“Violence? Who invented violence? Believe me, if the Oriental jews hadn’t come here, the Ashkenazim would have continued to slaughter each other just like they did before the Oriental Jews came! What? They didn’t slaughter each other in the kibbutzim because of Russia? Didn’t they hand over the Etzel people to the British? Didn’t the Communists come to blows with the religious? We brought the violence? Us?
“Take a look at Bet Shemesh. A good look. We’ve been in power for five years already, and look for yourself at Bet Shemesh and look at your kibbutz. Well, did he take your cows and hand them over to us? Did he take your lands? Half the land in this country belongs to you, and the other half you want to give back to the Arabs! And what about your swimming pool—did he take that from you? No, no—he left you all of it. Forgave you, deferred to you. But we haven’t forgiven you yet: it says in the Bible that whoever doesn’t stand on his dignity has no dignity. I’d forgive you for everything—everything except the loss of my dignity, and my parents’ dignity, and my community’s dignity.
“And in what other country in the world would Yossi Sarid wander around free during a war and make propaganda all day for the enemy? In Syria? Or Russia? Or America? Who ever heard of such a thing—that in the middle of a war people would stand up and say it’s not our war. Look what you did to this country during the Yom Kippur War. You almost destroyed it! What would happen if Begin were like you? Would he call upon the soldiers to resist, God forbid? Would he go running abroad to make propaganda for the enemy? Put ideas into the Americans’ heads of how to screw our country?…
“You—you don’t have any pride in your country. Only in yourselves, only in your kibbutzim and that Peace Now group. Running all over the world saying, ‘It’s them! This isn’t us. This filthy country is Begin’s, but us, we’re clean!’ Goody-goodies! Pure hearts! You want the world to think that Israel was once a beautiful, civilized country but now Begin and his niggers have taken over. That the gentiles should come here tomorrow, today, to help you take the country back into your own hands!
“When you were on top, you hid us away in holes, in moshavim and in development towns, so the tourists wouldn’t see us; so we wouldn’t stain your image; so they’d think this was a white country. But that’s all over now, because now we’ve come out of our holes. You still haven’t figured out what hit you, have you? It’s your arrogance that’s hit you. As if you’d inherited this country from your father. What, the State of Israel comes from the papa of the Alignment? Not from the Bible? Not from our sweat? Not from our backbreaking work? Not from our blood? Who built this country? Siegel or Bouhbout? Ashkenazi or Sephardi? A hundred years ago—they said on TV—the Alignment people came from Russia, and the first thing those Labor Party people did was bring a bunch of Yemenites from Yemen to do their dirty work. Only after that they made up all those stories.
“See for yourself. Chaim Bar-Lev [the secretary general of the Labor Party] has a pin in his leg, and David Levy [the deputy prime minister] has a pin in his leg, because they both fell and broke a leg. Where did Chaim Bar-Lev, the so-called leader of the Workers’ Party, fall from? From his horse. Like some English lord. But David Levy fell from a third-story scaffold. That says it all. Think about it a little. You’re a television writer? Why don’t you write something about that?
“You guys, your time is past. Even after Begin you won’t make a comeback. You won’t make a comeback in another hundred years. We’re sick of you and your squabbles. Yes to the Palestinian state or no to the Palestinian state. Yes to Hussein or no to Hussein. To give back or not to give back, peace in Galilee or not, forty kilometers or no forty kilometers, yes on Beirut or no on Beirut. Anything goes, just to bring down Begin.
“So what if we take those territories and annex them to the State of Israel? Do they need territory? Don’t they have enough? They got all of Sinai, just like that, in exchange for peace. Hand on your heart—you know it—Golda would never have given them Sinai, like that, for free, just for peace. You want to give them Jerusalem, too? And then Bet Shemesh? You think only your kibbutz is worth fighting for—all the rest isn’t Israel? And what about the Arabs? Have they got it so bad with us? We don’t let them make a living? And provide free education? And development? We give them everything. If only you didn’t come along and put ideas into their heads, they’d sit quietly and say thanks instead of throwing stones. But they see those demonstrations the Alignment and Peace Now hold for their sake—you want them to sit still? Are you crazy? You think the Arabs want a state in the West Bank? They want to eat us up alive—that’s what they want. And Shimon Peres is willing to sell them the whole country, just as long as he gets back into power. The guy’s sick. You’re all sick. The sickest ones are those writers and the left-wing professors and the television reporters and Peace Now. Sick in the head. Look at the Arabs, just look! Do they have anything like Peace Now? When everybody was fighting the Germans, did they have any Peace Now? When the French were fighting, did they have any Peace Now?
