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The River Diaries

Friday, October 20, 2000

Yesterday Perry and I walked not by the river, but on the upper promenade. My legs did not feel strong enough for the two climbs up from the river path; I say this now matter-of-factly, not looking for sympathy. I learn to live within the confines of my body as we all do. I could see the river from the upper park road—the river, a shimmering blue swath in its own dazzling sunlight, the boats all fresh in their white and blue trim. I realized that the river was in an eternal season of sunlight to the eye; it could have been endless summer for all the light and blue, but where I was standing, fall, with its acrid smell of crushed leaves, was in full control. Everything was gold and brown, cool and shadowed. I stood in the middle of a dazzling play of light, saw tree trunks blaze for a moment when the sun suddenly made its way through the remaining foliage and wondered how the tilt of the earth had so shifted that one plane of vision was a strip of blue while the other, all shadowed and darting. Perry sat patiently at my feet as I made this stunning observation, laughing at myself that I was going dotty with all this seeing.

He just came clicking into the bedroom; it is almost 6:00 in the afternoon on a Friday; he somehow knows that Lee, his other caretaker, should be appearing very soon to take him to the country where he will dive nose-first into the fullness of a Catskill fall. These are the afternoons when I feel most like a failure, when I do not meet his expectations or my own.

Last night I wrote to Gila Svirsky, a Jewish Israeli peace activist and lesbian feminist who is also a friend of Lepa’s, asking if she would write to me about what is happening in Israel and the occupied territories that I will call Palestine. I asked her if I could post our exchanges on the web site much like I did with Lepa’s. I did this with trepidation, knowing the strain and sorrow she is living with, but wanting to have somewhere the record of a lesbian presence in this terrible conflict, the reminder that behind all the news photos of men, behind all the assumptions of heterosexuality that become the news, there are others, also part of multiple histories. And also I want to use this great privilege of having a website in the service of those who struggle for social change and peace. Even as I wrote to Gila, I realized this will be a different experience from my correspondence with Lepa because I am a Jew, a Jew who has never been to Israel, who does not believe in a god or the sanctity of one people over another. I am enraged by the role of religion in our world, by the thought that any god would demand the killing of another people over who should “own” a religious site or command a city. Stones these are, the stones of Jerusalem, the stones of ancient temples, strip them of the magic of their names and see the stones they are, stones that have been given more value than the lives of people. So you see, my own rage, my own fears, my own knowledge that deprivation and racism, inequalities in every kind of social and economic treatment, will create a nationalistic fervor that will not give up in the face of tanks or missiles are already spilling out. How can Israel in the name of Jews occupy another’s home with such a heavy hand, incur such hatred, kill so many—is this the legacy of the Holocaust, the answer to the ovens?

I will show this to Gila before I post it up, in this anonymous space in which we float. Things are different.

Message #1
Friday, October 20, 2000

Dear Joan,

I looked through your web site and felt both happy—I am so happy that Serbia is finally on the road to freedom and democracy, and so jealous—we have fallen even further behind these days. We are only 48 hours past the agreement in Sharm. I’m so furious, with anger at the goddam so-called leaders. If people were not being killed, homes smashed to smithereens, lives burnt out with painful and crippling injuries, the whole thing would seem like little boys running around playing with lethal toys. I look at Barak, Arafat, and all the henchmen on both sides saying “If you hit me, I'll hit you even harder,” escalating ad infinitum. I feel sick with revulsion over the senseless horror. I have always been a news addict, but now I spend hours searching for outside news sources, which are themselves biased because the local Jewish Israeli and Palestinian sources are each so mobilized for “the cause,” I can't bear to listen to either one. Today, Palestinians in the city of Nablus felt threatened by the approach of a busload of Jewish Israelis on an outing in the area, so they opened fire—or maybe the Israelis opened fire first?—killing one of the Israelis and how many Palestinians were killed or wounded? In retaliation, Israel is expected to shell the refugee camp Palestinians have already evacuated so only their hovels will be destroyed. I dread the thought of turning on the radio in the morning and finding out how many more families had their homes blown away.

Am I the only one who thinks that these are games men play, fueled by issues of ego and hormones?



© 2000 Joan Nestle, Gila Svirsky

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