Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

In October, 2014, I visited Jerusalem with my husband Jonathan.While he spent his days participating in the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, I visited sites in Israel and Palestine. I went first to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It was appropriate to do so; it is like making confession before praying. To say it was a moving experience is to engage in gross understatement. Two elements were particularly moving to me (and I was touched everywhere I turned). First was the memorial to the children lost in the Holocaust. I could not stop weeping. Second, I went to the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, I had a hard time seeing it. I was standing in the middle of very large space that looked like a town square. But there was nothing there. Then I realized that was the memorial . . . there was no one left. The people were wiped out. Only the town square remains. More tears.

A few days later, I traveled to Kfar Shaul, a mental hospital a little ways further out from Jerusalem than Yad Vashem. A participant in Jonathan’s conference told me he had walked from Yad Vashem to Kfar Shaul in well less than an hour.

Why did I go to the site of a mental hospital? I went, as I went to Yad Vashem, to honor the dead and missing, this time those killed on April 9, 1948 and those who fled the killing from what was then a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin. The attack on the village by Zionist paramilitary groups, the Irgun and Lehi, was part of the fierce fighting that was going on between local Arabs and Jews for control of land that was to become the State of Israel.

Reports of the killing of villagers in Deir Yassin spread quickly among many villages and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began.

Kfar Shaul entrance
The entry gate to Kfar Shaul, with the buildings of Deir Yassin behind. Author’s picture

Today, instead of a marker for the lost village, or any other sign of what happened here 68 years ago today, now the village buildings comprise an Israeli mental hospital called Kfar Shaul. Of course, that facility is behind locked gates, and there is no public entry. There is here an echo of the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto–nobody remains.

I have written the poem below–and I continue to work on it, because it feels incomplete yet–to commemorate my visit in 2014, and to keep erasure of Deir Yassin before us. I will not forget. I ask that you not forget either.

Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

The distance between
Yad Vashem
Kfar Shaul
more than a stone can throw
less than a good morning walk
but the canyon
gapes wide and deep like yes and no
a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored

Deir Yassin, where are you?

Yad Vashem
records the horrors of
the truth of inhumanity
shining the deepness of honesty on brutality
recounting the names and faces of victims
recalling the perpetrators of butchery
recording the names of the righteous among the nations who refused to lie in bed with evil

Tears flow
hearts ache
minds recoil
as we repeat
Never Again
Never Again
in the lurking memory of time
it is a promise
we may not keep

Yad Vashem.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

Kfar Shaul
tells a different story
speaking in code known to those who want to forget
a moment of silence lasting lifetimes
a center for mental health
resting on
the remains of a village
living in denial recording nothing of the souls buried beneath its glassy façade locking patients and remembrances of things past lives gone
behind security cameras and guard posts

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

It was a day in what should have been another lifetime
but feels like only yesterday
the wounds buried
just deep enough in denial to be ignored
continuing the mournful fugue of historical futility
righteous men believing in a vision to reclaim their ancient home
struck out at villagers in homes
these in the wrong place at the wrong time
on the wrong side
at least the losing side

Deir Yassin, where are you?

100 or 250 gone of 600 or 750 inhabitants
depending on the history we read,
one-sixth to one-third gone
whatever your source
reports of rape
men paraded through Jerusalem
to the cheers of other men
and then shot
others dispute all the horror
blaming it on Arab soldiers
whose single-fire guns sought to stave off
automatic weapons and mortars


Deir Yassin,where are you?

The exodus
of villagers not just Deir Yassin
250,000 refugees in camps
symbol of the new order
creating fear among people without an army even a government
some said they did not even exist
living in a land without a people

Deir Yassin, where are you?

The conquerors
terrorized in other lands
hated and feared and maligned
survivors of the slaughtered
a people without a land
to call home
filling the homes of those who fled
becoming a people and a land as one
prosperous and strong
proud and feared
hated too

Deir Yassin, where are you?

Are you under the wound
scabbed over now
by a place for
mental health
a place of screams and dreams
of loves and lives lost
repeating in flashing fits of confession and accusation
rambling humbled haunted tales of fear and illusion
even bouts of sometimes reality?
Yad Vashem.
Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

No word
about what lies buried

Deir Yassin, where are you?

