Saturday, February 14, 2009

Coach Youngworth Referees the Elections in Israel

February 10, 2009
It is rainy, the best excuse to procrastinate. I am sure partisan friends and neighbors in my village will comb their computerized voter registry and come to take me to the ballot box before it closes. They probably will accept my excuse of avoiding exposure to the elements on a wet and cold day better than any political analysis I can offer. I don’t have the patience to argue and try to refute their claims of the value of every last vote in proving our collective steadfastness in the face of the racist Zionist mob bent on driving us out of our homes. But I need to clarify to my self my deeply-felt revulsion at participating in this symbolic act of Israeli democracy in its current form.

[A daydream keeps blurring my conscious attempt at focusing: Some folks from Yankton College in South Dakota, my first steppingstone towards a medical degree, have just re-contacted me after some forty years. Now Mr. Youngworth, my Yankton College PE coach, keeps urging me to take Lieberman on in a round of Sumo Wrestling, something that we never did at Yankton.]

Dov, a Jewish family friend, was visiting the other day and raised a relevant point. He lives in the center of the country where the Jewishness of his residential space is less likely to be disturbed by the presence of Arabs. He wondered about the interracial relations in our half-and-half Galilee in light of the violence visited by Israel on Gaza. He felt uncomfortable raising the issue and prefaced his inquiry with the statement that what happened in Gaza left him with the feeling of having received a punch in the face. I commiserated with him by admitting to a persistent feeling of having received a kick in the stomach. I then informed him of the near total absence of current contacts between the two demographic halves of Galilee. I didn’t need to go into the lopsided distribution of rights and resources between the two groups, for that is always a given, and we both know it.

Dov then asked a personal question: “Aren’t you still in touch with so-and-so in the next-door settlement whom you mentioned to me before?”
“No! We parted ways after he became the head of the board of a University of Haifa public forum with academic pretensions and highfalutin coexistence claims.”
“Why? Didn’t he invite you to join?”
“Well, that was exactly the problem. He invited me to join the board and I accepted. Till I found out that Prof. Arnon Sofer sits on the same board. I wrote him asking formally for my name, or that of the professor, to be dropped from the roster. He dragged his feet forcing me to circulate my letter of resignation and the explanation for it to all the other board members. A few tried to dissuade me from this step sighting the presumed pluralistic and democratic nature of Israel and its academic institutions. But I kept to my decision not to sit on the same board with an avowed racist, a long-standing military adviser, and the father of the Palestinian demographic ticking bomb theory.”
“I am surprised at you, Hatim! What is wrong with debating the issues with opponents?”
“Nothing, believe me! But that misses the point. In fact one time I saw the man in a cafe and I walked over to him, introduced myself and initiated a brief discussion with him. I have no problem with debating an opponent. What I will not accept is any form of partnership with him. Partnership means sharing responsibility. Being on the same board with him means we share responsibility for each other’s views and acts. And that I will not permit.”

[“Size is not the only factor in Sumo Wrestling,” Mr. Youngworth urges. “Brains and agility are more important than sheer size and muscle mass. Go down and challenge him. You will beat him, I know. And if you don’t at least no one can blame you for not trying.”
“But I am an itinerant coward; I never rely on physical force; I am a pacifist, you know! And the lack of circulation here is suffocating. It is stifling hot here in the gym!”]

Last night, and for no apparent reason, I made a call to a physician in Lebanon, the granddaughter of my late aunt whose family was driven out of their coastal village of Dannoun north of Acre in 1948. I had never seen or spoken to her before. Still she knew I was from Arrabeh from the way I said ‘hello’ on the phone and proceeded to guess who I was, getting it right on the second try. I praised her intelligence in figuring out who I was after hearing only my greeting and she returned the complement: “Thiltheen elwalad lakhalou—two thirds of the child belong to the maternal uncle! And you are my maternal uncle.”
We proceeded to exchange information, emails, and reassurances about our families and situations and we promised to meet somewhere sometime. Suha’s last request was a passionate “Please stay in Galilee, in Palestine, uncle!”

[Mr. Youngworth is still pushing: “Take him on!” I respect the coach but this is too much. I step outdoor into the central court yard. The rain has stopped. There is a refreshing cool breeze.
“It is against my principle to engage in a physical fight. And this guy is a brute. Let him claim victory, but it won’t be my defeat.”]

Now to going out in the cold to elect Bibi Natanyahu for prime minister and Avigdor Lieberman for his deputy: Voting means accepting the premises of Israel’s democracy, one that allows a party to run on slogans of transferring me out of my home and to hold rallies at which calls of “Death to Arabs!” are standard. I am not afraid of such people’s intellectual clout and would welcome the opportunity to debate them before any audience. But my casual participation in the process of voting means I share in the responsibility for the inevitable outcome of fascist rule in Israel.

[“What about your home?” Mr. Youngworth now steps into my present. “What about your yard, your garden, your trees? Don’t you want to defend them?”
I survey my garden: my citrus orchard with all the luscious ready-for-the-pick fruits at one end, my half dozen bare fig trees with the promise of summer fruits at the other, and, in between, my almonds in full bloom interspersed amongst the apples, the peaches, the pears, the guavas, the pomegranates, the grapevines, the carob, the hawthorn, the quince the passiflora, and more. I walk to my millennia-old olive tree and caress its renewed canopy.
“Coach, I will take the SOB on. He will have to kill me before he can push me out of that circle!”]

1 comment:

DJB said...

I recieved this post as an e-mail from my grandfather, who is the son of Coach Youngworth in your piece. Very interesting to me that my great-grandfather was a part of this, as it is so far from Yankton, South Dakota.