About Income Tax, Ramallah
A feminist activist from Israel revisits her partner's all but eye-witness account of a young Palestinian woman in occupied Ramallah who was forced to provide sexual services to Israeli tax officials. Years after the facts, she turns the rigor of her critical gaze at her failure of vision and potential action. Privileged Jewish, Ashkenazi, educated, middle class, she is also placed beyond the pale by her dissent and her lesser gender. But, she says, "This telling is not a ritual of absolution. It is not a confession. I am trying to understand, to locate where and how it works – the trap. The paralysis. The silencing. … The record I'm keeping admits to the guilt, takes responsibility for it. Squirms with it. Dwells with it, squirming. It also recognizes the wisdom; of managing within constraints, of identifying the possibilities, of slow, persistent negotiating, of painstaking work against the grain of, but still within, femininity." Originally published in Hebrew in the collection Home Archaeology: Essay Tales and re-rendered into English by the author, this piece unearths some of the most unspoken, deeply buried and horrific layers of occupation, subjection and collusion.
This is an English re-rendering of "Chapter Six: Income Tax, Ramallah," from Home Archaeology: Essay Tales, Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishers, 2011, from the Hebrew original translated by the author herself, and published exclusively in Inverse Journal. This piece will appear in print at a later time in a three part series published by the author.
April 17 1993, 7:20 am
On a dirt road at the turnoff from the main road to Tulkarm
I brought a map, Dror told me. I had one too. He had taken a bus to my house to save me the rush hour traffic into town and the jams I'd be crawling through if I'd driven into Tel Aviv to pick him up. And there's a road cutting through Kalansawa straight to the Tulkarm checkpoint. We'll leave the car in Tulkarm, he said. We'll need to catch a taxi from there to Nablus. Really, I said, it's not on my map. It might be kind of old but I don't think so, actually. Our conversation was happening long before the internet, before the days of typing in an address to call up an onscreen, up-to-date map. I checked I said, pretty carefully, and it looks like we need to go around. Via Kfar Saba-Tira-Taibeh. Nope, he told me, it's a topographic map, one to one-hundred-thousand. Here, right here, right after this junction. There's a road there for sure. Here, see. I saw. Because he said so. I'm really obedient when somebody beside me knows something for sure – at least at first, till I realize what I'm doing, if I realize what I'm doing. And particularly when he knows directions which is one of the things I always feel as if I don't know for sure.
So we used his map. We took the old road to Haifa northwards and made a right at Tel Mond. Drove along an expansive field of parsley and celeriac and then another, of the kind of lettuce that for some reason, in Israel, is called 'Arab lettuce' that started right after the mapsite of the turnoff onto the one-to-one-hundred-thousand road. We drove ahead really slowly, searching. There, there it is. Over there, see? That's not a road though. And it isn't right after the junction, either. And don't you think it kind of looks like it might be going in a different direction?
A dirt turnoff into a field we couldn't see on the map. Come on, why not try it. And we drove off the map.
I wouldn't have done it on my own. At least, not back then. Not before I was able to teach myself that I'm actually good enough, I mean with directions and orientation, to dare. Driving through fields on a dirt road when I'm not at all clear about where I am exactly, aside from knowing that I'm in the general vicinity of the green line, the 1949 armistice line that, in my head, still constitutes a border, and all the more so in 1993 when there was still somewhat of an ongoing uprising, an intifada, in Falastin. Even back then, in my head, Palestine had already become Falastin in Palestinian Arabic. Sometimes it was Falastin in my speech as well, although a lot of people around me used to flinch at the sound and, instantaneously, either draw away or step up close, swelled with belligerent challenge. So I used to weigh in advance who it was that I was speaking to and whether or not I felt like using that sound and, a lot of the time, if I decided I did I had to take a deep breath before speaking it out loud.
When there's someone with me, though, I'm less hesitant; I'm quick to hand over responsibility, including my responsibility for hesitating. While I did sense some shifting around of assorted materials in my upper stomach, it wasn't actual fear. It might even have been excitement. I turned onto the dirt path and went on driving. It was my car, or at least mine and Sha'ul's. A small one, far from new and nevertheless a relatively significant component of our not-very-considerable joint property. The path was badly potholed and scored with tractor or truck tracks dug deep into the winter mud which two or three rainless weeks had dried out very thoroughly. I drove slowly, trying to tone down the obviously-rusty protest of car springs at every climb-and-drop over every dried out scar in the mud, and in deference to the chassis on which I could hear the sporadic but prolonged scrapes of patches of bedrock or stray branches. He kept looking at his watch every minute or so. What time did Jamal say he'd be waiting for us there? Dror asked. He didn't tell me to put my foot on it, but I got it. I went on driving at a crawl along the no road. But also barely perceptibly sped up. Obeying both Dror and Sha'ul whose salary covered most of the repair work on the car because he'd been making much more than I had for a long time now.
We were on our way to meet a colleague in Nablus. Dror and I worked at a human rights organization documenting the daily horrors that the army and the military body known at the time as the "Civil Administration" were inflicting upon Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza. We were going to meet a doctor we worked with regularly. He, in turn, would be introducing us to some of his colleagues, health care workers at the clinic he worked in and at the nearby hospital and, the plan was, to some of the patients and patients' families too. We meant to take testimonies from at least some of these people. Among other things, we were collecting information on head injuries among Palestinian civilians who were shot by Israeli soldiers. This was 1993, almost ten years before Israel's government openly declared its policy of assassination, supposedly justified with the added label "targeted". In 1993, the open-fire orders allegedly obeyed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied Palestinian territories still expressly prohibited shooting at the upper body and shooting to kill on sight, except in those rare cases when the life of the firing soldier had come under direct, immediate and tangible threat. Rare because the Palestinian intifada that was almost spent by 1993 had mostly been played out in the form of popular demonstrations, strikes and stones.
I didn't answer his what time. I focused, pointedly, on the path that was dissolving before my eyes as it subsided completely into bare rock. We were driving up an incline, nearing the top of a small hill. On a higher plateau, strewn ahead of us as we made our slow approach, there were a few fairly large garbage piles, mostly of refuse from construction sites but also of regular garbage. Some of them were burning the eternal flame of garbage dumps which no one bothers, for the most part, to monitor; the slow burn of refuse that doesn't look like it can ignite anything else in the barren vicinity. The Kalansawa garbage dump most likely I said. It was just the path to the garbage dump. Do you think we can go any further? was what I didn't ask. I'd already delegated my responsibility. So I stopped the car directly in front of one of the piles that wasn't letting out any smoke. Just a minute, Dror said, and opened the door. I'll go take a look, he said with habitual, smiling pleasantness. I had automatically opened my door too and half-turned my body towards it just before he'd said this but then, once he had, went on sitting aimlessly in the car while he proceeded to disappear behind the pile and supposedly down the hill behind it. Interestingly, the smell wasn't bad. It was almost the same as the wood-burning smell that permeates winter in the Palestinian villages where they heat the homes or the bread stoves with wood fires. But, yes, with a light though not too bad undertone of rot. I sat there not thinking. Staring into smoke, smelling but not seeing it.