No names on homes still standing as offices and cottages for the new village inmates
even as their walls and doors and windows and roofs hold the secrets of yesterday’s disappeared

A visitor
stands on the sidewalk
tearfully remembering the histories he has read and Holocaust stories he can almost recite word for word from memory
and the endless arguments about who killed how many in ‘48 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘14 and all the other years too
and why it had to be so
persist like a bad dream growing more weird

Yad Vashem.
Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

His mind reciting
Never Again
it is a promise
we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.
©Robin Gorsline 2016

Jerusalem Journal #3: Letting Go of Who Did What to Whom and Who Did It First

Jerusalem YMCA
YMCA, headquarters for the IAPSP Conference (author photo)

[Note: In October, 2014, I accompanied Jonathan on a trip to Jerusalem. He was going to the annual meeting of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology (IAPSP). He spent much time in meetings while I was free to travel, visiting sites within Jerusalem and beyond. I have posted two times already about this trip; you can see those postings by clicking on these dates: October 31, 2014 and January 5, 2015. I also posted on a related topic, namely an important book, The Lemon Tree. Click on the title to see that post.]

I had intended to write much more about my impressions from last October’s trip to Jerusalem, as well as to continue reflecting on this bedeviled conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Partly, preparations for moving, and the move, from Richmond, VA to Greenbelt, MD got in the way.


But more, I think, was my growing realization at how I despair over two things that must happen: that Israel will shift its mindset and strategy and the Palestinians will respond productively. Someone has to change, significantly, if this perpetual, and seemingly self-perpetuating, crisis is to shift from a deadening into a life-giving mode. I believe it is incumbent on Israel to engage in a major shift. I say that because it is my belief that it is usually, if not always, the more powerful party in any dispute–certainly one in which both parties have legitimate concerns and interests, as is true here–that has to move the most.

Just as disempowering as my despair was my fear that many of my Jewish friends in the United States–not to mention those Israeli (and other) Jews I met at the conference whom I admire greatly–would become angry at me, perhaps even cutting off our friendship, if they understood that and other points I feel compelled to make (I will reflect another time on my continuing struggle to stop being governed by my fears of what others will, or do, think).


But let me be clear. This is not a one-sided conflict. Both parties, all parties (certainly including the government of my country, and thus me), bear responsibility for the mess that now exists. There is more than enough blame to go around. Somehow, we have to get beyond the blame game.

This was brought home to me with great power during one part of the international conference. Prior to the formal sessions, I joined Jonathan and other conferees and spouses on a trip to Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, situated 15 Kilometers southeast of Tel-Aviv, near Ben-Gurion International Airport. According to the conference organizers, Lud, “despite the enormous potential of this ancient-contemporary city . . . has been plagued by a poor image for decades: its population of 75,000 people is constantly struggling with social, economical, multi-cultural and ethnic problems that make the city an example of the painful term – ‘social periphery.'” 

NY Times
NY Times

Indeed, the session was billed as “Self Psychology and Weakened Populations: A Tour of Lod.”  Weakened populations, as I understand the organizers, are places where all of us, not just the subject peoples, bear responsibility for deterioration. They are communities where empathy is required, but empathy that helps create concrete action for change. This action involves more than just the weakened group; it must include those who have been party to the weakening. To my way of thinking, this is the situation in the United States among white people, as we need to make concrete changes to lift our social boot off the backs of the still-weakened African American, and Native American, populations.

It is appropriate that IAPSP is involved in this new understanding, because at the heart of self psychology is empathy. The IAPSP tour organizers wanted us to see what will become the new headquarters of the Israel Association for self Psychology and the Study of Subjectivity (the Israeli affiliate organization which hosted the conference), and they also wanted us to hear from a diverse group of local people about the efforts to build a new society in Lod.

Houses in Lod
Houses in Lod

Included in the local people were the leader of a local program to teach agriculture to students, both Palestinian and Israeli, and a teacher in the program. Part of the goal is to teach the students how to share the land, how to treasure it together for the benefit of all.

