From the fringes of the metropolis, a new center will emerge

Song for Yeruham (January 2010) Guerrilla Culture - Solidarity act with Unionized workers of a tile “Akershtein” factory in Yeruham, in their struggle against draconian management demands. Photo: Hadas Gilad.

The following was translated from the original Hebrew by Dena Shunra.

Lisa Goldman response to me in her piece, “Does Israel’s cultural life offer hope for its democracy?”, and raises important points about the discussion of the connection between the cultural and the political. She explains that Tel Aviv is a sort of a bubble. The avant-garde activity occurring in the metropolis reminds her of something:

There is also a palpably feverish quality to the creativity in Tel Aviv. It reminds me of descriptions I’ve read of Weimar Berlin, which was also the artistic, scientific and financial capital of a new democracy that was threatened and buffeted by an environment of political extremism. Not to belabour the point or anything, but Weimar Berlin did not exactly make Germany more democratic. It was a feverish and brief explosion of artistic and scientific accomplishment that occurred between two episodes of total war, both ending in incomprehensible destruction.”

The comparison could be true, but I will not easily accept the historical reference. Israeli is a state founded on otherness. Different currents flow out of this otherness and into the culture, and nourish it. Mizrahi music expands and conquers new audiences and is closer to the Middle Eastern culture than the European. It could just as easily be heard in any Arab capital and does not require a European model as a symbol from which it would draw the memory, composition, and forms.

Lisa Goldman claims that Tel Aviv lives in a bubble. My move from Haifa, city of my birth, to Tel Aviv, did not turn me into part of the bubble, because I chose an ideological angle for some of my texts, which places me in the radical left. This is a revolution which was turned into political capital in Tel Aviv. The “City For All” party holds forty percent of the Tel Aviv city council, and very nearly deposed Huldai from the position of mayor. That is the essence of our work, successfully connecting the worlds of culture and politics – and this is not a bubble. This is planned-out thinking about values, tendencies, and identity, from which we created an audience which matches such political messages.

Tel Aviv could serve as an example for the rich, hedonistic, decadent life of the elite, which builds its towers with no hindrance and controls the cilantro that gets into Gaza. But such a life does not include varied socially-oriented voices in the population, which wishes to see a different sort of leadership and a different cultural agenda. The social agenda of many of the creative people living in Tel Aviv brings about an avant-garde which can grow far beyond Tel Aviv’s city limits. It can reach Jaffa, and cooperate against the expelling of the Israeli-Palestinian residents, who have already suffered such expelling in the past. It can connect with the dispossessed residents of the Kfar Shalem neighborhood, and rise up against the transfer of its land for constructing towers for the wealthy. The thinking about the complex relationships between the metropolis and the fringe in Israel must not focus only on the Separation Wall. The social struggle and the struggle for changing the means of identification, identity, and self-identifying of Israel are important struggles, and sometimes occur in the fringe around the metropolis. The late Edward Said wrote about the rise of black and Arab intellectuals in large cities, and here is how he describes the movement of power: “individuals and groups, which are located outside and inside of the controlling structure, are the ones who lead the resistance to it.” (Edward W. Said. 1993, Culture and Imperialism. New York: Alfred. Knopf. Inc. Chapter 3, p. 239)

Tel Aviv must not be conceived of as a single unit. We must carefully examine the currents that flow in the metropolitan fringes in order to understand who is that last, who will become first, and who is the first, who will become last.

Many of the activists working on social change fail to create a shared vision, from which they can draw power for their activity. Many of them give up. The more privileged among these travel abroad, and the less privileged remain in Israel and seek ways to join the establishment. The loss of the shared vision of a future inside Israel-Palestine started first in a culture that could not go beyond its national imagination. The solution of creating a shared vision while writing poems, stories, or creating visual arts and so forth cannot lead to an immediate solution, which would remove the siege on Gaza or yield to freedom of movement inside the Occupied Territories. But creation – even when it is performed inside Israeli artistic ghettos – can bring forth the creative force for the construction of a joint vision. How do we imagine the binational state? How do we create the One State? What will its institutions be? How can a significant community life be created, which would be both Israeli and Palestinian, without first being able to read aloud poems translated into Hebrew / Arabic, and the other way around?

Ariel has become a significant and important political point in the battle for the need to resist the separation regime, but insisting on the ’67 borders is problematic when it does not bring forth additional points of resistance. New, socially-oriented thinking, which is born of the culture, could lead to other boundaries, from which the artists’ struggle for social change can emerge. The “ACHOTI – For Women In Israel” movement works from 70 Matalon Street, near my home in South Tel Aviv. From the tiny place in one of the most challenging places in the metropolis. The movement sails out on projects in development towns and in Arab villages. Writing, creation, and having women jointly make their voice heard from a position of Mizrachi feminism creates a different vision. The book, “For My Sister – Mizrachi Feminist Politics”, one of the projects led by the movement, edited by Shulamit Lir, already affects the feminist mode of thought. And we cannot imagine a democratic regime without burning off sexism, chauvinism, and misogyny. Making the silenced voices heard is a change. True, at the same time changes are accumulating that are detrimental to women’s conditions, but a broader change needs such books, such metaphors.

True, political/social points have not been made, and most of the political struggle is busy dealing with the question of ’67, as though they were not two separation regimes which worked alongside each other. One cannot describe the silencing of most of the public, whose financial and social status is plummeting, without understanding the force of rising Fascist powers in the Israeli regime. In order to undo the Gordian know between nationalism, ethnicity, and religion, and create a new political position, we need a new artistic creations. Let us draw our power not just from the terrible history of destruction, but from the future which appears for us inside texts. Great power can be drawn from them, and wonderful ideas for crating a renewed present.

The piece was first published on 972mag. It was translated from the original Hebrew by Dena Shunra.

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About Mati Shemoelof

משורר, עורך וסופר. A Writer

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