Ear­li­er this week, Lavie Tid­har wrote about Jew­ish vam­pires and Hebrew punks and search­ing for Osama. His new nov­el, An Occu­pa­tion of Angels, is now available.

I’m liv­ing in Israel again after sev­en­teen years, which is a bit of a shock. The polit­i­cal dis­course has always been ugly here, but it seems to be get­ting ugli­er, to the point that you might not want to open your mouth pub­licly about it. Sev­en­teen years after I left, an 18-year-old with a pas­sion for beach­es, sci­ence fic­tion and smok­ing things that were not strict­ly legal any­where but the Nether­lands, it’s sur­pris­ing how lit­tle has changed.

There is still an occu­pa­tion, of course. Still half-heart­ed peace talks designed to fail, still an unwill­ing­ness to under­stand what it is that is so wrong at the heart of the Jew­ish state. An unwill­ing­ness to acknowl­edge any­thing can even be wrong. It occurs to me that we, Israelis, have for­got­ten what it means to be a Jew. I do not mean putting on tefill­in, or going to shul, or know­ing our Moses from our Abra­ham (or our Absa­lom from our David). As Jews we were nev­er very good at being obser­vant, we were mere­ly good at being Jews. It is part­ly things like the era­sure of Yid­dish for Hebrew, the writ­ing of a vic­to­ri­ous, patri­ot­ic, often vit­ri­olic offi­cial his­to­ry, the chang­ing of our names (my fam­i­ly was Heisikovitz before it was Tid­har), the very re-writ­ing of what it means to be a Jew. We are not dias­po­ra Jews, we were told. We are a new brand of Jew. A sabra. Prick­ly on the out­side, sweet on the inside, yad­dy yad­dy yadda.

We were the few against the many. We were Masa­da come again. It didn’t even occur to us that tak­ing as our emblem the small, fanat­ic cult of sui­cides that was Masa­da said more about us than we could under­stand. We worked so hard at being Israelis that we for­got to be Jews. We for­got, in oth­er words, that Jews had learned, for hun­dreds and hun­dreds of years, to live amongst oth­er people.

A peo­ple who knew pros­e­cu­tion but did not them­selves pros­e­cute. Being a Jew is being a wan­der­er, trav­el­ing light, recog­nis­ing the fol­ly of pos­ses­sion, of per­ma­nence. The Zion­ist dream of a nation­al home was a glo­ri­ous dream, and a prac­ti­cal one, and Her­zl looked hard for options, from British East Africa to Cyprus and parts of Egypt. It just didn’t work out that way.

I grew up on the lands of an Arab vil­lage which is no longer there. It was erased, not even a well remain­ing, in 1948. Its peo­ple are still around, some­where, per­haps in per­ma­nent refugee camps beyond the bor­der, unable to return. To be an Israeli is to be defined against the peo­ple whose ghosts are still here, whose chil­dren are press­ing against the win­dows and kick­ing at the doors and ask­ing why.

It is as if, in this new Mid­dle East, the Pales­tini­ans have become the true Jews – land­less, unwant­ed, sub­ject to dis­crim­i­na­to­ry laws and check­points and young men in uni­forms and guns. And the Israelis have become what my grand­fa­ther would have called the paritz, the goy lord of the manor with the pow­er over us.

I think we for­got that part of being a Jew is com­pas­sion, and a part of it is humil­i­ty. And we lost both those things. We try so hard to hold on to a small piece of land that we do not think of the peo­ple who lived on it, whose trees we uproot­ed, whose ID doc­u­ments we now mark with a dif­fer­ent colour to ours, whose hous­es we erased with bulldozers.

We for­got, which is the worst thing of all for a Jew, our his­to­ry. And with­out
our his­to­ry, we are nothing.

Sev­en­teen years after I last lived here, I’m back here again. My dread­locks are gone, and now I look like any oth­er Arab or Jew. I still like beach­es, and sci­ence fic­tion, but I don’t real­ly do that oth­er stuff any more, unless some­one might pass it to me at a par­ty. Or there’s always Amsterdam.

I’m still not a very good Jew…

But I’d like to be a bet­ter Israeli.

Lavie Tidhar’s Hebrew­Punk and An Occu­pa­tion of Angels are now avail­able. His first nov­el, The Book­man, is out now, and will be fol­lowed next year by Cam­era Obscu­ra.He has been blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and My Jew­ish Learn­ings Author Blog series.

Lavie Tid­har (A Man Lies Dream­ingUnholy Land) is an acclaimed author of lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, graph­ic nov­els, and mid­dle grade fic­tion. Tid­har received the Camp­bell and Neukom Lit­er­ary awards for his break­out nov­el Cen­tral Sta­tion, which has been trans­lat­ed into more than ten lan­guages. He has also received the British Sci­ence Fic­tion, British Fan­ta­sy, and World Fan­ta­sy Awards. Tid­har’s recent books include the Arthuri­an satire By Force Alone, and the series Adler. He is a book colum­nist for the Wash­ing­ton Post, and recent­ly edit­ed the Best of World SF anthol­o­gy. Tid­har has lived all over the world, includ­ing Israel, Van­u­atu, Laos, and South Africa, and he cur­rent­ly resides with his fam­i­ly in London.