Take me with you, to Tel Aviv

By Firas Khoury
Translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes

My Occupier and I ride the train together. “Excuse me” I say, smiling, asking if I can sit in the empty seat next to him. My Occupier lets me through graciously, smiling.

I get off the train. My Occupier serves me coffee and lunch at a restaurant. “Do you need anything else?” my Occupier asks.

“No” I tell him, smiling. My Occupier smiles and backs away, so as not to disturb me by hovering over the table for even another second.

My phone rings. My Occupier speaks to me through the phone, “Can I offer you some of our products?”

“Sorry, I don’t have time.”

“Have a good day,” he smiles.

“You too,” I smile.

I leave the restaurant and head to the bank next door. I get stopped by my Occupier’s car, he asks how he can get to the Occupied street named after a leader of the Occupation. I think, I choose my words in the language of the Occupation and I give him directions. My Occupier thanks me and smiles. I smile.

I go into the bank. Next to me, my Occupier is reading the newspaper of the Occupation. Our eyes happen to meet so he smiles to avoid that pointless awkwardness. I smile back, and wait for the screen to announce my turn. My Occupier processes a cheque for me, a cheque I received from my Occupier after he deducted a percentage for the Occupation army. The money goes into my account (my Occupier’s account). I thank him and I smile, so he smiles.

I enter my Occupier’s university to pay off a debt that is a few years old. It is the first day of the academic year and my Occupier is joyous: my Occupier frolics, dances, sings, jumps. My Occupier is flying high!

“Me and my Occupier are in a garden, under a canopy of roses”

***

I call my Occupier, I want to meet. My Occupier is a dulcet beauty with lips like Golan cherries moist with dew. Nothing can turn my gaze from her breasts except the curve of her hips, my Occupier’s hips. We meet in my Occupier’s bedroom. My Occupier kisses me, I shag my Occupier. She comes, so I come. Me and my Occupier have just come (together).

***

In his taxi, on my way to a party, my Occupier asks me “Shall I turn on the meter?”

“Yes,” I reply, smiling.

“Thirty shekels. OK?” he asks, not smiling.

I say “OK.” I imitate him, and do not smile.

My Occupier has thirty shekels. My Occupier has no meter. My Occupier hates keeping count. My Occupier hates history.

Here we are now…

My Occupier and I are celebrating in the same place. My Occupier raises his glass high towards me as he drunkenly passes me in the queue for the toilet:

“Happy New Year” he says in a voice that pierces through the loud music. “Happy New Year,” I reply, smiling.

My Occupier has a drink and a holiday. My Occupier has no meter. My Occupier hates keeping count. My Occupier hates history.

***

My Occupier hunts me down before dawn between the folds of the last drink in the final bar. He wants to talk to me about politics. My Occupier is a “Leftist”- his hatred of me is gentle and my hatred of him is banal. My Occupier is my Master and feels guilty about his status, so he tries to endear himself to me in the tackiest ways, and smiles. What else can I do? Eternally bored, I smile.

He tells me about his earnest love for the superficialities of my culture and his commitment to the two-state solution. My Occupier has chewed up Yaffa and spit on Haifa, urinated on Akka and swept away the Galilee, cast Safad into darkness, wiped away Al-Lid and Ramlah and combed the coast. He has choked Al-Nasra and swallowed Al-Quds but he would like to take Tubas from the hands of my Occupier and liberate it for me.

My Occupier is a Leftist. My Occupier is a Leftist.

Whether I like it or not, he has publicly declared himself to be a Leftist.

My Occupier is the same as my Occupier.

***

As the first rays emerged from behind the deceitful cement buildings, he began to get comfortable in my company (in his own company) and so he asked me for the only thing I have left, my right to be “Occupied”. He wasn’t content with what I offered because according to him, he is not my Occupier.

My Occupier thinks he is “not” my Occupier, but I think that is the only thing he is. That is how he started out and that is how he insists on continuing. To me, nothing remains of him except this “not.”

My Occupier has no meter and I don’t have anything left to pay him with, so I pay for the glass of whiskey and get up. I do not see him anymore, I do not see my Occupier. I see beyond my Occupier, and I smile.

 

This story first appeared in Arabic on Qadita.net

Translator’s notes

“Me and my darling are in a garden, under a canopy of roses” is a line from a song by the iconic Arabic singer Sabah Fakhry.

Yaffa, Akka, Al-Lid, Al-Nasra and Al-Quds are the Arabic names for Jaffa, Acre, Lydda, Nazareth and Jerusalem. The English spelling for the other cities mentioned in the story reflects the Arabic pronunciation.

Context

Firas Khoury is a Palestinian citizen of Israel living in Haifa. He is one of over 1.5 million citizens of Israel whose cultural, linguistic and ethnic heritage is Palestinian. They are the descendants of indigenous peoples who did not flee to neighboring Arab countries during the 1948 war that led to the establishment of Israel.

Although they were granted citizenship, Palestinian citizens of Israel were subject to martial law until 1966 and continue to face institutionalized racial discrimination today. Several prominent Israeli politicians have even gone as far as to call for the revocation of their citizenship, or for their collective transfer to a future Palestinian state.

Take me with you, to Tel Aviv is a bold expression of this community’s unique experience of exile within their own homeland. It is a defiant expression of a collective identity that is still considered subversive in Israeli political culture, written in a strikingly detached voice that mirrors the alienation of the protagonist.