He was much younger than I. A good looking young male adult who was acutely aware of being a good looking young male adult. He activated my simultaneous attraction-repulsion. Attraction to the intensity of someone invested in moral issues, to the passion and sophistication of political thinking and involvement; attraction to the daring of defying government, which exuded a quasi-heroic aura, especially when you were an acutely aware good looking young male adult. Attraction to the daring of crossing the lines. And, no less, to the habitually polite pleasantness. Repulsion at the quasi-heroic aura, at the ego, at the distinctly numbing self-confidence of a dissenting acutely aware good looking young male adult. At the habitually polite pleasantness. My attraction-repulsion was seriously intensified by the clear knowledge that he had no inkling of interest in me. This, in fact, was a fairly constant component of my patterns of desire – attraction to someone who could clearly never, it seemed to me, take any inkling of interest in me. Alongside him I felt old. No bodied.
We can go on, he was shouting shrilly as he came back around one of the garbage piles off to the left. This way, turn this way, I'll talk you through it. The road picks up again at the other side of this little hill. Make sure I don't drive onto a rock, I called back. I can't see them. They're too low. Sure, he said. Don't worry. There's a three meter stretch behind you before you hit any rock. Don't worry, just back up. Start backing up. I did. Slowly, hesitating, scanning the sound of the wheels on the ground for changes, for the possible impact of rubber on rock. Go on, go on back, he said. You've got plenty of space, don't worry. And the wheels whirred hard right then and there, spinning into a patch of soft coal dust. Wait, wait! Wait, don't dig yourself in. He walked up to the hood and started pushing. Now. Step on the gas. Hard. All the way. That's it. Enough, that's enough, that's it. Now this way. Come this way. That's it. Right towards me. He moved back again. This way, here, towards me. Turn the wheel all the way. There's a rock just to your right. All the way. Yes. Good, that's good. Now straight ahead. Take it slow. There's a potho oops. The springs sprang. That's it. Easy. Take it slow. Yes. Okay. Now wait here a minute. Just a minute.
He was walking backwards in front of the car. That's it, now straight. Keep on straight. And straight, he said with his two forearms rising from the elbows towards his face. Keep on. Go ahead. Yes. Wait. Wait a minute. Just a little to the left now around a big rock. Just a little, not too far. There's a ditch on the other side. Straighten it out, straighten out he said really fast almost shouting. That's it straight ahead, go on, he said in a slightly softer voice. We're done. That's it. He walked up to the car, opened the door and got in. That's it, he said, see there up ahead, a little to the right, beside that tree stump? See where it starts? Don't you think maybe we've already crossed the border by mistake? was a question I didn't voice. Very slowly I drove up to the smoking tree stump and there we were back on a barely but nevertheless visible dirt road. He unfolded his map. I think we'll hit the highway pretty soon, really close to the Tulkarm checkpoint he said and looked at his watch again.
I can't remember how we ended up, at some point, at Ramallah and the income tax office. Maybe I actually did, after all, mouth something out loud about possibly having crossed the border by mistake and maybe that was what got us there. I could have said something like you know we're already way off your one-to-one-hundred-thousand map and we've been driving east – I can tell by the sun, take a look – for quite a while now, I think it's been about half an hour, along this dirt road that we picked up just east of Kalansawa. So we're probably already into in the West Bank by now, don't you think? Over the years of the first intifada there wasn't any wall and there weren't even that many fences or artificial dirt piles or other assorted forms of military-man-made blockades physically cordoning off villages and towns and fields and olive groves and tracts of land all over the place. There were just a few roadblocks on the main roads cutting across the green line into the West Bank.
And possibly he said: I don't think so, this dirt road just meandered around and we didn't cut across any highways. We'd have to hit the highway at some point if we were driving into the Bank. (In spoken Arabic, which I barely knew at the time and which I still don't really know that much of today and also in spoken left-wing Hebrew, which I do know well, the West Bank is referred to more often than not as just 'the Bank'. In right-wing Hebrew it's Judea and Samaria.)
I can't remember a thing about this part of the drive or the conversation. I could have answered: Are you sure? You know… there are these… these dirt roads that the Palestinians take in and out a lot of the time. Are you really sure they all cut across the highway? Are you positive? And he might have said: Not to worry. There's nothing to worry about. We'll find out where we are pretty soon. And looking back as I write this, I'm imagining that maybe—wanting to laugh off part of my tension, at least within my range of hearing if not down my esophagus or around my knuckles, by uttering aloud the worst case scenario that sometimes turns into less than the worst once it's spoken sounds in air—I might have said something along the lines of: "Last time this car was in the territories it was on its way to Ramallah, to the income tax office, and it got stoned."
What do you mean, he asked. Four years ago I guess, maybe even a little more, maybe the intifada had just started, I probably answered. Maybe it was even before the intifada. I'm not sure. Yes, actually, I think it was more, it was before the intifada. Sha'ul was on reserve duty. It was the first and last time he went on reserve duty in the territories, I said. And did anything happen with the stones, he might have asked. Most probably he didn't. He didn't usually ask me direct questions about my self. He wasn't that interested. And possibly, probably, both of us were suddenly wary and started tiptoeing a little around this story about my partner who had agreed who had gone off to be a soldier in the Bank. After saying what I imagine I may have said pretty thoughtlessly, nonchalantly, mainly in order to feel nonchalant even for a moment and to calm down all kinds of shifting stuff in my upper abdomen, it stands to reason that I felt or realized that now I might owe an explanation, a justification, even though it was my partner, even though it wasn't me who agreed and went off to do reserve duty. I suppose I felt obliged to explain, to try perhaps to justify what I had or maybe hadn't said to him then, several years back, when he agreed and went off.
I'm almost positive that even those several years back, when he went to perform that particular round of reserve duty, even though it was before the intifada, I'm almost sure I already thought that he should refuse to go. Should refuse to go there. To the territories. To the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel's army in the person of Israel's soldiers. But I didn't feel I could say anything. At the time, unlike now when I know I would tell him, I didn't feel it was either right or permissible to tell him that in my opinion he should do something that could get him into military prison. I thought it was something that people could say only to themselves. That if it wasn't me who was risking a month or maybe more in military prison, it wasn't right for me to tell him what I thought he should do. Even though I knew that reservists who refused to go to the territories hardly ever spent more than a month or two at most in prison and that also, for the most part, at least for short term sentences, military prisons in Israel weren't and aren't all that awful for Jews. Not to speak of Jews who are reserve officers. I knew all this. But I still felt I had no right to tell him what I thought about his tour of duty in Ramallah.
I'm guessing (because I can't remember, but I do know her-my self of eighteen-nineteen years ago fairly well) that I was also afraid to tell him what I thought of his tour of duty in Ramallah because I was afraid we would disagree. I was scared of testing how strongly and to what extent we'd disagree. I was scared that if I thought it was immoral to serve in the occupied territories in 1987 or six or nine, and that if he disagreed with me, I'd have to tell myself that in my opinion he was doing something immoral. That in my opinion he was immoral. At least in this specific choice of his, to do reserve duty in Ramallah which, to me, was pretty significant. I was afraid that I would have to explicitly enunciate this sentence to myself: In my opinion he's doing something immoral. You're doing something immoral. I was scared because what would I do with this sentence. He was my partner. Back then I still used to call it my husband.
