Shoshana in Palestine tells the story of Shoshana Austerlitz, the pseudonym for an American Jew™ interloper in Palestine. You could think of her as a typical microcosm, total outlier or lavish send-off on foreign aid work, traveling through Palestine on unexamined privilege and benevolent Orientalism. This is an ostensible Jewish parody on Jewish-American megalomania, by someone who knows it best.
Part I: Shoshana complains to all the Palestinians at the party about her expired tourist visa
Ramallah, 22 November 2018, 10:53 p.m.
It’s Thursday night, party night: time for the only American Jew at the party to complain about mobility restrictions.
But what kinda party is this? The lights are low, the laughter light ‘n bright. It’s pretty raucous, but in a compact way. Dignified, with really good music, big plastic bottles of whiskey and no snacks. What Shoshana appreciates most about Ramallah on Thursday night is how committed her friends are to partying, with no hesitancy to dance, an appreciation of letting loose. Shoshana thinks it is a world away from the tension she often encounters in Jerusalem: the threadbare sense of hanging on (to one’s tenuous permanent residency status–or tenuous foreigner interest in locals’ political statuses in contrast to her own), constant breaking points of defensive aggression and 2018 implementation of a certain kind of religious-conservatism-as-resistance to Israeli overlordship, or so Shoshana, an appraising outsider, thinks (“But it’s irresponsible for you to say you’re an outsider; you’re here all the time, you do have an impact,” retorted a friend). Here, at tonight’s Ramallah party, a sense of buoyant ease prevails. Boys and girls flutter in and out of rooms, hanging in the vestibules, alternating between Arabic and English with full-bellied jokes, drinks, doubling over with laughter, arms over shoulders, peeking in and out of rooms. It’s a jocular bunch, tight-at-night. In the living room, we find Shoshana, the only American in this crowd of 60 percent Palestinian dudes, 30 percent European women and 10 percent Palestinian women. She sits between Omar, the sexy, strung-out King of Ramallah and Duke, the ebulliently knowledgeable Wacky Art Kid from Jenin. With hips on hips and heads on laps, they’re smushed in a party crumble in the center of a tattered couch.
Shoshana: “So, my visa expired a few days ago…”
Moe: “You’re gonna get deported, man.”
Omar: “Welcome to our lives.”
Duke: “She’s like 70 percent Palestinian, now it’ll be 100!”
Yaser: “You’re gonna be calling us at the checkpoint like ‘Guys, come save me!’ but we can’t save you!”
Omar: “Why would you say that? She’s a Jew. Those motherfuckers can’t touch her.”
Shoshana: “I admit I am… worried about how I’m gonna get back to Jerusalem tomorrow. They’re very strict at Qalandia checkpoint.”
The West Bank Palestinians, whose mobility restrictions prevent them from practically ever getting to Jerusalem, somehow don’t roll their eyes out of their heads at Shoshana’s insensitivity to the vast power differential, but offer sage, specific advice.
Hany: “Take a settler bus. They won’t notice you.”
Duke: “Don’t stress. They won’t deport a Jewish person. The worst they can do is send you back to Ramallah”
Omar: “Never go through Qalandia. Ask for a servees to Hizma”
Moe: “Or find a car with diplomatic plates.”
Shoshana has known many foreign journalists and tourists, especially Arabs and Muslims, who have gotten immediately deported upon discovery of an expired tourist or work visa. But there are many dubious ways to smuggle into Israel/48 without documentation. Israeli “security,” the sacred slogan behind all the barriers, guns, demolitions and incursions is far more arbitrary and navigable than its nominal airtightness — it’s just tricky, and requires sneaking and strategizing and safety is an issue… and it’s tailored, of course, by Zionism which wants the most amount of land for the most amount of Jews, meaning a Palestinian from the West Bank could be shot on sight. But Shoshana? Shoshana is a Jew.
Moe: “They want you in, they want us out.”
Omar: “Fuck borders, Shoshana. Move freely. Like a bird”
Yaser: “If anyone fucks with you, fuck him up twice as hard. Mahmoud Darwish.”