Both educators were amazing in their ability to convey, despite language difficulties, a deep desire to create a truly multi-cultural community in Lod, and to help this ancient area recover from serious decline over the past several decades. The teacher, a woman, was the most articulate. During question time, I asked her, a Palestinian whose family lived for generations in that area, how she felt about the participation of Jewish people in this work, given that her family had been displaced by the Israelis more than once. She said, “We will never move forward until we choose to let go of who did what to whom and who did it first.”

I cry right now as I write about that moment–empathy at work in her, breathtaking in its simplicity and power.

seeing with the eyes of another

So often, people who speak in or about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pronounce from one box or the other, talking past the people in the other box. Wisdom comes in refusing to be put in one box and learning what to believe and say from your own space (which contains parts of many boxes), and at the same time hear the other, with empathy and a desire to understand.

But it is not enough to speak and listen with care, vital though that is. That we must act on what we know seems clear, even as our actions must be laced with empathy and a desire to understand others.

My training, and engagement, in Christian liberation theologies, feminism, and political theory, as well as my understanding of Judaism, lead me to act based not only on ethical perspectives but also to engage in power analysis to aid in promoting productive action. In future posts, I shall explore more of this trip, as well as reflect on new learnings, with the goal of contributing to a dialogue for peaceful, life-enhancing change in the haunted land of Israel and Palestine.

For now, let us remember empathy, indeed, let us be empathic.

Jerusalem Journal: No. 2 — What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?

What does it mean to be a citizen?

That is a question that was raised for me during our visit to Jerusalem, when I made an acquaintance with a 50-year-old cab driver, a native of Jerusalem, a man whose father and grandfather, and even earlier generations, were born in that holy place.

Jerusalem cabThis man, Muhammed Siam, was as gentle a man as I would ever hope to meet. He took me and Jonathan to a mall so I could buy a connector for my camera, and then I arranged for him to take me a couple of days later to Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center on the outskirts of Jerusalem (more about that in a future Journal entry).

It was on that second trip that I learned he was not a citizen of Israel. Indeed, he carries a Jordanian passport, even though he has lived his entire 50+ years in Jerusalem.

I am a citizen of the United States, by virtue of being born here–in Ann Arbor, Michigan on October 10, 1946. I have never lived in any other country. I have resided in Milford and in Ann Arbor (during college) in Michigan, and in the states of Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and now Virginia. And if I moved to France or Mexico or Israel, or even neighboring Maryland, I could retain my U.S. citizenship.

The reality for my friend Muhammed, and another man also named Muhammed, a tour guide I got to know while he guided us to Masada and the Dead Sea and showed us other things on the way to and from these destinations, is that the place of their birth is less important than their religion and politics and perhaps most of all their identity as Palestinians. I started to write “their nationality as Palestinians,” but realized that this is not so clear.

East Jerusalem neighborhoods
East Jerusalem neighborhoods: pink=Arab, blue=Israeli

Can we say someone has a nationality when there is no nation? Recently, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority unsuccessfully sought recognition for their “country” from the United Nations. Does this mean there is no nation? No Palestine? Legally, it is so.

Morally, it is not so, at least to me. Clearly, the intent of the 1948 UN Declaration was that there would be two nations, side by side, Israel and Palestine. That has not happened. Initially, that seems to be because the Palestinians, and their Arab allies, were unwilling to share what had for millenia been their land, their home. They thought they could defeat the upstart Jews who had settled there and even expel them.

The reverse was true. The Jewish Agency forces defeated the Arabs/Palestinians and forced many Palestinians to leave (I will get in trouble with some Israelis and allies for saying this, but it is nonetheless true–maybe a few Palestinians left willingly, but most of the hundreds of thousands did not). This is an ordinary outcome of war. People are  displaced.

But for my two Muhammed friends it is not so simple. They are residents of East Jerusalem, an area that Jordan ruled following the 1948 war, until 1967. So they became Jordanian citizens. But in 1967, Israel defeated Jordan and Syria (and Egypt in a war that was initially focused on Israel attacking and defeating Egypt in the Sinai and Gaza). When the six days ended, Israel had control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 300,000 Palestinians fled those two areas, but many also stayed.

Hence, the situation of my two friends.

Jodranian passport coverThey carry identity cards as residents of Jerusalem, but they are not citizens of Israel. This would be somewhat analogous to foreign nationals who obtain Permanent Residency status in the United States.

