HER STORY #52 - meital
My name is Meital Marcel. These are the two names that I go by.
I am 39 years old, single, and I live in Tel Aviv.
I studied at Tel Aviv University. My bachelor’s degree is in cinema and philosophy, and my master’s degree is in literature.
I work in writing. I publish short stories, only for a small circle of people, but I’m in a development phase, and now one of my short stories has been chosen to be featured in the university’s magazine. The first magazine issue hasn’t come out yet, but they are working on it now.
My biggest dream, however, is to publish a story through a well-known publisher that will give my writing a spring board.
I work at Shenkar [Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, public college in Ramat Gan, Israel], where I have worked for almost ten years. I’ve worked in different positions here, and in the last five years I have worked in two very interesting, yet different, positions.
One of the positions was as a coordinator of the design faculty, which meant that I worked as the right hand of the dean of all the faculties. In all [Shenkar’s] departments there is a head of the department, and above all of those there is a Dean, and I’m his assistant.
The second position was as an academic coordinator for students in the master’s degree for design. I’ve worked in this from the day that we established this degree, which happened five years ago.
I provide solutions to students in terms of what they study, the academic issues, as well as personal issues that they face. I have very close relations with them. I also accompany them on their academic trips abroad. For example, I went with them on their trip to Sapienza University in Rome. The position is very fulfilling and interesting.
This is more or less what I do in life.
I did two paths in my degree, concentrating on two very different professions, but both more or less relate to social sciences.
I don’t know why I chose to study cinema and philosophy. These subjects just interested me, and afterwards I also chose to study something more specific, namely cinema and theatre.
This also formed my path in life afterwards, because after my bachelor’s degree I went to study screenwriting, and then I went on to study literature during my master’s degree. This was when I found out that I wanted to work in writing.
I’m from Kiryat Shmona, which is on the border of Lebanon.
The experience of growing up in such a city formed my destiny, all my life processes, and my whole life basically, because the people from the north [of Israel] experienced the life on the border during hard times, which is basically from 1982 [South Lebanon conflict] until Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in the beginning of 2000.
Until Israel’s withdrawal from [the south of] Lebanon, the lives of people living in the north [of Israel] were in a constant war situation, and there was a certain percentage of the population who got hurt [were damaged, both physically and mentally] as a result of living in such a war zone.
It’s a small percentage, around 2-3%, who were never the same again, who carry the trauma and who are treated for it their whole lives, and although it doesn’t look like it, I’m part of this percentage. It means that living in the north made me develop anxiety related to being abandoned, fear of death, and other things related to a many different experiences.
Most of my anxiety is connected to missiles, as well as the terrorists, who came into Israel [in the north] and killed people in their houses. That influenced me a lot.
It influenced my political opinions, and at some point it made me a leftist on the border of extreme [left-wing] as well as intent on getting peace at any price. That’s who I’ve become, and who I am, for good and for bad, because a lot of the trauma has helped me in my creative side, in my creations in terms of writing and also in dealing with topics that people usually push away from themselves and don’t talk about.
I mixed all of this, also within my studies in university, such as when I studied many Freudian theories such as “The Uncanny.” It’s a theory that Freud developed which is related to human beings’ feelings of threat.
I left home at a very early age.
I went to a kibbutz at the age of 19, during the time when most people go to the army. I was a soldier as well, but I had already left home before my army service began – with the financial support of my parents.
I went to live on a kibbutz, because it was nice and more peaceful. A couple of years later I went to live in the center of Israel.
I don’t miss the North. I visit my family a lot, and they visit me here, and I have a brother who lives in Ramat Gan [city in the Tel Aviv District of Israel, east of Tel Aviv], but I don’t have any intention ever of moving back.
I would like to live my life and have my family in a place that’s more central, not on the periphery, although I am a peripheral person in terms of my core. With this I mean that I can’t get this [living in the periphery] out of me. I grew up in a very small place, in a village based on certain values, and it’s different than what happens here in Tel Aviv.
