all over. Not just in the central cities. But in the periphery as well. And in Arab towns.

We’ve known all too many strikes throughout the years, but it’s always been one specific group or another. Now, we’re finally beginning to feel something in the air. Thousands are out in the streets: doctors, young people, workers, parents to small children. Fighting for a welfare state. Finally beginning to make the connections between the different struggles.

Yes, much is still lacking. They’ve not made the conscious connection to the conflict – yet. Most of them perceive the struggle as not political. One of the leaders of the “baby strollers” protests stressed the fact that it is not a political protest, yet she contradicted herself by saying that their main demand is that education come before security, and that they see themselves as a social movement for change. Now this is as political as it gets.

I am optimistic especially because of her reference to security. Israeli society is beginning to see the cost of the conflict. Beginning to see that it’s affecting their personal lives. This is what feminist organizations have been pointing to for years, but the public has always been blind to this. Everything was always marginalized in the name of security.

I am optimistic. I don’t think there ever was such a wide struggle, uniting so many groups. Yes, I know I said that I’ve reached a saturation point – but I’m positive that you’ll find me out there on the streets soon – marching, protesting. Winds of change are blowing and I can feel them.

16 July 2011

Saturation Point [?]

I feel that I have reached my saturation point with the conflict. It breaths through me, it invades my dreams, it passes by me on the street and it sits next to me on the bus. As strange as it may sound, it has become closer to me than a lover – in certain ways. This blog is about my personal experiences as related to the conflict – and its different elements and layers. The main theme running through my novel is the conflict. Even the contents of my paid work include the conflict. Almost everything in life becomes marginal as the conflict digs in further and deeper into my bones.

So – do we not also reach a saturation point? I wonder. Since last September, I’ve been going through a long process of distancing myself from the conflict in different ways. And now I see that this has become something systematic, and indicates a turning point. A turning point which also requires taking time to think.

So, what happened in September that initiated this process? I participated in a seminar on project planning, organized by a Swedish foundation. From inside Israel, we were four women – two working at Palestinian feminist organizations in Israel and two working for mixed Palestinian and Jewish organizations. The first two days of the seminar went by smoothly. On the third morning, one of the Jordanian participants stood up in front of the whole group of about 20 participants, and said that she is withdrawing from the seminar because there are women from Israeli organizations at the seminar. She claimed she didn’t know this beforehand (although she received a participants’ list with our organizational affiliations, and I introduced myself on the first day as a member of a mixed organization). She was only referring to me and the other participant from the mixed organization. Her claim was that this was a normalization of the occupation and thus she will have no dealings with any Israeli organizations. Her last sentence almost knocked me off my chair. She said: “It’s nothing personal.”

How dare she tell me that it’s not personal when it was my very personal decision to work at a mixed organization? This was a big trauma for me, the story of course doesn’t end here, but it just gets too complicated to write about.

Anyway, this is where the current phase started for me. Up until then, I was still in the steering committee of Isha L’Isha’s Women, Peace and Security project. When I returned from the seminar, I took a break from the steering committee, thinking that I only need some time off my activism. Well, I’m still on that break. Many activities have been going on since then – there was a learning group on citizenship and feminism, of which I only attended the first meeting. Now I hear about plans for a weekend retreat to work on a feminist vision of citizenship. I was excited at first, and was even looking forward to participate. Now I’m hesitating again. Isha L’Isha was also just approved a big grant from the EU for the Women, Peace and Security project, and I got excited and thought to come back to the steering committee. But nothing happened and I am still not back.

I’ve been preoccupied by this process for the past few weeks, feeling that something is not right here. How come I am applying so much resistance to going back? What is it I fear? Yes, the contents are difficult to cope with, but I have a community of supportive friends who make the burden bearable. Or have I just reached a saturation point? I even went so far as calling the coordinator of our Women and Medical Technologies project, telling her that I’d love to become more active and volunteer in the project she’s coordinating.

But today I stop to write. Today I stop to think. Putting thoughts into concrete words on the page helps to make things clear. It helps to see the process. In the past years, I’ve had my “vacations” from the conflict – short two-three month breaks to get some air and then go back with renewed energies. This time, it’s been almost a year. I still do write about the conflict on my blog, and it still takes up the bulk of my novel. But no actions. Only words.

