“We don’t know yet, sweetie,” became the sentence most uttered by my wife and me. “We’ll know in another month or two.” Because we don’t know, we don’t have a clue, maybe we’ll go back to Israel at the beginning of the summer and maybe we’ll stay in the U.S. another year, maybe two years. We don’t know, we don’t know, and we’re waiting. And when we don’t know, we don’t enroll the children for the next school year, and we explain to the people in charge that we just don’t know, and that we hope that when we do it won’t be too late and they’ll keep a place for our children at school. And when we don’t know, we don’t renew the lease on the house, and we ask the owner to please give us another month or two, because by then, the picture will definitely be clear and we’ll have an answer.
In the past few months, all the not knowing and uncertainty have become an important part of our daily routine. Sometimes it hits hard, and then my wife or I, mainly I, will declare suddenly that enough is enough: It’s impossible to go on like this any longer, not at this age, it’s certainly not healthy for the children, and let’s get the next flight and go back to Jerusalem, because there the depression is at least familiar.
And sometimes, when we remember what’s going on in back in Israel, after watching the news and speaking with friends, we announce that maybe it’s better to wait, we’ll wait to see if my work contract will maybe be renewed. Or maybe I’ll find something totally different – and, hey, my wife will soon be finished with her doctorate, for her it’ll certainly be easier to find work in the United States. Because for sure, what the American economy isn’t thirsting for is Palestinian writers who can tell jokes about themselves in Hebrew.
But the uncertainly is really scary when it comes to writing, and especially when it comes to this column, which over the years has become an integral part of my identity. Did people like a column? Hate it? That last one sounded lame, I haven’t written anything good for a long time, it’s time to be funny, it’s time to stoke the flames, there’s no place for humor this week, this month, this year. And in addition to specific concerns, there were always the more serious questions about the function this column fulfills for me and for readers, whether Jews or Arabs. Questions about my ability to write the way Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Rogel Alpher and others write. And no, I’m not talking about editorial censorship, or about the freedom of writing that’s reserved for Jewish authors.
What I mean is the internal censorship that’s been implanted deep within me for years; censorship whose arms pursue me even across the ocean. I don’t delude myself, heaven forbid, that the life of Jewish writers who use explicit terms like “fascism,” “apartheid” and “colonialism” is necessarily easy. Maybe the opposite is true. But even if they are considered traitors, they are still legitimate traitors, if only because of the faith of their opponents that one day they will see the light. Because, when all is said and done, they write out of an internal concern – perhaps wrongheaded, people will say, but still within the framework of an internal family dialogue.