“Thoughts on How the World Works” and “Presenting a New Palestine”

It falls like a war flyer…”Watch out, I know you.”

[Get out of your home. It is harboring terrorists. And weapons. Or the entrance to a tunnel. Or it is next to a school or a mosque or a UN building harboring terrorists (or as you would call them, “Freedom Fighters,” “Revolutionaries,” who want to blow themselves up in an Israeli café, butcher a mother on her doorstep in front of her children), or it’s holding rockets—Qassam, and knives—Many, and perhaps axes, nails, anything SHARP.]

It falls like one of these flyers: WARNING: GET OUT OF YOUR HOME: SAVE YOURSELF ((((((((((((((((((((

But instead of saying this, these warnings, these flat, white, flashing HAZARD SIGNS warning that a bomb is about to fall in protection of Israel and destruction of Hamas, targeting the TERRORIST, warning the DISADVANTAGED, the VULNERABLE, the refugee, perhaps, the CHRISTIAN, perhaps, the Palestinian, probably, the destitute, (BECAUSE WHAT WILL THEIR LEADERS GIVE THEM BESIDES A BOMB VEST), the NAÏVE (BECAUSE HOW CAN YOU NOT BE WHEN YOU CAN’T SEE THE WORLD AROUND YOU), to GET OUT, GET OUT FROM UNDER HAMAS, (or if you’re in the West Bank FATAH, or the PA, or whichever abusive leader is in charge today)—these warnings, dropped from a plane flying too low to be aimless, dropped from the twenty-year-old hands of the IDF Air Force pilot—too young to see death like this, or not see death, just its shadow, from so high up—these WARNINGS, landing at the feet of a ninety-year-old Muslim woman, shrouded in age and circumstance (isn’t everyone?), too old to bend down and pick them up (too old to get out, anyway) and her vision too weak to see them…

INSTEAD, there’s NO warning (that Israel cares about human life), and may or may not shoot the missile when the twenty-year-old pilot sees through his micro-lensed camera the ninety-year-old woman staring at the flyer by her feet (whose blood is redder?), mingling with a skinny dog’s saliva and Palestinian earth (it was Palestinian before Israeli, and Christian and Roman and Greek and Herodian, Israelite and Canaanite, before then, now GAZAN, FROZEN)…INSTEAD, the twenty-year-old IDF Air Force pilot opens his hand to peace, just as he had when he launched the missile toward the terror cache, and watched the grey smoke rise, fretful air, BUT, guiltlessly now, he opens his hand and drops a plain white sheet, not a flyer of warning, but of coming, what’s to come, what CAN come: a flyer, a flyer that falls from the image of war but contains his own, certainly not lacking the image of war but shaded by his own sincere-green eyes, matching the uniform of his brother on the ground, and his sister stationed at a gate to the Old City, sincere and green, in black and white, beneath the helmet and earmuffs, on a hundred copies of a piece of paper, telling what his aircraft cannot: THIS IS WHO I AM. I WANT TO SAVE YOU, NOT KILL YOU. PLEASE LOOK AT MY FACE. I CANNOT MEET YOU BY LAND. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY. FORGIVE ME. He drops a flyer, and so does his nineteen-year-old copilot, and his twenty-one-year-old commander, stalling under a cloud a few tiers lower, a few planes away, and so does his commander’s twenty-four-year-old copilot, a woman, and so does her comrade, and all of these flyers that they drop contain their faces, different colored black and white eyes harboring the same plea: LOOK INTO MY ISRAELI EYES (MY Jewish eyes, or Maybe Druze, or Maybe Christian, or Ethiopian, or gay, or female), LOOK CLOSELY. LOOK AT HOW MY EYELASHES BAT WHITE FLAGS.

And these faces on these flyers float, gently, hopefully, toward the death soaked earth. They rain down like manna toward a people preceded but not led by Moses. And with each tier that they fall, they catch a glimpse of their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers, and their children to be. And soon, all of their children’s faces—the little dimpled quirks of their little boys and girls, their babies (some whom exist and some whom await their fathers’ return at home and some whom never will wait nor exist because their fathers won’t if this doesn’t work)—all rain down with open hands, grasping hands, still holding the traumatized shaking hands of their mothers and grandmothers in Auschwitz, in the forests, in Palestine, on boats in every direction the water allows, in Eden or Heaven, wherever their faith allows, even Hell (“Can children be punished?” “They are.”), and with their open eyes, in grey, they query: WHO ARE YOU?

And the nine-year-old boy sees the picture of the nine-year-old girl next to the one of the soldier at the dusty, wrinkled feet of his grandmother, and he looks at his grandmother and asks, “WHO IS SHE?” And the grandmother, now ninety, who forgot to take the medicine she never had because her son’s money destined to buy the drug was stolen for the municipality’s (Hamas’) latest project—a tunnel, one that opened under the staircase of the minaret and in 3 weeks, after the grandmother’s death (the soldier called off the strike; her own son wouldn’t), and 27 miles of unnatural underground concrete later, would open again under the crib of an infant, who wouldn’t even cry in the hands of the man from Jabalia who crawled into her kibbutz in the stealth of night and into her house and strangled her as she stared at him with eyes that couldn’t yet see color, in front of her dying parents; they looked on screaming with knives in their sides, dying, frozen, tied back-to-back as if wrapped head-to-toe in Tfillin—the grandmother, understandably, says: “I don’t know.” And her nine-year-old grandson, not too old to bend down, not too young to die, but deciding instinctively to save himself, stares straight into the grey photograph of the nine-year-old girl from Ashkelon, and this time doesn’t say it but thinks: WHO ARE YOU? And the little Israeli girl whom he does not know and whom his grandmother does not know smiles at him because to her surprise, he understands: he heard her shout over the wall: HELLO! THIS IS ME! WHO ARE YOU? (((((((((((((((

And then all of the children are gathering, and picking up photographs descending from the airplanes, the ones that terrified them and that they hated, the ones that made it seem like it was always raining, yet they were always thirsty, and they turn inward and to each other and to their feet and some to their grandmothers and some to the sky and they query: WHO ARE YOU?

And it starts raining harder, with more flyers descending, and more mouths opening in hunger, and more hands opening in desperation, and fists becoming fingers pointing at the planes and shouting TELL US WHO YOU ARE. And the pilots, and their copilots, and all of the children in Israel grow so excited, they can’t contain their excitement—they start writing their stories on letters and sending them with the pilots to deliver to the Palestinian children. The pilots are so pleased but you see, the problem of language persists, for the children, most of them, write in Hebrew, and the children, their would be pen pals, understand Arabic. So the pilots fear the manna will be stale. But then the dogs that had been salivating over the flyers begin to look fatter, and the noise from the drill into the ground begins to dim, allowing the ninety-year-old grandmother to sleep more soundly in her last 3 weeks of life, and the sky opens over Gaza for the first time since its inception, as tears of Israelis fall through tiers of pain, and collect in the reservoirs of humanity.

About the Author
Atara Vogelstein is a recent graduate of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, where she concentrated in Creative Writing, Drama, and Psychology. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Drama Therapy at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
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