Reviews — From the January 2010 issue

Lines of Occupation

The post-Zionist poetics of Yitzhak Laor

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According to Laor, the singular Myth of Liberal Zionism is Liberal Zionism itself. Like the beasts Behemoth and Leviathan, a Zionis liberalis is inconceivable to Laor, because whereas his Liberal believes in openness and the policies of empathy, his Zionist—more than a century after Theodor Herzl recalled Palestine as the Judenstaat—believes that millions can be denied their patrimony, dispossessed, abused, and even murdered in the name of Jewish statehood.

As Laor writes in the preface to this essay collection, composed in Hebrew, then translated into French (published by La Fabrique éditions as Le nouveau philosémitisme européen et le “camp de la paix” en Israël), then from French into the following, with the rage intact:

History is always written by the mighty, by the victors. Even if we do not talk openly of bloodshed, of the price of our blood compared to “theirs” in the ongoing equation between sufferings, every discussion about Israel must bear in mind that over 10 million people live in this nation-state and the territories occupied by it. Half of them are Arabs, but almost 4 million of them live under military occupation, with virtually no law protecting them. Fifty percent of all the prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers—in other words, 10,000 people—are “security prisoners,” as Israel calls them, in other words Arabs from the occupied territories who are sitting in prison after being convicted by military courts, or detained without any trial at all. Close to 4 million people are currently living under the longest military occupation in modern times, stripped of the right to vote on the laws that have governed their lives for more than four decades.

Laor’s version of history is to be incensed that history should even have versions. His disdain for the very concept of myriad concepts is informed by a vicious integrity—by his credentials not only as a conscientious objector but also as the son of refugees from the Shoah—and reinforced by his poetic practice. For him, the essential truth underlying historical ambiguity can be found only in and through common language, and one wonders, reading him, whether the ultimate synoptic history of Israel and Palestine would not be a poet’s history, a linguistic history—a version that can be all versions, once the vocabulary has been agreed upon: vocabulary having to do with, for example, the sanctity of “life,” or chayyim, a word that in Hebrew is uniquely plural, and so, as Laor reminds us, cannot be lived by one person, or one nation, alone.

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