There were no words inside me during these two weeks as I viewed the war in Gaza and Israel vividly reported in heart wrenching details, with photos of victims, and photos of young Israeli boys killed in action. I have always relied on a kind of inner emotion system which turns horror and pain into a story or novel for me, and explains somehow how the world of people works, but here I was wordless. Most of my novels start from troubles, anger and confusion based inside a personal center but transformed through a cathartic release that inventing has shown me. One can reach deeper levels of comprehension, I thought (and still do but differently)—indeed one can feel they have healed wounds, silenced devils, put out all the burning and fires in one’s psyche. Relationships, shocking and perplexing events in the world, in history, conflict in anything that has shaken me into turning to fiction for sanctuary. But these two weeks of watching rockets fired at Israel, and Israel’s failure at protecting the innocent civilians of Gaza, have torn at my heart so fiercely, I couldn’t invent.
A friend we had dinner with last night thoughtfully sent me a link to a novel entitled Second Person Singular written by Sayed Kashua, an Arab Israeli. It tells the tragedy of being born into this embattled region, split virtually into two identities. I remember when I visited Gaza as a child, the gracious hospitality of my mother’s Palestinian friends—always tray of cafe and almond cookies, big bowls of fresh Jaffa oranges on a welcoming coffee table. But, then, that was 1965 and Gaza was a place where Israeli families frequently crossed from Jerusalem. I had come to feel our reflection on the other side of the border were heartful and warm. I identified so completely with this novel of fractured identity because I felt the same way.
On Facebook, I felt I could express my feelings without those feelings having to go through the sieve of professional articles I might have normally written. I wrote very freely on Facebook because I am one that takes to Facebook like a bird to the clean vast spaces of flyable air.
I first posted a poem by Paul Valery that expressed about everything I felt politically, offering that which facts, ideologies, the crew of pundits interviewed on television, articles and sloganistic calls to feel something so simplified it loses any truth.
Valery simply wrote:
War: a massacre of people who don’t know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other.
I couldn’t seem to hunker down and write anything about how I felt. But writing this on Facebook through some communal magic, was healing.
A few days letter, I finally could find some words and I posted them on Facebook. I wrote:
I have had to be a Palestinian/Israeli since my Jewish mother was born in 1922 in Palestine as did my grandmother and my grandparents before. Interesting struggle of identity–apart from the horror of this current war…my mother’s passports read “Palestine” till the day she died, and for me, the hardest images were seeing the places in Gaza she took me as a child, seeing all frames of reference now fragments and fractures, and hate on both sides replacing the kinship my grandparents and mother once felt with their Palestinian Muslim and Christian friends and allies. A line from Sayed’s novel really hit me: “Why not? Its like an organ donation. Around here identity is like one of the organs of the body and yours is faulty.”
One fact buried in history is that the Palestinians helped many Holocaust Jews hide as refugees in the 1940s from the British quota system forbidding them entry into Jerusalem. My mother was beside these comrades in the Haganah. This war is tearing my heart out, struggling each day with the images and the rhetoric and the death that tells the only true narrative and buries history, with innocent bodies.
I wish I was smarter and talented enough to turn my pain over the Hamas-Israel war into something more artful and crafted. But in a wonderful way, it was healing to meet up with the process before craft crept in and shaped it, exploring the substance and conflicts I felt without judgement or invention. It will take a year or more, though, to really fictionalize and integrate what feels like just a mess of emotional soup into a novel. But this early part of that journey has been valuable to me. Like the inexplicable raw images I see on television, it gave expression to the inexpressible.
Leora Skolkin-Smith is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel Hystera. Her next novel, Edges, will be published in 2015. Learn more about Leora at our website.