Curfew in the Occupied Territories

by Dorit Tal

There’s a curfew in the occupied territories. A voluntary curfew. No one is entering or coming out. The one who goes out is a traitor; the one who comes in is being thrown. All the conditions for a meeting exist – there’s a place, there is time, there’s a goal, maybe there is a will, yet it doesn’t happen.

During five days of conference we sat, a group of Jews-Israelis along with a group of Israeli-Palestinian Arabs, five days through which the willingly besieged city (Jerusalem? Gaza?) didn’t breach. We walked around it, surrounded it from all directions, and the walls would not fall.

I, the occupier, the killer of peace activists on the ship to Gaza, am coming confused to the conference. The crazy theoretical-conceptual balance between the experience of the victim against the Germans and the experience of the occupier, who haunts the Palestinians, is violated. The acute situation shuffles the cards, undermining the defenses and the precarious stability; it is not allowing me to sit comfortably between those roles I thought I had to implicitly appropriate to myself when coming to the conference.

The initial conditions don’t allow me to see and experience the Germans; I cannot find the connection to the victim’s place, nor can I externalize the facet of the aggressor.

I sense that an entire group, that of the Germans, is unseen to me. I don’t need them. I represent the insensitive conqueror in the mirror, a victim of myself. I am busy finding my footing wading in guilt, shame, and uncertainty towards the face of my country and towards the Arabs at the conference. Internal conflicts and the stress level are too high to see the partners. I nestle inside to find my identity with my fellow colleagues in religion and nationality.

Much energy was invested amongst the Israeli Jews in order to explore the shared identity; energy charged with hostility towards the others. The foreigners in the Jewish group: the American, the Jewish Germans, Austrians, the soldier, the South African, repeatedly convey reflections to us, the Israelis: of the hostility, the aggressiveness, and our attacks on the connecting associations and on them.

“A stranger will not understand this,” I ponder in the face of those mirrors. An experience of segregation and victimization is taking over, driving towards the common denominator, narrow but safe. The need in protection and entrenching leads to difficulty holding the group’s mission. Confusion, divergence and dispersal are experienced; there are renewed attempts to organize a front towards the outside. Internal alignment is surrendered and the “foreign” partners in the group give up – the Austrian, the American, and the soldier, find the group’s connection work hopeless and despairing , without capacity to accommodate the excluded other. They part, whether in body or in their inner presence.

Occasionally, someone manages to look up and remind us of the others that are present around us; re-introduces the option of a meeting with the outside. We alternate between the experience of the external other as an object to use for ourselves, to help us define our boundaries – feel our own incorporation, and our capacity to experience our embodiment and seek the other.

When the outer world approaches us as a group, we feel our own presence, our strength, and then we can get organized, feel the uniting tethers.

We prepare for self-exposure to the inferno and horror – visiting the German group.

Not easily, quietly, almost as a part of the positioning towards the Germans, without anxiety or discernable fear, comes up the idea to knock on the door of the Palestinian group.

The first attempt is innocent, accompanied with a certain trepidation but counts on “the system”. There are rules, there’s a goal, we’ll play by the rules, things will happen, there will be a meeting, it is not important what will transpire in this meeting, the main point is that it will happen.

I’m knocking on the door. For some reason I feel a bit brave. The door opens to an extent of peeping inside. “We’re sorry, we are busy with different contents, and we’re not interested in a meeting as for now. We’re busy trying on our own identity, we need time for ourselves, please do not disturb.” Weakened sounds of protest are heard from the invisible room, the doorkeeper goes back to his teammates and for about a minute, there is a heated discussion around the question whether to let the Israeli messengers in.

It is intriguing to stand behind the door and experience the “No” option. To experience this degree of freedom assumed by the Arab group members, that I wasn’t prepared for. The gatekeeper is coming back: “No, we are not interested now, we’re talking about our stuff, we want to speak in Arabic; we have more important things to do, we’ll be glad to meet you later.”

I’m experiencing the slammed door of the Arab group. I understand that the game field is different from what I had in mind. Here, we are not “just experiencing things,” here we ponder seriously and we do not easily give of ourselves. As a response to the initial anger and rage that I feel upon deportation, I immediately summon another mass of guilt – a well-known recipe for fast calming: “But of course,” I think, “where else can the Arabs exhibit demarcate their identity, with clear borders? Where else can they close the border of their own volition to shut me out?” I’m almost excited, an excitement that also melts the tinge of jealousy I sense towards the demonstrated unity, and the intensive,significant work that I assume the Arabs are doing amongst themselves.

I’m starting to feel relief – Here, I get them, I’m fine, I can contain that need of theirs, I need to grant them their place, to step back, to let go, to return to my place. Here is my opportunity to enable them to have their own place. I feel relief: From the position of the arrogant occupier that understands a need, and here, can provide it – I align myself as if it were in my power to direct.

I come out satisfied; I was OK, I initiated, I performed, I strived for a meeting, I contained the refusal, and I gave the rejection some meaning. I had an opportunity to feel strong, to feel guilty, to feel understanding and enabling, and then return to balance.

Management is passing us a message, “Perhaps you should tell the Palestinian group that you need them.” Management is suggesting a tactic, and all I can hear is “Come, strong conquerors turned murderers that no-one wants a dialogue with, bring out your indigence, appear to become small and needy – after all you can do it – From your strong position it can be done, especially now you can juggle the positions and everything will feel right… Maybe if you’ll use the right words to blur the balance of power, they will respond… Maybe then they will open the door.