Duke: “We have to be quiet, ok? Hide the booze. The people in this neighborhood are crazy, crazy people.”
Kissing or giggling, bumping down the stairwell, the partygoers flutter (except for Yaser, who locked himself in a room and fell asleep) to the security of the Party Car. “Shoshana! Let’s go!” Jump in the car, packed in all the seats and even the trunk, careening down the street. Europeans speak to each other in their native tongues. “Only Arabic or English in my fucking car!” Duke barks. “Hallas, habibi!” Christina and Amalia, of Sweden, coo back like cuckoo birds, in this heteronormative world that breaks open on occasion, as all occasions do, to reveal whatever nonconformity, queerness, etc exist in contextual measure.
Shoshana sits next to Hany, a quiet executive and (they say) a virgin. While the others sing bigly and freestyle rap, Hany and Shoshana quietly jostle, sharing a single seat. “Can I hold your hand?” “Sure!” “Can I ask you… why were you in jail?” “Because I’m Palestinian! The Israelis are crazy. Totally fucked-up” “What was it like?” Deep sigh. “The people in jail… they really love Palestine.”
Shoshana is eager to kiss and hold Hany’s face because intimacy is a basic human need, sure, especially in this cauldron, where anxieties run high and being held when you’re flapping maniacally like a hummingbird feels almost cathartically relaxing but also because she is in a protracted state of mourning. She has not once been to jail, nor lost anyone in a war, nor languished in the wake of a murdered lover’s body being held interminably in Israeli custody… but she is distracting herself with new sparks and careening Party Cars to keep herself momentarily away from the name always on the tip of her tongue.
Part II: Shoshana quietly slides back to the epicenter of the Conflict
East Jerusalem, 23 November 2018, 8:27 p.m.
Sitting in her bedroom with Melancholy Party Boy Nabeel as he lights a cigarette like a movie star, Shoshana moves to open the window like a worrywart who is also a freedbird and a non-smoker. Also, what should she use as an ad hoc ashtray? A ramekin? A coffeepot top?
Nabeel: “So what’s up with you and Abdullah?”
Shoshana: “No, no… don’t say his name.”
Nabeel: “But I see it’s always on the tip of your tongue! You love Abdullah’s name.”
Shoshana: “Oh god, I know! I’m trying so hard to see the word outside of him! I SEE it, intellectually, but I don’t… recognize that it is truly bigger than him”
Nabeel: “Ok so let’s try to avoid talking about Abdullah. How’d you get back from Ramallah last night?”
Shoshana: “I came back this afternoon actually. A friend from here drove me through. I was worried but… the soldier just looked quick at my passport and (maybe because it’s American and my name is obviously Jewish), either he didn’t care or didn’t notice that my visa was expired!”
Nabeel: “I told you. Soldiers can’t read.”
The beauty of platonic male-female friendship and Jewish American-Palestinian Muslim relations blossoms as it often unceremoniously does in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. Sitting in Shoshana’s bedroom, the two get ready to party.
Nabeel: “And what happened with you and Hany?”
Shoshana: “I love how you talk about these people like you know them!”
Shoshana’s Palestinian friends in Ramallah and Jerusalem have never met. The Ramallites (internal term) can’t cross the border and the majority of Jerusalemites she knows have a variety of reasons (not wanting to undergo humiliation at checkpoints primarily) for not liking the West Bank. Also, it is a testament to Zionism’s success at alienating Palestinians regionally from each other, divide-and-conquer style. Shoshana, the saucy, stupid Jewish-American star of this show, has more interactions with Palestinians in the West Bank, Palestinians who are Jerusalem residents and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship than they have with each other… And isn’t she proud of it. (“You should be a citizen of the world!” her father, also blessed with an American passport, once ominously said.)
Nabeel: “Always with the guilty Muslims, Shoshana! You have to find a normal boy.”
A text from Hany beeps up: “Thanks for last night, it was amazing.”
Nebeel, laughing: “Wow, what’d you do to him?”
Shoshana: “We just held hands!”
