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Some Cannot Forget, Others Cannot Remember
by Anis Hamadeh, April 2005
To the German Original

Samir's Adventures

"Think of the children!" said Sarah from the other side of the table. Samir could see her violin fingers playing with the salt shaker through the glasses. He tried to remember what "Think of the children!" meant, but in this very moment it seemed to him as if he could not remember anything at all. What was he doing here? He took a look around. There was Ari in front of his empty pasta plate. Next to him Thomas, still eating, looking up, grinning. Sarah ordered some espresso. Three more hours, then there would be the appearance. The appearance, right. Peace in Israel and Palestine. Sign of hope. Think of the children.

Samir was sliding on his chair and nervously lit a cigarette. In the beginning it was really good, he thought to himself, there was a potential. But had it not changed into a routine by now, a mechanism? For a whole summer they had toured Germany, to promote peace in the Middle East. They played classical music and recited poetry. Stood together on a stage, Palestine and Israel, together, in Germany. An encounter. It was good. "Wasn't it good?" Ari asked and Samir smiled. Yes, it was good.

Outside, the rain was drizzling onto the pavement of the old part of the city. Through the panorama window of the restaurant Samir saw passers-by with turned-up collars running into divers directions. He was longing for a walk and started, without any haste, to collect his belongings from the table. Cell phone, cigarettes, lighter, pen, the flyer of tonight. "I'm gonna go back to the hotel for an hour, prepare myself for the evening", he said to the group. "Shall we meet backstage then?" Sarah and Ari nodded. The soundcheck was already done and all the technical things prepared. The couple was more or less happy about the fact that at least the current appearance was not in question. So was Thomas. The whole day through he had tried to convince Samir to stay with the project. To continue. The two had talked so much in the meantime that they knew each other quite well. Samir said goodbye, paid his bill and went through the door.

A strong wet breeze immediately started to drag and pull his coat. Was there anything he missed to notice? Why was it so difficult for him to decide? Right in the beginning they had talked about the situation, Ari and him. Ari was loyal to his country Israel, but against the occupation and against the targeted killing of political enemies. He spoke about peaceful co-extistance, also about security needs and terrorism. When a couple of years ago Sarah and him had experienced the effects of an assault against Israelis on the street they decided to do something for the mutual understanding. So, when they had returned to Germany, they looked out for a poet who could represent the Palestinian side.

Samir strolled through the streets in the direction of the hotel. He knew the way only vaguely. If he lost the way he would call a taxi. The wind had now become so strong that people could not use their umbrellas. The howling and whistling around him opened him; it came in with a reality of its own right, it took the thoughts right out of his head and shot them into the swirling air. A dozen times they had stood on stage, firmly believing that the fate of Palestinians and Israelis could only be moved into the direction of peace by way of encounters. But did they still encounter? It seemed as if everything was said. They knew the points where the respective other was sensitive, where he was tolerant, where he was easy and where he was difficult. They had discussed the political situation and were able to report the view of the respective other. Wasn't this a lot? They connected people who longed for peace in a similar way and who applauded for a long spell of time when they saw the picture of togetherness on the stage. There even were politicians and journalists who promoted the project in the public. After the summer tour Samir had written a hundred page report and published it on the internet in two languages. Thomas was able to draw the attention of event organizers and other artists to the project. All in all there were thousands who experienced this project or at least heard about it.

When he walked past a newspaper shop Samir felt a spontaneous urge for the purchase of an alcoholic drink, to warm up a little and to overcome this nagging feeling which had settled in his stomach, and be it only for a moment. Every time he thought about it he came to the conclusion that he had to accept to not be understood, not really be understood. He was not a single case, it rather was an overall phenomenon. Did he understand the others? The newspaper shop disappeared behind him. Did anybody at all understand anybody else? Phrases came up from his inside, phrases he heard in his many nights. Don't trouble yourself so much, was one of them. You have to take people the way they are, was another. What more can we do, yet another. Aggression never brings you further, a forth one. We have to look into the future, a fifth one.

Samir thought of the children in Palestine and in Israel. Did anything at all change for them since the three had been together on tour? Or was it on the contrary the case that the three only affirmed the conflict with a stagnation that was the same stagnation as the conflict itself? Samir wanted to accuse the world of not being factually interested in a proper peace and conclude that this was the only possible reason for war, but he knew that this was hard to prove. Did not everybody talk about peace? Nobody was against peace. There just was no peace, that was all.