So I didn't tell him then, when he went to do reserve duty in Ramallah, what he actually did tell me a few years later, out of a different kind of fear, after I'd started doing human rights work in the territories and going there regularly: You're not going. I won't let you go. I remember us outside somewhere. Standing. I have no idea where. I remember it was dark but somewhat softened by a street lamp that lit up parts of each of our faces. And I remember a sidewalk and a corner, near the meeting point of the two flanks of some building. With the two of us standing exactly, squarely opposite each other. Close. What I can't remember at all is where I found the strength and the clarity to answer fast, on the spot, though after a short, slightly shocked silence, that this wasn't part of our agreement. Under the terms of the contract between us, you can't tell me that kind of thing. That's just not our contract. You can't tell me that you won't let me whatever or that I'm not to do whatever. You can tell me that you object, that you're opposed to it, that you're scared or that you think it's a bad idea or that you think it's wrong. You can argue, you can debate. I'll listen and maybe I'll argue if I think you're really listening and not just lecturing and not just pressuring. And maybe I'll convince you and maybe I won't and maybe you'll convince me. But I'll decide. I'll make the decision. And you can't impose prohibitions. You can't tell me you're not going to do whatever.
The words coming out of my mouth from I can't remember where really scared me. I had no idea what now. What he would do with them. With me. What we would do with them. With two small children. With a rented apartment. With two reasonable but completely unexceptional salaries. How we would dismantle this complex arrangement and rearrange it if I refused to take back the words that had come out of my mouth, which in his opinion amounted to a major breach of contract, and if he refused to take back the words that had come out of his mouth, which in my opinion amounted to a major breach of contract. I sensed his my long silence hovering above my head like a very ordinary everyday but totally breakable china plate just about to smash into tiny slivers on the concrete sidewalk.
He said true. It's not in the terms of our contract. I felt myself letting in a deep, long breath without having noticed till then that I had stopped breathing. But from then on, the china plate stayed poised there, just above me. It stopped me, once we'd clarified the terms of the contract, from letting him know exactly when I was going – because I kept on going – to Gaza or to Nablus or to Sheikh Jarrakh or to A Tur to Mukassad Hospital. I didn't hide the fact that I kept on going but I stopped providing details. He knew knows that I'm going but not precisely when or precisely where. And the people I met meet after they've been tortured or after one of their children has been shot in the head or after he's started documenting the number of eyes he has had to surgically remove as a result of soldiers' shootings or while her eyes overflow in a sudden stabbing sob as she says she daydreams of seeing the sea just a forty-five minute drive from her house, all come home with me but all stay unspoken, silent. Locked in the quiet hanging overhead right before the smash, the breakup.
Before that, when Sha'ul went to Ramallah on reserve duty, I was afraid, as well, that if I told him in so many words that what he was doing wasn't moral in my opinion, he would dismiss my spoken words and my uttered voice with justifications that would sound very reasonable – even when flung out in anger – and that then I wouldn't know what to say next and that then he would be able to feel just and justified, that he was in the right. There were lots of times when I didn't know what to say next in the course of our political arguments. His tone of voice during these fairly frequent arguments often tended towards offensive aggressive scorn and automatically turned the argument into a test of my honesty decency and intelligence, of my morality. But not explicitly, only in subtext – in tone of voice, in the selection of what was or wasn't significant and worth debating or discussing, in the context framing and forming this selection and, in turn, reflected and reinforced by it. Over years of arguments, I gradually learned to identify this move of his. But relatively early on, in 1987 or six or nine and even earlier, ever since I'd moved into activism in around 1980, I didn't realize that the argument was sidestepping the initial issue right from the outset and aiming instead to undermine my credibility. To Sha'ul's credit I should note in the same hindsight that neither did he. It was an acquired skill, simply the way he had learned to argue. So, for my part, I didn't understand at the time how to continue the argument and what kind of retorts to offer. I was invariably left helplessly groping for "facts and figures" which I regularly ran out of after a few sentences and which Sha'ul usually had at his command, or which he didn't feel he needed in the first place. The ongoing argument which took on a spectrum of shifting forms in its long history of reruns, almost always paralyzed my thinking and silenced my voice, a hesitant one to begin with; perpetually emergent and unsure of itself. Sha'ul, unlike me, knew he was right and simply dismissed me and my thoughts and ideas and won. The argument, that is. In other words, eventually or pretty soon I would fall silent, left with no further words to use in response to his last.
Reading the papers was still a fairly new, still evolving skill. I had only started reading kind of consistently a few years earlier. Before that they had felt too foreign. Every morning, they used to refer to things that had happened the day before or a few days before or the week before, with lots of abbreviations and terms that were familiar to regular readers who had followed the events of the weeks before, but not to me. Every time I did read them, my beginners' reading brought home to me that everyone else knew what was going on around me and I didn't; that they were in the know that I was out of. And that Sha'ul was in. So every time I read the papers, as I began gradually to make myself do it more regularly, it was with a sense of heavy alienation and exclusion and boredom, in combination with a feeling of solemn duty – because in principle I wanted to know like all the rest what was going on around me and because I felt it was crucial. But even when I had already become a regular news reader I almost always forgot most of the facts and figures and details right after I'd read them because I didn't have enough of a grounding grid or a general overview into which I could easily fit them. Besides which we had two babies and I was tired all the time. So whenever I sat down with the paper because I felt I really should, I'd start dozing off or daydreaming very early into my reading and need to struggle in order to go on, if I could, through my drowsiness or dreams. Which is why, in 1987, or six or eight or nine, when Sha'ul went to Ramallah for reserve duty, I was already reading the papers but only somewhat and I already knew what was going on but only somewhat. And I knew that what I knew was patchy and that there was a whole lot more to know which I didn't. I knew I had a huge pile of undone, waiting homework. I didn't have the slightest idea of how to even begin to cope with it. Ever. I knew, in other words, that I didn't really know what was going on around me and that I couldn't actually retain a sufficient store of details or facts and figures to really know.
The goings on around me that I did come, gradually, to know and remember were usually collected in conversations with two of my friends. One of them was an activist with a left-wing group and the other was an independent journalist who wrote in French and freelanced for newspapers and magazines in France and Belgium. That is, when she succeeded in selling one of her ideas or pieces. Both of them had been reading the papers for many years and both of them knew all kinds of people with whom they had long conversations. That is, about what was going on. Each of them also used to hear, from time to time, about various sorts of things that weren't reported in the papers. But when I passed on some of these to Sha'ul, not often but occasionally, he almost always said that she didn't know what she was talking about and that he simply didn't believe it. Point blank. And automatically, in subtext and without my understanding it, this too turned into an argument about her my honesty decency intelligence morality credibility gullibility.
