Apology: I am not a lawyer and I am not trying to advise the judicial system. I am one of the crowd in the city square. Wide-eyed. Wondering at the judicial-media- public spectacle taking place in the square, in public view. Amazed, because it seems to me that everyone is appealing for my opinion, or at least wants to bargain for it: the victims as well as the accused, the police as well as the judges.
For a long time now I have been thinking about the legal tangle that occurs in our city square: On the radio and on television, the newspapers and the internet as well as the courthouse and the corridors leading to and from them. The victims, who were thrown into the city square, are busy, almost from the start, and sometimes with irritating consistency, running after the accused. They try to enlist me, by using the media, to support their frantic demands for revenge. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.
They fix their eyes on me through the television and rage. They want to enlist me for their revenge. How was such a thing allowed to happen? Where are the police? Where is the law? Where are the judges? Why didn’t they remove the criminal from the steering wheel, from his children, from his wife? Why wasn’t he kept away in time? Why wasn’t he removed from society in time, before he would be dangerous?
The accused as well are appealing to me. They, too, are pulling me and yelling in my ears. They, or their lawyers, or their friends. He, after all, is not sane, not punishable by law. He, too, suffered. He was raped when only a child. His Grandmother was in a concentration camp. His brother was killed. He grew up under the “Kassams”. His uncle was murdered. He is a family man. He is a combat soldier. In an elite unit. Then all the character witnesses arrive, some of them highly esteemed people. Army Generals, top ranking police officers. Shouldn’t we believe them? How is that possible? They say that the judges sit on leather seats in air conditioned rooms. How can they understand what happens in the streets?
Yes, the trial in the city square is not easy. And I have to decide. I am the judge. I didn’t want to, but everyone is turning to me. The victims and the accused. They shake me, pull me and scream in my ears. Just a moment, I say, why do I have to decide? After all there are judges in this country. Judges… they say and give me a strange look. There are no judges any more.
Let’s assume that they are right, that there are no judges, what then? Actually what’s so bad about deciding here in the city square, according to the more convincing side at the moment? There is an argument that is heard again and again, that in any case the judges need to reflect the opinion of the people and not to be above it. In that case, why not the city square itself, without the judges?
To that two replies are possible. First, the city square opion is a roller coaster. There is no compass, no principle of law. Everything is according to feelings and what convinces and those who “convince” – by slippery words and other means. Today we are shocked by the murder of children and we’ll demand that insane people be kept away from their children. Tomorrow we shall hear a story about a non-violent man who was kept away from his family, demeaned, hospitalized by force and denied access to his children for twenty years – and then we shall yell that the legal institution is cruel and rage against it.
But there is another reason, and it is the main one (see my apology above). The trial in the city square is a regression from the culture of forming social norms, by means of a functioning government, to a primitive society of blood revenge that is enforced by the family and the tribe. In a cultured society there are institutions entrusted with administrating justice, and they intentionally are distance both from the victim and the accused. It is these institutions that we should look up to and, if necessary, improve. And so I request all the people who are holding on to my shirt lapels, to let go. I am not your judge, neither I nor my neighbor. Keep your complaints and bring them to court. That is the place to conduct a trial and not the city square.
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The book “Winesburg, Ohio”, that has recently been published in a new Hebrew translation, attracted my attention in a book store. On the front cover of the book there is a beautiful photograph by Ada Rothenberg. In its center is a large wooden house painted reddish brown which looks like a village barn. Next to it there are leafless trees on a background of gray skies, and in front there is a yellowish spacious lawn. After reading the book I somewhat wonder about the choice of that photo. The solitary house suggests a different atmosphere from that of the book, which deals with the lives of people in a small, out of the way town in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Nevertheless the photo caught my eye, and what interested me even more was the name of the book which contains the name of a state in the U.S. – Ohio.
My father was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents were immigrants from Europe who settled at first in Canada and afterwards crossed Lake Erie and settled in the United States. My mother, who was born in Berlin, came to Cleveland, Ohio after her father went down on his knees in the American Embassy in Berlin and begged for a visa for himself and his two daughters. That was in 1936. On the thirties in Berlin, from the point of view of a boy who was only one year older than my mother, and who, like her, was born to a Jewish-Polish family that migrated to Berlin, I am reading now in Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s book “Mein Leben”.
But let’s return to Ohio. I, too, have some connection with Ohio because thanks to my parents who were Clevelanders I am considered by the American bureaucracy to belong to the county of Cuyahoga. That is my voting district. So much for my connection with Ohio.