In the past years he had asked himself again and again why there was no peace if everybody wanted it. How to define it and how to achieve it. While doing so he had the impression of being a troublemaker. A paradox. Had he disturbed war or had he disturbed peace? Why wasn't he able to forget Deir Yassin? Why did he have to come up with the past over and over again, his own past and the past of the society? Once again these phrases emerged from his mind: you cannot change the past. Get over it! You gotta forget about it. You gotta accept that things cannot always be the way you want it.

The old city was shining in front of him. He saw announcements glued to the walls, inviting to gatherings concerning the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war. Germany's past. Should he forget about this also? Millions of deads. There was nothing left to do about it, it had happened and was over. Ari said that one could not compare that at all. One thing was about the industrial murdering of a group, the other thing was about battles relating to Israel's right to exist. There certainly had been mistakes made, but all in all measures were needed to bring the state of Israel into being and then to secure it. Samir replied that he was not comparing anything here, but that the sentence was correct after which the genocide was irreversable. That there was nothing today which could be done against it. "One can prevent it from happening again", Ari said. "What exactly?" asked Samir and the response was: "That such a genocide happens again."

Samir reconstructed the dialogue from his memory. He had suggested that there were many forms of injustice. That genocides surely were the worst form, but that there also was other injustice which had to remain in the consideration. The German government, for example, in former times had confiscated the property of Jews and to a large extend had sold it at auctions. The details are unclear, because the files about the matter are anonymized and held in secret by the Ministry of Finances. This is how he had recently read it in the newspaper and a professor of political science had verified it to him and had talked about the phenomenon at a symposion. It seemed to Samir as if the German position in this issue was forgetting. And what did it change, anyway, if one occupied oneself too much with the matter? Old wounds would open again, that was all. Even ultra-pro-Israeli groups like "Honestly Good Guys", who suspected half of the peace movement of alleged tendencies, were interested neither in the auctions nor in the files.

Then there was this thing about comparisons. When you have a gigantically huge injustice and a minimally tiny injustice then - according to the laws of logic - there is a common element which is the injustice. Otherwise somebody could come and say that nothing else than the genocide against the Jews counts. Then nothing else would count, only the genocide against the Jews and witty masters of war would be able to instrumentalize this circumstance and act in the dark. A society cannot be interested in such a thing.

Forget or remember? He was shifting between the two. His own past was chained to his leg like a weight. It was affirmed to him that there had not been any terrible instances in his own past and if so that this could only be regretted. Yet there was no point in clinging to the past and in circular moving. Only these dreams, they appeared in the night... What kind of raggedness was this, in the middle of this normality? A tension which at times almost made him explode. Which had brought him into trouble sometimes. The others were not like that.

There was no progress in the tour. This, at any rate, was Samir's impression. There had been talks, but there was no getting further. Where further, anyway? Should he be dreaming of being able to stop the war between Israelis and Arabs? What a pretentious, ridiculous thought! What a presumption! Megalomania! Samir felt bad. He was unable to properly formulate what he wanted to say, what he had to say. He was hurting other people's feelings with it. How can you be for peace when you are so angry and excited, he asked himself and came to no answer. The conflict was irritating him, the stagnation made him angry. "The occupation of my family in Nablus makes me angry", he had once said to Ari, Sarah and Thomas and they had showed sympathy. "Sympathy", he continued, "factually does not help my family much." Again appreciation. "We think the same way", they said, "and the terror attacks are also making us angry. The war has to stop." Finish.

He entered the hotel room, warmed up for a couple of minutes and put the wet clothes aside. In the mirror he discovered some superfluous face hairs and removed them with his hairdresser's scissors. He saw himself standing in front of his folks, saying that he wants to be happy and they replied with sympathy. And yes, within the framework of their world they had sympathy indeed. It was not faked. It made no sense to disappoint them for things he could not explain. For parallels he saw where others would find a connexion incongruous or exaggerated. For causalities others would not find plausible. He could not help accusing himself, because he thought he could have formulated it better, live it better, do it better. At this point there was no going on, not in the small and not in the big. Thus in the meantime he had more or less stopped talking critically about the past. Everything was said, anyway, there was no need to repeat oneself all the time. The phase which followed was similar to the phase he would shortly experience with Sarah, Ari and Thomas also, if he pursued the same strategy. And this was what he was intending to do, for he was fed up with these meaningless confrontations.

