Excerpt: Late Beauty by Tuvia Ruebner

I believe that this poem may be read without notes, but nonetheless I’ve provided a brief
historical one below. “Postcard from the Hebron Area” was written at the end of the 20th century in Hebrew by Israeli poet Tuvia Ruebner, who was born in Slovakia in 1924, and escaped to Mandatory Palestine in 1941, managing to evade the Nazis who later murdered his entire family. Ruebner, still writing at the age of 94, translates his work into his first language, German, and his poetry has been awarded Austria’s Konrad Adenauer Prize, as well as the Israel Prize, his country’s highest honor. The poem appears in the bilingual selection of Ruebner’s poetry Late Beauty, published now (in September 2017) by Zephyr Press, translated from the Hebrew by L. Katz and S. Bram.

To understand the depth of Ruebner’s rejection of violence on both sides, readers are urged to open their Old Testaments and read about Shimon and Levi. Also worth noting: Ruebner’s skepticism of all religious claims, and his acknowledgment of how chance and mistakes – not only evil intentions – lead to violent situations. It may be that readers of the translation, far from the region and therefore ignorant of West Bank place names in Arabic or Hebrew, may become confused about which of the dead people under discussion is a Jew or an Arab, which well serves Ruebner’s poem.

By Tuvia Ruebner

Hebron is a very ancient city.
Our father Abraham is buried there with his wife Sarah
they say. Very holy for a land that lives off death.
In Hebron they eat pita and olives and white cheese
     in olive oil in the morning.
On holidays they sacrifice a lamb.
The people of Hebron love the slaughter.
Did they learn this from Jacob’s sons Shimon and Levi?
It’s been
a long time.
And those things happened in Nablus; it’s different in Dura, around Hebron.
In Dura today, three fathers are lost to their children now.
The Hebron area has a bad reputation: it’s a stiff-necked place.
In 1929, sixty-eight yeshiva students, women and children were murdered in
Oh tomb of Abraham our father (they say), our father and theirs.
Oh the young, frightened soldiers. Oh, March 10, 1998.
The moon nearly full, but it was still daylight. Workers from the Hebron area
were riding home. On the Hebron Road, at Tarkumia, there is a checkpoint.
Soldiers stood at the checkpoint. The driver of the car lost control. The car
rushed toward the checkpoint. The checkpoint commander was hurt
and hurled in the opposite direction.
There is also another version.
The soldiers thought the driver wanted to run him over.
It’s hard to know whom to believe and what.
They opened fire in the blink of an eye.
According to instructions.  According to orders.
How fast it happens. How fast
one loses shape, becomes something else:
immobile, a plaster face, glass eyes.
Or limp arms afterwards, words in the mouth once again instead of screams.
Yesterday more pita and olives and perhaps sex before dawn.
Yesterday more logarithms, history, girls on the beach. And suddenly
the road is spotted with red. The moon nearly full, white as bone.
Running to and fro, shouts, onward, afterwards the stones.
Do stones reproduce? Slowly, there’s no stopping it, the stones are
     fruitful and multiply.

Tr. L. Katz and S. Bram.

NOTE: The city of Hebron in the West Bank is about as contested a place as a place on earth can be. Hebron is the site of the “Cave of the Forefathers,” sacred to (believers in) Judaism, and to (believers in) Islam. Jews and Moslems co-existed in the city until the rise of Jewish, and later Palestinian nationalism, and a 1929 massacre of Jews, when most left. After Israel won the 1967 war with its neighboring Arab states, Israel occupied Gaza, Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. While Sinai has been turned over to Egypt, Gaza to Palestinian rule, and the Golan has been annexed, the West Bank remains in a fragmented condition with large and small Israeli settlements scattered among Palestinian towns and villages. In the case of Hebron, an Israeli settlement composed of extreme, rightwing Jews has existed in the heart of its old city since the first days after the 1967 war. The commercial center of Hebron near the cave, once a thriving
Palestinian market whose shopkeepers and residents have been expelled, has become a sort of ghost town, ringed by a small, aggressive group of Jewish extremists. Palestinians must live outside this area. Not surprisingly, with no plan for peace, the violence continues.

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