One of my fond memories from a spontaneous and unplanned Easter-season tour of Andalusia with my wife years ago is from a brief stop we made at a roadside lookout where we found another old couple enjoying the scenic spring view. They were local and we itched to learn about their village, the dream locale in the beautiful adjacent valley. Alas, they didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Spanish. We offered them some of the nuts and dried fruit mix that we had. What stayed with me from that brief encounter was their oft-repeated welcoming sentence of “Mi casa es su casa!”—my home is your home.
That pleasant memory came to mind yesterday morning as I read the headline in Haaretz quoting Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, in addressing his Muslim guests at the traditional Iftar meal that he hosted in celebration of Ramadan, their holy month of fasting. He is quoted as gushing in his welcoming speech to the group led by Mohammad Kiwan, the chairman of the Council of Muslim Leaders in Israel: “Your Home Is My Home.”
First, I figured that the good man must have made the correct statement in Hebrew and whoever translated it to English, the version I was reading, must have reversed the order of the two phrases, thus resulting in the unintended deadpan joke.
I switched my search engine to Hebrew and googled the combination of the two names which led me to the relevant twitter messages from the president’s account.
Yes, like all significant presidents, Reuben Rivlin tweets. And in both Arabic and Hebrew.
إن هذا البيت هو بيتنا جميعا، ولكل واحد وواحدة منا مجموعة فيه، حصة متساوية، مكان متساوٍ، ومسؤولية متساوية. أهلا وسهلا بقدومكم. بيتكم بيتي. وكل عام وأنتم بخير.
— ראובן (רובי) ריבלין (@ruvirivlin) May 27, 2019
No, there was no mistake in the translation. The reversal of phrases is there in the Hebrew original and in the Arabic version as well.
Could the president have such an odd sense of humor, I wondered? Could he be on such close terms with his Muslim friends that he had decided to needle them a little about who now lives in whose house?
Both Benjamin Netanyahu and his co-conspirator in torturing Israelis with a second round of elections, Avigdor Lieberman, could possibly stoop so low as to commit such a crudity, we all know. But not the president! He is a polite and smooth talker, not another uncouth bully.
Still, He did make a little ‘sick joke’ in one of his tweets: “I must admit that this year, because of my wife Nechama’s hospitalization I needed no reminder of Ramadan. The medical staff that takes care of Nechama, and of all of us, like all the other patients at Beilinson Hospital, is made up of Jews and Arabs in all positions – doctors, nurses, medical assistants, occupational therapists and others,” Rivlin tweeted. Then he followed with “Many of the guests here are people who devote their daily lives to creating a reality in which Jews and Arabs will not only be sick next to each other, but to work, learn, work together, side by hand.” [Emphasis mine.]
Being of evil mind and intending to make the most of the presumed mistaken translation, I first wanted to know if Sheikh Mohammad Kiwan who was photographed in the article shaking hands with the President, was an internally displaced Palestinian refugee. That, of course would raise the stakes in the unintended pun. Lo and behold, the man turns out to be from the destroyed Palestinian agricultural village of ed-Damoun, his family having taken refuge in Majd-el-Kroum, home of Dr. Adel Manna, the Palestinian historian of Nakba and Survival (Institute for Palestine Studies, 2016) fame. Not only that Damoun has been razed off of the face of the earth but also that one fourth to one third of the Muslims Sheikh Kiwan represents belong to the category of internally-displaced refugees, the category of Palestinian citizens of Israel officially designated as “Present Absentees” whose home villages and towns have been demolished or, in the rare case that they were salvaged, then such homes have been occupied by Jewish citizens, racial identity being the determining factor.
I know, somebody will point out some exception to this rule, but such exception hardly suffices as a salve to alleviate the suffering of the pummeled psyches and bodies of their former owners, many still hanging around within seeing and smelling distance from their former homes and fields. By the IDF’s own count, homes in 531 such Palestinian communities (with rare exceptions) have succumbed to professionally inserted explosive charges and/or to the weaponized Caterpillar’s blade. Several official bodies were created and labored at length to erase such towns and villages not only physically but also from the Israeli public’s memory and the world’s consciousness.
“Had you left it standing in ed-Damoun,” I can imagine Sheikh Kiwan responding, “You would be welcome to enter it.”
Need I remind anyone that such Present Absentees are the lucky few. The majority were catapulted across the border to refugee camps in neighboring states with Israel’s valiant security personnel under instructions to shoot to kill any attempted returnees. It was what we see now every Friday at Gaza’s border with the deadly bullets, but without the contiguous fence, the cameras and the media attention.
I suppose I better fall back on something I know a little about. Let me try and exonerate Mr. Rivlin of any conscious malicious intent. What took place historically was malicious enough and the International Court of Justice has to deal with those issues one day regardless of what Rivlin or Merkel et. al. think. What we have is a classic illustration of a strong subconscious, shooting its warning signs to the surface in a Freudian slip.
“Rivlin, who hosted an iftar feast, tweeted in both Hebrew and Arabic, expressing concerns over Israel’s democratic values,” we are told. That is quite a load for the president’s subconscious to handle.
So: his ever-alert psychological pressure valve mechanism let out the tiny puff that hit Sheik Kiwan in the face. Colloquially, in Galilee, we describe such a slip of the tongue as “malghoumi”—boobytrapped. Watch out, Mr. President!