Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Exile and Heritage. A Kafkaesque tale for today

The State of Israel has laid legal claim to two cases of his unpublished documents, as part of its "cultural heritage".

Kafka's friend Max Brod was a Zionist, albeit one influenced by the ideas of Martin Buber, who favoured a bi-national state. Kafka himself, though interested in Yiddish culture and influenced by Jewish experience and outlook, gave it a universal perspective in his work, and was besides a member of a libertarian socialist group.

Were Kafka to come back today, I wonder what he might make of the Zionist state?

Perhaps he could write a successor to his novel The Castle, this time involving not a surveyor trying to reach the place of authority, but a Palestinian woman, Mrs. K(halid). being turned away from one Israeli roadblock to another, as she tries to reach a maternity hospital, only to end up giving birth by the road.

Or maybe he would give us a protagonist, Youssuf K., born in Jerusalem where his family has lived for generations, yet unable to acquire either a Palestinian or Israeli passport. His city has been unilaterally annexed by Israel. and he must depend on the Israeli authorities for permission to reside there or to travel, even to spend time with relatives in the occupied West Bank should he hope to return.

Our hero meets and marries a young German woman, and moves to Berlin with her so that she can continue her studies there. They have a daughter, Zainab, and a few months later Youssuf returns to Jerusalem and tries to register their marriage.

But the Israeli Home Office refuses to allow this, arguing that Youssuf K. now lives abroad and has therefore lost his right to reside in Jerusalem. They quote legislation that removes the residential rights of Palestinians after an absence of seven years, although he had only left Jerusalem eighteen months previously. They do issue him with a travel permit, albeit only valid until May 2011, and only on condition that he then return to Jerusalem for a minimum period of one and a half years.

When his daughter Zaynab was born, Mr. K requested the Israeli Embassy in Berlin to enter her name on his documents. But this has been turned down on the grounds that her mother was German.

This refusal to register either his wife or daughter leaves Youssuf K. with an impossible dilemna. He can leave his family to return to Jerusalem, so as not to lose his residency rights, or stay with them and forfeit his rights. Because the Israeli authorities refuse to register either his marriage to Wiebke or the birth of their daughter, which would be legal requirements for them to reside in Jerusalem, but at the same time refuse to renew his permit unless he returns to Jerusalem, they deny residency to his family but force it on him.

What happens in the end?

We don't yet know.

Because this is not an imagined story for a novel, but a true one.

It concerns a real person, called Firas Maraghy, his wife Wiebke, and their little daughter Zainab. Firas is due to return to Jerusalem in May next year, but unless the Israeli authorities and the ambassador in Berlin relent, this means he would have to leave his family.

That is why, at the time we write, Firas Maraghy has been on hunger strike for over a week, outside the Israeli embassy in Berlin.

He is demanding the right to return to his home in Jerusalem with his wife and daughter. A right that is surely in accord with international law, and would be expected of any civilised, let alone supposedly "democratic" country?

A Jewish group in Berlin, Juedsiche Stimme fuer gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East), the German section of European Jews for a Just Peace - EJJP, has launched an international petition online to the ambassador, Mr.Ben Ze'ev.

I would urge you to read and sign this. If you are adding a message, stick to the point, and don't say anything offensive, but show you are taking this case seriously. Imagine if it was happening to you or one of your friends or family.

"For ye were strangers in Egypt. And you know what is in the heart of a stranger".

Franz Kafka never lived to finish The Castle, dying of starvation after a final bout of tubercolosis. In one ending he discussed with Max Brod, K., the book's protagonist, would continue to reside and die in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his "legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there"

Let us help try to see that Firas Maraghy's story has a happier ending.

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