Sherwood Anderson’s book is a collection of short stories interwoven into a sort of novel of a small, remote place. It is no wonder that the young Amos Oz, while living on a kibbutz, was enthusiastic about this book (See his remarks about it in “A Story of Love and Darkness”). There is something very similar between a small American town in the beginning of the twentieth century and a kibbutz at the end of the 1950s. Winesburg is a little place in which all the inhabitants know each other and everyone has special characteristics recognized by all. Anderson succeeded in observing these different characters of his town. He diminished himself and observed well, and knew how to portray them in exquisite detail, with modest means and humility. Young Oz wondered at this. He saw it as a revelation that “freed his writing hand”, but at the end he turned to a different road, and his greatness is recognizable even more when he writes of himself (and his family) and not about others.
All provincial places are alike, mainly when their sons write of them from a distance, after they have seen the world. Recently I read James Joyce’s book “Dubliners”. Even though Joyce writes about a more urban, sophisticated experience, his view of Dublin resembles Sherwood Anderson’s view of Winesburg. Joyce’s heroes, too, are trapped in a closed, suffocating experience, and it seems to them that the real world is somewhere else. In “Dubliners” like in “Winesburg, Ohio” the ability of the narrator to make his heroes speak and to tell the little stories of people who feel their live are “not interesting”, create a great work of art which is also an expression of love.
From time to time I wonder about the role of an orchestra conductor – that man who stands with his back to the audience and waves his hands towards the orchestra. What, in fact, is his role, other than signaling entrances to groups of instruments and maintain unity in the playing of the dozens of instrumentalists before him? How did conductors become a myth, and how did it happen that they became shooting stars that cross continents and oceans, carried along by mass adulation.
The “great” conductors developed with the nineteenth century symphony orchestras. As the orchestras grew – from ten or twenty instrumentalists to as many as one hundred and even more – the necessity for a conductor increased and he became more dominant. The present day conductor is the product of this need and the romanticism that created the myth of the genius and the musical legend – the magician like Paganini and Lizt. When the orchestra became larger it became impossible to discern the ability of every violinist or cellist – everything was swallowed up into the majestic, rich sound – and an individual was required to shape the image created by the music, to be, as it were, the medium through which the music expresses itself.
That is how the suggestive conductor came into being. The one whose body language is not only an interpretation of the music or directions to the orchestra, but also a unique expression of the music itself – the result of complete identification, which creates unity between the person and the musical work. In the book by Thomas Bernhard “The Loser”, the character in the image of Glen Gould says that his aspiration is to be a piano, that is to say, to identify himself with the music to such an extent that he loses his personality and unites himself heart and soul with the musical instrument. Leonard Bernstein was a conductor like that. George Solti experienced moments of that kind. I am only writing about conductors that I have seen and heard in live concerts.
There is also a more intellectual mode of conducting – the conductor who is capable of conceiving the entire work in one thought (Mozart declared that he thought in that fashion about his works) and in that way control its construction that continues over time (sometimes more than an hour, and in the case of operas, three hours or even longer). Daniel Barenboim is a conductor of this kind.
And now I come to Gustavo Dudamel. It seems that he is a romantic conductor, although it is apparent that he has an excellent grasp of the works in their entirety. His big advantage is his enthusiasm which comes from an inner force and is completely devoid of distortions or extremes. The orchestra recognizes this immediately, and suddenly they are all sitting on the edges of their seats, concentrating intensely on the man of truth whom they must not disappoint by a sound that is not completely appropriate to the occasion. And so the orchestra gives everything, it’s very best. The Philharmonic suddenly explodes in an ocean of beautiful sound that rises and falls, is exciting and calm – Schuman’s second symphony.
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Passover is a spring festival
Take your camera and let us go forth into the field
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So much has been written and said about the film “Jenin Jenin“, and when I said on Friday evening to a Film Lecturer that the following evening I would see the film in “Cinema Peripheria'” in the presence of the director Mohammad Bakri, he was very surprised and said “Really? I haven’t seen the film. I didn’t know that there are showings of his work”. Well, in order to see it, one would have to reach our neighborhood cinema in Givat Zamarin in Zikhron Ya’akov, next to the winery.
Many people have an opinion of “Jenin Jenin” (a purposeful, propagandistic film full of exaggerations and lies that incite) but few people have seen it. Most of the opinions were formed not opposite the screen but as a result of the media-legal struggle that raged around the film since it was made in 2002—2003. I won’t discuss all this. I’ll only note that the matter of the film reached the Supreme Court that Permitted its showing, and the charge of libel that was presented by five soldiers who participated in Israel army’s action in Jenin (Operation Defensive Shield) arguing that the film presents them as war criminals, that case has not as yet been finally decided in the court.