Management is suggesting “Perhaps you should tell the Palestinian group that you need them.” The suggestion doesn’t feel right, I feel as if it is part of the tangle, I feel as if it is preserving the same dynamic of confusion of roles, place, identity and need.

It seems the emphasis is on the way in which we suggest a meeting rather than on where come from, where we are and what we may want to say. Management is passing us a message that the responsibility is ours while I wander what motivations and considerations formulated it, and what could be the complementary message communicated to the Palestinian group.

In real time there’s no opportunity to dwell on these questions. The responsibility is now perceived as something scary, an accusation, and is blocked.

Discussions in the Jewish group continue. The barrier that the Arab group put up is provoking a walk-away reaction. There are voices of “there’s no need,” “they don’t want to, leave them alone.”

We are back to planning the entrance to the Germans’ room. It takes a long time to get organized for the meeting with the Germans.

I feel unrest. I have unfinished business with the Palestinian group. Again I feel the need to go knocking on that closed door.

To my teammates I am saying that “It’s important for me to show that I’m not giving up, that I do want to meet, that no matter what they will say, even if they won’t let me in, it’ll be okay, I will accept it, but I will show them that I am here and I do want to meet.” While speaking I feel a sort of strength which serves both to fuel the “doing” and movement, and as an armor; strength versus barrier. The possibility that they might not let me in, feels almost better than a meeting.

The group doesn’t seem to care too much. The group wants to engage with the Germans. The Germans have invited us, they are willing to meet. There, with the Germans, it is clear that we were/are the victim, a state of mind that suits us well as for now. We are a strong victim and no one will succeed in confusing us. There, with Germans, there is no need for integration. The victim suit, uopn meeting the Germans, is well sewn, worn almost automatically, and there are lots of materials which we can use to patch and sustain it over and over again. We, the victims, perceive ourselves now as being strong. We are totally unaware of the fallacy of the armour we are wearing. We are oblivious to the meaning of our basic victims’ stand, and therefore when it is challenged by the Germans, we fall silent, loose our footing:

In our meeting with the Germans the pain of another victim is shared while we find ourselves incapable of empathy; We cannot cry for the Armenian genocide.

I go with the translator to the curfew city, the willingly maintained one. I knock again on the closed door, a crack is opened… well shown dissatisfaction with the interruption. A short discussion in Arabic ensues, then “No… we speak Arabic.” I’m put my foot in the door: “I have a translator with me, please don’t interrupt yourselves,” I’m almost begging. Another short exchange in Arabic, “No, it is not convenient”. The translator, “the other” within the Jews group – is connected through personal and cultural associations to members of the Arab group. To me it appears that she is offended on behalf of both parties, experiencing the barriers. I project my insult on her while at the same time, with her beside me, I am transposed to perceive my knock on the door as an invasive action. I put a hand on her shoulder, feeling a need to comfort her, as if saying “it doesn’t matter, the main point is that we tried.”

They closed the door on me, and I was identifying with the aggressor. I found within me explanations, understanding and meaning. I connected to the aspect of the occupier attempting to change something, yet having no option but to enable an expression of uprising.

I forgot the rules, the rights, the enabling conditions, my goal… my side, myself.

I thought about the over-righteous experience: A state of mind in which you are not attentive to your true needs, your desires. Where your initiatives to meet the needs of another cannot really accommodate a true meeting, but rather keep reconstructing the defensive arm wrestling dynamics; the interplay between good and bad, oppressor and victim, the one who approaches and the one who rejects, the besieger and the besieged – as if there should be right and wrong.

The intensity of the aggression, and the difficulty in containing the activation of such hard dynamics, didn’t allow me to penetrate the barriers raised by the other, and blinded me to the barriers that I myself was putting: Blocking my ability to experience the anger, the insult, the sorrow, and to express these in a meeting.

During the last session of the convention one of the Arab team members told us about the deep and meaningful personal process that she’d been through during the days of the convention. The Arab team leader was the one that dared to say in a soft, yet clear voice, that “that wasn’t the goal…”. It was the only time Management addressed the voluntary curfew, the bunker, of the Palestinian team in the assembly. Only at the end. Of the entire Management group, it was the Arab team leader who found the place to dare and appraise the fortification and the walls. He was the one that could refer to the hard dynamic that developed, in terms of goals and work done. His comment was left hanging in the air, we couldn’t be delayed to explore it further in a joint session.

This comment by the Arab team leader, and the suggestion of the Jewish one (that the Jews should approach the Arabs from a needy place), invoke thoughts about the role of Management. Management as a whole, and through each of it’s individual members, represents facets of the current dynamics, whereby the representations they stand for affect the formation of particular dynamic vectors in the conference.

I missed very much my Arab colleagues in the conference; and I was invisible to myself during the futile attempt to meet with them.

The fact that I feel the need to relate back to that proximity, that it lives in me as if it took place yesterday, is reflecting the slow foreclosure process of the powerful raw materials from which the conference was built. These words and the attempt to integrate and to understand are turning the experience of “no meeting” to an experience of a full and packed meeting.

Today I can see a little bit beyond the walls, behind the surface I rapped with my knocks on the door; I feel more of, at least some of, the materials from which we have built the barrier and the walls. From the conference I took with me the awareness of the strengths, the anger and the vulnerabilities, the aggressiveness and the ignorance, the responsibility and the anxiety, the seriousness and the determination. I took with me the lack of desire to meet. I experienced and will remember the partial paralysis that caught hold of both sides of the barrier.

I tried to digest all that was all that took place through five days of voluntary curfew. A lot of significant, complicated material that I hope will contribute something and may be of service to enrich our next meeting.

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