But it is not the same, because Muhammed the cab driver cannot leave Israel to visit his grandchildren in Jordan (his daughter married a Jordanian) unless he is willing not to return to his home in Jerusalem. A permanent resident of the United States is allowed to leave and return, within certain time restraints.

Muhammed told me that Israel does allow people like him to apply for citizenship, but that most, including him, refuse because to do so is to recognize Israel’s authority to determine whether or not they are actually citizens of the land into which they were born. He also says that Israel makes it very difficult and time-consuming for those who do apply.

So, he remains a legal visitor in his native land–without the freedom to come and go.

I have been sitting with this ever since he told me on October 25. I understand Israeli concerns–if they allowed all the Palestinians to be citizens, and thus to vote, they would most likely no longer have a Jewish homeland–but I also understand the feelings of Muhammed–an alien in his home.

I am not sure I could remain as patient as him, in a similar situation in the United States.

Can We Grow Our Lemon Trees?

The tragedy that is Israel/Palestine strikes deep into our hearts. How can people with such rich and beautiful spiritual traditions be so harsh with each other? The idea that many of us still call this the Holy Land seems almost a mockery of God.

Or perhaps the violence, the animosity and hatred, the intransigence and unwillingness to recognize the humanity in each other, the unwillingness even to talk with each other is actually a reflection of much of the world’s relationship with God?

A book that seeks to humanize–and for me that means also to reflect the divinity of those involved–the conflicting and conflicted personna is The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan.

This book is nonfiction, but reads like a novel. At its center are two people, Bashir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi Landau. Bashir is a Palestinian and Dalia is an Israeli, aThe Lemon Treend their lives are intertwined not by romance but by the fact that when Dalia’s parents emigrated from their native Bulgaria (she was a small child) they occupied the home of Bashir’s family in Ramla which had been confiscated by the Israeli government after the war of 1948 (and the Palestinian residents had fled the town).

The entire book puts their friendship–maintained across severe boundaries–at the center while all around whirls the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Tolan, a journalist, does not fail us in recounting all the ugly details of wars and jails and bombs and suffering while reminding us again and again that the entire story is a human one.

Anyone who wishes to understand this tragedy at a deeper level than political and military strategy, or beyond the geopolitical power games of the various nations, or even the competing claims of two peoples deeply scarred by the loss of identity and by global disrespect and subjugation, should read this book.

It does not have a pretty ending, things are not tied up in a neat bow. Tolan is a journalist after all, not a romance novelist. But still there is hope in this story, and even glimmerings of love and salvation.

When you read it–and I think every thinking person in the United States, Europe and the Middle East should read it–then you may do as I am doing, namely pray. Pray for all you are worth, pray that somehow human beings–even those whose lemon tree dies and who have trouble growing a new one–can find a way to transcend the limitations of their leaders and make peace on the ground, among themselves, heart to heart, person to person, villlage to village, family to family, faith to faith.

Such peace is hard work, because it means staying connected not only to your own desires and truths, but also to the desires and truths of those whose very existence seems to threaten you most profoundly. This is work that belongs to all of us, because only by recognizing that our humanity is dependent on the humanity of others will we ever have peace, even, or  perhaps especially, in the Holy Land.

We can only be truly, fully human when we see our humanity reflected in others, and theirs in ours. It is a lesson taught by a lemon tree.

Jerusalem Journal: First Impressions, Falafel, and Faith

[This was intended to be the first of the series of entries in my Jerusalem Journal–observations and opinions arising from an eight-day trip my husband Jonathan and I took to Israel in mid-October so he could attend the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology.  Somehow, I never published it and only recently discovered the draft and published it for public view on January 15, 2015. Jonathan and I had some adventures together, and as you will learn if you read other entries, I had some of my own, in Jerusalem and in other parts of Israel and the West Bank.]

Our first full day in Jerusalem was a wonder of delights and moving moments.

How can one go to the Western Wall and not be moved? It is impossible not to feel the millions, nay billions or even trillions, of prayers that blanket the space in hope and fear and love and even anger of course. The power is palpable.

I felt great joy in noticing that even in separation there are more women praying than men. When will the men realize that we have so much to learn from women? At least, as a friend said, now the women are allowed to pray at the wall!