I don’t actually live the city life. I don’t go to demonstrations or those things, or go to clubs and bars, but I have this dream of creating another destiny for my future children, my future family, and to live here in the center, in this metropolis.
Israel has a border with southern Lebanon, which is very problematic because it’s controlled by a terrorist organization called Hezbollah.
There are many people from south Lebanon, who preferred to be on the other side of the barrier, like in Israel. My family has had cleaning women from south Lebanon. I remember that from when I was a child. There was always this connection between the people on each side of the border.
But when a wave of missiles [from Lebanon] began, missiles that landed on houses and created destruction and killed men, women, and children, IDF [the Israeli Defense Forces] established themselves at the border, and it created a situation where either [Israeli] soldiers were killed in Lebanon or citizens would be under the threat of missiles. And this was a period where missiles couldn’t be neutralized.
During Tzuk Eitan [“Operation Protective Edge,” reference to the war in Gaza in 2014], during the last war, the Iron Dome neutralized around 97% of all the missiles that landed in the center of the country. At that time [when interviewee lived in the North] we didn’t have a mechanism that could defend us against the missile, let alone neutralize the missiles. There was an announcement warning that missiles could fall in the next couple of hours, and then missiles fell.
Those experiences form the personality of a person.
Between Missiles / Wandering Jew
When my mother was a little girl, she would run between missiles. She told me stories about missiles falling on her way to and from school. They would fall very close to her, and that was her experience of going home from school.
She grew up with this anxiety, and she raised us with it, and it’s something that is transferred from generation to generation.
So my personal idea is to break this circle, this area where anxiety is being transferred from generation to generation, because this anxiety grows within our [Israeli] society. Why can’t Israelis give up on their territories? Because they have memories of the Holocaust, experiences of loss and memories from being the “wandering Jew.” Holding on to territory is to hold on to something that is theirs, and it helps them in dealing with this anxiety, with the anxiety of not being able to live their Jewish lives.
This is more or less what defines me in relations to Israeli society.
I take pills.
For years I’ve been treated by doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists, and I think that my level of awareness is so high that my anxiety has been prevented from getting out of control, which has meant that I’ve always been able to work.
I’m very connected to reality and not connected to this fictional movie, so it [anxiety] doesn’t control me. It’s just besides me.
I think that most Israelis are like traumatic subjects. Their lives here revolve around terrorist attacks, the army, wars – all their lives, from the time they are born they are in a war. Since the moment I was born I’ve been wanted dead.
So all of us, all Israelis who were born here, are in some ways traumatic objects. They hide it within themselves – this form of trauma that also affects the way they behave in the world. So I don’t feel special in that sense. I just think that I talk more about it, or that I’m more connected to myself, my soul, whereas other people just don’t deal with it themselves.
In my case it reached a level that when the anxiety attacks started I understood that something wasn’t right, and it’s also within my family. It’s genetic. I’m not the only one [within interviewee’s family].
I also have a community of friends who are very aware of themselves in the same way that I am, and they speak in the same language.
There is the Prozac generation and the Cipralex generation [anti-depressant]. You will hear that this whole city [Tel Aviv] is on Cipralex, or on marijuana or both. That’s the thing.
I’ve always wanted to be an activist. I sometimes laugh with my friends about this – about wanting to go to Bil’in [reference to weekly demonstrations taking place in Bil’in, Palestinian village located in the West Bank] or to other demonstrations or to do humanitarian work, but my personality is not like this.
I don’t go on the field. I don’t like to go outside of my house too much. I like the indoors more, but then my destiny brought me to an unusual situation.
On our last trip with students from Shenkar, we went to Cologne, Germany, and on the way back a very young woman sat next to me [on the plane], wearing a hijab.
Within seconds we began talking, and she talked about her life, about the fact that she’s a Palestinian from a village [in Israel], and that she studies medicine in Moldova, and she would like to specialize within a specific field in medicine but that she couldn’t allow herself to do this, because the population she comes from needs gynecologists specifically. They don’t have enough women gynecologists, and because she knows her own society, she builds her career around this, and this really moved me.
