Description of a Struggle / Description d’un combat (1960)
Nation élue, nation errante, nation martyre, nation ressuscitée, Israël a connu le combat sous toutes ses formes.
Il en découvre aujourd’hui une nouvelle – le combat qu’un jeune État plein de forces doit mener contre lui-même pour rester fidèle, dans la victoire, à ce qui fut sa gloire dans l’oppression.
Sous les images de la vie quotidienne en Israël, se livre à chaque instant ce combat intérieur, moins apparent que celui des armes, et peut-être le seul décisif.
this land first speaks to you in signs.
Signs of land,
signs of water,
signs of man,
This is the promised land,
this is Jerusalem on earth,
this is Israel.
You have heard all about Israel.
12 years of statehood, nearly 13,
2 million inhabitants,
soon 3 million.
Signs have but a short life.
This fire dump no longer exists,
this Tiberias man may be gone now.
Lasting signs carved on tree bark
and on the skin of Man.
Market place signs.
Money – colour – a world is born.
Shouts, songs hailing a daybreak in turnips and strawberries.
Aerev chel shoshanim
Netsé na’l haboustan
Mor b’ssamim oul’vonah
Le raguelekh mifftan
Lailah yored leath
Verouakh shoshan noch’vach…
Signs are not for the eye alone.
In Tel-Aviv’s Carmel street market, they express a timeless urge to communicate.
To communicate –
To define an orderly relationship in things hostile or mystery-veiled.
Oscilloscopes deep in computation akin to contemplative birds.
These remote-control owls are seen in Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo. Animals live in the shade of verses taken from the Book of books.
Sacred encyclopedia of exile days, nothing existed outside its record.
“Brother to monsters, ostrich-like,”
I greet the flamingo and the owl,
“whose flesh is not to be partaken.”
And he, in charge of the oscilloscope, is a skull-cap wearing true believer
and of course abstains from owls,
and his God is the God of Abraham.
This is Rehovoth’s electronic brain,
whose oracles they all seek,
the scholar, the wise and the mighty.
The Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Here, symmetries fall apart. Piety, grandsire of Technicity. The planetarium dome does not deny that of the Synagogue, the two halves of a whole.
Perhaps it is a contradiction, but the silence of prayer and the silence of research have one thing in common – silence. The rest, be it fun or worship, is sheer bedlam.
The tomb of a wonder Rabbi, Sephardim yearly sing his praise brandishing the Holy Scrolls.
Truckborn rushlights in the Negev, gantry cranes in the copper mines,
lights that guide,
and lights that guard.
Haïfa – phosphorescent city. Beersheba, amid the desert, last stop before the Red Sea.
The Red Sea,
the Dead Sea,
the Mediterranean, red or blue, depending on the time of the day.
A new day breaks on this narrow land.
On the Western shore,
on the Northern Manarah mounts – all Israel within the camera eye –
Daybreak on Haïfa,
on Tel Aviv, the city built on sand,
on Jerusalem and no-man’s land,
the Wailing Wall’s loss is bewailed.
On Beersheba, where Zazie flies,
and Eilath, the little Red Sea port,
future Suez and Miami Beach.
They spent the night on the beach.
When factories and motels dent this skyline, we shall long for such a morning.
End of the line. Arkia planes take off. North-bound, laden with tourists, film producers.
Haïfa, at the end of the runway.
On the slopes of Mt. Carmel, homeward-bound roller-coaster.
So, new sports come to life. Javelin was born of the hunt,
the marathon of victory, the sprint of defeat.
A steeply built town bred this sport, poor little boys rolling along, in dreams of Olympic glory.
Galilee has seen many a dream.
Messiahs, kings, and wonders.
Dreams of a land named Israel,
where a shepherd people would gather according to the ancient promise.
This land would come to be,
a 2000-year slumber would end,
suddenly, cities would arise.
Shepherds, disguised as city folks.
They built towns and roads.
Centuries of confinement had diverted their shepherd instincts to education,
among other fields.
Many a young state is a scout in heart.
A variety of khaki measles.
Noonday sun cracks the Spartan varnish and the uniform is shed.
To grownups, the young are a wonder.
They search for the missing link between them and the ghetto ghosts.
Yet ghetto children still exist. Jerusalem’s orthodox quarter, out of brick walls and side curls, the ghetto has been revived.