Nabeel: “Stop holding hands with all the guilty Muslims in Palestine! You’ll give us a heart attack”
In the living room, they greet Shoshana’s roommate, U.N. Lena, a beautiful Polish aspiring diplomat, exhausted from her latest 12-hour detention at Ben Gurion airport. The three laugh about it (“I think they forgot about me!” “No, they were definitely fucking with you.”) though Shoshana declines to mention that her latest jaunt through Ben Gurion consisted of one Israeli security guy glancing briefly at her passport with “Shoshana?” “Yes?” “Welcome home.” BOOM. And just like that, the white Jewish American was let in to run amok without a glitch, on the sole basis of identity. This place does feel like home, Shoshana shivers. But not because I’m Jewish.
Nabeel and Shoshana head to Musica, one of the hip “mixed” (Palestinians, Israelis, foreigners) bars in Israeli West Jerusalem. Amalia, Shoshana’s Swedish friend living in Ramallah, is in town for a few days. Nabeel goes to fraternize at another table, and Amalia leans in towards Shoshana.
Amalia: “It was so cute last night, you and Hany!’
Shoshana: “He’s nice… but I’m distracted. Abdullah…”
Amalia: “Abdallah, Abdallah! Always Abdallah. I would never with a Muslim.”
Shoshana: “Whoa, how can you say that?!”
Amalia: “Please, they pretend to be atheists but eventually they need to make good with their families and marry a Muslim woman. Have you seen him recently, Abdullah?”
Shoshana: “He’s religious now…”
Amalia: “He’s not religious! You sleep together! I know this type of person.”
Shoshana: “No, I think it’s serious. He stopped drinking, he says if I converted…”
Amalia: “Leave him with God, Shoshana. Break up with him. He doesn’t respect you. He doesn’t see you. You always chase him, it’s not right. A woman shouldn’t chase a man.”
Shoshana: “What! Aren’t you supposed to be Scandinavian! You (people) love gender equality!”
Amalia: “You should be with a European.”
Shoshana: “I miss Abdullah.”
Nabeel bounces back with a smirk on his face, bringing with him the Jerusalem crew: Luay, Jamil, Hisham and Rami, the sole Jewish Israeli. Shoshana introduces everyone to Amalia, a rare meeting of Jerusalem and Ramallah, bridged by a foreigner. Shoshana jokes about the mezuzah on the front door of the bar. Don’t joke about that, Nabeel jokes back.
Shoshana: “It’s sad not to see Abdullah out. You used to see him out every night…”
Nabeel: “It’s not sad! Now we can finally breathe!”
Hisham: “Abdullah? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with him: He’s crazy! Totally fucked-up. I’m getting another drink. Who wants one?”
Jamil: “Shoshana, did you get your visa back?”
And she tells them her adventures at the Ministry of the Interior, walking to the office at the end of the Seussian highway, sweating in November.
I took off my jacket, Shoshana remembers. Cars honked. (So honk, I told them.)
Waiting in the waiting room, I developed my visa attitude (also my attitude with Abdullah): “I’m the littlest and stupidest and sweetest girl.” Better I look pathetic than crafty, my mouth always a little bit open like a cow. I have a “baby face,” 25 year olds say. Interestingly, rebellion against Israeli don’t-back-down machismo sometimes takes the same form as conformity to my American understanding of patriarchal femalehood: not being big, not being capable. I refuse to be a(n Israeli) tyrant and (in my rebellion,) I will rule over all you yappy idiots anyway.
When they called out my number, I pushed my way through to the front desk. Israelis don’t do lines; no one waits! It necessitates rudeness: You have to be pushy and mean to get anything here… and they WANT me here, so let’s test my privilege. Will they see me for who I am? I want to be SEEN, but I also want to pass undercover (on the road to my eventual glory? The liberation of Palestine?). I’m using a fake address for my application: Something extra Jewish in West Jerusalem. Will it work? Give me courage under fire or just luck…
… After a few appointments and much fretting, I got my visa. Two years. Temporary residency. Now I have more rights than Jerusalem Palestinians in letter as well as spirit of the Israeli law. So, what’ll I do with all this power? Abuse it? Use it constructively? Throw a cocktail party? I was never a war journalist but I wanna lift my AK-47 at just the right moment (not for violence… for justice! Art) It’s a mania to be here but it’s pointless to mock it. I was drawn to it, it taps into me. I love the mania. I match it. I augment it. I make the night darker just by being in it.