And when I think of the saturation point, I get scared. Because do I have the moral right to turn my back on the conflict? Tutu’s sentence keeps popping up in my head: “If you are silent in situations of injustice, you have taken the side of the oppressor." Does this mean that if I go on to pursue other things and become active in other, less “urgent” issues, that I have taken the side of the oppressor? And then, who is to decide what issues are more urgent than others?

I’ve read something that Talma recently wrote. She wrote that her mother told her to do anything she wanted, as long as her reflection in the mirror was clean. I think I will adopt this sentence for myself. It is such a simple yet strong image. And I know that I want to see a clean reflection of myself in the mirror. Clean and clear.

No. I don’t have an answer. The writing of this is only part of the process, and I guess I will continue to think it over. Fur now, I am at the stage of saturation. But then, things change all the time. One thing I know for sure: that the conflict will keep getting into my bed at night, if only as a dream. It will keep occupying a central place in my life, even if there will be long periods of time where I am not active in any physical sense.

Tomorrow is a new day.

7 June 2011

Yes, even Capital Letters can be Political

ok don't take this post too seriously. It's something I've been playing around in my mind with.

So I've dropped the caps from my name. This was after I've dropped all but the first letter of my family name [but that's in another post] I'm no longer Khulud Kh. I am khulud kh.

Why? No, not for the same reason that bell hooks dropped her caps.

It's for a much simpler reason - my name in its original language - Arabic - is خلود.
No caps. And since it's an Arabic name, why should it be Englishized or Anglicanized (yes, I'm making up words along the way) or Westernized?
I realize that many languages in the world use caps - and for good reasons. But there are many other languages - Arabic and Hebrew just two examples - that don't have caps, and don't see any reason for using caps.

My Arabic name doesn't have caps, and therefore, it will not have caps in English either.

I've been interviewed by a German friend for a German newspaper for a theater-festival. I've explicitly asked her to make sure that my name appears without the caps. The editors refused to drop them, claiming that "nobody would understand that this is an artist name." So I was once again Khulud Kh. But this is not my "artist name." It's MY name. And I think that one of my very basic rights is to decide how I spell my name.

No - I'm not making an issue of it - as I wrote in the beginning, no need to take it seriously. These are just my ramblings at a late hour of the night. Sometimes I laugh at this, but sometimes it does annoy me. This invasion even of my very name and my ownership of it [not to mention ways of spelling and why I spell it with a "kh" and why there are no "o"s in it].

3 June 2011

Is there still Hope? - The Hebrew Version

Photograph by Sam Contis who also owns the cactus, which is a piece of art by Naomi Safran-Hon. The text in the image is by Hannah Safran. All rights reserved.

And so tonight I received a follow-up email from my friend Hannah Safran, with the Hebrew version of the cactus this time. In Hebrew, the words are different. It says: "and when they torture him, he will multiply and he will erupt." There is use of the affirmative in the sentence, stressing the act of multiplying and erupting. Thinking about it, the language is archaic and it may be something from the Torah.

Anyway - the Hebrew text only reinforces my second interpretation about the hope. That the desire of this cactus to live is so strong that it will even break through cement.

2 June 2011

Is there still Hope?

Photograph by Sam Contis who also owns the cactus, which is a piece of art by Naomi Safran-Hon. The text in the image is by Hannah Safran. All rights reserved.

I received this photo today by email from a good friend of mine, Hannah Safran.
In the subject line, she wrote: "44 years against the occupation."
In the body of the email, she wrote: "the cactus grows inside the cement. is there still hope?"

The picture and the words can be interpreted in two contradicting ways.
When I first saw the picture and read the words, I felt sad. Something heavy settled in my stomach. Why? Because cement in this context connotes death for me - the solid end. And for a cactus to grow inside the cement - well, I thought to myself, it must have been out of desperation.

Then I closed the computer, went to bed, couldn't sleep, came back here, opened the email again, and read the words once again:
"the cactus grows inside the cement. is there still hope?"
I lingered on every word. The cactus is growing. It's growing. Yes, it's growing in the cement, but growing. Meaning that the cactus has not lost hope. On the contrary, this is one hell of a cactus! Won't give up! Life is so precious to it that it makes roots even in cement! It's rootedness - what we call SUMUD.