And who knew that people actually live in the Old City? I did not. It is not only an antiquity, but a living, breathing community. There are children playing after school, and cars in a parking lot, and people hanging out their laundry and making supper. And of course, the merchants–many of them Arab I think–selling everything from electronics to religious objects (for all three Abrahamic religions) to art and scarves and dried fruit and spices.

Be prepared….if you pause to look at something, the merchant will seek to engage you in conversation and draw you into his store. They are persistent and occasionally you have to be almost rude to break away. But there is sometimes a friendly repartee between passerby and merchant. At other times, the men–they are all men–seem sad and hurt when you keep going. One stuck out his hand as if to shake Jonathan’s hand and then tried physically to pull Jonathan into his store. But that is not typical.

And we went on a free two-hour tour (meaning you pay the guide what you want at the end).  We had intended to go on a longer, more expensive tour but we were so exhausted from 24 hours of travel that we overslept.

So we found Jaffa Gate, and looking like tourists–because we are–we were accosted by a tall, handsome man with a big sign–FREE TOUR–and he told us it would leave in less than an hour. We told him we were hungry and he said, “I will take you to the best place in the Old City, not far, and then you come on our tour!”

What do you do? We did not know which place to eat. There is no Panera or Chipotle (although I have seen McDonald’s in places), and besides, we want falafel, the Middle Eastern staple of chick peas ground up and made into balls that are are deep fried. We both really like it.

So, we follow the man and are introduced to the host who greets us as if we are long lost friends–after all, we are now friends of his friend, who brings him business– and seats us with a great flourish and takes our order.

And we eat falafel–it may be the best I have ever eaten, much lighter and more flavorful than what I usually find in the U.S. [Note: Jonathan went back to the same place for lunch on Friday, while I was on a tour out of the city, and as it happens, he sat with the “tour man,” who is Jewish, and they talked about the Middle East.]

“Tour Man” returns and leads us to meet our guide, a shorter, less charismatic man who has some trouble with English but who nonetheless knows much and shares freely. We are a small group of 10–various Europeans and U.S. people. We visit more of the market area, and the four Quarters–Armenian, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. In the latter, we visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (he never could pronounce it correctly).  Along the way, we receive an extended history lesson involving each quarter.

What really impressed me about the guide was his even-handedness. He told the story of each religion in terms of the Old City–for example, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre he straightforwardly told the story of Jesus being crucified and buried and rising–including the belief that the latter two events happened where the church was erected centuries later.  He demonstrated that practice with each.

After the tour, we went back to the Western Wall–the Wailing Wall it is sometimes called–to pray. As I noted above, the area is divided by gender. I wanted to go with the women, but it would have created a great scandal, and I am sure much trouble, probably including forcible eviction (there are soldiers even here, and visitors have to go through a security check to get in), so we went with the men.  I touched the wall and prayed as best I could–it was not easy because there was a man very loudly saying an endless prayer, or perhaps reading from the Torah. He did not seem to take even the smallest breath and every word came out sounding angry.

Despite him, I found it moving to be there. At the same time, it is so different from going into a church or synagogue to pray, and it was not easy to stay connected to a spiritual feeling, despite the holiness of the place.

So, we went in search of a good place to buy some dried fruit. If you can’t pray, you can at least eat! Jonathan had noticed beautiful figs and had tried to buy a few. But each merchant wanted to sell him a big bag. So he scouted many places before he found one who sold a small quantity of figs, as well as apricots (for me) and even kiwi. I am not a big fan of kiwi, but these dried kiwi were exquisite.

On our way back, we saw a bench and decided to rest briefly–it is a steady, if gradual, upward grade back from the Wall to the Jaffa Gate, and we were still dealing with travel fatigue. There was a woman taking pictures, and we spoke. Her name is Elizabeth and it turned out that she is a psychoanalyst from Chicago, attending the same conference as Jonathan (and staying in a room on the same floor as ours at the conference hotel), and they have a mutual friend.

She led us to a wonderful vegetarian restaurant later that evening (local friends of hers had taken her there for lunch).  It was great fun getting to know each other and sharing dishes.

We walked back to the hotel, and fell into bed, exhausted.

Thus ended our first day in Jerusalem.