Shoshana: “Well, no one waited in line when they called out our numbers…”
Luay: “Of course. Queues don’t work here. It’s like: No one wants to be a sucker.“
Hisham: “You’re a troublemaker, Shoshana! Always up to trouble!”
They got that night energy now; coming and going like fireflies, or Pac-Man; glee of luck and togetherness. Even the temporary Ramallite feels it.
Amalia: “Wow, Jerusalem is a lot different than I thought!”
Nabeel: “I honestly love this city.”
Hisham: “Fuck this place. It’s—”
Shoshana, heaving: “… very emotional…”
Hisham: “It’s not a place to live. But at least it’s not a cage like the West Bank.”
Amalia: “Oh, I love Ramallah too!”
Hisham: “Of course you do; you can come and go as you please.”
Shoshana: “I love it here but I worry… it’s so extreme. I never see people really mentally calm, or in relationships”
Jamil: “Everyone here marries young or just does drugs and parties forever.”
Shoshana: “Yea, we’re all just drinking or praying… oh, sorry for saying ‘we.’ I always forget I’m not Palestinian” …. but the truth is that every day here feels like a victory. I know part of it is jumping from one American clan to a Palestinian one and wanting to rebel against both but choosing the latter and liking it, liking that I get to clutch, with increasing patheticness, at my superannuated childhood identity: rebel, but belonging, the beloved prodigal daughter.
At some point Shoshana touches Luay on the chest. Their eyes flash! Bubbles up the spine! They go to get another beer. Luay moves deliberately and regally, like a balletic teaspoon, looking back over his shoulder at Shoshana, then pulling her by her wrist and her waist as they enter the bar. And Shoshana? I feel I am a sensual whirlwind and people can sense my energy and mischief and this is my secret. I’m no U.N. supermodel; I’m an old bag and a jumbled-up mass of blood and bones but people know I am free, smart and open.
Luay: “Why is everything so complicated? I wish someone would just tell me what they want!”
Shoshana: “Luay! … You’re beautiful. I… want to make out with you. If you want to make out with me.”
And with that, the cinematic motherfuckers crumble into a corner; they topple; they paw. She pulls him and he pulls her into the fiery cauldron of a Palestinian-American embrace. Oh. gosh.
Luay: “You’re exactly my type. I dreamed about you twice last night. Sorry, I’m embarrassed. I thought you were gay. Wow you’re so beautiful, wow you’re so sexy. Can we keep this just between you and me? Don’t tell Nabeel and Hisham and Jamil. Can we go to your place? Let’s just have tonight.”
Shoshana: “No! I’m so sick of secrecy! Why do I have to be a secret? They’re our friends!”
Luay: “No, then I’m sorry. I can’t do this. Please respect it. I’m confused. Let’s just be friends.”
Unwilling to let go, they latch at each other fervently with that angry, erotic Jerusalem energy that Shoshana, a foreigner, feels she is something of an expert on, with years of hard-earned, psycho-spiritually deleterious experience. Tight in their angry make out corner, Shoshana sees, over Luay’s shoulder, one of the older drunk Palestinian men: Johnny, part of Abdullah’s crew. Used to text him when he saw Shoshana out at night, which Shoshana told Abdullah was sweet, because she wanted Abdullah to feel that she belonged to him, when actually she just wanted to have any kind of connection with him at all–even via being judgmentally supervised by a strange older man. As Johnny stumbles out with a watchful face, Shoshana jumps away from Luay hurriedly, terrified he’ll tell Abdullah. Though Shoshana and Abdullah have never been in a formal relationship, jealousy here is a thing. And though she doesn’t value monogamy, she knows Abdallah does, in 100 percent theory and 0 percent practice. Disentangling herself from Luay, Shoshana scurries back to the table of friends, shaky, vague, rattled, clenched. Luay follows shortly after, sitting silently at the other end of the table.
