Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Someone Else In Jerusalem

I’m an American Jew, born in New York in 1972. There are various repercussions of this fact; they needn’t concern us. There is, however, one consequence of my birth I do wish to take note of here: my Right of Return. Now let’s just pause a minute to reflect: by simple virtue of having been born a Jew, on Earth, from the secular loins of my nonobservant parents in a totally other country, I get to up and go live in Israel, with all the rights and privileges of a citizen, any time I want.

Kind of amazing, no? My particular brand of existence includes the price of admission to not one but two countries. Pretty sweet deal, especially given the bupkis I paid for it. Just one little problem: I don’t want it. At all.

Oy gevult, cries my grandmother from beyond the grave, what a shande to let such a deal go to waste! OK Bubbele, tell you what—here’s an idea. I want to transfer my Right of Return.

Yeah, I want to hand it off to someone else. Like a bus ticket. The State of Israel has promised that there’s room for me; my seat is saved, all I have to do is show up and sit. Now, I can say pretty much for dead certain I will never be getting on that bus. But since the seat is there, and since there are ‘nuff people who’d be more than happy to fill it, I’d like to pass on my ticket to one of them.

Or, even better, more than one. I’m up for haggling; how about a bulk deal? What if, say, I and nine like-minded Jewish friends banded together and gave up our ROR en bloc? Could we get an 11th Palestinian refugee in free? (Who’d you think we were talking about? Who else wants in to Israel and can’t—Norwegian Methodists?)

So how does this ROR deal work, anyway? Maybe my ticket is valued based on physical space. And if there’s room for strapping, well-nourished American me, surely two broken old folks from Gaza wouldn’t take up much more volume. Especially if the rest of their family had been conveniently eliminated—what about a Survivors’ Package Discount? How many
children killed by the IDF would qualify to send a couple home together on my ticket?

Or maybe it’s more concrete, figures-oriented. Based on something like, say, limb count? In that case, you could get in 4 amputees for the price of 3 whole! Given the average limb:body ratio in the Occupied Territories these days, there’d be
no shortage of eligible takers for that deal.

We could find all manner of creative ways of funding relocation costs. We could sell merchandise: ‘My Daughter Didn’t Go To Jerusalem And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!’ New charity appeals:
Adopt the Kindling That Was a Palestinian Olive Tree! Or real estate: we could sublet vacant cells in Israel’s Ansar III prison to the US Marines. Perfect for Abu Ghraib overflow!

However we work the details, somebody’s got to take this thing off my hands. See, despite all Israel’s efforts to entice me (from 1951’s ‘ingathering’ of Iraqi Jews by ‘
cruel Zionism,’ right up to Ariel Sharon’s siren song to French Jews last July), I’m finding myself strangely unenticed. Call me meshuggana—the allure of life in a militarized state clinging to a patch of desert surrounded by populations it’s spent the last 57 years hardening into inveterate enemies? Not so much. But never fear! As it happens, there is a group of people who do want very much to live there: the people who used to, 58 years ago.

When you think about it, the mass expulsion the Palestinians call al-Naqba,The Catastrophe (I know, so negative!), didn’t happen very long ago. Fifty-seven years—even a refugee in the Occupied Territories has reasonable odds of
living longer than that, barring the odd oops-a-daisy occupied-house-demolition. (What, they should schlep down out of the bulldozer every time to make sure no one’s home?) So despite the IDF’s impressive efforts at good territorial housekeeping—and damn but those guys are efficient cleansers (cleaners, whatever; you say potato)— there’s a decent chance the person who was kicked out of my spot is still with us. The individual who was farming my personal piece of the Promised Land in 1947 is very possibly alive, and far from well, and living in Jabaliya.

So while I appreciate this amazing offer of free admission based on the millennia-old and
archaeologically questionable testimony of a religion I don’t believe in, I just don’t think it’s for me. But damn—like it or not, I’m the lucky holder of a bona fide Golden Ticket. What to do?

My course is clear: I wish to hand over my hot ticket ‘home’ to the person it was boosted from. It’s not mine; someone else paid the fare. Now, if we can work the Off-Peak Repatriation 2-for-1 Special, we’ll really be getting somewhere. But if nothing else, let me at least stand up and give my seat to someone who deserves it. Next year, Someone Else in Jerusalem.

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