In his last posts, Assaf Gavron wrote about hanging out in the West Bank, moonlighting as an Israeli mover in New York City and about Israeli fast food. His most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.
As a soldier in Gaza in the first Intifada, I unknowingly started the research to a novel I was to publish 18 years later (22 years later, this month, in English translation). Gaza hardly appears in the pages of this novel,
, but what I saw in its refugee camps, their streets and their houses, was the main inspiration to the story of Fahmi, one of the two storytellers of the novel.
That period of a few months in 1988 was the first time I was exposed to Palestinian life. The first time I understood what “occupation” means, how it works, and how life under it looks like. How young kids behave when they are given power over other people, and how those people react to them.
Living in Tel Aviv in 2002 was the starting point for the second storyteller of Almost Dead, the Israeli 30-something hi-tech engineer Eitan “Croc” Enoch. The surreal and chaotic atmosphere, with suicide bombs going off on a daily basis in Israeli cities and people living in trauma and paranoia while trying to conduct their “normal” daily life, almost called me to deal with it through writing.
So here I was, with these two sides of the coin, two stories running parallel and at the same time bitterly colliding, so close and so apart, so similar and so different and all the other cliches (though cliches are sometimes true). I wanted to look into this point in time and to go deeper, to write about life at this time and place, as lived on both sides of the fence.
For Croc’s story, I only had to look around me. The people, the jobs, the city, the sensibilities were all around me. For Fahmi’s, I had to work harder. So I started with my Gaza memories for the looks, the smells, the alleys and the curfews. But my story takes place a decade and a half later, during a different, bloodier second intifada, and in the West Bank. And now it was much more difficult for me to gain access to this place. In fact, the actual refugee camp where Fahmi lives in is forbidden ground for Israelis. So I read books and magazine articles, watched the many documentaries made by Israelis as well as foreigners on suicide bombers and on the occupation, and traveled where I could — for example, to visit a friend doing a reserve army service in Ramallah.