“You listen carefully. I’ll tell you something, and you write it down word for word. You want to know what Peace Now really is? Begin is Peace Now. Wiped out the PLO. Clobbered the Syrians and put them on the sidelines for ten years. Before that he hit the Iraqis in their reactor. And he had the brains to take the Egyptians out of the game. From now on there’s going to be Peace Now, with a treaty or without a treaty. Now is when Peace Now is going to start. You’ll see—after they stick in a couple hundred more settlements, there’ll be quiet in the West Bank, too. If you didn’t stir up trouble all the time, the Arabs would be lining up to sign, one by one, with Begin. They’d give up on the territories; yes, these, too; what do they need them for? And they’d realize it was time to forget it. Like Sadat. Maybe Begin would leave them something, so they could save face. For Arabs, honor is everything. But when they see us like this, divided, and you always on their side, they think they can get at us from the inside and finish us off that way.
“What’s justice, anyway? There’s ten, maybe twenty million Jews in the world. Don’t they deserve a country hardly a quarter of the size of Syria? Don’t the Arabs have enough countries? Let the Palestinians go live in our houses in Morocco. Believe me, better than those shacks of theirs. Isn’t that fair? My parents had a house in Casablanca, three stories high, all marble; let the Arabs from here go over there. Anyone who wants to. And anyone who wants to stay can stay. More power to them. Let them pay taxes, and work, and not throw stones. That’s fair. They have complaints? Let them talk. But why should you talk for them? Putting words into their mouths. God, you love the Arabs as much as you hate the Oriental Jews. If all the left-wingers would fight for Oriental Jews 5 percent as much as they fight for the Arabs’ rights, we wouldn’t have any of these problems.
“A. B. Yehoshua is a friend of yours, isn’t he? Look how he fights like a bull for justice for the Arabs and, at the same time, calls for civil war against us. And he wrote in a book that we’re insane. He’s sane? Tell me. Shh…gang, don’t say he should be hanged. We don’t have to hang any Jew, even if he’s a little crazy. A Jew is a Jew. He probably had personal problems. There’s no other explanation. Like Yossi Sarid—probably because of a personal problem. Maybe something happened to him in the Holocaust. And Eli Geva. He must have personal problems; otherwise he wouldn’t dump his soldiers like that and run.
“Even so, if some Moroccan corporal suddenly goes off the beam and runs wild, everyone says, Yes, well, he’s deprived, he’s a loser, and they stick him in the cooler for ninety days. Or in the nut house. But Eli Geva they made into a national hero, and even made him the head of some company—after what he did, a director.
“And who put him there? Chich! [Shlomo Lahat, the major of Tel Aviv.] From the Likud! Begin probably called him up: Listen, Chich, make him a director, take pity on his parents and his wife. So you can imagine what pity Begin has for you. Believe me, you ought to kiss his feet—he’s a saint. If he hadn’t told us to forgive you, I don’t know what would happen in this country, given how you exploited us and disgraced us for thirty years. You brought a million donkeys here to ride on, but they should live in the stables, far away from your houses. So our stink won’t reach your living room. That’s what you did. Sure, you gave us food and a roof over our heads—you do that much for a donkey—but far away from your children.
“Take a look at Bet Shemesh and take a look down there at Kibbutz Tzora. Their daughters fuck around with the volunteers; their sons smoke dope, steal cars, and come to Bet Shemesh to joy-ride at night; they disobey orders during war, spread dirt on the government and the army, marry Swedish girls and leave the country, but so what, they’re beautiful. They’re the Beautiful Land of Israel, and we’re gangsters. Hooligans. Riffraff. The Ugly Land of Israel.
“Why don’t you ask who dragged the Moroccans into prostitution and crime? Why don’t you ask who taught the kids, while they were still in transit camps, to make fun of their parents, to laugh at old people, to ridicule their religion and their leaders? Why don’t you ask, first of all, who taught Oriental Jews that money’s the most important thing in life? Why don’t you ask who invented theft and fraud? Who invented the stock market? But Tzora has its image and Bet Shemesh has its image, and that’s the fault of the reporters and all those left-wing writers, those mudslingers from the television, and the professors. That’s the way they painted the picture. Yaakov, give a holler in there to bring out some coffee and bourekas. I’ll pay. What’s the matter with you? You’re our guest here. Eat and drink in peace. Want a cigarette?