Then the other part of the sentence, "is there still hope?"
Well, let me tell you something! I have plans for a better tomorrow. If I didn't have dreams of a better tomorrow, then there would be no reason for me to be here.
And what is the alternative, anyway? To lose hope? Now that's the scary part. I don't even want to imagine what would happen if we do lose hope...

26 May 2011

forgetting the political for a moment

(c) copyright khulud kh

yes, I know. This blog is supposed to be about the political constantly forcing its way into the personal, fragmenting my life. But not always. There are many unfragmented moments of joy in life. So here's something small I wrote on the go.

On my way home from my parents
Sitting on a bench, the sun boiling my back into something crispy. In front of me, a thin long strip of yellow daisies. Deep yellow. I feel like I want to taste this color yellow. A car stops right behind me. The sky is clear. Not one single streak of a cloud. It looks as if sleeping - no moving clouds. The horizon is blurred - the colors are swimming one into the other - from light blue to gray to dark blue of the sea.

The car is still behind me, standing but motor running. I don't look back at all. Three birds are chasing one another in the wind. Or the wind chasing after them. Along the sidewalk, baby trees are trapped in dark green metal cages. Lest they take off with their roots and move down the mountain and walk right off into the wild. Have to tame them. The white car is gone now. My shoulders are on fire. Time to go. It was a moment of a pause - short - from life. Only a moment.

17 May 2011

"How Arabs Stole Jewish Property"

Riding the bus this evening from the office, a man in his fifties sat across from me. He had a blue folder, and when he opened it, I could read the title "money" in big letters. I tried to think of what he does - is he a student? Or maybe a business man trying to learn how to make more money. He closed the folder. A few minutes later, he opened it again and flipped to an English article with the title "How Arabs Stole Jewish Property." Underneath, I could only vaguely glimpse the years 1946 and 1948. With this new knowledge of the material this man was reading, I suddenly became aware of my national identity, which minutes earlier was very much asleep. And I looked at his face, and all of a sudden it seemed somewhat different. The contents of the title of that article were somehow reflected in his eyes.

12 April 2011

For Juliano, life was art and art was resistance

Again, tragedy strikes. Again, I am struggling with words. And again, words are failing me when I most need them. Because what words can be used to describe feelings beyond pain, agony and desperation? Words seem too shallow for the emotions lodged somewhere inside of me, refusing to budge. But then, I chose words as my medium, so for me – what else is there other than words?

I received the news of Juliano’s murder from my father – his voice had urgency in it. He spoke in rapid words, “hada takhu la Juliano” (they shot Juliano) First, disbelief. Then, deeper disbelief. I put the phone down, my brain in chaos. No. My father must be mistaken. It just can’t be. But then reality hit me in the face – of course it can be! After all, we live in an armed conflict zone. Where life and death are interconnected and tragedy can strike at any moment. Though I know this, every time it succeeds in astonishing me and in disturbing my mental and emotional balance.

A chaotic evening followed – phone calls, chat, emails… And when I couldn’t stay with it any longer, I went to a café and had two badly needed glasses of wine. A close friend contained me with all my sadness and weakness, not letting me fall apart and shatter on the ground into fragments. And when I came back home, I collapsed into my bed, thoughts of Juliano again taking up all the space in my brain.

Juliano Mer Khamis, son of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother. In a land torn between two peoples, he at once belonged to both and to neither. In a land where national and religious identity is central to most, he transcended to a place beyond – for him, life was art and art was resistance. For him, there were no distinctions between these three separate concepts.

A one-of-a-kind artist and political activist, Juliano was wholly dedicated to fostering a new, young generation of Palestinians with a vision of reaching freedom through artistic, non-violent means. Juliano wanted to reconstruct and rebuild that which has been destroyed. He wanted to give the children of the Jenin refugee camp hope – and for that he was murdered. He wanted to give them creative tools so that they can stand up with their head high and struggle for their freedom and their rights with art – and for that he was murdered.

The murder hit close home because we have something in common yet different – the use of art as a means of political action and resistance. But whereas I walk carefully between the drops of rain, making every effort to avoid getting wet, Juliano stepped into the puddles. He was true to himself as an artist, true to himself as a human being, and true to his values. His art was above and beyond his fear for his personal security. His was fearless commitment with no real regard to consequences, whereas mine is muddled with rational thoughts of “what ifs.”

