Getting in touch with reality

Ashley speculates that he might be moving in the wrong circles: despite all the media hoopla and the many blog entries about Arafat's mysterious illness (and possible imminent demise), nobody he knows is talking about the subject.

Actually, he's moving in pretty normal circles.

The truth is that, besides my colleagues at the newspaper I work for, nobody I know is talking about the subject either. The only reason I got caught up in the speculation is because I spent all of Thursday proofing articles about Arafat, Arafat's illnesses, the possible consequences of Arafat's death, yadda yadda yadda. Ad mega nauseum.

So I got sucked in and the result was my previous post.

Part of the reason I started writing this blog was to give readers a non-political perspective on Israeli society. As I've written before, I think it's wrongheaded and (to put it mildly) inaccurate to link every aspect of Israeli society to the political situation here. It bothers me that so many people know Israel only through newspaper headlines and breathless, ratings-seeking reports on CNN. That kind of knowledge is totally devoid of nuance. In fact, it is ignorance. And ignorance is dangerous.

While we were driving to the bloggers' bash, Shai hinted that denial might not be just a river in Egypt – that maybe I was trying too hard to avoid politics.

Perhaps. But the longer I live in Israel, the more politics gets on my nerves. The whole subject seems like an awfully predictable March of Folly, with politicians screaming at each other, leaders behaving cravenly and the international media capturing viewers and readers with dramatic headlines and craftily-edited footage.

Sometimes I wonder if political activism is a form of escapism that is simply the mirror image of Tel Aviv hedonists on the club-and-pub circuit. Both pursuits end up being a way of escaping from oneself. An unexamined life may not be worth living, but examining one's life is pretty damned difficult and scary. It's much easier to proclaim that one has dedicated oneself to achieving a collective, higher good – or, of course, to get stoned and stay up all night dancing – than to examine the flaws in one's character and either change them or learn to accept them.

Have you ever noticed that, throughout history, the most accomplished people, the ones who made the biggest impact, were absolute assholes to those closest to them? Gandhi decided, for himself and his wife, that he would become celibate at the age of 36. The Buddha abandoned his pregnant wife in order to go out and seek enlightenment. Picasso was unbelievably cruel to his wives and mistresses, and indifferent to his children. (I know, strange selection of people – wonder what's on my mind?)

What would happen if we all decided that the best way to make the world a better place was to put our energy into being kind and compassionate to one another and to ourselves (self-acceptance), to be generous partners and loving parents and offspring – instead of channeling our egos into the acquisition of power, immortality and fame, at the expense of those closest to us? I bet the world would be a pretty good place. We wouldn't need a Buddha to teach us about enlightenment – because we'd all be bodhisattvas already.

This evening I skipped the annual memorial for Yitzhak Rabin at Rabin Square, because it seems to be a lot less about Rabin and a lot more about hanging out with like-minded people, listening to David Broza and eating Italian ice cream. Instead I stayed home and watched a beautiful and moving documentary by Danae Elon (daughter of Amos Elon) called Another Road Home.

The film is about Musa Obeidallah, the Palestinian man the filmmaker's parents hired to take care of her when she was growing up in Jerusalem, and from whom she seems to have received more unconditional love and acceptance than she ever received from her parents – especially her rather distant father. For 20 years, Musa spent 18 hours a day at the Elon's home – far more than he spent with his own 11 children. He fed Danae as a baby, and even slept in the same room with her. He worked hard to make money in order to send his sons to study in the USA, where they would be able to build better lives for themselves. But since she left Israel more than 10 years before, Danae has lost touch with Musa. She locates Musa's sons, who are living in Paterson, New Jersey; they remember her well and welcome her warmly, though they speak honestly about their anti-Israel feelings. Eventually Musa, who lives in the West Bank village of Batir, comes to visit her and his sons in the USA. The trip is an arduous one for a 76 year-old man. It involves getting permission to leave his village and waiting hours to get through checkpoints on the way to the airport in Amman, not knowing if he will be allowed through or turned back. But he undertakes the journey successfully and arrives in the USA.

And thus the viewer is introduced to one of the kindest, sweetest people one could ever hope to meet. Here is a man who seems to be made purely of love and acceptance. At one point Danae is sitting in the tiny kitchen of her Manhattan apartment, talking to Musa alone. The love between them simply radiates outward. Danae asks Musa how he felt when he ironed her army uniform during her furloughs from her mandatory service in the IDF. At first Musa is confused by the question, but finally he answers, simply, “I didn't iron your uniform for the army. I ironed it for you.”

Even though every aspect of Musa's sentient life is controlled by politics, he is really free – freer than anyone else in that film. Free of hate, anger, politics… The only thing that is important to him is giving love. And he actually says that to Danae, while they are sitting in a Jordanian hotel room following his visit to the USA, waiting overnight for the border into the West Bank to be opened in the morning – allowing Musa to return to his village, Batir.

The story of Musa's life illustrates why I am sick of politics, and why I am ever more convinced that all we need is…you know, what the Beatles said.


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