Iowa Writes

ETGAR KERET
600 Words


My mother says I'll never be able to understand what it's like for a nation to be without a country. Now, my mom, she really knows what she's talking about. After all, she went through the Holocaust, saw her home destroyed in Poland, lost her mom and dad and little brother, and finally ended up here, in the land of Israel, her country, the land she swore she would never leave.

Ghassan says I'll never be able to understand what it's like for a nation to live under occupation. No, he didn't go through the Holocaust, and his whole family is alive, thank God, at least for the time being. But he's had it up to here with the Israeli soldiers at the border checkpoint. "Sometimes you make it through the roadblock in a second or two, but sometimes, when they're bored, they can make you feel like life isn't worth living. They force you to wait for hours in the sun for no reason, to humiliate you. Just last week, they confiscated two packs of Kent Longs from me, simply because they felt like it. An eighteen-year old kid with a rifle in his hand and a face full of zits just came and took them."

Translated from the Hebrew by Ruchie Avital

My mother says I'll never be able to understand what it's like for a nation to be without a country. Now, my mom, she really knows what she's talking about. After all, she went through the Holocaust, saw her home destroyed in Poland, lost her mom and dad and little brother, and finally ended up here, in the land of Israel, her country, the land she swore she would never leave.

Ghassan says I'll never be able to understand what it's like for a nation to live under occupation. No, he didn't go through the Holocaust, and his whole family is alive, thank God, at least for the time being. But he's had it up to here with the Israeli soldiers at the border checkpoint. "Sometimes you make it through the roadblock in a second or two, but sometimes, when they're bored, they can make you feel like life isn't worth living. They force you to wait for hours in the sun for no reason, to humiliate you. Just last week, they confiscated two packs of Kent Longs from me, simply because they felt like it. An eighteen-year old kid with a rifle in his hand and a face full of zits just came and took them."

Adina, the neighbor from downstairs, says I'll never be able to understand what it's like to lose a loved one in a suicide bombing. "No death can be more meaningless than that," she says. "He died for two reasons: ?because he was Israeli and because he felt like having an espresso in the middle of the night. If you can think of any dumber reasons for dying, let me know. And there isn't even anyone to get mad at. After all, the guy that killed my brother is already dead himself, blown to pieces."

My mother says that we have no other place to go, that no matter where we go, we'll always be strangers, hated, Jews. Ghassan says that my country, the State of Israel, is an alien and strange entity and that there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. There it is in the middle of the Middle East pretending to be in the heart of Europe, participating in the Eurovision song contest every year, making sure to send a soccer team to the European cup games, and it just doesn't get that it's located in the heart of the desert, surrounded by a Middle Eastern mentality which it refuses to acknowledge. Adina says we're living on borrowed time, that every time she sees the Palestinian children going wild with joy and handing out candy after every terror attack, she thinks about how these children are going to grow up. So I should stop all that nonsense about peace.

And if there is one thing that my mother, Ghassan, and Adina have in common, it's that they are all certain, absolutely certain, that I simply can't understand what's going on in their heads.

But I'm actually pretty good at figuring out what's going on in other people's heads, sometimes, especially when times are bad, I even manage to make a living at it. All kinds of foreign publications call me and ask me to explain, if possible in 600 words or less, what people in Israel are thinking. It's just a shame that I can't invent new thoughts for them too‚ ones that are a little less afraid, a little less hateful. Thoughts more positive, optimistic, compact, no more than 600 words.

Translated from the Hebrew by Ruchie Avital

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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ETGAR KERET

Etgar Keret was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel in 1967. His latest book, The Nimrod Flipout, was published in spring 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He participated in the 2001 International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

"600 Words" appeared originally in 91st Meridian, the electronic journal of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program: ¯an electronic forum to encourage the frank exchange of ideas.

Etgar Keret's website

The 91st Meridian

This page was first displayed
on October 11, 2006

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