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Deb Reich
It's not the people... it's the paradigm.

The Man on the Mountaintop

Come to your senses
Come to your senses: Courtesy of the author.

Who still has files of their old work from 1982? (Hint: not this writer.)

Imagine my surprise this morning to receive an email via my Times of Israel blog with the subject line: “The Man on the Mountaintop” — being a poem written by me, evidently, forty years ago. The email message began with “Salamat, Deb” and was from a proud Palestinian woman with centuries-deep family roots in Jerusalem and a vividly articulated yearning for justice. Please, she urged, please post the poem, a copy of which she has kept since first reading it in 2015, she said. (The poem itself wasn’t in the message.) Awed by her initiative, humbled by this cri de coeur out of the blue, and with a vague memory of having written such a poem once upon a time, I was then further amazed to find it online in someone’s post from 2006, with a brief bio dating it all the way back to – yes – 1982. My own youthful passion for universal justice and the burning need to get it down on paper came flooding back to me.

Next week is the start of this year’s spring season of Jewish mourning.

Holocaust Remembrance Day; Memorial Day for the Fallen; Israel mourns. For some of us, meanwhile, perhaps for many of us, this mourning time is anything but straightforward. Grief for the generations of our Jewish suffering from antiquity to the present day is inseparable from the gnawing awareness that our own suffering is only one long, tangled thread in the fabric of our shared story. Other threads tell of the suffering we have inflicted and are still inflicting on others, from Canaan to Qalandiya: because like our ancestors, we are fallible; because we are a work in progress; because we are human. This dismaying multiplex perspective lodges permanently in your consciousness once you risk the journey through the looking glass, all the way through, to experience in your deepest heart what is on the other side.

So, in a spirit of resilient hope for the ultimate dawn of one justice for all, in this land and every land – a hope I know I share with the reader who reached out to me today through the looking glass – here, reborn, is the poem. May our spring season of Jewish mourning travel a different path across our hearts this year — taking more and more of us through the looking glass to experience the other side and to do more, much more, and more urgently and creatively, toward equal justice and an end to needless suffering and death. Together we can become the change we have yearned for.

The Man on the Mountaintop

A man is standing on a mountaintop, alone.
And he is screaming, screaming to the sky,
into the wind, screaming at the sun,
at the clouds, in the rain, also at night,
by moonlight, by starlight, screaming.

If you could hear him, you would hear this:
“I am a man, I am a citizen of the state,
I was born here, my father was born here,
my children were born here, I love this
land, I will never leave it, this is
my home, I want to have a decent life,
I want to be equal, I can help build this land,
I must build a future for my children;
where are my rights, no one will listen,
the state does not want me, no one cares,
am I not a citizen here, why does no one
hear me?”

I hear him screaming, I am distraught,
in his screams I hear echoes of familiar
agonies, agonies of my people, his pain is
my own, I am impelled to respond, I must
do something, I cannot turn my back,
I hear him in the wind, screaming,
also at night, and at sunrise, I hear him.

What can I do, I am only one, I must
turn to you for help, we must do something
about this man’s screaming,
his pain is real, we know about pain,
and is he not a citizen of the state?

So I say to you, please, listen, do you not
hear this man screaming, what shall we do?

But you answer me:
“No, why should we do anything,
he has his rights, pay no attention,
and besides, he is screaming in Arabic,
we don’t understand him, we speak
Hebrew, we are Jews, this is the Jewish State,
enemies of the state speak Arabic, they plot
against us, perhaps he is an enemy of the state,
and besides, you speak English, who are you
to make such a request of us, forget it,
you must be new here, you know nothing
about it, you are misinformed, go away.”

Still I insist, but wait, wait please, listen —
he is screaming now, he is still screaming,
I will try to translate for you, there must be
something in what he says, otherwise why
would he still be screaming, do you not hear
the pain in his voice—

–then you invoke the Holocaust, Zionism, and
the PLO, and with your unholy trinity you try
to silence me and to silence him.

Here I hesitate, I am loath to go on
with this, but find I have no choice:
now I must say to you, if this man’s screaming
does not move you, then the six million
(including, please pay attention, various
of my family as well as yours) died in vain;
in vain, I say. And if your Zionism makes you
deaf to this man’s screaming, then the God
who dwells somewhere in this land, so they say,
does not want your Zionism in his kingdom.
And if you hear the PLO in this man’s screaming,
then it is your own screaming you hear, not his.

Now you are very angry, you turn away,
you are disgusted, you feel self-righteous,
you are indignant, you will try to forget
we ever had this conversation.
But high on his lonely mountaintop
this man is still screaming his pain,
and as long as he goes on screaming,
I cannot rest, and as long as I cannot rest,
your anger will not protect you.

And so I call upon you to judge yourself;
I do not claim the right to judge you.
The days of the judges in Israel are gone.
But I say, look at your anger. I say,
if you cannot yet listen to this mean’s screams,
then listen to your anger.
You would not need to be angry
if his screaming meant nothing.

And I say, if your leaders have hardened their hearts,
O my people, you must find new leaders!
Are there none among you who can hear
the man on the mountaintop, screaming?
And I say, we need a new vision in Israel.
I don’t see it clearly, but the seeds are
within YOU, and also within HIM;
and you cannot water them with anger,
but only with tears of compassion.

You must weep, O Israel, for this man
screaming his pain on his mountaintop.
God will not help a people who weeps
only for itself.

This is where I found it online. The bio there reads, in part: “The Man on the Mountaintop” was written in February, 1982, in Kufr Qar’e, a Palestinian-Arab town in Israel – while the author was serving as a community service volunteer with Interns for Peace, a grassroots Arab-Jewish cooperation program. 

About the Author
A native New Yorker, by profession a writer, editor, and translator, my passion after nearly forty years in Israel/Palestine is to explore how we might craft a better shared future by discarding the paradigm of enemies – an obsolete social design, now highly toxic. Read more in my book, No More Enemies, available on my website or from online booksellers.
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