By loose analogy, driving towards Tulkarm with Dror on the dirt no road in sight, possibly in the West Bank already, after I'd said unthinkingly, out loud, for laughs at the material sound waves of the worst case scenario, that the last time this car had been in the territories it had been stoned, I must have felt called upon – instantaneously, once it was uttered – to defend my honesty decency morality and provide an explanation. I had no doubt that Dror would judge me for my partner's services rendered – to the military forces occupying Ramallah. He didn't say or ask me anything. It would have been reasonable for him to say something or ask something or respond to a colleague collaborating with him on anti-occupation human rights work. But he didn't. Maybe he didn't notice the implications. Or maybe he thought them insignificant because he thought me insignificant.
Hearing his ambiguous silence as accusation, I felt pushed to offer apologies. A stammering apologia. No big deal the stones. Nothing happened. It was… there was just one there was one time when they really hit the car but… he was there… uhm, I uh, I mean he was there with the Civil Administration, an officer at the income tax office. In Ramallah I mean. For a month. May I think. Yes, because I remember he had… his birthday was right in the middle of the month he spent there. And actually in principle actually he could come home ever day or almost every day, and Naomi was still really really tiny and nursing about every two hours, well more or less and I… it was pretty tough with Assaf and Micha and work and everything. So he really wanted to make it home as often as he could, even though it meant lots of driving back and forth and they were throwing lots of stones on that road and it was a little scary. Not too bad but a little. We… the two of us are… kind of… we don't tend to… we don't really believe expect worst case scenarios, don't imagine they'll actually happen. You know. Oh, it'll probably be fine. That kind of… attitude. We're uh we're good at denial. And mostly when he finished really really late when it was already dark he didn't drive didn't come home for the night. Usually, in the daytime they didn't throw stones. It was mostly at night.
Dror went on saying nothing. I went on apologizing.
As an uhm administration officer he was supposed to, you know, he was the one who decided who would get a stamp uhm get their certificate stamped that they didn't owe any income tax so that the Civil Administration would, you know, give them travel papers. To leave the country. Or stuff like that. You know you know how it works. Stuff we've got to deal with all the time. For like a family visit or an urgent operation that Israel doesn't cover for non-citizens non-sick-fund members who don't have any health insurance. Or to study or something. Way back even before then they were already forced to pay taxes even though they aren't citizens, supposedly to cover the services they're provided with. And you know it was already, back then, the administration already used to use the system we deal with at work that… that whoever wants to travel anywhere or some other kind of permit is forced to pay. Their own debt, somebody else's debt. Whatever. Their brother's, their uncle's… or just someone's with a similar name because the income tax office and the administration offices couldn't tell them apart. Or couldn't be bothered. Actually, back then I knew about it but I didn't really understand how it worked, I mean before before Sha'ul was a reservist there. Sort of knew about it. Really vaguely.
Order No. 1262 of December 1988, signed by the then OC Central Command, 'Amram Mitzna, states inter alia: "'Any person authorized to provide a license or service under a provision of the law or security legislation listed in the Appendix may make provision of the service or the license, including its renewal, contingent upon submission of evidence that the applicant has performed all actions imposed on him under any tax law, and has paid the tax that he owes at that time.'
This is quoted from a periodical "Information Sheet" issued by the human rights group B'Tselem in June 1991, from the section entitled: "Maltreatment by an Income Tax Clerk" on page 8. Facts and figures. Documented. I'm not making it up. Any of it. Further down the page, the B'Tselem commentary reads:
This order holds for no less than 23 licenses and permits and covers all areas of the lives of residents of the territories, from permits to leave the area, to licenses for mining and quarrying, building licenses, telephone, financial accountings, insurance, trades, drivers' licenses and car registrations.
The practical implication of this order is that any person who desires a license or any form of permit must obtain the signatures of seven authorities: the police, the income tax authorities, the excise added tax, the Civil Administration, the municipality, the Ministry of the Interior, and the property tax authorities. This entails a long and complicated bureaucratic process, demanding an extensive investment of time and standing in lines in the offices of the various authorities.
I told Dror: Sha'ul told me about, you know, he told me some stories about… people, in detail, real people who really… what stories! …pretty hard to wrap your… almost uh inconceivable. He was supposed… the job they gave him was to go over the paperwork, the details of every person who came there to apply. As an officer-clerk… uhm yeah well, representing the administration, he was the one who was supposed to decide whether or not to stamp the papers; whether or not they'd get a travel permit. At first, nobody supervised him. They told him what to do and left him alone. He was there as a… they knew he was a college graduate and deputy manager of a company and so on. And of course he was an officer. And Jewish. So they assumed they knew how he'd… what he thought. And they explained how it all worked and let him go ahead and make the decisions. But after about two weeks or actually a little more I guess, somebody realized that he was stamping all of them. He thought he he uhm he was really furious about what they were doing to those people and he simply okayed them all. He told me, how am I supposed to tell some woman, older, a real aristocrat he said, about twenty years older than I am, that she won't be able to go to Jordan to visit her father because her son is listed as owing some unimaginable sum on income from his shop which has been shut down and inoperative in fact since who knows when. But then, after they caught on, these income tax civilians knew there wasn't much they could do. First of all, they were civilians. So it couldn't be classified as disobeying orders or anything like that. And altogether, it's all so arbitrary and fluid and disorderly everything is there that he could always claim it was a misunderstanding or a mistake. So they… well they just stopped letting him handle the paperwork and he didn't really have uh it ended up that he wasn't doing anything there. He had I think he had less than two weeks left to go by that time and he tried to persuade them to give him an early discharge from his tour of duty. They refused. You know the reserves. You never get discharged even when there's absolutely nothing for you to do there. Nu, because… it doesn't look good when a unit doesn't need reservists. Looks like they're not doing very much and sort of like there's no pressure or urgency or importance. Or they're scared that the next time they actually do need someone they won't get him. It's all about staking territory. You know. So they agreed, they did in fact agree, that he could alternate over the time he had left to do – three days at home and three days there. He filled his days there with company work that he brought along from home. He just sat off to one side kind of in the house they'd turned into an office and worked.
When Dror went on not asking anything and not turning his head in my direction and not making any sound or sign or gesture or acknowledgement that he was hearing what I was saying or cared about it in the least I couldn't catch a hold of anything that would stop me from going on trying to fill up the void as fast as I could; trying to undo the silence that I deciphered as sharp criticism of me, of my complicity, of my knowing full well that she was complicit, collaborating despite her political convictions with services rendered to the occupation in the form of reserve duty in the occupied territories, of my failing to voice her opinions, of my failing to say something, of my letting it pass without comment.
And I went on. To tell Dror who was visibly uninterested what I had never told anyone before. It wasn't that I'd kept it a secret. In fact, until that split second I'd forgotten I knew it. I'd forgotten my hearing and remembering Sha'ul telling it to me one night some three or four or six years earlier.
I remember us on our bed. Sitting. Not close. Each at one end of it. I remember Sha'ul sitting at the top of the bed, right in the middle, legs stretched straight out in front of him, back pressed to the wall. I can remember a pillow stuffed behind his head and shoulders and upper back, held there by the pressure of body against wall. I suppose I was sitting at an angle to him, like I often do, on the edge of the bed, across the bottom left or right corner, with one leg folded on top of the bed in a loose lotus position and the other running across the surface and down the side of the bed with the whole foot placed flat on the floor. It was after the kids had gone to sleep and Naomi had gotten up again and nursed and gone back to sleep. Most nights, at about this hour, she slept a five or six hour stretch, so we knew we probably had some time to ourselves even though we were both exhausted.