If you really looked at it, so he thought to himself while letting his body fall onto the hotel bed, it was not about the past, anyway. Nobody would mind if someone talked about his or her beautiful childhood or about the past of their country. If you really looked at it these confrontations were merely about criticism.

He did not want to affront Sarah and Ari, nor Thomas, nor his own folks, the Germans, the Israelis and the Palestinians. At the same time he felt the responsibility to say and do things which others did not like to hear.

And what if one took the war in the Middle East away from the people? One would deprive millions of people of their enemy. This other who was exactly the way we hated him. Our shield, with which we were able to project all evil away from ourselves. This is not us, it is them! The rule of law would be established and take away dear privileges of millions of people. There would be no racism anymore and the debate about the Jewish character of the country would flame up anew, because twenty per cent of the inhabitants of Israel are not Jewish. The refugee issue would revive. The occupation would be lifted and so contacts between the societies would be possible which would restructure the character of the whole country. Intellectuals from all sides would name good reasons for the one-state solution. All military alliances would have to be questioned, history rewritten, everybody would make him- and herself vulnerable and nobody could blame it on the terrible situation anymore when people are aggressive. Other states, neither. The German past would be discussed again and not preached, because we would need new answers. The whole infrastructure and distribution, everything would change when international law and the human rights would establish in the Middle East. Peace would be a catastrophe!

Samir was lolling in the bed and glimpsed at his watch. Still time ahead. Since a couple of weeks he had a new job, creating a text department in the small company of a friend. Socially this changed a lot for him. He was reintegrated into capitalism and found it worth a try. People were not so quickly detered when you had a job they could understand. That was worth a lot. When a poor guy promotes peace in the Middle East there will be much less people to listen than when a rich guy does it. Of course, quality will prevail in the end, this is clear, but advertisement costs money and without advertisement in one form or another nobody will believe it, anyway. Without money they don't believe it. No belief without money. We believe in money. There would be a salary for tonight's appearance, Thomas had told him some hours ago. Were peace artists allowed to receive salaries? What was such a person supposed to live from? How important was he? And for how important would people take him, if he did not have the money to buy himself a decent car?

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Samir was unable to forget it, because he saw the big in the small. The small consisted of all the family conflicts, the individual control dramas. For years he had studied this, for he wanted to understand. Deep into the subconscious he had traveled. The big was in the country with the capitol Jerusalem. Since decades. The big was also all over the world, it was everywhere the same, everywhere the same conflict. The same patterns, the same causes and effects on different levels. Not everywhere with blood, not everywhere with deads. But everywhere with supression and forgetting, with speechlessness and dreams, the incapability of handling guilt and feelings in general, with justification strategies and consciousness blockades, with knee-jerk negations of alternatives, with methodic mechanisms and dogmatic normalities.

On the other hand: what, if one took all this away from the people? Samir laughed. Surely a couple of things would get out of control. The families would alter their structures. Volunteers, please! The word "reality" would no longer fall victim to any monopolies of interpretation. The same about the word "normality". Samir laughed again. He imagined the confusion when some of the things, which were taken to be normal, would cease being normal. He thought about a completely unnormal phrase. "In order to solve the Middle East problem we need a new, a contemporary understanding of the family." Unreal, surreal.

For his own situation he found no solution. Should he, for example, continue to appear on stage with the two? Did it mean anything? Did it mean anything to him? He was unable to conclude with a no. Neither was he convinced of a yes. He took the cell phone and called Halima. Halima was a physician and, among other things, she arranged meetings of Israeli and Palestinian children in Germany. "Stay with the project!" He heard the soft female voice with the Palestinian accent. "We have to be present and show that there is a fundament for encounters." She sounded unperturbed. Samir was in doubt. He did know that any changes one wished to take place had to be caused by oneself, but was he doing that? And what else could he do? Wait? "It is not always wrong to wait" said Halima, before she hung up.

Behind the stage stood Ari, the Israeli pianist. Voices from out of the audience mutedly came through the curtain. Samir pulled a grimace. "Well, I am ready to stay with the project for the next spell of time. You can make the respective confirmations." Ari looked at him and intimated a movement which normally can be seen in soccer stadiums after a won game. "Have you ever heard of the saying: act without quarrel?" asked Samir. "Do you think that works?" Ari did not know. Samir neither. Maybe they would ask the people on the other side of the curtain.


Continued in Part 2: "Victims Who Turned to Perpetrators"

Overview page: Samir's Adventures
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