And we began talking about how she doesn't speak Hebrew.
She lives in a village in the north, not in the West Bank nor in Gaza. It surprised me a lot, and of course I don’t know Arabic, so you see two women, who live in two different realities, around 45 minutes away from each other, where one doesn’t know the language of the other and vice versa and they have to speak in English. It blew me away.
It’s Also Hers
She talked about her life, and how she needs to learn Hebrew and I said that I’d be happy to help her, and she began talking to me about the Qur’an, and how although she studied medicine, her biggest love was the stories of the Qur’an.
Then she said that after the Prophet Muhammad, the messenger or the prophet that she liked the most was Moses. And my family name is Moshe [Moses in Hebrew], which is strange, and I told her that Moses had a speech disorder – he would stutter. And she asked, “How do you know this?” To which I answered, “What do you mean? He was also ours,” and suddenly it amazed me how the narratives of the Qur’an, the New Testament, and the Tanach [Old Testament Bible] were all connected.
When I said “it’s also ours,” I thought about how this land “is also ours,” but “it’s also hers.” The land that I step on is hers and mine.
Of course we began talking about the big dream of this miracle happening that would allow us to live together in peace, and we began taking pictures and selfies together, and there was this feeling of the need to get closer because of the terrorist attacks, and because of all the bad things happening here, and the right wing government, and the incitement, all coming from both sides.
In that moment, she and I saw in the each other the opportunity in this conversation, the opportunity for peace.
We took the bus connecting the plane to the airport together, and got to the passport control, and we continued talking on the way. I felt that our parting would be very emotional, but the moment that I helped one of my students who had fallen get up, I looked up and she wasn’t there anymore.
I had written down her name as well as her email address, but I asked myself why she had disappeared without saying goodbye.
I thought a lot about it, and it really bothered me. It was in the morning, and I thought to myself that perhaps her family was waiting for her outside and that she was in a hurry, but I knew that that wasn’t the reason.
She didn’t want me to see her humiliated at the passport control, and it hurt me, and it made me ashamed of myself – really ashamed of my Jewish identity, no my Israeli identity actually. It really hurt me.
After coming to terms with it, a couple of days later I wrote her an email telling her that I couldn’t find her on Facebook with the name that she had given me, and she wrote back, and we began writing to each other back and forth, on Facebook as well.
I went back to my busy life, and I noticed that she really wanted to keep in touch, perhaps much more than I was available for. I wanted to bring her to speak about herself and her life at Shenkar.
I have this idea of writing a letter to her in Arabic with the help of a [Arabic-speaking] co-worker here at Shenkar and to surprise her and to make her happy, because I think that there is a connection that I don’t have a right to give up on. It’s my duty to do something about it.
By this I mean that the connection we created was so pure and clean, and besides the fact that I am Meital and she is Nida, she is Palestinian and I am Jewish. I’m part of the Jewish people, and she is part of the Palestinian people, and we had such an honest and good connection. It’s wrong not to do something about it. I think that at some level it creates a division and a continuation of the conflict.
There are opportunities.
Who would think that something like this would happen to me? I felt like a miracle had happened to me, because I’m a person who doesn’t go and look for things, and I’m not an activist. She came and sat right next to me.
Many Arabs live in the north, and some of them marry Jews, so we have a lot of mixed weddings. This is more common in the north and in the south, where, for example, some Jews marry Bedouins or Palestinians living in neighboring villages. In the center this is less common, so I’ve always met and gotten to know Arabs.
But I think what’s most important for me in this matter is the fact that I call myself an Arab.
I didn’t create this definition, although I thought I had invented it. One day, when I sat in one of my lectures at university, one of the lecturers made us listen to a song by an Israeli poet, who said, “I’m an Arab Jew,” and I call myself a Jewish Arab, because I think that the culture that my family comes from is an Arab culture. You can even see it on the color of my skin – the Middle Eastern trait.