I don't think it took him very long to tell me. One possible explanation, which sounds kind of good, could be that he was having a hard time with the whole thing and wanted to get it out and over with fast. But maybe the time he was having with it wasn't particularly hard. It's possible that he outlined the plot, briefly, and simply didn't think there was much more to add or to say. It's possible the jarring dissonance between the drama of the event he was describing and the brief, dry, factual description was only evident and bizarre to me. From his point of view, maybe he had told me what he knew, what had happened, what he'd seen, what he hadn't, what he'd concluded and what he thought and even what he felt in a relatively short series of relatively short sentences, and the thing was done and that was that, and it was just me who was left with dissonance.
Throughout the length of this memory, which I'm now re-summoning some eighteen or nineteen years after the facts and after he told them to me and after I told them to Dror, about three or four or more years later – my body feels vague, almost without material presence opposite his; my back possibly held stiff and frozen seated across the bed corner with nothing to lean on, my eyes looking straight ahead, not exactly at him I think. What I can't remember at all is his face or even his voice. What I'm dredging up today, as I write this, with much difficulty, like a sunken wreck raised to the surface, is completely encrusted in salt and sand and barnacles and rust eaten. I haven't touched it for some fourteen, fifteen years now. And I can't make out whether or not I felt him having a hard time talking about it. It could well be that even then, at the time, I couldn't make out whether or not he was struggling with embarrassment or with shame or possibly even with guilt – for being there in the first place, despite the fact that he didn't know a thing about it while it was actually taking place. He only realized or surmised it later, after it was done. While it was going on he was sitting outside working, somewhere off to the side, though pretty nearby, on the other side of the curtain. Underneath the sediment and the rustbite, I do clearly remember this solid layer: that he had a hard time with the facts; with what he realized afterwards that he had probably seen. Of the I don't believe this is really happening kind. Of the is this really seriously happening kind. I don't believe that I'm actually seeing what I think I'm seeing, thinking, concluding, understanding what I'm understanding. About what's going on. Around me. Of the this can't it can't really be happening, can it, kind of a hard time.
But it could have. And it was. And it did. Apparently. Back then he was pretty clear about it, pretty unequivocal, based on what he'd seen even if he didn't actually see it take place with his own eyes. Even if he couldn't be one hundred percent positive. It was. Apparently.
Behind the curtain.
At first, he said, I didn't really notice the curtain. It was just a curtain. You know, just a curtain. You know, a table, a chair, an army issue gray metal cupboard. A curtain on a wire; that kind of that's coated in white plastic, improvised. Sometimes it's it was pulled to its full length and shuts off, divides off this kind of enclave, this recess at the side of the room. It's not very big, the room. The whole office there is obviously improvised. You can see it was a house that people Palestinians lived in, taken over by the army, sequestered they call it. Made into a patchwork office. Kind of, you know, one not-so-big room with this entrance area and a toilet outside in the yard and that's it. And a humongous enormously long line every morning, early morning, from way before it's open and then all day long, running from the entrance door outside along the fence and all the way down the street. Did you did you remember the bag of candy, to get another bag of candy? You can't believe those kids in their mothers' arms some of them all day long for hours and hours simply hours in line. So the candy some of them the candy calms them down a little some of the time. Or at least till the bag's empty I mean.
The B'Tselem report says:
The bureaucratic process is prolonged and cumbersome and requires extended periods of time standing in line outside the offices of various authorities.
Sha'ul told me: But the day before yesterday I suddenly noticed that curtain. When it got gets pulled shut and when it was it's open. I suddenly got it. I mean, I'm pretty sure I got it. I… a few days before there was… twice, two times actually there was this man who looked, I don't know, really scared I thought even more than the way th… most of the people waiting in line there look scared or at least let's say tense and worried uh tense. This guy they somehow got him in around the line and held up the whole line. I mean, they did they do that a lot there. The line just stops moving for a really long time with no explanation or… apology. You can never know if it's because there's someone inside with a particularly complicated story that they're actually maybe trying to figure out, to figure out whether or not he actually owes anything. Or if—which is way more likely, at least most of the time—they're just trying to figure out a bureaucratically presentable way to saddle him with some arbitrary debt via some uncle or someone and to force him to pay because he really needs them to stamp his papers. Or if maybe it's neither and it's just that the clerks took a break and went off somewhere. But anyway, I was pretty wrapped up in my work in this workspace I'd arranged for myself with two chairs in the little entrance passage pretty close to the door but slightly off to one side and at some point I started registering his voice, the voice of this really scared man telling the guy in charge – it's just this one guy in charge and two more clerks and me and I rotate with another army officer there and that's all of us them there – telling him I promise I bring them tomorrow for sure I get them, for sure. Two for sure, yes this time two, I promise. His voice was like, you know, kind of pleading. He was talking fast in pretty decent Hebrew, u'allah I promise, my word mister cohen, trust me, this time for sure for sure. Trust me. Trust him… you know… looked pretty wretched to me. Couldn't could barely trust himself I'd say. I overheard bits like that twice. With the same guy. He and the guy in charge there.
Then the day before yesterday he was there again. Not alone. With a woman. He brought her with him. I think she was a really young woman. I thought she looked really really young. I mean, she was almost totally covered, like her head and most of her face and this kind of you know long dark dress. But the way she moved, I guess, you know, her walk even in this big dress, I don't know. I wasn't paying close attention even though I'd already heard these bits of… you know, as if they were really making his life hell. I had no idea what his story was. I haven't been dealing with the papers and taxes and debts at all anymore. I had my head deep in this business plan I've been working on when they brought him in and sat him down in front of the top guy at the far end of the room, near the window, and I heard something like – just one? You promised two. And then I heard him begging again, really sir I promise, really it's very difficult mister cohen, it's very very hard, but see I promised and I delivered. I promised but it's very very hard… and then, it was then that, right away or possibly just a little later, I still wasn't paying much attention, not yet – I only realized this in hindsight, after the whole thing, or most of it – that the curtain was drawn.
He got up and left and one of the clerks – there was just one there, the other one was taking a day off – went out to the hall and said something like, time for a break, nobody comes in now for anything – which they totally never bother to announce and here he was announcing it. And then the top guy went in, behind the curtain I mean, but I still wasn't really looking or paying attention or getting it. I only got it when he came out again and he was still buttoning up the top button of his pants. Without even bothering, let's say, to make sure that I wouldn't see, even though he already knew that I didn't like the things they were doing to the people there and that I'd stamped all the applications. It was as if what he'd done in there was totally not a problem, for sure not between guys, soldiers, reservists, you know, horny guys. As if it was all just so natural, totally normal. And then the clerk went in. And a little while later, not too long after, he came out. But first, before that, before the first guy – the one in charge – came out, even from my little workspace off to the side in the passageway with all the noise coming from outside – from all the people waiting in line, all the kids and all that – I picked up on… looking back right after it I realized that at some point I'd heard groaning. Just his. And after the clerk came out, straightening his shirt and his pants and going straight to the bathroom, a few minutes later she came out too, totally covered. You couldn't see any of her face. Completely covered. She went out and I got up and walked a little ways out of the front door and I saw the guy, the scared one who'd brought her, waiting off at one side at the edge of the alleyway and she walked up to him and they left. When I went back inside the curtain was open.
