It’s time for the local Lorde tribute to go over the Line, in more than one way.
Read the previous chapters of The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries here.
On Boxing Day we traveled down to Bethlehem. We were five: my girlfriend Ruthie, three members of her research team (she is a doctoral student of social psychology) and yours truly. We have all been to Bethlehem before, where Israelis seldom venture. Like other Palestinian cities in the West Bank, Bethlehem is designated “Area A.” According to Israeli law, it is illegal for us to be present in Area A, and most are scared off by cautionary tales that dehumanize the Palestinians living in these cities, describing them as vicious savages that will tear a Jewish visitor to shreds.
Ruthie and I choose to ignore both the law and the fears. It is our little act of civil disobedience, and we know which checkpoints are safe for us to use – the ones intended for settlers, where being profiled as a Hebrew speaker is enough to get you through. Two of the research partners, Eric and Nevin, are foreign nationals, to whom neither law nor fears apply.
The fifth traveler was Siwar, a cool, sharp-minded Galilee Palestinian. Siwar’s brother, Asil, was shot by Israeli police in October of 2000, in an outburst of unchecked police violence that left 13 Arab citizens dead in the north of Israel, and was the predecessor to the horrors of the Second Intifada. The story of her loss came up before we even passed Ben-Gurion Airport. This was going to be an interesting day.
Traveling to the West Bank is interesting regardless of the company. We would be caught had we used the main checkpoint, so we crossed the Green Line on a road paved for settlers and their guests. It boasts an imposing bridge and two tunnels, much like a Swiss highway. Rather than cut through mountain ranges, the tunnels here run below Palestinian neighborhoods and villages, allowing the settlers to avoid them. Outside the tunnels, enormous concrete walls shield the road from stone-throwing. The actual separation barrier is only vaguely visible from the road and the checkpoint is extremely relaxed. The system ensures that settlers should never feel they have left Israel.
Having crossed over, we turned to a side road and entered the tiny besieged enclave that is Bethlehem.
I thought that we were traveling into Siwar’s territory, but she turned out to be very much a stranger herself. The occupation ended up separating Palestinians in the motherland into four groups based on legal status: Israeli citizens (about 1.7 million) , West Bank residents (about 2.5 million), Jerusalem residents (over 300,000) and Gazans (1.7 million again). The divide produces a feeling of estrangement. Siwar said that Bethlehemites know her to be a citizen of Israel by her accent and attire. To them, she is privileged and potentially a traitor. Her personal loss is invisible.
Through the hours of sightseeing, feasting and souvenir shopping, I was looking forward to the end of the day, when we were to have coffee with my Bethlehemite friend, Husam. I hoped that he would help me recruit a West Bank Palestinian for the project. Hanin, like Siwar, is a citizen, as are Mira Awad and Luna Abu Nassar. We are more likely to meet citizen Palestinians, and they are so much more likely to sing with us then are their brethren, who live under military occupation in the occupied territories. There was an edge here, a challenge.
Husam is a full man, a beautiful man, wearing stylish, rectangular glasses, his neatly-cropped French beard circled by carefree gray whiskers. He is my guiding partner on the dual-narrative tours, one of which was to begin the following day. He and I were going to regroup within 24 hours and stay together for ten full days, guiding a group for National Geographic Expeditions. But I couldn’t wait. Every day counts on the great Lorde chase. I asked him if he knew someone with a musical spirit who could translate songs from English, and maybe also sing them.
“Why don’t you call Tamer?” he asked.
“Who? Tamer the guide?”
Dang. Tamer is a fabulous guy, but another citizen. I hoped Husam would think of one of his fellow Bethlehemites, yet could not say so out loud. How can you tell someone: Look, your disenfranchised political status is the sexy je ne sais quoi that I need for my album? That would be obscene.
Never mind, I decided. Even if everyone on the album is a citizen, it still counts. Enough with this bloody orientalism.
The following night, already settled in a Jerusalem hotel ahead of the 10-day tour, I gathered the guts and texted Shira’s Arab contact, Luna Abu Nassar. She texted back and asked that I email her the details. That was a good start. I spread a slice of bread with a thick layer of New Zealand Marmite on the hotel desk, and wrote her, gingerly selecting my terminology.
Abu Nassar sings beautifully both in her native Arabic and my native Hebrew. Would she be offended if I asked for her help with Arabic songs? Would she consider it tokenism? Was it tokenism? Would it be too political of me to use the word Palestinian? If Abu Nassar projects anything, it is Tel Avivian hispterdom. Should I call the project “Arabic-Hebrew” rather than “Israeli-Palestinian?” But what if she then concludes that I do not recognize her people? So many Jewish Israelis never use the word “Palestinians,” denying their existence as a group and a nation. Would she think me one of them? Would that bother her?
God damn it. God damn this whole identity crap! I can’t write! I can’t speak! God damn!
Eventually, I found my own bravado, put my worries aside, used both “Arab” and “Palestinian” and clarified to Luna that Hebrew and Arabic are both open for her to choose from. I clicked send.
The reply arrived within an hour: she said no, writing that she is too busy. It must have been my phrasing. I must have come on too radical or ignorant. I forwarded my mail to Yaron. He said it looked just fine. I tried to calm down, it wasn’t easy. We got our first rejection letter.
Somehow I fell asleep despite all the second-guessing and woke up early to lead the group up to the Temple Mount. While there, directly at the foot of the splendorous, golden Dome of the Rock, my phone lit up. It was Yaron. He texted that Mira Awad wrote him. She seemed interested. She said she thought Lorde’s songs were “cool.”
That night I spoke to Shira. She chose a song. It was “Team.” She wanted to do it with her brass ensemble.
Two days later, while the group explored Yad Vashem on their own, I sat down at the museum’s cafeteria, begged forgiveness of Husam for not being social, and wrote Mira Awad a long synopsis of the project. Again, I hesitated. So much could be misunderstood, but a song played in my head, making all the difference and helping me click “send” again. It was the very first song of Lorde’s discography. In it, she foresees her fame with striking accuracy, the difficulties it would bring and how worthwhile it would be to put up with them:
It’s a switch flipped
It’s a pill tipped back, it’s a moon eclipsed, whoa
And I can tell you that when the lights come on I’ll be ready for this
It’s in your bloodstream
A collision of atoms that happens before your eyes
It’s a marathon run or a mountain you scale without thinking of size
I was frightened of
every little thing that I thought was out to get me down
To trip me up and laugh at me
But I learnt not to want
The quiet of the room with no one around to find me out
I want the applause, the approval, the things that make me go
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh