Jenin State of Emergency: Subject
I finished off my last post with a heartfelt cry to the residents of the Occupation Matrix to help Mustafa get to New York, for a film festival which could dramatically promote him, and help establish a cinema center for young Palestinians at the Jenin refugee camp.
And indeed, the best of the Matrix rose to the challenge, and two days after publication Ynet editors received a response from the Israeli army saying that Mustafa’s request to enter Jerusalem and present himself for the interview at the American embassy [sic. Wasn’t that the consulate? Having an embassy in Jerusalem would be big news.] on the 14th of the month. The permit had been transmitted to the Palestinian side of the Jenin liaison office.
But wait. That’s not the end of the story. The embassy interview was scheduled for 10 a.m., on the 15th. However, Mustafa received the longed-for permit the next day. It arrived somewhere between the 14th and the 16th, depending on who tells the story. Was it a clerk on the Israeli side, who went home early due to a head-cold? Or was it a Palestinian clerk, who didn’t think the mail was interesting enough to be opened until the next day, so why bother? We’ll never know.
A willingness was expressed for him to be permitted to enter Jerusalem for another interview scheduled for him at the consulate, on September 22nd. Only then everyone found out, to their distress, that it was the eve of a holiday, and a full closure had been imposed on the Occupied Territories. Indeed, even the best of people were not able to help against an act of God. The consulate could not offer another interview appointment in the time-frame preceding the New York Film Festival, which seemed to be fading out of reality.
In this story there was actual, true willingness on the part of the Israeli army to help Mustafa come to America (because we are all united by a hidden desire to come to one America or the other) – but all I could think of was Kafka’s immortal phrase, “The Messiah will only come the day after his arrival.” We could not find a better example to demonstrate that the iniquities of the occupation lie in the occupation itself, not in the individuals running it.
“Why the hell is it clear to everyone that a Palestinian refugee who lives under allegedly Palestinian rule cannot arrive at the U.S. embassy [consulate?] to ask for a visa only because the Jews are celebrating the festival of Sukkot, which was set up in the first place to remind the world of the fragility of the life of the refugee and the homeless?” wonders Mustafa. And all of the cannons an all of the soldiers, and all of the great and all of the wise stood, pale, and could not find the answer.
In any event, there are some angels in New York who believe that what happens in the Jenin theater of liberty is too important to leave it to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, so they are pulling strings a the U.S. embassy in Amman. Mustafa is on his way to Jordan at the moment. Maybe he will get the longed-for visa there.
So why, in fact, don’t the Americans – with all the noise they make about actually caring about the Palestinians – not open a consulate at a location where the rights-deprived subjects of your client state can get to?
We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for Mustafa. Meanwhile you can get to know him a bit better. I asked my students to describe internal family conflict in six minutes. Mustafa chose to show the meaning of a pluralist family (video above). I’m not talking about a middle-class liberal family but rather, a refugee couple who fought to raise children in Palestine – his father is a devout Muslim and his mother, a courageous fighter for women’s rights. This is the stuff he is made of: the ability to contain contrasts and allow them to coexist respectfully under a single roof.
Brooklyn State of Emergency: Citizen
An aging Italian crooner stood on a little stage on Elizabeth Street, his hair dyed and his suit fancy. He sang New York, New York to an excited audience: “If I can make it there/I can make it anywhere.”
The restaurants served cannelloni and meat balls, and the speakers echoed with the scratchy voice of an Italian entertainer. “It’s true the ‘Little Italy’ has been made even littler because of the Chinese occupier,” he opines, “but I’m only leaving when the Chinese can make ravioli like my mama did.”
He’s still talking and an orchestra of wind instruments started playing the music from the Godfather, and New York suddenly felt like an exciting, nostalgic movie about New York. The rain started dripping down, an umbrella was opened up against it, a hand reaches out to hail a yellow taxi. What better to end a scene. But the plot thickens, as plots do.
The rain gets stronger. I, having recently had surgery to remove kidney stones, had to urinate – and the taxi wasn’t coming. Anyone who has ever had kidney stones knows that you have drink and dispose of copious quantities of water. I manage to find a hidden corner for a municipal emergency, cast a bashful glance to make sure no living soul is around, and under a not-too-heavy New York rain I suddenly change from respected citizen to fragile pisser against the wall.
As soon as the zipper was open two evil-doers appeared, looking like policemen and armed from head to toe, pointing a mighty lamp at me and my member. In mythological terms, I felt like the city dog marking New York as his home territory, while the country dog steps up to speak visit him. But New York, in its usual way, insists on showing him that it belongs to no person, and gave me a sign once and for all to let me know who is the master in our years-long love-hate relationship.
I apologized with a heavy Israeli accent and explained that I had never committed a crime and that I’d never do it again. In response, they threatened that if I keep resisting they would arrest me by force. I immediately switched to a Jewish Brooklyn accent, and said, and pleaded with the humility of a Satmer Hasid: “don’t you see that I’m begging, not resisting?” I felt just like John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing, pleading for his life before being executed, waving his hands in Jewish hand motions, and immediately felt like a victim of secret anti-Semitism. I didn’t even have time to tell them about the kidney stones.
And I want to ask: what would happen if I’d have found myself in jail for 48 hours, like a friend of mine did, who didn’t have ID when pissing in public? Would I have confessed to having committed some murder I had never committed, to a police informer impersonating a prison rapist? If only I could have held it in like an adult, as the cop noted contemptuously, when he handed me the court summons.
The Democratic Dictatorship
“An emergency” is defined by the Western democracy as a situation where the sovereign regime, out of concern for maintaining the liberties and rights of the individuals composing it, denies the freedom of other individuals, or even of its own individuals.
Several intellectuals currently claim that “emergency” is not the extraordinary that proves the ordinary but that it is, rather, the essence of the Western democracy.
Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues, for instance, that democracy as we know it is in a constant state of emergency, where the rights of some of its residents – or in fact, of all of its residents – are always held back.
It is odd that it is Western democracy, which ascribes to itself a theory of political realism and enlightenment, ideologically functions exactly like a religious theology of “a messiah who will come someday in the future.”
What we call a democracy, nowadays, is in fact a dictatorial rule whose subjects-citizens cooperate with it voluntarily, via two false hopes which derive from religion. The first is that the person or community have been chosen by divine will. In other words, that the fury of the emergency state will skip over them and only hurt another subject (and preferably, one who is not a citizen); the other is, of course, the promise of the Utopian paradise of “the democracy that is yet to come.”
This article is from Udi Aloni’s Brooklyn-Jenin column he is writing for the Israeli website Ynet about his experience living between New York City and the Jenin refugee camp, where he is teaching a film production class. You can read the entire Brooklyn-Jenin series here. This article was translated by Dena Shunra.