'Since most of the taxpayers in the territories do not keep books, both income tax and EAT are assessed for them by 'best judgment,'
it says on page 20 of the February 1990 B'Tselem report titled: "The system of taxation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an instrument for the enforcement of Authority during the Uprising".
This process is based on negotiations between the taxpayer and the tax officer, leaving the assessment in the hands of the officer. … Since it is impossible to establish the facts, the assessment has become a matter of bargaining between the taxpayer and the authorities. The impression is that the authorities have used this bargaining procedure very effectively, as an instrument of their authority, to put pressure on taxpayers for purposes unrelated to tax collection.
I remember tears being shed. Continuously. Almost all the while that Sha'ul was making and speaking his sentences. At some point pretty early on they started forming and spilling. It wasn't exactly crying. I wasn't emitting any of the rasps or squeaks usually produced by my crying. I was silent. I didn't even utter a mumble. Or a sigh. Or a syllable. I couldn't mouth or let out a sound. Even my nose stayed dry and didn't fill up with the usual overdrip of mucus that I need to blow ungracefully during most of my cries which are distinctly not like the snotless, elegant ones you see in movies that are always free of anything other than clear, pure tears oozing out of holes in the face and of any disfiguring red puffiness around those holes and of haphazard reddish blotches marking the efforts to fight back the cry and the attendant gush of feelings.
That night, for some reason, I think that neither my tear ducts nor my eyelids nor my nose puffed up at all because for the first time that I can remember in my life, my eyes simply filled up continuously with water that kept spilling out and over and drawing two thin stripes from the middle of each eye all the way down each cheek. One of them veered off a little to one side near the bottom and ended up in the vicinity of one of my earlobes because I was tilting my head a little as I listened to Sha'ul. The other ran precisely to the corner of my mouth, and every few seconds I'd collect the wetness with a lick as I went on listening.
The water was welling up and spilling straight out of a suffocating pain in my diaphragm right under the ribs and at the center of the stomach, that emptied me of voice. Straight out of severe humiliation. Straight out of a vast rage that I had nowhere to put, to take. But very slightly, in the outer margins, all shamefully messed up together, it was also spilling straight out of my relief. That Sha'ul was sitting there telling me all this. That he was obviously outraged. That he was visibly shaken and shocked. That he was speaking this account with acute repulsion. That he had paid attention and followed these details and been deeply upset. That he thought they were important enough, horrifying enough to sit me down and tell to me. That he wasn't immoral.
We were back on the road by now, without even noting it. Both of us staring at it, straight ahead. I felt relieved that Dror hadn't caught onto the eye moisture. Nothing near like how they'd been brimming, spilling, dripping wet during Sha'ul's account. But this time, with me doing the accounting, they were there again. Tears gathering just above my bottom eyelids. Held there. Waiting.
We could already see the big concrete blocks of the checkpoint off in the distance. I slowed the car down gradually, decelerating from pretty far away and coming, finally, to a standstill right beside the soldier. He looked into the car somewhat aimlessly, then at us briefly, and signaled us with his hand to go ahead. No sounds or words were used, either his or ours. We went on driving towards Tulkarm without speech. We could already see the roundabout and the taxi station right at the turnoff into the town. I turned into the big dirt lot and parked the car and we got out and walked towards the line of service taxis doubling for public transport in the West Bank. Nablus Dror said. And we were waved into a taxi and got into the back seat and waited for it to fill up.
Do you want to do something with it? he said suddenly. It was the first sentence he'd said since I'd finished the story and talked myself out. In fact, since I'd started. It was businesslike. Practical. Possible. That is, if you want to of course. It's up to you. We shouldn't have any trouble blowing it wide open I don't think. What do you mean? I said. I'm sure we can do something with it, he said. If you want. This time for sure we can get it into the press. It's usually so hard. They don't want to bother with almost any of our stuff. But this… you know, through one of the journalists working there, in the Bank, even get an investigation going or something. Wide open! A lot of interest! A story like this one…
Up until the instant he asked me I hadn't understood. I had simply and completely not understood. I had thought it was, it had to be, my ignorance. I had thought, I'd been convinced, that it was just me, only me who hadn't known before then – before Sha'ul told me – that things like this were observably, actually happening. I had thought it was just me that hadn't ever heard of any individual, material, detailed case of this kind. That is, before Sha'ul's tangible account. Even if I'd imagined, in general, that there might well be such cases. That there probably were such cases. I was positive, up until the second of Dror's question, that what Sha'ul saw and surmised was common knowledge openly circulating among people who collected information about the implications of the occupation and who did resistance work. It was only new to me because I didn't know enough about what was going on around me.
Because, as I knew very well all along, I wasn't reading and remembering enough of the papers or enough of all those cumbersome, heavily worded B'Tselem reports whose typeset was always so small and illegible and crowded, or enough of the details. I knew I didn't know enough and I knew I kept forgetting a lot of what I did read and know momentarily. Cases like this must have figured before in the reports and the papers. It couldn't be news to people who cared and who made it their business to know what was going on. No way. It simply didn't stand to reason that I that Sha'ul that we that he and I knew something that other people didn't; that we'd actually happened directly, concretely, onto the hard facts, well, almost hard, and the dates and figures of something that others hadn't ever encountered directly.
Without realizing or understanding what I was doing, I had firmly pre-supposed this no way. No way I know something and they don't. A habit. A very old one. A very stubborn one. They know more than me. They always know more than me. My shock at one more dark recess of filthy violent corruption looked to me like my own. Strictly my own. A direct result of my undone or partly done homework, of my failure to know enough. If I had read remembered papers reports facts details I would have heard known this long ago. I still would have been shocked, I'm sure. By the force of an individual case, of pants buttons, of a self-satisfied smile, of a nonchalant verging-on-public flaunt. Shocked by the force of the dead certainty of the testimony and conclusions of the man I share my life with. But I wouldn't have been so completely stunned.
Stunned behind the curtain. Gray with a small orange and black print. Heavy. Leaden. Reminding me of the bedspread on the twin-and-a-half sized bed in Sha'ul's parents' house that he and I slept on when we stayed there overnight to babysit one of his younger brothers. Brought by my cousin or my landlord who had caught some man coming into my apartment, whom I owed money I didn't have, or by my brother-in-law, or maybe even my brother who was managing me after my husband left or got killed. Or by my father who had cancer and whose exit permit was me. Struggling not to show them a face, not to look them in the eye. Doing what I have to do, what I can, given the threat and the constraints, terrified of my bringer, terrified of them; don't let them let on, don't let them spread word that he's talked, collaborated, procured, rendered services, mine, me.
Don't let them jail, withhold, beat, detain, torture, kill.
Decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court have held that the Israeli occupation of the territories has endured far longer than any occupation contemplated by the drafters of the rules of international law. The regional IDF commander may, therefore, amend local laws to adapt them to … fundamental changes in living conditions … as long as the amendments are for the benefit and welfare of the local population,
says the same B'Tselem report on page 7. It also says on the next page that in keeping with one of these decisions:
New taxes could be imposed in occupied territories under the rules of international law, if necessary to maintain public order.
Stunned at the hate rape, the force fuck of this man in charge, the income tax clerk, the violation, the control, the filthy degradation. Scornful. Calculated violence. Crushing laugh. My words. My English translated from my Hebrew imagining her Arabic. Or her silence. I couldn't conjecture feel know just what she went through. What she thought felt said to herself. Scornful, crushing laugh. Voiceless – because Sha'ul heard only a man's groans. At them. At herself. I had no idea who she was who he was how why. It makes a difference. The details make a difference. They're important. The colors of the print on the curtain. Every woman is a different story. Always. Every woman is positioned, fashioned differently inside the framework of repressive forces. Different or partly overlapping forces at different intersections. But the tearpath down each cheek spilled out of my intimate acquaintance with woman hatred of me. With the movement that once, many years before, had caught my head in a clamp and forced my face, my look, away sideways under the hard hand pressed to my cheek at his moment of cum.
Stunned at crashing headlong into my habit mistake of thinking myself perennially little and out of the know. At hitting the surface of a solid pre-supposition that I both unsaw and adhered to equally – that is, that what I knew know wasn't isn't all that important. Can't be. Ever. At meeting the hard rock bottom line of my self-reproach for not building sufficient knowing to see that this was all that important; for failing to build the capacity, back then, to discern the outlines of what I identified explicitly over ten years later, in March 2005, at a lecture I gave at "Salon Mazal." The outlines, that is, of the black hole in the documentation of Israel's occupation. Or at least in the Hebrew and English accounts of and reports and articles and books about it.
How is it, I asked the small group of women that gathered there to learn together in 2005, that we have no testimonies at all or at least almost no testimonies about the rape of Palestinian women by those who enforce the occupation? How is it? Why? Where are they? We have no good reason to believe that such things don't happen here. On the contrary, we have very good, well grounded reasons to believe they do. Because we know that they happen here inside Israel, within the green line, all the time; they happen to women from Israel and to tourists and to migrant women workers, in the homes of employers, in the homes of friends, in their own homes, in the streets, on the beaches, in the city parks, in cars. They happen to old women and young women and teenagers and little girls. They happen to disabled women and to rich women and to mothers. They are sufficiently common to make it unequivocally clear that there are no particular brakes or checks in Israel – either moral or cultural – against rape and violent treatment of women. I don't, we don't have any reason to believe that the same logic doesn't apply, among others, to Palestinian women under military occupation. Particularly in light of the fact that in many places in the world occupation and control by force and military rule are implemented, among other means, through rape and sexualized violence. It happened in Bosnia and in Serbia not too long ago. It happened in Rwanda. And here, for years now, the military and the Shabak have been torturing Palestinian women just like they torture Palestinian men, subjecting them to physical and mental torture. For some years now it's even been openly admitted to. So why assume that there's no rape in addition to that; that the occupying regime doesn't, among other things, allow and feed on sexualized violence too? Why imagine that there is none? What there's none of, at least at this point, are testimonies. The question is why and what that indicates.
This was what I said, more or less in these words—though in Hebrew, over a decade later. But then, at the time, on that fact finding trip to Tulkarm and in the weeks and months that followed, I mainly stayed stunned guilty that I hadn't identified – within an overall context that I had so far failed to construct and put in place in my mind – the uniqueness of what I knew or at least of what I thought I believed and still believe we knew, Sha'ul and me. What we had good reason to believe and in fact believed. Pretty firmly.
One more of the tangled threads of stun and guilt was the shameful fault that Dror had suddenly exposed to my view in his detached, habitually pleasant voice – the fact that my mind didn't sound or own a lucid, practical, active voice telling me you should do something with this, you can do something with this, get it out there, make it known. I didn't tell him: I'm telling you a story that, at least partly, is about a deep personal shock and you're hearing and rewriting it as purely and only testimony. As material. I didn't even tell that to myself till much later. It didn't occur to me. Utterly blind to my blindness, blind to his exploitative pounce, excited, onto loot as it were – a story to blow wide open – exploitative even though it was for a good cause. Blind to, yet subcutaneously squirming at, his lightning catapult over the woman that I was or am, over the limits of the possible, her possible, my possible, over capacity, over personal constraints. Then, on that drive and for a very long time after, I couldn't see his erasure of me. I accepted my guilt completely. Automatically. Not understanding that I'd had an accomplice, at least a partial if not a full one; that he could, for instance, have intimated or understood how terrifying this proposed move was, the one he suggested lightly, almost as a matter of course. Or he could have tried, at least tried, to share it with me, with her, the terror, the required practical steps. I accepted accept full responsibility, full guilt for the fact that no matter how independent I am was, active, human rights worker, traveler into the military zone, into the occupation, not under a man in charge, a clerk, an uncle, a brother, I was am still, nonetheless, totally trapped within my her ignorance. Totally unknowing that I know something rare, groundshaking, important. Stuck inside the little girl facing newspapers and knowers and savvies with whom I don't and never will make eye contact. With whom for whom I don't and never will own have a presence, a stand, anything to say in the argument about their facts. And figures.
Stunned to discover her disqualifying her self under the ancient Talmudic ruling: Woman can not bear witness.
The guilt of my persistence, unabated, in the knowledge that for them, in face of them, I don't and never will have a face.
You can do something with it even now, even after three or four years or six, Dror told me half turned in my direction but not really looking. His sentences started accelerating, verging on enthusiasm. If he's prepared to testify. Persuade him. I'm sure we can take it to one of the Knesset Members we work with. I didn't say: The Knesset Members you work with. It's only now and here that I'm telling him this. Then, some fifteen, sixteen years ago I took his we for granted. As if he and I were positioned in the same place, within the same first-person-plural. I didn't tell him: You mean the Knesset Members you talk to, who talk to you. Who answer to you. You mean the people that you know how to talk to because you learned, many years before you were ever a political activist human rights worker, you learned that facing them as an equal is part of your birthright and your capacities. Because you understood through your body that this was part of your contract – one of the skills and rights of the gender ethnic origin national identity class that you live in, in Israel. A son. A Jewish Ashkenazi educated upper middle class man. From where you stand you're blinded into mis-taking it for normal, for everybody. For "we." Before you ever started standing up to the people in power you knew you were one of them. It didn't even occur to you that most of the others weren't. Aren't.