Here, time lies frozen, Jewish destiny is locked within, Israel was meant to abolish it. But here, Israel stands denied. “The Messiah will deliver us.” Rather a magnificent expectation.
Over these moribund housefronts hangs a certain yearning for something called Spirit. A question that should be pondered: will 50 years of liberty destroy where 2000-year persecution failed?
Biblical names can be seen today, alongside legendary ones.
Biblical Hebrew revives for the first time since the Romans. It lends itself to pilpoul. That is, endless dialogue with God. But God not always being on call, a friendly neighbour fills the part.
Arabic too is heard in the land. Bedouin garbs, Cleopatra shrouds.
Yiddish, German, French, Russian.
And that exotic lingo: touristese:
– Ooooh! What a lovely pitcher…
– Rosie! Rosie! Over here…
– Red carpet! Are you crazy?
– …de dog dat ate a glass: how much fer de window in de doggie?
Picturesque-loving tourists offer a spectacle for picturesque-loving natives.
Coming to see the tough pioneers, they hardly recognize the others.
Neither the cock-sure, full of health and enterprise, nor the subdued and embittered. Dreaming of a fabulous America, of a fabulous American.
Faces a tourist may photograph, but never see.
– Well, I was just… I was just coming to this point: nationality has come into the picture…
– And just by chance, wonderful coincidence, guess who was in Sweden at the same time? Piscator…
– So I… So then I ask him, uh, so I ask him “how much,” and he says “five pounds,” I say “five pounds for a cocktail?”
– Uh…we’ve had no problems, we happy band of brothers, for you shed his blood with me this night shall be my brother be never so vile…
– Yeah, I like theater very much: fine thing, theater.
Tourists click their cameras.
Back home, the pictures produce gratitude, consternation, exuberance, pride, even if mixed with envy.
The proudest photo-star of all: Klein, a practicing cat-lover.
Every noon, on the Jerusalem bus, he calls out “cat” in Hungarian to all Hungarian-speaking cats.
Noah Rosenfeld, chess champion at 11, and Yehuda Arel, both members of Manara Kibbutz.
A world where money doesn’t count, doomed some say, to extinction, but will leave a profound imprint as the past Dead Sea communities.
A stretch of lunar landscape embedded into the earth,
the scene of Essene Communities and of Bar-Kochba’s guerrillas,
the site, according to a Russian, of the first atomic blast, on a Judean Hiroshima named Sodom.
Dead Sea, dead earth,
Palestine in pioneer days.
Sand hills and barren rocks, marshland, desert everywhere.
To pass from desert to pasture,
and measure what was achieved,
this land should be X-rayed as a painting revealing an older work.
Thus we’d discover from the plane,
a lake. The Hule region was sheer marshes, complete with malaria and gunfire.
Imagine the first settlers’ survey,
all it meant in knowledge, arms.
Anyway, what is a swamp good for?
One said, “All we need is a miracle,”
which at once put everyone at ease.
If little was known of agriculture,
the Jews knew all about miracles.
Now, the miracle is being organized. Darsky on the ground, Ayalon in the air, work in a vast collective enterprise.
The Piper lands and takes off.
Sometimes a Piper crashes, sometimes Sergey is shot at.
Stoppage of work is astounding.
Shabath, Saturday in Israel, sterner than any English Sunday. The buses don’t run, cinemas closed, tools lying idle. In this mood of general strike, history hoists its signals.
Martyrdom is no longer Israel’s wear. Bar-Kochba, the resistance leader whose children lit bonfires, are funeral pyres of all the enemies, from Haman to Hitler.
But for the pious, by candle light, before the first evening star, Friday, till after the first star on Saturday, there’s nothing but prayer.
Saturday night, Kibbutz general meeting. The Kibbutz is Israel’s originality, and this is the Kibbutz’s originality: decisions taken by common consent.
An absolute form of democracy.
They don’t own a thing in the world. They have no money, no salaries. The community provides their needs, children raised collectively.
All these unique aspects are founded in the weekly Utopian act.
– Anyone care to add his bit?
– No more bright ideas? Let’s vote!
– Let’s have your idea…
– Our point of view should be represented at the general meeting…
– You might as well be in Parliament…
Liason is one of their problems. Communal life has its comforts, yet recruiting has fallen off. Battle appeals more than maneuvers. Nothing odd about new ideas, yet some watch them with dismay. Being heirs of a stern idealism, isolated in their own country, isolated from the socialist states, how long will their purity last?
