איה קניוק על שקופים
about those who aren't
Epitaph on a Tyrant
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
I, too, was transparent once. It happened in a dream. I dreamt I was
lying in Shalvata Psychiatric Hospital, on a wide bed, tied to it by
hands and feet. It was morning, doctors' rounds.
At the end of the world, doctors' rounds are something to look forward
to. Normally the morning shift, having read the night shift's report,
chatted a bit and had some coffee, would make the rounds through the
ward. Usually the professor, usually a man, another doctor, usually a
woman, some nurses, at times a male nurse, usually Arab – proceed as a
group from bed to bed, patient to patient.
In a world of nothingness, a void stretched out in all directions,
throughout a timeless place – the days being one shapeless mass with no
beginning nor end – the doctors' rounds are an event of sorts, a certain
significance. For you who are tagged. Namesake of your illness. For a
brief moment you are contained. Well, not by the name given you at
birth, not by your individual identity, rather by how you've been
diagnosed. These are your limits. Your essence. Still, eyes surround you
suddenly, a slight smile, a pat, a banal question not waiting for an
answer, moments of grace at Shalvata Psychiatric Hospital.
That morning, in the dream, I hear them coming closer. I lie there,
looking, waiting, they'll be here any minute now. They'll look, soon
they'll stop, and then one of them, probably the professor who doesn't
know me will ask for my name, and a nurse or the other doctor will tell
him something in a hurried whisper, and then he'll smile, that
professional smile they acquire, just like that inevitably illegible
handwriting, for, after all, they're doctors. And he'll ask me something
like 'Well, and how are you today?', or 'Aya… Why did they call you
Aya?' and they'll all smile. Their lips will twist in unison, a chorus
of twisted mouths, and a voice of one of them, probably the other
doctor, in a sing-song usually meant for children or retarded people or
the elderly, will say something like 'I see you had a nice nap yesterday
afternoon. Good for you!' and before I manage to answer, or think, some
will repeat in this flattened niceness that has already shaved me off,
'Good for you!' already turning away, too fast, leaving this huge
pothole in their wake.
So here they were about o arrive. They were already standing around
Martha in the next bed on my right, Martha who hears voices telling her
jokes, and I'm thinking after all what am I and my dull problems
compared to Martha's voices, I just couldn't take it all any more and
that was that, and was sorry I didn't have something more interesting.
And here is the end of the smile meant for her, and she doesn't care
either way. Just like them, she doesn't see a thing. They're not even
their professional tags as far as she's concerned, only a backdrop for
her own world that she never stops knowing and hearing no matter what.
And they turn towards my bed, they'll be with me any minute now. They
are coming closer, I look, their gaze traveling around and through me, I
wait, my eyes braced, and then they pass me by, not stopping.
I am in a state of shock. This cannot be happening. My heart is
pounding, and it can be through the air conditioners throughout the
room, the ward. They did not see me. I am not there. They saw nothing.
They gazed through me and over and behind and around me. I am
'I'm here!' I scream. But my mouth is closed. Sewn shut. My voice is
mere air. 'Stop!' I groan, my lips glued together. 'Look at me', my
voice, invisible, un-witnessed, sawing through the silence. A
transparent voice. 'I’m schizophrenic' I shriek. 'Depressed.
Border-line. Listen!' My vocal cords are frozen. 'I'm here', I sob out,
but my tears evaporate. 'I'll be anything you like' I promise. Beg. 'I
won't rebel. I won't say
I have a name. I won't say I'm a person. I won't say that I'm not just a
disease. I won't say a thing. Just stop. Just see me for a moment.
Please. Hear me. Contain me. I promise you not to get out', I scream, my
voice molten. 'Tie me forever, take these hands, these second ones, I'll
never complain. I won't say I was offended day before yesterday when you
passed by too fast or didn't listen when I answered you, or that this
professional childish tone of yours is patronizing, and with it you
negate my being, you don't see humans. I won't complain even to my own
self that I said saying something to you and you just looked through me
as if I were only what is written there in your thoughts, and files, and
illness reports. Yes I am merely an illness. I admit it. You are right.
A mere word. So she is flattened out – what of it? No more than a
terminus technicus, so what? You're right. I have neither past nor name.
Only criteria. Only characteristics. I'm right there in the latest DSM
issue. I just said I'm catalogued and buried. I was wrong. I am nothing.
Just please stop. Just look. Just surround me for a moment. Just for one
moment. So I'll be something. Not a thing, a word in a language.
Contained in one's face and eyes. Just stop by me, please, just see me,
for a moment.'
