“this place which is called ….” Judith Butler in Sheikh-Jarrah

From Haaretz  12/2/10

I went to the airport to pick Judith Butler up last Friday. We had some work to do before the start of her lectures at Birzeit University. My friend Ronnie, who has given up a very bright future in the Hi-Tec industry for scampering between demonstrations against the occupation, drove us from the Ben-Gurion Airport.

One little smile from Ronnie, and the car changes course – we are on our way to Sheikh-Jarrah’s Friday demonstration.

After all, who, if not Butler, believes in performative repetition as an opening for change in the current ideological structure. And who, if not Ronnie, along with the group of Anarchists, performs this ceremony by going to Bil’in, Ni’lin and Sheikh-Jarrah every Friday. A sacred ritual aimed at undermining the stability of everything that we take for granted.

Upon arrival, we are greeted by fierce Jerusalemite rain. Since the court ruled that the demonstration is legal, the police have refrained from violence. I walk with Judith on the road, translating for her the messages on the signs held by the protesters, while everyone calls out: “Come on, get back on the sidewalk!” Meanwhile, the rain gets heavier. Someone from the queer anarchist community comes up, gets very emotional when she sees who it is: “You must be… hi…yes, yes, I heard you lecturing at the University some time ago!” Within seconds, at least ten demonstrators, some of them carrying drum sticks, gather around little Judith and cover her with love. The rain kept getting heavier but when I tried to move the group to a roofed venue, I was silenced like a nagging Jewish mother. There was something very exciting about this humble, sincere encounter between Judith Butler and her “disciples.” Some of them may not have read her complex texts, but they have identified the performative proposal that she has offered to the world as a means of change. It was obvious that this encounter was a heartfelt moment for Judith.

The beating of the drums got stronger and stronger…as did the rain. It was time to head back and go to a good restaurant. On the way, I got an anxious text message from Ofer, the charming Israeli leftist who runs Occupation Magazine. “You must ask Judith what she meant when she wrote: ‘this place which is called Israel’ instead of ’the State of Israel’.”

Well, over a glass of wine the following reply (give or take a few words) was formulated: “Dear Ofer, no one was disputing our existence. However, until everyone in our region has a permanent accepted name and permanent accepted status, and until all the communities have recognized accepted borders under one or two states – there is no justification for one place to have an established, agreed-upon name while the other has barely a temporary one. Lechaim!”