– Enough jabber, comrades! Those who don’t understand, vote against. The others, for…
– Tennenbaum seems to be the elect… Uri is elected to represent us…
A spanner may get in the way, thrown by Uri’s own wife.
– I object…
She doesn’t want him to leave, because of a biblical precedent. The election is cancelled.
Kibbutzim are a small minority, but an exemplary one, soothing the conscience of those who brought a capitalist structure.
There is yet another minority – the Arab minority.
A Nazareth man, Father Gauthier, came here to work and help narrow the gulf between the two communities.
Founded on Arab-staffed cooperative, aided by State and Trade Unions, improvement of conditions can only succeed without paternalism.
The matter is indeed urgent.
In a Nazareth house, Moona goes about her daily tasks.
She’s the eldest of seven children – a baker’s apprentice brother, the little ones still at home. The father is in an asylum. Moona is the head of the family.
Three things enable her to go on:
the promise of a new apartment,
dancing, which she loves most,
and that shy, durable light in her face.
To smile, dance on a volcano – man has a great gift for that.
Last night, a border skirmish.
In a friendly bedouin’s tent, Captain Chaim debates horses’ merits. Each one praises his own steed, pities his neighbour’s one-eyed mule.
In Haïfa, Cultural Center members meet in an Essentialist dance cellar. Casualties reported on the border. Some were called to their units.
At noon, the next day, Gaby had danced with the instructor.
– Isn’t he wonderful!
Kiryat Moskin high school girls comparing their instructors, ballroom dancing, youth movements. Pretty birdlike chatter.
Dancing on a volcano.
Dancing – this is dancing.
The volcano is war.
War has marked this landscape, this climate heavy with murder.
War is embedded in all memories.
Twelve years… Israel was born of war, as war, through lack of foresight. Herzl didn’t anticipate bloodshed. England didn’t foresee this result of her promise of a homeland. The West didn’t foresee that the Middle East would rebel, that the US and Russia would vote for the birth of Israel.
Twelve years. Already a generation who could say:
– Why did you come to Israel?
– To forget.
– To forget what?
– I forgot…
Lailah lored leath
Verouakh shoshan noch’vach
Hava elkhach’ lakh chir balat
C’emer chel ahavah
And already the first wrinkles. Laxity, nostalgia, youth’s plight. The right to an ordinary life, paid for with Jewish blood, beset by everyday drudgery, the day of the locust.
“Reason slumbers breeds monsters.”
These products are for export.
Only the trappings of happiness, radio, refrigerators, and TV. Things that don’t replace values.
Did we fight for the right to err? The right to boredom and scandal? Is the chosen people fated to travel the same road as other nations?
This is answered by the question: what have we done to prevent this?
A newsreel dated Dec 16th, 1947. Near Rome, central Europe refugees embark on an illegal Haganah vessel, hoping for a clandestine landing in a place where they would cease to be displaced persons.
The crossing took two weeks. Christmas was spent on board.
A British man-of-war appeared.
The ship displayed her identity.
The immigrants entered Haïfa port to be forcibly deported to Cyprus.
This we have done, we Europe, who boast of our spiritual values, caused thousands to flee from us. Camp survivors, camp orphans, born in camps, crushed by camps, they fled from us, Germany, with our crimes, France, with our indifference, and when they turned to England, were dragged back to the camps.
Away from fear, children are born.
They ask you to take their picture.
They are beautiful. Rumored to be all tall and fair. Oriental grace deflects European type, and among the Rubens, many a Chagall is preserved.
Moreover, they multiply. You find 2 where there was one.
How many will there be next year? She will never be Anne Frank.
Her very being, her freedom, the stakes of the first struggle. Those were miraculous days.
Miracles die with their witnesses. A second struggle begins.
To become a nation implies the right to selfishness, conceit.
But Israel’s history cries out against power for its own sake.
Strength, power, are merely signs.
The greatest injustice may well be denial of the right to be unjust.
Look at her.
There she is.
We’ve to understand her, remind her that injustice on this land weighs heavier than elsewhere, this land, the ransom of injustice.
The threats that surround her, to which she gave no cause.
Yes, look at her. A vision that defeats the eye, as words endlessly repeated.
Amongst all the wondrous things, most wondrous is her being there, like a cygnet, a signal, a sign.