All the Rivers – More Than A Palestine/Israel Love Story

all the rivers

“it was true that there were two nations in this story, but unfortunately there was only one land, and that fact could not be altered by all the borders and fences and barriers and roadblocks in the world. ‘The land is the same land. And, Bazi, what was it you said once, remember? In the end all the rivers flow into the same sea.’

My curiosity roused after reading a Facebook post,  Gal Gadot Partners With Keshet For Film Adaptation Of Novel About Israeli-Palestinian Romance, I purchased Dorit Rabinyan’s lyrical Borderlife aka  All the Rivers  (2014), a story of love between Liat and Hilmi, an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man.

As a pro-Palestine activist, I warily began reading with a protective eye, en garde to strike at anticipated hasbara i.e. zionist propaganda.  However, it was I who was caught off guard.

Gently, reluctantly I was drawn into Rabinyan’s charisma of honesty, into her devotional and self-scourging passion.

This is more than a love-story when seen through a psychological glass darkly into a closed brainwashed Israeli mind straining to open, struggling with fear to be free from fear.

Liat, like all Israeli children, was systematically mentally abused from the moment she was born by state and collective, what only can be called, terrorism. Israeli children are relentlessly tormented with the fear of Palestinians,

“I told him about Roni Gotlieb and how she invented a self-defence weapon in case Arabs tried to kidnap us on the way to school. Early in the morning, we used to arm ourselves with a sewing pin each and sprint along our route to school through the outskirts of the neighbourhood.”

Her fateful falling in love with the monstrous bogeyman of her childhood – the enemy of her adulthood- an Arab, a ‘terrorist’, worse, a loving, kind Palestinian Arab, tears her emotionally apart.

On the one hand, she is deeply in love,

“So I don’t tell her how we enjoy making each other laugh. I don’t tell her that I spend all day gathering up stories to share with him in the evening, so I can hear him laugh, so I can laugh again with him. I don’t tell her about the moments when I can feel that he understands me, that he can make his way in and out of my mind’s twists and turns, that I can look at his wise eyes and see the wheels of his mind spinning in perfect synchrony with my thoughts.

Or else, she’s constantly doing backflips of anxiety to keep her Palestinian lover a secret from her exclusivist Jewish tribe,

“‘Let’s say your parents knew about him. What would they do?’

….’They’d hang me from the highest tree in Tel Aviv.’

‘Hanging someone from a tree,’ she went on in a measured but puzzled voice, ‘is a public sentence. It’s punishment for show. I’d almost say it’s…’ ‘Biblical, yes,’ I finished her sentence, my voice heavy. ‘It’s a biblical punishment.’”

As the book is based on Rabinyan’s  real-life relationship with Palestinian artist, Hassan Hourani, though fictional, she refers to it as a ‘self-portrait’. I wish I’d known that when I read it, even so I sensed what I was experiencing was too true to be pure fiction. The autobiographical element gives weight to Liat’s turmoil with Jewish-Israeli identity and ‘acknowledgement of the other.’  The forbidden humanisation of the enemy.

The value of the book, for me, is the truth of her struggle. It offers hope for the realisation of Hilmi’s ‘enlightened’ one binational state. And the proof that embedded hate and fear can be excised lies in Chapter 30 and in Rabinyan’s actions after publication.

In Chapter 30, Rabinyan celebrates Palestinian connection to the land. As I read it, I thought this is Palestinian life before occupation, without occupation. It is  astonishing that an Israeli could weave the beauty of Hilmi’s restoration of a house and garden he is temporarily renting in his old village, Jifneh.

Eighteen months after publication, Education Minister Naftali Bennet banned the book from study in high schools as a threat to Jewish identity. Since then Rabinyan, driven by a love transcending death, has energetically defended freedom of  speech and also the novel’s core principle- the equity of humanity- “The human  character of the Palestinian character I draw with the same pencil of respect.. as much as her character.”

The possibilities of Palestinian/Israeli face-to-face peace buoyed my hope. It was like cruising above the miasma of apartheid in a brightly coloured hot-air balloon scanning horizons for more rebels.

I came across Yossi Klein Halevi’s, Letter to my Palestinian Neighbour’ which, within 2 chapters, my balloon burst from Halevi’s smug self-righteous spin: the lie that Palestinians and Israelis are equal in blame and suffering, the clutching to life support on the sinking 2 state ship, the wall as security myth, the lie that Palestine’s history is a series of humiliating defeats while Israel is “a story of persistence and courage and, above all, faith.’when it is, morally, the reverse. There are copious haemorrhages of self-delusion- ‘I didn’t return home to deny another people its own sense of home’, Israelis always offer peace but Palestinians prefer terrorism, or how about this doozy, ‘it’s not the occupation that creates terror but terror that prolongs the occupation’ blah blah.

Uri Avnery and David Grossman are also thinly-veiled ‘peacemakers’. Ironically, Grossman is critical of the occupation because it taints Israel’s morality. In an interview, he sees the establishment of Israel as a ‘miracle’ – immorally air-brushing the fact it was established through violent systematic theft by Jewish terrorist gangs that expelled 2 thirds of the Palestinian population for an ignoble Jewish lebensraum.

He is a two-state absolutist, because unlike Rabinyan, he is fatalistically pessimistic that Israelis and Palestinians can live together as ‘siamese twins’. Scratch the literary superficiality, underneath is a stereotypical zionist.

Genuine partners abound like Israeli dissidents Miko Peled, Tikva Honig-Parnass, Shlomo Sand, Gideon Levy, Ilan Pappe, Jonathan Ofir who have rejected zionism,

I chose to shout it from the rooftops. Because the injustice is calling for a thunderous roar, not a whisper. And I think that if I shout, maybe another person who didn’t even dare to whisper to themselves about this, may finally find their words. Jonathan Ofir

So, despite the endemic pessimism, brainwashing and virulent opposition, there are many daily manifestations of Israeli and Palestinian cooperation and coexistence in institutions and individuals, such as: both Israeli NGO B’Tselem and Adalah are contributing evidence to the ICC prosecution of Israel; in February 2019, the first Israeli-Palestinian International Economic Forum was held in Jerusalem, Rabbis for Human Rights help with the annual Palestinian olive harvest, friends Palestinian Manar and Israeli Lior formed a women’s group to teach each other Arabic and Hebrew; in August 2019 Israeli parliamentarian, Ofer Cassif,  was attacked by police for waving a Palestinian flag at a Sheikh Jarrah protest; since the 70s, lawyer Lea Tsemel has defended ‘anyone who opposes the occupation’; the Palestinians and Israeli-Jews founded the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC) in 2018 along the lines of Ali Abunimah’s One Country  written 20 years ago.

In the forthcoming film, Gal Gadot, a proud supporter of the Israeli military in its monstrous 2014 war on Gazan families, will play Liat. I wonder if Rubinyan’s  humanistic kindness, love, conscience, mutual respect will breakdown Wonder Woman’s Gader Chaya.

Gader Chaya, the Hebrew title of the book, translates as a hedge or what Rubinyan  calls ‘a living wall’; barriers in our minds and hearts that divides us from the Other, and from the integrity of our souls.

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name.  She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of  Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.




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