malkah, magnes, and the military police

Malkah was at the Madrid airport, as wholesome as she could be. She had a husband with her and two squeaky clean children with her. And all their camping gear. And all her archives notes. And all her permissions to conduct research. And she got detained anyway trying to leave the country.  It wasn’t the Spanish stopping her. It was Mossad.

“Why do you have Iraq in your passport?” one of the agents inquired.

“What are you doing here?” Malkah answered, holding tight to her two kids. I mean, why were Israeli agents questioning people at Barajas — Madrid International Airport?

Malkah was being rude.  But they were going to miss their flight.  She decided to just answer the question. He grunted.

“And when are you coming home?” the other agent asked.

Malkah was livid.

She’d been boycotting travel to Israel since just after the ’67 War.  And this was 1992. The Quincentennial of the Spanish Reconquista. And this was Spain.

And when are you coming home?

Coming home, he’d said. Not going home. That was the Israeli attitude.  That the Jews of the Diaspora were not at home. Would never be home unless they made aliyah — unless they returned to the land of their ancestors. And came to stay. For good.

That’s what ‘coming home’ meant.  Malkah understood it just fine.

And in 2008 when the little-country-that-could celebrated its 60th birthday, the tzaddik made his last trip to the holy land. And Malkah wouldn’t go with him. Again. Forty years later and her boycott was still on. But the tzaddik wouldn’t have missed that birthday for anything in the world.  Israel’s existence was a miracle. And for him it was still a miracle.

But despite the tzaddik’s disappointment in her, Malkah had made a vow.  She would not go back to that land until (at the very least)  another state stood by its side.

Which is ironic, really, because Malkah is not in favor of a two-state solution.  What she’d really like to see is pluralism throughout the region.  One state of larger Palestine. No unviable borders. No looking across the fence at the olive grove or house that used to be ours. One state. One state for all.

It was Judah Magnes’ dream. One binational state.

“If we have just cause, so have they. If promises were made to us, so were they made to the Arabs. If we love this land and have a historical connection with it, so too the Arabs.  …  If we wish to live in this living space, we must live with the Arabs, try to make peace with them. … Is our nationality like that of all other nations, pagan, and based upon force and violence, or is it a spiritual nationality?” (Magnes, 1948 just before his death)

The tzaddid built a museum to honor Magnes. Who was Malkah to compromise on his dream of a unified binational state for all?

Malkah.

She gets a telegram. It says go to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv right away. OK. She takes it seriously. Although she and a small group of students in Jerusalem have already protested and said they wouldn’t leave. But the telegram looks serious, so fine. She’ll comply.  It says there’s a ticket to get her out of the country waiting for her. She’d had enough trouble for one year already. She decided to just give in to this.

Only there are no busses. They’ve all been mobilized for the coming war.

She decides to hitchhike, and manages to get herself out to the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Which at that time was no more than a lane in each direction. No superhighways anywhere in sight.

So. She’s standing on the road. And there’s not a car in sight. Nothing. She looks out onto the Judaean hills.  Miles of bleak nothingness, usually.  It seems greener than usual.  She notes it, but it doesn’t register. And it’s starting to get late. She’s not sure what to do. She’s gonna have to walk all the way back to Bak’aa on the other side of town.

A jeep comes by and stops.

Of course it’s the military police. What else would it be?

“We’ll take you to Tel Aviv,” they say, “get in,” and wave at her to jump in the back seat.  They barely stopped the vehicle at all.

She jumps in.

“But the road’s closed. We’ll take you a different way.” The jeep’s already moving. She can’t jump out.

“What do you see?” the driver says. It sounds more like an order than a question.

“The hills are green,” Malkah responds.

They look at each other and laugh. They laugh hard.

The jeep makes a sharp turn off the road.

Malkah is 19 years old. She’s in the back of a military police jeep. She’s already been arrested for spying just two weeks earlier. She assesses her situation. There are two uniformed men in the front, each cradling an uzi. They’ve turned off the main road into a dirt track. Still going just as fast. They’re taking her deep into the hills.

“What do you see?” the driver demands again.

Malkah is not afraid, she’s confused.

“The hills are green,” she says again. She just doesn’t understand it.  The hills were brown just a few days ago, and this is June. They shouldn’t be green.

The men are laughing again.

And suddenly they pass through a checkpoint and a tunnel, and she’s under the green.  Under it!

There’s camouflage netting all above her.  And there are soldiers marching. And there are jeeps zooming busily around her. And there’re stockpiles of arms. Rockets. Planes. And tanks. More and more for endless miles. The whole distance from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv — under camo netting.

“We’re ready,” says the driver. “We’re ready for whatever comes.”

They drop her off in front of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Which is about to close. She pops inside.

“What are you doing here?” some official says.

She hands him the telegram.

“We sent this out a month ago,” he says. She tells him it had just arrived.

“Well we can’t get you out of the country now. There are no flights in or out of the country. There’s going to be a —”

Right. She knows. She’s been told enough times. And she’s just seen it. There’s going to be a war.

She leaves the Embassy and starts walking back toward the narrow highway.  A jeep appears.

“Get in,” they say. “We’ll take you to Jerusalem,” they say, “but the road’s been closed. We’ll take you a different route.”

They take a sharp curve off the old highway.  Malkah doesn’t flinch when they ask her what she sees. She doesn’t say the hills are green.  “There’s going to be a war,” she says quietly.  They nod. They’re silent the whole way back under the camouflage. It’s way dark by the time she’s finally at her own threshold. The first shots have just begun.

And when are you coming home?

Malkah’s still not coming home.

Malkah and her twin, the State of Israel, were born in the spring of 1948.  Her younger sibling is the museum that was made to honor Magnes — birthed by the tzaddik and Mrs Tzaddik in 1962. To honor Magnes and most of all his dream.

But when the tzaddik was dying, so too was the Magnes Museum. And so, he spent his very last breath working to keep that child of his alive. And so the museum (like Malkah, so many years before) was put into foster care.  The University of California, Berkeley took over its collections and sold its beautiful old mansion on Russell Street. They renamed the new child The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library of UCB.  There is no more museum. One child down, and two to go. Malkah’s got her tidy funeral plot paid for and all ready.  A pretty little spot in Mill Valley. Very nice.

And that leaves Malkah’s other sibling, the State of Israel, to either thrive, fight endless wars, or die.

And when are you coming home? they ask. She hears it even in her sleep.

Malkah doesn’t change, she just gets older. She’s sticking with Judah Magnes, despite it all. She dreams his dream of Palestine united.  She dreams of lifting up those borders, tearing down the checkpoints and the walls. She wants Magnes remembered for his vision. Not for art collections in the Bancroft Library halls.

Build her one binational state, and Malkah —the real Malkah— surely will come home.

 

About mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.
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