I woke up drenched in sweat, heart pounding. It had just been a
On a Wednesday evening at Checkpoint Qalandiya, a man – neither young
nor old – arrived with a big new samovar. Just after the turnstiles had
been installed. Some time has passed since.
He arrived and couldn't manage the obstacle with his samovar. And one
soldier, his eyes soft and long-lashed, his long hands woven with veins,
said pleasantly, 'I'll take your samovar.'
And we were all amazed at the soldier who agreed to carry the samovar
over for him to the other side of the turnstile, amazed that he would
not let a person be crushed there as the opportunity presented itself.
And the man stood in line, and it took time, as it always does, and
crossed and reached the other side, and asked for his samovar.
'I gave it' the soldier explained, pleasantly.
'You gave it?'
'Yes' the soldier looked at him with wonder, young and naïve and cruel.
The soldier received the samovar from a Palestinian and gave it to a
One word, one identity, one essence, one person.
He did not see a problem. His eyes wondered, almost offended.
He didn't see a particular individual, one or the other. He saw a
category, an ethnicity, and took the samovar from its hands and returned
it to another Palestinian who, from his point of view, was identical to
the one from whom he took it, for his identity is his ethnicity.
For the soldier a Palestinian is not a human being, a particular
individual who was born and given a name. A Palestinian is a symbol, an
A Palestinian is a metaphor. Not a who, but a what - a Palestinian.
The Palestinian people is transparent. This human mass that has no face,
no nuance, no particularities - is transparent. Its humanity is
This is no dream.
Last week at the central bus station, on my way to Tel Aviv, two
soldiers stood very close to me. As usual I contracted my belly and held
my breath as long as I could, shutting some internal eyes, waiting…
Soldiers. I don't see a thing. I don't want to… Can't bear the actual
fact of the guns dangling from their shoulders, and their uniforms and
what they necessarily do because they are soldiers and all of that so
close, so crowded, I don't want it, I don't see it, I don't look, I
hardly breathe. Soon they'll go away, soon I'll think of something else.
And then I hear, 'How are you?'
This can't be meant for me. Still, I look. A soldier. With a rifle. How
can a soldier be saying hello to me? Then I recognize him. A soldier
from Qalandiya smiles at me, embarrassed, next to him – a friend. And I
smile back at him. It happens automatically, in spite of myself, in
spite of everything. I smile at him, too, and answer, pleasantly,
confused – 'And how are you?' Out of context. Away from Qalandiya.
I have seen this soldier dozens of times. A soldier in the Army of
Occupation and Oppression, the Israel Terror Forces, one of the keepers
of Checkpoint Qalandiya, a full partner to the denial of people's right
and privilege to move around in their own land, from their home to their
home, within their lives, to work and to hospital and to the village or
to town to visit their aging mother. An active partner by the mere fact
that he stands there, a willing partner to the fact that children from
the refugee camp are being shot and murdered and will be slain because
it has been decreed, it is so integral. Partner to the fact that people
are beaten up, prevented from reaching their dialysis treatment or
school or gas station. Partner to the fact that Yusef, the vendor who is
just trying to make a living is beaten up for coming back to the
checkpoint again and again, and all the dresses and trousers he was
selling were thrown to the ground. Whether it was this soldier who
raised the butt of his rifle and thrust it at Ibrahim, and beat him up
some more, or only kept silent while others did, whether he himself
urged "Git, git!" or just persisted in whatever he was doing, whether it
was he who pointed that particular rifle and shot 14-year old Omar Matar
with a live bullet in his neck as the child was running away, Omar Matar
who died, murdered – it makes no difference, for this soldier was there,
took part, stood by and with, a more or less prominent screw, thicker or
thinner, in the apparatus of evil known as Qalandiya, known as the
And I was there facing him. At Checkpoint Qalandiya. Dozens of times.
Watching him work. Harass. Maintain this sinister reign that aims to
injure for injury's sake. I, angry, fuming, hated and hating, I, who
watched time after time, not greeting him, seeing him as a criminal,
responsible. And here it was me that he greeted, intimately, at the
central bus station. For my ethnicity is stronger than myself. Because
the color of my skin and my accent are stronger and even more concrete
for him than my hatred for him and for what he represents, more than my
wish – which he does not even begin to guess – that he not be allowed to
travel freely in Europe, that countries will shut their borders at his
face, for having served, for having necessarily committed crimes as a
soldiers. That people in the street will yell at him, 'Scum! What have
you done?!' and slam doors and windows at his face. He greeted me, who
am seen not in my name but my identity, my proper identity, at me he
smiles. My hate is transparent, not seen. My existence - that emerges in
spite of myself and my opinions - is the flip side, the identical
inverse of the Palestinians' transparency.