Me, many years before I became an activist human rights worker I learned that I'm one of the aren't. The most. That I'll always be. Even if I am from the same ethnic origin, national identity, class. With the prefix wo-, woman. Learned at the constricted meeting point between my throat and my esophagus, learned at the swelling around the base of my diaphragm, learned at the hard clot in my upper belly. Learned the femininity that creates my "too-great vulnerability to interpersonal loss and … fear of risk and conflict," as Kathy Ferguson worded it on page 167 of her book, The Feminist Case against Bureaucracy, published in 1984 by Temple University Press in Philadelphia. She wrote and I quoted this femininity, which I acquired way before the words from my mother caretakers preschool teachers aunts teachers friends' mothers friends. The femininity that I internalized as a mechanism of survival first and foremost in family and for sure in a society where I women am are disenfranchised stripped of political power. Power to determine, decide, act freely. In order to live a reasonable life I long ago developed what my mother demonstrated, what Kathy Ferguson theorized, for me – the skills crucial to a subjugated subject – attentiveness to others, a tendency to support them, an effort to (do or be what I think will) please them, an avoidance of powerfully, clearly and persistently stating what I think. To the point of not knowing. What I think. What she thinks. At least sometimes. "Femininity," Kathy continued on page 173, "refers to a series of traits that accompany powerlessness, and that confine feminized people to the depoliticized status of reactive spectators."
I didn't tell Dror: You were taken by the hand, as a small child, and carried on shoulders and introduced proudly, affectionately to those you learned you were one of. I didn't ride those shoulders or hold that hand. I haven't to this day. Ever. Why should it occur to me that anyone would listen to me when up until now I've been well and thoroughly trained that they won't? I didn't even think any of this back then, when Dror found me at political fault in the same breath that he used to propose a course of action. Back then, all I could feel was my guilt.
Writing this, today, I don't deny or expiate my guilt. This telling is not a ritual of absolution. It is not a confession. I am trying to understand, to locate where and how it works – the trap. The paralysis. The silencing. The self-depreciation debilitation. How it works in tandem, in conjunction, in collision, in collusion with the externally enforced, coercively imposed depreciation debilitation. The record I'm keeping admits to the guilt, takes responsibility for it. Squirms with it. Dwells with it, squirming. It also recognizes the wisdom; of managing within constraints, of identifying the possibilities, of slow, persistent negotiating, of painstaking work against the grain of, but still within, femininity. Within community. "The inequality between the sexes is more than psychic," Kathy wrote on page 167. As is the inequality, I want to add here, between the classes and the clans. So that "simply urging women to be less fearful is a lame response," she concluded. To their paralysis. To mine.
You think so? I said to Dror: Really, what you you think it's really someth…? I mean really something that hasn't already been…? Even though I had already understood by now that it was, I was still missing the words to complete my sentences. You mean, I said finally, that it's not like already common knowledge? It's new? News? Are you kidding? he said. His voice climbed to a high almost feminine octave, like it did at the office whenever he was bargaining over the phone with a high ranking officer from the Civil Administration, usually about some entrance permit or a prison-visit for one of the Palestinians who had appealed to us. A story like that? What do you think? Of course it is. Talk to him. Pretty easily in fact. No question. We can do something really big with it. Two men got into the taxi and we stopped talking. A little later on I said: I uh… okay I'll see. And then: He didn't actually see anything. It's, you know, not strictly evidence. I mean, not direct evidence… it was… what he concluded. So it's not… But… okay. I'll… check with him. I'll… let you know.
I checked with him. It was hard. First, over a few days, I looked for a good time to start the conversation. A time when Naomi and Assaf and Micha were already in bed. When he wasn't buried in the papers or the TV right after we'd finished cleaning up the mess of toys and dishes and he'd dropped down on the couch. When he wasn't on the way out to jog. When we weren't on our way to sex. When I stood a chance of intercepting the china plate before it hit the floor. I deliberated about which room to start the conversation in, which posture; looking straight into each other's eyes on opposite sides of the table over supper before we cleared off the dishes? Looking at the screen side by side on the couch? Looking at the road ahead from the front seat? Sitting on the bed, me with my back to the wall or seated across the corner of the bed after I told him I needed to talk to him? What posture would give us a moment of quiet of the kind that would make enough space to tell it, to ask it, without choking on how loaded it was? Without suffocating the conversation before it even began.
You know, I told Dror that story about the income tax office in Ramallah. Which story? he asked. Which story do you mean? You know, you remember, what you saw there with that guy in charge with with the Palestinian who brought him that man who brought him women, a woman. Behind the… that curtain. Curtain? I'm not following. What are you talking about? he said. I don't know what you mean. I… go on. Maybe it'll jog my memory. I uh I remember something vaguely, he said, about a curtain, something… they opened it and shut it I guess kind of... But I don't… You told me, you said, I said, that this man brought a woman, you know, you said she looked really young. And that they took her back there and they drew the curtain and the guy in charge and the clerk went in, behind the curtain, I mean one by one. Okay, he said. I, yes, I kind of remember something. I said: You understood that they were being provided with sexual services. Don't you remember? I asked. Don't you…? I remember you telling me and I remember exactly where I was sitting and I was just dripping wet with like with tears like quietly and… Yes, he said, there was something like that with a something with a curtain there, I… there was, yes, there was something like that going on. It's totally, it's completely vague in my memory. I, you know, I think that back then it was vague too, not just now. I remember it so clearly! I said. You, telling me. I remember exactly how we were sitting on the bed, where we were, our positions, what it did to me, felt – my throat, my chest. I can barely remember any details, he told me. Then too. I think it was that way then too, that it wasn't all that clear. Back then. Either. That it was… that I told you, you know… that I kind of thought that was what was going on there based on how th… on what I saw.
Like, what? You told it like as if it was hard fact? he asked. More or less, I said. Not completely. I said you weren't completely one hundred percent positive. But, you know, back then, when you told me about it, I remember I distinctly remember that you were pretty sure. It was so… it was clear to you. Based on their behavior. And on what they said. That's what I remember anyway. I don't remember it like that, he said. I can't you know get inside your head. But in any case, I don't have the exact same memory. In any case, what I do remember isn't all that clear. Not at all. Maybe more like an impression I got, like more of a suspicion. A really horrible horrifying one. But more like a suspicion, not a concrete event.
I don't know, I said, in my memory of it, it was, your story then sounded totally… so, in any case, I told Dror about it and he says… he says that we can do something with it. He says that it might… it could actually be an important testimony. That we could pass it on let's say to some Knesset Member and get it published, I said. Maybe force them, you know, to investigate. I mean, if you testify. Even anonymously.
That was my addition. Dror hadn't said even anonymously. But I thought it might be possible, that it probably would be possible, and that maybe an exemption from the commitment to personal exposure would turn it into something that wasn't that big a deal for Sha'ul. Something that didn't involve the threatening implications of going public. And possibly more than that, even anonymously made it easier for me. To ask him, that is.
Because they'll have to… in any case I think they'll have to hold an investigation, you know, I said. To find other evidence, at least maybe indirect evidence. It doesn't look to me like just what you saw would be enough. It's… the story's too sensitive. They won't publish it without… but it might start something, open it up. These people… I said.
It was a long time ago, he said. I truly, I really and truly can't remember the details. I'm trying to think it through, but I… what can I testify to? Seriously. What have I got, what details do I have to tell about it? It was… I can barely remember it. Really. But even so, even then, it was like totally vague I think. In fact I'm pretty sure. It was my conjecture, like an impression I got, not solid, serious testimony. He said. Let it go.