[NetBehaviour] An Incident in Nazareth

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sun Feb 6 02:04:08 UTC 2022

An Incident in Nazareth


I have been thinking about testament, testimony, and I will
write this to the best of my ability; I will leave the text in
the manner formed by my typing, my memory, without correction
or withdrawal. I attended Hebrew University in 1962-63, for a
year, the year I studied physical anthropology and discovered
Wittgenstein. I lived in the student dormitories near the
university, on one of the numerous hills in Jerusalem. I had a
friend, E., who was also in the program I was on. We had a an
Arab friend, whose name I forget, perhaps because of what
ensued, which I haven't forgotten. I believe he was also at
the university, but I'm not positive about this now. He
invited both of us, E. and myself, to his home town, which I
remember was Nazareth; I may also be mistaken in that, but I
am almost certain I am not. I remember he was proud to show us
around, we were excited to go. I am talking about something
perhaps sixty years ago. We traveled together by bus to
Nazareth; he wanted to show us where he had come from, where
he lived. When we arrived, we walked around, together, and I
remember it was amazing. He then took us to his favorite
restaurant, a one-storey building, yellowed adobe or plaster,
for dinner. It was dark out, late evening. We sat down to
order. We noticed the restaurant became very quiet and the
customers, all of whom were Arab, as far as I can remember,
were staring at us. What happened then, as if in slow motion,
but very quickly, occurred in several strands at once. There
was a great deal of screaming, we understood no Arabic at all,
we were uncertain what was happening. Our friend told us to
leave fast, get out. I remember the wooden tables and chairs,
the light, almost yellow and somewhat dark, in the building. A
violent fight broke out. We were standing across the street,
scared, and it seemed as if the restaurant was being
destroyed. I don't remember how we left or where we stayed or
how we traveled there. We were numb. Our friend was nowhere to
be seen. He had disappeared. I can't describe our emotions,
unbearable sadness, fear, exhaustion, concern, feeling a
tragedy had occurred, had happened, that we were involved as a
catalyst. The next morning we prepared to leave as soon as
possible on the bus. Our friend was nowhere to be seen. We
were at the bus station, E. and myself, having coffee. We
found out, and I don't remember how, that our friend had been
beaten up and thrown in a gully. A man, an older Arab, I
remember he was bearded, sat down with us and made small talk,
we must have spoken in English, my Hebrew was terrible, I had
been sick in hospital for a good part of the ulpan, the
accelerated Hebrew course at the beginning of the year. We
told him what had happened the previous night, and he said
that our friend was his nephew, precisely he said that he was
his uncle, and that he had to take care of the situation, by
which I remember, perhaps incorrectly, that he was going to
revenge what had occurred, to us, and to his nephew, and to
him. I remember him apologizing. He pulled out a dagger, I
remember the broad blade and that it seemed old, and quickly
left the bus station. I don't remember the ride back or what
happened later, but we never saw our friend again. I have a
vague (distant?) memory hearing that he was still alive, but
I'm not sure of that, and I'm not sure if I did hear that,
whether it was true or not. I've carried all of this with me
for a long time now, everything has faded except for the
restaurant, the lighting, the fight which we saw from a
distance, everything smashed up there. I have a fear always of
being wrong about everything, wrong about myself as well. I
learned to believe that situations of power and domination may
well be deeply intractable, that there may be no way out, that
social strata and divisions run far deeper than I could have
imagined, than I want to imagine now. I have always found
reproductions in human behavior, over and over again,
national, religious, racial and ethnic hatreds are unbearably
tragic, that naked power seems to dominate groups as soon as
political or other affordances are within reach. A study years
ago, whose source I forget, looked at the number of wars, from
global to local, occurring at any one time; it reported that
the number was constant, things getting neither better nor
worse. The number was high, taking into account local
skirmishes; from what I remember, it was 3600, but surely
that's far too high. What happened in Nazareth, for us,
ignorant as we were, and as I am now, and perhaps protected,
was the edge of the Abyss. I remember on a trip through the
Negev, seeing a factory in the distances; I surreptitiously
took a photograph of it; it was supposedly the site of the
development of the Israeli nuclear bomb. Just a building about
a mile distant. At one point, during my studies, I looked out
the window of our dormitory room, and saw a house being blown
up in the distance. I asked my roommate what was happening
over there. He said where, I said over there, look out the
window. He said nothing, nothing was happening. Nothing was
happening at all. Everywhere in the world now, nothing is
happening, nothing at all. It was a lesson I've remembered.
Nothing happened, nothing is happening at all.

(Footnote: I returned to Israel for a short trip several years
later; I haven't been back since. The Israeli right is heart-
breaking, unimaginable for me. I was there then, that seems to
me, now, sufficient.)


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