How are you? And you? At the Tel Aviv central station we greet, part, he
off to the duties of the Occupation, I to the duties of resistance, two
"Jews" (as a metaphor, for at least in my case it's not even exactly
correct. And who knows how "Jewish" he is, come to think of it… But in
the metaphoric world in which the Palestinian people is occupied and
persecuted, yes we are "Jews", whether we really are or not) in a racist
occupation one cannot refrain from maintaining.
He is the son of my past friend. I say past because she will never again
be my friend after I say what I am about to say.
He stands in the turret of a tank. His rolled-up sleeves reveal his
light-skinned forearms, first time in the sun this year. No body hair is
visible. Perhaps because he is fair. He smiles at the camera.
In two days and four hours' time he will kill.
This time, in Lebanon.
A soldier. In a tank. A symbol of beauty. Purity. Grace. Morality.
Perfect childishness. Barely budding maturity. Heart-warming.
His mother, who was my friend, looked at his picture, her face bathed in
How can you.
How can you rejoice.
How can you be proud.
How can you send him off to kill and die.
This fair-armed boy sits inside a tank. Bearing a canon. Whose duty is
to shoot. Shoot to kill.
Now tell me, I say to her, how the hell can such a thing arouse
tenderness in you? Pride? A warm motherly thrill? Would the executioner
of the greatest criminals (convicted in court) be photographed standing
by the electric chair? If you were his mother, would you look at his
snapshot by the electric chair and hum with embarrassed pride?
That's right, you wouldn't, and he wouldn’t have his picture taken, I
agree with you. But why not? Why? After all, he kills those who deserve
to die. He is your son. He is moral because he is your son. And just
because he is your son. The son of your race. So why not feel tenderly
proud, looking at his picture by the electric chair which he would be
about to operate?
How is he different from your son who is about to shoot a shell from his
tank, which will reach the bad or the good guys as they try to escape
their collapsing home? Why would that other possible son of yours who
exercises the laws of his society and executes people whose guilt has
been proven not as handsome and as moral and winning and pure-looking as
your own actual son standing in the turret of this movable electric
Very simple. Killing is killing is killing. And a murder weapon that is
meant to kill, whether the bad guys or the good guys – oops, our mistake
–cannot be a symbol of goodness.
Tell me, how many people will your son kill? How much blood will drip
from his hands? How much life was and is no longer, because of him?
Because of you? Because of your hollow captive obedient vanity?
Your son is still alive. Full of the nectar of youth, manly and trite
How many dead-in-vain pass through this terrible failure of language?
And even if he goes on calling whoever he killed 'terrorist' just
because he killed. And even if he goes on saying he saved the lives of
'Jews' when all that happened is that the lives of Jews and those who
are not Jews have become cheap, because for every pounding he and his
mates carry out, the Hizballah shot back just as it had promised.
Kill us, they said, and we'll blast you. Promised and were true to their
word. They also said, if you don't kill us, we will not blast you. Your
son saved no one, he murdered. The poor Lebanese people who were
sacrificed by everyone, and the Israelis who were murdered as a result
of flat, dull racism and the imbecile manly lust for fighting.
You sent him. And he went.
With me in the psychiatric hospital was a poor lonely woman who wanted
love more than anything, and did not get it. Neither from her mother nor
from anyone else. When she swallowed all the pills, one by one, I think
of her imagining herself dead and everyone mourning her, knowing they
had not loved her, and feeling bad. Knowing she had indeed existed, and
remembering and regretting terribly. And so it happened. After she died
everyone knew she had existed and wanted love and never got any and they
all felt terribly guilty. But now she was already dead.
I got out of the hospital. Untied. In my new, other life, doctors who
know nothing of my DSM name look at me without knowing my former
I am not the name of my disease. I am not nothing.
No one ever ties me to a bed, or ever will.
The different, however, is that my former transparency was not called
And even if I had no name but that of my disease, still whoever did not
know my name at lease tried to help me, as far as he knew. For even
without seeing me amidst myself, amidst the words that surrounded me,
stronger than me, without knowing who I am or taking the trouble the
know the possibility that I am myself. I was in a grave. But a grave
from which one can get out. Possibly. For even if not according to the
doctors who will only see my properties as a function of a certain
moment and not of myself, of my medical diagnosis, still for whoever is
no doctor I have a name. I have a name of soemone who has a name. A
He was perhaps nineteen or twenty even if he looked younger. He stood by
the roadside at Burin Junction (also named Yitzhar after the neighboring
illegal Jewish settlement). And we passed by him and he looked, and his
gaze stayed, stopped, gripped, and he said "sabah al kheir!" (Good
morning) and we stopped. He held out his two hands, his mouth trembling
even though he tried to hide this, exposing the inside of his wrists,
painfully young, skin that does not yet know its hourglass too has
already been turned upside-down, skin that knows nothing of its near,
fated end… On his wrists were fierce fresh red marks. Soldiers detained
him, as they always do, because they feel like it, took him out of the
cab, because they can, and told him to kneel on the ground, and
handcuffed him for hours, there on the roadside. And then they released
him, for that's the way it is, this is the Occupation… He was not trying
to complain through us. And he did not ask for any help. He just wanted
to tell us what had happened to him, and be contained by our eyes, in
the name of his pain, in the name of the injustice he had endured. In
the name of his youth that is hacked off day in day out by
over-privileged youngsters his age who do not see him as a human being,
who have no name for him, see him only as one of his race. He wanted to
be contained there for a moment. To be with a name.
At the hospital was – probably still is – someone who had once been a
soldier. He shot himself in the palm of his hand, got discharged from
the army and was committed.
Been there ever since. In a place without time. All he does is sculpt.
'I am a sculptor' he introduces himself, and holds out a hand. The
center of his palm shows an old wound that has gathered in the edges of
skin and left the palm of his hand somewhat cupped, never able to
straighten out, some of whose nerves are deadened. He cannot write with
this hand, or sculpt anything with it, only shake another's hand.
For hours on end he would stand in the ward, next to the potted plants
of all places, his back to everyone, facing that sculpture of his that
no one else can see. He takes transparent clay from a transparent bowl
by the not-transparent flowerpots. Slowly he smears the transparent clay
onto the transparent sculpture that is coming into being.
Was it he who once hit one boy or another. Who restrained or shot or
beat up those faceless ones, crushed them in the name of their
namelessness, denied their existence and murdered them for their blood
does not flow, for they are not like 'us', for they do not hurt, for
they are brown, for they are only what "they" are, they who aren't
anything. Is he now sculpting transparent sculptures and claiming they
are real because of what he did in the army, in view of what he did for
the mere fact of his being a soldier and as such he did what he did if
he was there; negated someone who has a name. And in the name of his
namelessness, abused him one way or another in the name of his own name,
and the name of his race, the name of his justice.
Probably not. He probably just could not take it any more.
When I think back to this boy at Burin Junction who showed us his wrists
and wanted to be contained, I remember again and again that I did not
ask his name. I wanted to but was afraid of seeming rude, invasive,
asking for what he did not volunteer to say. I did not dare to ask
before I said my own, and I don't speak Arabic and hardly understood
anyway, what Tami later explained to me in length. I did not get around
to it. And I want so badly to go back in time to that Saturday and ask
him 'what is your name?' and tell him mine and say to him, you have a
name. You do.
‘As soon as we put something into words, we devalue it in a strange way.
We think we have plunged into the depths of the abyss, and when we
return to the surface the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer
resembles the sea from which it comes. We delude ourselves that we have
discovered a wonderful treasure trove, and when we return to the light
of day we find that we have brought back only false stones and shards of
glass; and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered.’
The lava ash raining over Pompeii enveloped the molten bodies as they
were, and created a phenomenon so strange and earthshaking to the mind's
eye – bodies of nothingness, witnessing the absent being that has been
consumed and left its outline, its impression, its testimony, its
The Palestinian people exists, breathes, groans, millions of people who
have names, every one of them. Even if he or she are not seen or
contained as and in the name of their names and rights by the occupiers,
(some or most of those who belong to the occupier's 'race', and who each
have a name too) who trample on and through them as if they were
And just as silence is not silent, the Palestinians' non-being shrieks
out of the flattened gaze, flattening… Their transparent names rises
inside history and rips the silence of an indifferent universe.
Their voice will be heard. Their non-being flows inside the blood of the
skies, and if today is bad, tomorrow will be worse, until it will get
Until things will change.
It is doubtful whether Israeli Jews and their offspring, full of
occupation supremacy and losing their humanity, will be witness to this
change. They are probably denying the 'other''s name and their own
ability to live in this region for any length of time.
The words that have become a cliché that is no cliché – 'a people
without a land came to a land without a people' – exist like punctuation
marks, within the pulse, inside the sun and clouds, inside the dust seen
in rays of light.
Nelly Sachs said of those who came out of the Holocaust: We came back
But they did not come back without footsteps.
There was a people in this land, there is a people in this land, there
is no walking without footsteps, there is no silence devoid of speech,
there are no transparent people.
Translated by Tal Haran