The words are Arabic. When my mother gives a blessing to a baby born in our family or interacts with the baby in any way, the words that come out of her mouth are in Arabic. It’s out of her control – always Arabic words.
The root – and it’s the strongest – is Arabic, and so what? It’s a wonderful thing to me. It’s wonderful to know where you are from, what’s unique in your culture that you came from. It’s a wonderful culture. To relate to it as inferior to Western culture is a naïve perspective.
When I came to Tel Aviv I tried to “whiten” myself. I tried to be the academic that knows all the classical writings, such as those of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Joyce, and I was very white in my language.
It was only when I got a little bit older that I began to understand that I would do myself a disservice because in the midst of all the values of Western culture and the [Western] literature, I’m a black person – in my personality, in my essence.
I’m emotional, wild, and I express myself. If I wasn’t the way I am today I would have been married with three children, and by 3 o’clock every day I would be home taking care of my children. So I have a wild side, and I think that that’s my small war, to go to people and say “I’m Arab, and you’re Arab, and you’re Arab, and you’re Arab.”
You see all the Mizrahi [Middle Eastern Jews], whose parents immigrated from Morocco, Iraq, and Yemen, will say, “I’m not Arab. I’m Israeli Jewish, and may all the Arabs die!” No, you’re Arab. We are Arabs – so what?
I laugh at it. I find it funny, because you understand the sheer fear of a person who wouldn’t want anyone to think that he’s Arab. You know, there are men with whom I’ve gone out, who were so shocked of my own self-definition as an Arab that they couldn’t see me anymore. The fact that my nationality is Jewish, as it says on my ID and that I dared to utter the word “Arab” – I saw what happened to them. Their stomachs churned. They rolled their eyes, and they rejected the topic.
So I think that the fact that I identify myself as an Arab – and there are many like me who do this in Israel (I’m not the only one) – is a small way for me to defy a society that is dark, who has fascist elements, and who mostly doesn’t know how to digest the “other.” And just think about how going back into history, where we [Jews] were the “other.”
I think it has to do with the moment where you can recognize the other, his rights, his abilities, and everything else. This is me. This is my only way to defy—by looking at myself and by defining myself like this—to love myself.
Saddam Hussein, Our Uncle
Politically, my family is half right, half left. It’s a family who didn’t get a formal education, but they are very intelligent and special. I, on the other hand, had the privilege to get an education.
My parents were always busy, so I think that my opinions were created in my exposure to the big world.
They [family] are used to the fact that I’m a little provocative. I was the editor-in-chief for my high school newspaper, and I always had a way to define myself in a way that was a little bit different from others. They [family] mostly want me to love myself. That’s the only thing that they care about.
But we do have humor in the family.
My grandparents both came from Iraq in 1950, and so when Saddam Hussein was caught in that hole, which was written about all over Israeli newspapers, my brother immediately called me and said they caught our uncle.
It was a joke. We have humor. We can also laugh at ourselves. It’s for sure better to be like this than to fight it.
My personal problems and identity problems also influenced the way I looked at myself, especially in terms of my creative side.
For some time, I was sick with anorexia, and with the years I guess they [family] thought that I didn’t have a family, because I wasn’t complete, and I think that in order to be a complete human being, you need to love yourself a lot, to know that you deserve better and I showed something different – I didn’t behave like someone who thought she deserved better.
I was an evaluator [in the army], which is a position related to organizational management. In the beginning I was an evaluator for paratrooper recruits, and afterwards I was an evaluator for the Sayeret Golani [special unit forces of the Israeli army IDF, under the Golani Brigade] and the Egoz unit [Special forces unit, specializing in guerrilla, anti-guerrilla warfare, and intelligence gathering].
The experience was amazing. I worked as an evaluator to guide army teachers, and then I was part of the recruiting process that would replace my position and my colleague’s positions in the next round of evaluators. Professionally I was guiding army teachers, who replaced the cycle of teachers that I was in, and I was accepted, so I basically chose myself as the replacement for myself, and it was really fun. I had amazing jobs in the army.