“I’ve never read what you wrote in your books. Why? Because you’d never put in a good word for us. We saw you on TV and in the elections. Believe me, we couldn’t get over your hatred. An author! What is this here? The Arabs are the good guys and we’re the bad guys?… And make you a criminal? It’s about time they put other reporters, other writers, in your place; people who’ve been down and out, who’ve suffered. Then I’ll read, too, even me. Me—write? You crazy? How could I write? You making fun of me, or what? Some old Polish guy’ll come along and write his memoirs of the Holocaust in Yiddish, and right away they correct all his mistakes, pretty it up, and put it in a book. But if I came along and brought them my memoirs, real-life stories, how they screwed us over and laughed at us, they’d tell me to get lost: This isn’t Hebrew; this guy’s got a filthy mouth—he’s bitter, this guy—he uses dirty words. If Dan Ben-Amos writes ‘Prick, Son of Prick, Up His Mother’s Cunt,’ they print every word in the newspaper and make a book out of it, and even put it on TV. But if I so much as open my mouth, they say: ‘You dirt, go wash out your mouth. Go learn something and afterward come back and talk.’
“I’ll bet you’ll write in your book or your newspaper that we’re animals. You’d never write what you heard in Bet Shemesh today. And if you did write it, they’d never print it in a book. That’s why there’s this hatred between brothers. Don’t ask me what to do, how to end this hatred. What am I, a professor? I’m one of the riffraff, a hooligan. Why do you ask a hooligan how to put an end to such hatred? You know better about everything—you must know better about this, too.
“I’ll tell you something about the hatred. But write it in good Hebrew. You want the hatred between us to end? First of all, come and apologize, properly. We have sinned, we are guilty, we have dealt treacherously—that’s what you should say. That’s what you should say, looking us straight in the eyes at Bet Shemesh, and in front of Begin’s house. Hold another giant demonstration—four hundred thousand—in Kings of Israel Square—with posters saying ‘We’ve Sinned’ instead of ‘Begin and Sharon Are Murderers.’ Say you’re sorry for the thirty years when you were in power, and say you’re sorry for the five years you’ve been slinging mud at the opposition. After that—welcome. Please. Come into the government and we’ll work together. We’re not out for revenge. You’re Jews, too. But one thing: come without that arrogance of yours. If you leave that behind you, then we’ll talk.
“You won’t write even a quarter of what you heard here today. You’ll probably distort it; you’ll write that you were saved from hooligans’ blows by a miracle; you’ll write that we’re agitators. Go write whatever you want. Go spread dirt. It doesn’t matter anyway—your time has passed. Want more coffee? Doesn’t your hand hurt from writing? Please, speak up. Hey, gang, be quiet. Let him talk. Part of what people said here today, take it with a big grain of salt. They got excited. Not everybody in Bet Shemesh thinks the same way. Look, that guy over there didn’t open his mouth, but he’s Alignment, just like you. And that guy over there, too. Most of us are Begin. He’s our father. Your biggest fault, really the worst, is that you never gave Begin a chance. Right away you started screaming. Would you like a Coke? All this shouting hasn’t made you thirsty?”
These, and similar, and even stronger, were the words of Moshe and Shimon, Shalom and Avi, Jojo and Albert, Avram, the other Shimon, and many others. He who was once a laborer is now a superintendent or a supervisor. He who was once on salary is now self-employed. His son is a student. His daughter works in a bank. His brother is on vacation abroad. There is nothing to complain about. But, nevertheless, the fury flows and bursts out and hearts are embittered. One interrupts another, and yet another’s voice deafens the words of someone else. The recurrent phrases are “hand on your heart” and “write it down, write it down.” All of this on a Monday afternoon, and then into the evening, to late at night, around the table of a café in the central square of Bet Shemesh, which was once a transit camp, a place of poverty, and is now a small city, not ugly, in the midst of beautiful mountainscapes. What I said, when silence was declared in my honor and my responses were sought, does not appear here—my opinions are known. And what I have written of the things I heard from the people of Bet Shemesh is only a small part of what they said, because the discussion went on for five or six hours. What will become of us all, I do not know. If there is someone with an answer, he would do well to stand up and speak. And he’d better not tarry. The situation is not good.
—Translated from the Hebrew by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura