The sea is vast, which is probably why I seldom meet people I know when I go in to take a swim. Another reason is that the sea wets people’s hair and I don’t recognize them quite as easily.
A few days ago two wet-haired people called my name. It happened among the Hawaiian-sized waves of Alma Beach, north of Jaffa’s promenade. They turned out to be my two friends Orna and Loren. We chatted about what’s new and I told them I have a new baby: “The Round Trip,” my new book, and the first ebook to be published by +972 Magazine.
“I feel a little detached from it,” I confessed, “the proper version is available on iTunes for viewing on iPads. I don’t own an iPad and the iTunes bookstore isn’t active in Israel/Palestine, so I haven’t actually seen my own book. To me, it’s a bit like having it released on Mars, via some form of futuristic technology not yet known on earth.”
We all ducked under a huge wave.
“And I don’t know anyone on Mars, either!” I kept on complaining, “I have five free copies to send for promotion. I sent three to friends who sometimes write for the media, but I have two more, and my list of American and European media people is waning.”
“Forget promotion. It’s your first book in English? Send one to your English teacher,” Loren suggested.
“I did have English teachers in elementary school, but the truth is I learned my English from the Beatles.”
“So send it to Paul McCartney,” Loren said.
Under the gush of the next wave I gave it some thought, and realized it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Of course Ringo is still with us as well, but he composed much fewer lyrics, and would thus count as a beloved teacher’s aid. Here, then, is the letter I wrote Sir McCartney upon returning to land.
Dear Sir Paul.
This is a letter of thanks. Attached to it is a book I’ve written about borders. I grew up in the strange land of Israel/Palestine, surrounded by countless borders: real borders, imaginary borders, international borders, unrecognized borders, borders separating communities, linguistic borders, fenced borders, walled borders, borders that cut through cities, borders that separate families, borders that have to be maintained through use of force. It would have been impossible to put up with all that if not for your music.
I discovered the Beatles as a boy, growing up in a Jewish Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. The neighborhood was ringed by communities with which we had no dialogue and which I was taught to fear. On one end, my neighborhood was indeed fenced. Today the concrete wall of the notorious separation barrier rises where that fence stood, separating the neighborhood from a Palestinian refugee camp. South of the neighborhood are Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox quarters, situated across a mental border very few care to cross.
In a strange environment such as this, a young boy needs a sense of the transcendental, and this is what you and your artistic collaborators brought into my world. I’m not even talking about messages. True, I listened to “Pipes of Peace” in the late eighties, and later whistled the tune excitedly during the Oslo peace process years that followed, but what I’m really talking about is music being borderless: a neutral territory made up exclusively of love.
Knowing that such a territory exists was healthy, for both myself and my friends. It was essential, and it was greatly your gift. Besides, your songs taught me English. I went all the way from memorizing the difficult word “yesterday” to composing an entire book in this language.
“The Round Trip” is the record of a journey around our borders and across them, an exploration of them, done through conversation and observation, through text and image. By the time it was written, a year ago, my view of my own country had become enormously critical, in particular I am disenchanted with Israeli rule in the West Bank and with settlements, such as the one in which I grew up.
At one point on the trip, I stayed over for two nights in a Jewish settlement near Ramallah. I arrived there after traveling through villages that had been harmed by the barrier and other occupation policies. My anger at settlers and the Israeli Right was huge that night.
My hosts at the settlement were a lovely couple, one of whom, Ira, is a talented artists who decorates tiles. While taking a shower, I discovered her portrait of the Beatles, painted on the tiles. This little work of fan art forced me to remove the border separating me from my hosts. “Ira knows full well that in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make,” I wrote that night, “She’s not a racist and neither is she a warmonger. Being a free thinker, she’s not even a blind completer of sentences. She simply sees things differently than I do, very differently. Oh well.”
For this, too. I am indebted. Here’s a free copy of the book, and my best regards.
And now for the big question: Does anyone know how to give this letter “wings” so that it soars over the many borders that separate a Levantine blogger from a musical legend? Anyone got connections at the Mull of Kintyre? Whoever does, and would get this letter over, will get the last free copy and my eternal thanks.