I was spending time with many people of higher ranks. I would sit with the Commander of the Sayeret Golani Unit—these were the people who would go into the depths of Lebanon, would slash a terrorist, and get out.
The whole army experience was thrilling.
The Suicidal Soldier
Two years into my army service I served with the Paratroopers, and they called me one day, on the weekend. At the time there were no cell phones, so they called my parents’ home where I lived and told me to come to the military base—but the one that was only 30 minutes away from my parents’ house. They told me to stand guard outside of the room where the body identification of a soldier had taken place. He was from Kiryat Shemona.
I didn’t understand what they wanted from me, but I got to the base and then I found out that it was a high ranked paratrooper, whom they had called “the suicidal [soldier].”
They [Israeli army] would send him on a navy ship to the beach in Lebanon, and he would continue on a motorcycle, stab a terrorist and return to Israel. He would do these kinds of operations, which surpassed things that I even knew existed. It sounded like the things you would hear about in Nordic mythology, but it happened, and I was just 18 years old.
I hadn’t been in the army for a long time, and here I was standing outside the door of the room of this soldier, and I heard his mother screaming, “He’s not dead! He just sleeps!” This is also something that shapes your personality. His mother came to identify him, and we had to stand outside.
It’s difficult for me to think about it, because I’ve grown up so much since. Twenty years have passed, but today I’m still so sorry that I didn’t hug this woman. I’m also so sorry about being scared of weapons. I was a coward.
If I could go back in time I would want to do another kind of service in the army, although I did a lot in the army. I think in general I would serve in the army, but I wouldn’t do something very different.
You can choose many paths. I chose this path.
I wanted to be an actress within the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces, Israeli army], but they didn’t accept me so I went to another position [evaluator], because I didn’t know what to go for. It’s a destiny-changing path that you are not aware of.
Today a lot of female soldiers don’t want to take these kinds of positions. They don’t want to be part of an institution called army, so they go to Sherut Leumi [“National Service,” alternative voluntary national service in Israel for those that cannot or do not wish to serve in the Israel Defense Forces]. They do amazing things. They work in hospitals, at pediatric oncology departments, etc.
One of my boyfriends, Uri, who was born in Denmark, came from a very nonviolent family. He couldn’t hold a weapon. He really, physically, didn’t have the kind of energy to hold a weapon, so he got out of the army for this.
Sometimes I think about why I didn’t go in these directions, in more interesting directions, but I guess it was a different period.
There are many people who do not want to be part of an organization that is connected to wars or killings, or the humiliation of people, and I deal with this in my [written] stories.
For example, I once wrote a story about a soldier who serves in a settlement, and it’s the worst thing that can happen to him, because he wanted to be an elite athlete. There is this thing in the army, where if you are an elite athlete, they let you go home early every day to train, but he came to this place [military base in the settlement] and thought, “God, what am I doing here? How is this connected to me?”
There was a rock that he liked to sit on, in a neutral are between the [Palestinian] village and the settlement, and on this stone he always imagined seeing two girls, and he recognized one of them from the settlements, while the other one he didn’t recognize. He thought to himself that she was Arab, and they were the same age, and then one of the girls would say a word in English, then one of them a word in Hebrew, and the other one a word in Arabic, and they taught each other their languages.
Then he began seeing them in another way, in their self-discoveries of their own sexual identities. It was bordering on something sexual, and he thought a lot about it after having seen it, and he didn’t know if it was a mirage, if he was imagining seeing these two girls, a settler and a Palestinian girl touching each other, or if this moment of connection between the two was really happening.
There are many [romantic] stories between Arabs and Jews.
Once weddings and romantic relationship between [Jewish] Moroccans and Poles were considered controversial. Now the controversial is relationships between Jews and Arabs.
Interview conducted on May 29, 2017 by Sarah Arnd Linder