The film is a documentation made in Jenin by Bakri shortly after the Israel army’s activity. It contains photos of the terrible devastation caused by the army in the Jenin refugee camp (entire streets were destroyed by armor-plated bulldozers. An entire neighborhood was shaved and flattened). Mainly the film contains interviews with Jenin inhabitants who tell what happened in those days. About their helplessness. About the army’s cruelty. About the dead, some of whom were buried in the debris. Elderly people as well as young ones tell the story and also a fluently speaking child in whom hatred was caused which will not cease to exist even after a hundred years of peace. A doctor tells of a bombed hospital that could not take care of the many wounded. A youth who dreamed of a life of peace with Israel says that after what happened in Jenin he no longer has such a hope. In his opinion the Jewish people are no longer human.
The technique that Bakri employs again and again is of quick clips, a jumping camera, quick cuts and vocal effects to create drama and terror, to create the feelings of killing and destruction, in spite of the fact that his camera reached the site after the violent actions about which the interviewees are telling has ended. All of them exagerate and go to extremes when describing events. In the discussion that took place after the showing Bakri said that in Sderot also, when interviewed for television after a bombardment of Qassam rockets, people spoke of “thousands of Qassam rockets, that is to say, people spoke in exaggerated language typical of the language used by people who experienced shock, were themselves hurt or saw wounded people near them. I tend to agree with him, and so I am not irritated when I hear the exaggerations of Jenin people whose houses have been destroyed. Whoever has had his entire street “flattened” by bulldozers will not select words when he describes the damage on one side and the cruelty of the enemy on the other side.
It is necessary to understand something else. The film “Jenin Jenin” is part of the creation of a Palestinian myth of opposition to the enemy, of resistance, of suffering. In the talk Bakri said that he is angry with the doctor who spoke of hundreds of killed Palestinians. It was important for him to emphasize that “only” 56 were killed. Why is this important? Because Israel received a hard blow in Jenin. 23 soldiers were killed there. Jenin is a Palestinian myth, and the film “Jenin Jenin” is part of the development of this myth.
When the filming ended and Bakri turned to the audience and asked for questions, it became apparent that the reserve soldiers from Jenin do not lose any opportunity to confront him and obstruct his effort to create dialogue with a Jewish audience. Two of them attended the viewing. One of them said immediately that he has 8 points, 8 refutations to 8 defamations and lies in the film. Every point was a short lecture, and I was afraid that a long filibuster was awaiting us. But it finally ended, Nevertheless they succeeded in dominating more than one third of the discussion time and in somewhat angering Bakri, who because of them became more militant.
One of the film’s central motives is the repetitious call of Jenin inhabitants to their brother Arabs and the entire world. Their strong feeling is that the world forgot them, ignores them, and is deaf to their appeals. They cry to the camera as if swearing an oath to this document which was to serve them as a voice. I asked Bakri who sees this film. Was it shown in Arab countries, in the entire world? He laughed bitterly. There are almost no showings in Israel. In the Arab world the film was shown only in a little station in Lebanon. In western countries Israel tries (and succeeds) to cancel almost every showing. The showing with an ensuing talk which was planned to appear on channel ARTE was canceled shortly before the scheduled date for unknown reasons. Who says that Israel information service has had no successes.
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The early 1970s. A Purim party at the kibbutz. The picture was taken in the “court” of the dining hall, that is to say, the addition that was paved in a “modern” style of broken pieces of stone and had above a very large sliding roof. That is what reveals the place. A year or two ago we had celebrated Purim in the “mosad”, i.e., the high school that was built at some distance from the kibbutz and where we lived a sort of autonomous youth existence. In the rigid life of the kibbutz in those days, Purim gave us a special occasion to release tension and go wild. It was an excuse to drink a little alcohol – and vomit our guts out – to dance madly and let down all barriers. But more of that immediately.
First about the picture. Above from right to left: Amos, Uriel, me and Baruch. Below from right: Efraim, Edna and Batyah (if I’m not mistaken). Lying down in the front of the picture is Ahron, the white panther.
A couple of years ago we still celebrated in the mosad, and when I look at the white panther I remember his unforgettable performance at that Purim in the mosad. Ahron (today Dr. Benedik from France) joined us as a youth. He came with his brother Edi (who lives to this day in the kibbutz) and although he adjusted well and became one of us, maintained his characteristic French ways. Among other things he acquainted us with Jacques Brel, and in general was much more open to what was happening in the world than we were. Incidentally the idea to come to the party disguised as a white panther was really inspired by the black panthers that were making the headlines in Israel at that time. It would be interesting to know what he thought of us, the provincials. But his performance showed us that he thought, for example, that we were a group of yes-men. On that Purim he took the stage and presented daring songs, a sort of Jacques Brel trying to kick us in the ass. We didn’t understand what he wanted from us. After every song he turned around in quick ritual steps and changed hats. The song that made him famous among us for all time was written to the tune of the Marseillaise, the French national anthem. It went this way:
Fellows of the mosad
We need to do something
Against against the instructors
Against the pigs
Ta ta ta tam (change hats)
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