“There you are! Amalia was just telling me she felt like she was meeting a celebrity because you won’t stop talking about me so what the hell, Shoshana?!” Nabeel laughs.
Part III: Shoshana makes inquiries of an Israeli’s Ramallah military experiences
West Jerusalem, 27 November 2018, 9:45 p.m.
I’ll just go for a walk, stretch my legs, listen to music and then go home
I’ll just stop and get a quick drink at Musica
How many memories I’ve had here! And even though Abdullah doesn’t go out anymore, I’m still afraid/thrilled by the possibility of seeing him…
Shoshana, an adrenaline junkie, sits herself quietly at the bar. Though everyone always “jokingly” asks her if she’s part of the C.I.A, really she’s just undercover as a reasonable “young” person. But that is a total subterfuge. Shoshana is a mess.
An Israeli man looks at her, approaches, and motions to the seat next to her, like can I take this seat…
Shoshana: “Oh! Ok, sure.”
Shoshana: “Oh, hey.”
Israeli: “Are you Irish?”
Shoshana: “What!? No!”
Israeli: “I thought… Your voice, kinda.”
Shoshana: “Wow, that’s cool.”
Israeli: “I saw you here the other night, with an English girl.”
Shoshana: “English, no… She was Swedish. Yea, also a bunch of Palestinian dudes.”
Israeli: “So what brings you to Israel?”
Israeli: “Not very talkative! Am I bothering you? You want to be alone?”
Shoshana: “No, it’s OK.”
Israeli: “Where are you from?”
Shoshan: “I’m clearly an American.”
Israeli: “Of course! I just got back from San Francisco.”
Shoshana: “Oh wow.”
Israeli: “They were very nice but… They made me feel bad about being an Israeli, my accent, my vocabulary… Americans are so verbal.”
Shoshana: “Are they? Yea, I guess the people I knew were. I miss that.” Here it’s all moods and postures and bravado. America or anywhere, but not my little leftist bundle; the encyclopedic, uncomfortable set, all these very smart and empathic people wasting their lives feeling bad. Here, idiots are stars and I among them! An all-sex all-death phantasmagoria.
Shoshana and the Israeli decide to play two games, not telling each other their names and guessing each other’s ethnicities (though they don’t get to Shoshana’s… perhaps it was simply that the Israeli wanted to share or that Shoshana is obviously a white fool or maybe everyone here is a dog-eat-dog, eye-for-an-eye survivalist mercenary liable to generalize).
Israeli: “My mother’s side is Iraqi and my father’s is Russian…. But I’m a Muslim.”
Shoshana: “Oh really?”
Israeli: “No, I’m just joking! In Iraq, my family lived with the Christians, a more open culture. And you… are you Jewish?”
Shoshana: “Of course, look at me.”
Israeli: “Where do you live?”
Shoshana: “The East.”
Israeli: “… East Jerusalem? Why would you live there?”
Shoshana: “… a lot of reasons. I like the atmosphere, I like crossing the divide…”
Israeli: “Can I get you another drink? You’re very cute.”
Shoshana: “No, no, I have to go home, but thanks…”
Israeli: “I’ll come a bit with you.”
Is it her anti-zionist duty to take him a bit through East Jerusalem? Break through some of the inculcated fear of the Other? That could also be a way for her to wrest some circuitous agency as opposed to confessing ‘No I would prefer to be alone now,’ thus making her feel not-fun and like-a-baby, especially after he already bought her a drink. He is nice, but she is not interested. Socialization, politics, guilt.
Shoshana: “Yea, come, I’ll show you around… this is the new shawarma place, and these are the buses that go to Ramallah…”
He is nervous.
Israeli: “There’s a point at which I’m gonna turn back. I’ll tell you when.”
Shoshana: “Have you ever been to Ramallah?”
Shoshana: “Like, socially?