And this takes me back to a thought that takes up much space in my personal writing: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” (Desmund Tutu)

There are many things I fear writing about publicly. I fear for my own personal safety and for the safety of my daughter. And thus much of it remains in my private collection, not seeing the light and not reaching readers. This is what bothers me most – how true am I to my values of justice? To what extent am I willing to step into puddles and not avoid the rain drops? To what extent am I willing to merge my writing – my art – with my resistance? Where are the boundaries and to what extent do I stretch them in the name of…?

What I do know for a fact now that Juliano’s murder opened up this space for me – a deeper crack to examine my writing and the issues I avoid writing about for fear of… because for me, there’s no point in writing if it doesn’t serve a higher purpose and the values I believe in. If it doesn’t strive to make structural social change…

17 March 2011

my private revolution

sunrise in Uganda. photo by khulud kh. All rights reserved.

There are grand revolutions that affect the future of whole nations, such as the one we recently witnessed in Egypt. And then there are calm revolutions that sometimes happen without us even noticing. Mine is one such calm revolution but which affected my life tremendously. Becoming part of Isha L’Isha’s supportive feminist community has changed me immensely on many levels. One major impact directly related to Isha L’Isha is the development and rise of my political voice. I live my life through words, but for the most part they have been hidden in the folds of my private life. With the support of my feminist friends, and the feminist outlook that the personal is political, my small revolution began taking root. Today I feel that my own personal experiences have the legitimacy and the right to take up space in the public sphere. Today, I am no longer intimidated to make my voice heard loud and clear. Today, I no longer have doubts about sharing my personal experiences and connecting them to the larger socio-political reality. For me, this is a tiny revolution on a major scale, and it has affected my development as a writer. For this, I will always be grateful to the supportive and empowering feminist women of Isha L’Isha.

8 February 2011

Preventing Assimilation in the holy land

Let's try to imagine the following scene:
You are walking in a major city in the United States. The year is 2011. You walk into a nice restaurant, and settle down with the menu. As you look around you on the pictures hanging on the wall, you see a certificate close to the bar. You want to know what kind of a certificate this restaurant received, so you walk over and read the following: “This is to certify that this business does not employ Blacks.”
Or does it say, “This is to certify that this business does not employ Jews.”
So, is this racism? I don't think that there is one person who would argue otherwise.

Now let's switch to Israel 2011. “LEHAVA – Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land” recently convened a conference in Jerusalem, where they launched their new campaign for “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land.” The idea is to issue certificates to businesses who commit to not employing Arabs. The certificate reads “this is to certify that this employer employs Jews and does not employ enemies.” In a news item, one of the business owners proudly said, “I'm not a racist. I just love Jews more.” And I am wondering... how many people are still blind in this country? And how far can this insane racism go?

27 January 2011

"Security" everywhere

You can’t go anywhere in Israel without being searched – your bag, your car, your body. Security guards lurk everywhere – coffee shops, shopping malls, schools, buses, businesses. Their metal detecting machines are ready to slide down your body ever so slowly, revealing those hidden secrets in the folds of your dress.

I try to avoid shopping malls as much as possible. But today I had an errand – Ziyad’s phone was dead and the cell-phone company’s service center is located in the Haifa shopping mall. So I had no choice.

We passed the first security guard – he was sitting on a chair, looking decidedly bored. He thought we were not worth a second glance. A young woman behind the wheel with an unshaved man sitting next to her. Ziyad’s unshaven beard has become his unequivocal stamp: his statement to the world. Not that he needs it, with his dark complexion he undoubtedly looks the part. Now if he were driving, the security guard wouldn’t let us pass so easily. But I guess he only saw me, it was already getting dark, and it was probably the end of his shift and all he wanted was to get the hell out of there – out of his security guard role for the day.

