During the past few days of travel in and near Ramallah, I've been reading Olga Grushin's delicious first novel, The Dream Life of Sukhanov. I've never read anything that expresses the power, fragility, strange continuities, and illuminating capacity of dreams as well as Grushin's novel.
The regretful backward look at a life begun with great promise, but then devoted to creative mediocrity, safety, and personal advantage, is not a new theme. Grushin adds great humanity, humor, a nuanced context, and an uncertain ending relieved by hints of redemption. She shifts believably in and out of dream mode, and in and out of first person. In fact, that first person voice makes this a realistic rather than surrealistic or "magical realism" book for me. At face value, this intricate story is entirely believable to me.
Grushin's novel traced the fine line between dream and reality. While I was reading it, I saw the unreal becoming real in Ramallah. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has canceled normality, and has systematized unreality into the details of everyday life. Apartheid—enforced separation of peoples and discrimination in services—has become the norm; the technology of maximum-security prisons is placed wherever the rulers see fit; punishments are ruthlessly transferred from the inconveniently dead terrorist to his family, community, and nation; whole groups of people, defined solely by social categories rather than individual behavior or merit, experience blocked roads, confiscated lands, economic strangulation, extrajudicial assassinations, and the indignity of their own taxes being held hostage by the occupier. And my taxes as an American are used to subsidize these numerous violations of our own precious principle of due process and the international laws governing the behavior of occupation forces.
I'm familiar with the Israeli security-based arguments for their treatment of Palestinians, but all of these arguments seem to require a suspension of disbelief, a willingness to tolerate logical sleights of hand. So, for example, they argue for a secure wall, but they build their wall on disputed territory in active use by Palestinians. How does security excuse outright theft? They argue that Hamas wishes the destruction of Israel, but Palestinians could well argue from Israeli actions and the statements of prominent politicians that the elimination of Palestine (at least as a viable country) is Israeli policy. The most unreal reality of all, to me, is that Jewish people are the last people in the world who ought to be ghettoizing anyone. Tony Judt reviews some of these incongruities in his jaundiced but useful article, "The country that wouldn't grow up." (Ha'aretz, May 5.)
An interesting op-ed article appeared on the evangelical Assist News Service a few days ago. Entitled "Hamas' Achilles Heel," the article points fingers at both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides, argues the author, are crippled by an inability to forgive.
Eight of us met for worship this past Sunday in the beautifully restored Friends meetinghouse in downtown Ramallah. An attendance of eight, of which two were members. But there's so much sentimentality about that meeting that awkward questions about why it is so small would probably be ruled out of order, or at least the awkward answers might be. Jean Zaru, long-time clerk of the meeting, observed correctly that, with all the activism in Ramallah, the meeting has an important role of reminding people to stay spiritually balanced.
One of last Sunday's eight attenders was Rosemary Radford Ruether. She spoke from the silence on her experience of the previous Wednesday, when she and a Swedish delegation were in the meetinghouse when an Israeli raiding party came into town; the resulting clash left four dead and about fifty injured. Ruether summarized an article that she wrote in the aftermath of the lethal clash, describing the dangerous and contradictory consequences of an obsession with security.
If you think the oppressive application of power ensures security, dream on.
Speaking of dreaming, Yusif Bashir has a persistent vision for peace. After being shot by an Israeli soldier during the occupation of Gaza, Yusif went on to participate in a Seeds of Peace event, and at age 17 promotes the vision of nonviolence and conflict resolution wherever he can. He's now just finishing up a year at Friends Boys School in Ramallah.
It was very thought-provoking to share an apartment with Yusif over the last few days, and to hear him speak about his experience being shot, and then cared for by Israeli doctors. There's an article about Yusif on the CNN Web site.
Meanwhile, another dream is coming true: The Tangaroa raft is over a third of the way into its voyage. Follow the news here.
Are you a relic? Karen Street's blog has had a stream of useful (actually more than useful, urgent) articles on climate change and the factors that make for credibility in a scientist.