Israeli: “No… in the army… ”
Shoshana: “That’s illegal! You’re not supposed to go into Area A!”
Israeli: “If I want to go socially I can… I have a foreign passport.”
Shoshana: “Well, I think you should. A lot of people would appreciate you! And a lot of people wouldn’t but that’s the way it goes… it’d be good for you to meet people, hang out…”
Israeli: “I don’t think so… they’re really crazy people! Once I was in–what do you call it–like a tank and these people from a window above us threw down an animal–a small horse!”
Shoshana: “Oh my gosh… Was it alive?”
Israeli: “It was dead when it smashed our window! Why would they do that? What’s wrong with them? They’re totally fucked-up!”
Shoshana: “Well… an animal is… kind of just like a large stone. They were telling you to leave. You were in their home, in a military tank, with guns. Of course the animal shouldn’t have been killed, but… ”
Israeli: “It was really traumatic. One guy had nightmares about it for months.”
Shoshana: “I’m sure, it sounds bad.”
How does anyone truly think other people or groups are “crazy,” unknowable, mysterious, unreachable? Given the circumstances, anyone could do anything! “Craziness” builds on personal experience and social conditions; it’s not “fucked-up,” there’s a trajectory. Trauma begets trauma; it may look different and not be equally distributed, appreciated or cared for or treated or explored, but they’re all still equally valid… Nothing irrational, “weird” or “crazy” about it.
They part at a mosque by the highway.
Israeli: “Thanks, that was really a charming evening! “
Shoshana: “Was it? I mean… Cool, yea. Hey, let’s have a name reveal.”
Israeli: “Ok, give me two guesses. Is it… Rachel?”
Shoshana: “UGH. Yes. Damn. Good job.”
Israeli: “I’m David.”
Walking home, the muezzin’s call is bright and clear. Shoshana sees a familiar shadow.
Is that Abdullah, she wonders, whipping down the street in front of her, like a jagged branch, the most beautiful branch sizzling into the atmosphere, repeating the adhan under his breath? Unclear.
Part IV: Aftermath, middle-math, the underscore underbelly
Whenever, Wherever ~1948-2019
At night, she dreams she’s naked in her childhood home. Well, she looks great… but is exposed. Just then, she sees… a giant! terrifying! SNAKE with whisker-fangs. Shoshana dives away from it just in time, and scurries frantically over old books and loose-leaf papers to find her mom in another room, who’s bopping around in a happy mood, unconcerned and capable.
“Don’t worry, honey, we just have to wait until it turns red again.” In her dad’s office, she notices all the furniture is violently toppled over, maybe from when they were trying to kill the snake the last time it turned red. Nausea overcomes her. She Didn’t Say Goodbye to Abdullah. Holy fucking shit does he miss her? Does he care? Or is God a greater source of solace?
In the library, she spins a globe and sees Abdallah’s name standing in for several cities in the Middle East: Abdallah, Lebanon; Abdallah, U.A.E; Abdallah, I love you I love you I love you. Grief slams to lust and now Shoshana is dying to fuck. Where is my party cohort? Where is my transnational sex catharsis? A kindhearted, straight-laced girl from high school emerges in another room. She calls out to Shoshana, telling her to wait; she wants to teach Shoshana something about patience and eroticism – when they can’t take it any longer, they’ll run into each other’s arms; it’ll be easier that way, less intellectual hang-ups. To this end, high school girl has made it her mission to enlighten Shoshana. She’s written out instructions on an old piece of paper, decorated it with smiley faces and helpful proverbs that have assisted people in similar circumstances throughout the ages. But wait! It’s the same piece of paper Shoshana saved from that one time Abdallah wrote out the names of the eight stages of love in Arabic! Shoshana has fucking worshipped that piece of paper with Abdallah’s handwriting on it for years. How dare you?! I’m gonna murder you. She lunges at the girl, pushing her into a corner, pulling apart a chest of drawers and jamming hard into her sternum with the sharp, thin edge of a shelf. I’m sure you can understand, given the context when Shoshana seethes: I’ve gotten more aggressive lately.