The Spectres of a Borrowed Village

Monday, February 1st, 2010 

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted”

Isaiah, chapter 53, 3-4

The aforementioned quote from the book of Isaiah is carved on a panel bearing the names of donors to the Kfar Shaul Metal Health hospital, to which Deputy Minister of Health Yaacov Litzman decided to pay a surprise visit on the 20th of January. The sanitary conditions observed by the Deputy Minister (who is the acting Minister of Health) were appalling, and the place appears to be in a dilapidated state.

The donors to the hospital have been giving their money to an institute established in the houses of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, and the inmates now reside in the homes of the murdered and deported locals. On April 9th 1948, a Jewish militia entered the village, and killed more than 100 of its inhabitants. Survivors from the massacre were expelled, and according to the Haganah’s reports, some victims were also paraded in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. A short time later, the hospital was opened. Legend has it that even nowadays, the Holocaust survivors hospitalized in Kfar Shaul communicate with the ghosts of the murdered inhabitants of the village.

Watching Deputy Minister Litzman’s visit this week, and the harsh living conditions to which he was witness, the painful preliminary research I had done for my film Forgiveness, which takes place at the hospital, came to my mind. I wondered then, and I wonder now, how is it that the State of Israel manages time and again to create a reality which exceeds the most surreal symbolism of Latin American literature (it was only natural for Israeli-Arab MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi to quote Gabriel García Márquez when describing the ongoing robbery of Palestinian land by the government of Israel). The hospital’s name, “Kfar Shaul” literally means “a borrowed village”, and indeed, one day we shall return it to its rightful owners.

Poor Rabbi Litzman: he sees the patients, but he does not know that on the symbolic level, they are being punished for a sin they have not committed, the ancient sin of “Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?“, committed by the perpetrators of the massacre, who acted in the name of Zionism. After all, what does an ultra-orthodox Rabbi like Litzman have to do with Zionist history…He may also be oblivious to the increased likelihood of renewed demands that the Israeli government be accountable to the original owners of the place, if he decides to close down the hospital.

Every reasonable person should realize that those “people of pain”, as described by the prophet, or “loonies”, according to the vulgar language, or “inmates”, in standard language, are not there to be punished for crimes committed in our name in 1948, but to serve as custodians of the theft, like the man who accommodates his handicapped relative at a key-money apartment, in order to maintain his right to the asset. And since the welfare of the patients is not the state’s highest concern, as the Deputy Minister’s visit informs us, perhaps one day the Israel Land Administration will decide to close down the place and sell the land to a rich Jewish millionaire from abroad. And this will probably be deemed a Zionist act.

In the meantime, until the day of reckoning, survivors of the Holocaust, those “people of sorrow” from the times of “God’s hiding of the face” (“Hester Panim” in Hebrew) sit there idly. They can tell the ghosts of Deir Yassin how they are taking care of their Sheikh’s tomb, and tell them of the horrors they experienced in Europe, of the hatred towards Jews and of the greatest murder of them all. The ghosts of the villagers, in turn, can tell the Holocaust survivors of the olive trees, of the numerous wells which had to be dug due to water shortages, of the budding village industry and of the neighborly cooperation with the Jews who were living nearby.

And maybe at this time, as we are waiting for the Israeli High Court of Justice to explain its puzzling and racist decision to expel Palestinian residents of Sheikh-Jarah, in east Jerusalem, from their homes and implement the right of return for Jews only, maybe now something will change. Perhaps Deputy Minister Litzman, who is not a part of the Zionist establishment, will close down the malfunctioning institution in Kfar Shaul, transfer the patients to an institution which will take good care of them, and return the borrowed village to its owners. What a wonderful start this can be: the beginning of the healing of an entire people from a wound which seems prima facie incurable.