The second security guard stopped us. He opened the back door, making small talk. The “good evening how are you” is meant to identify the distinctive Arabic accent. We had some papers strewn on the back seat, and the guard asked if they were business papers. He then asked me to open the trunk of the car. And that’s where it all began. For some reason, I couldn’t open the trunk. Ziyad came out of the car, tried to open it, but still it wouldn’t budge. Ziyad’s irritation began to surface as he talked to me in Arabic. The guard studied us, still calm. But when Ziyad told him “the trunk won’t open, what’s the problem just let us go,” he began showing signs of distress. He got on his communication radio and reported to a more senior guard “come quickly, there’s a man here who won’t open the trunk for inspection.” I knew that was what Ziyad needed to hear to lose control. “Why did you lie?! Can’t you see I’m trying to open the trunk?! What do you want me to do, it won’t open!!” They exchanged some words, all the while ignoring me. I said to the guard, “listen, friend, the car is mine; I’m responsible for opening the trunk, so you deal with me. And you, Ziyad, get in the car and be quiet.” Ziyad shot me a dark look, telling me “get inside the car and shut up!”

Then another guard appeared, the one summoned. He was calm, I could even see a trace of a smile on his face. “What’s the problem?” “The problem is that your guard here is a liar. The trunk won’t open, and he says that I refuse to open it for inspection.” I tried to make myself visible again, “the car is mine, I’m responsible for it being opened for inspection. The trunk won’t open.” “Shut up,” Ziyad shot at me, this time with a wicked smile. “See how he talks to her? She is so polite, and look how he is behaving,” the first guard tells the second guard. The second guard smiled at me and asked to see my ID card. I handed him my driver’s license instead. “Have a good day,” and he let us go.

Looking back at the incident, I see at least three levels of interaction:
(1) The most obvious one is the “security” issue. Ziyad looks the “terrorist” part: his heavily-accented Hebrew, his agitated mood, unshaven beard and dark skin. He fits the profile security guards are trained to immediately identify. An all too familiar scenario must have run through the guard’s mind: Ziyad was using a “clean-looking” woman as a distraction; the bomb was hidden in the trunk. At a certain point I could see the flash of horror in the guard’s eyes – the bomb would go off, killing us all on the spot. A scenario he got drilled about during his training period, but he never actually imagined he would have to cope with it in real life. Until this moment, it was just theoretical matter he had to study in order to get his gun.
(2) The second level has to do with the politics of identities and ethnicities. The security guard was an Ethiopian immigrant. Ethiopians have been placed by Israeli society at the bottom of the social ladder, even below Arabs. So this was a contest between the two men, each making an effort to make himself look superior by crushing the other into that low inferiority.
(3) The raw, primitive form of male dominance. Each of them tried to prove that he is the “man” and has the final word. I don’t need to go into this – it’s the same old battle of men since the beginning of history.

I’m sure this list is incomplete, and upon deeper examination, additional layers can be revealed. But this was my own personal-political experience, yet again proving that the personal is indeed political.

17 January 2011

leave the back door open

So… what can I tell you…
I’ve been trying to get closer to you,
I’ve tried so many paths – unused and new.
But each time – you slam the door in my face!

So… what can say to you…
I am not a woman of games.
This labyrinth is not for me – anymore.
Not at my age.

So… what can I ask you…
Maybe you could just once –
Leave a door open…
I’ll settle even for that rusty old back door.
And we could just pretend – that you forgot to close it… once…

8 January 2011

taking pain, sadness and grief for a walk in the rain

(partial post - to be continued later)

So I admit. Not everything has to be connected to the conflict (although if I dig deep enough, I’m sure to find the connection). I’m making an effort here to avoid making this post a cliché, but I guess it’s unavoidable in this case.

Walking in the rain without an umbrella.

There comes a time in life when all there is left to do is let the rain soak up the body to the bone, hoping that from this place we can only grow.

Pain becomes a physical entity, first lodging itself in the throat, refusing to come back up with a cough, yet determined not to slide down either. But slowly, the body makes an opening, letting the pain glide down. (this process can take up to two weeks).

Upon reaching the stomach cavity, the pain is joined by sadness first, and then by grief. Together, they make a comfortable home for themselves in the stomach – dragging in heavy furniture and thick blankets, for they are planning to stay the winter.

And so I walk around with them inside me. They feel very heavy in there – what furniture they brought in! And when I almost gave in to them, it started raining. Being a woman of the winter, I grabbed my heavy fleece coat, put the hood over my head, and took my pain, sadness and grief for a walk in the rain. Without an umbrella.