In Udi Aloni’s movie Forgiveness, one of the Holocaust survivors who is committed to a mental institute built on top of a Palestinian village tells his psychiatrist the following story: An old legend holds that righteous Jews murdered in exile will roll in underground tunnels in order to be forgiven and resurrected on the Mount of Olives when the Messiah comes. (The legend is based on the double-meaning of the Hebrew word mechilot: “underground tunnels” and “forgiveness.”) Then Zionism came along and inverted the symbolic tunnel into a concrete settling (aaliyah) in the land of Israel/Palestine. Although the Zionist movement acted as a secular-national emancipatory/colonialist body, it was founded on the grounds of theological structures — just like its sister movement, Christian colonialism. Thus the saying: despite the fact that secular Israelis don’t believe in God, they still believe that he gave them the holy land. But in parallel to this secular current with its religious subconscious, a theological reversal was taking place in the religious current of the settlers. That is to say: even though the settlers are convinced that God gave them the holy land, they don’t believe in him at all. Only those who emptied God of his holiness could take the secular-Zionist project to a perversion so extreme that all divinity is believed to be in the holy ground (the Holy Land). In that way, the Jews of the land of Israel, religious and secular alike, united in their libidinal passion for the Holy Land. And by filling that land with holiness, they depleted holiness from God and humankind.
Today in Gaza, the Israeli military is fighting not only in underground tunnels, but also against the natives of the land. They are fighting not only against Hamas, but also against Palestine itself. They –alongside the West– are fighting against a nation that they have tried to expel from the land for almost 70 years now. They are fighting not only because of these tunnels, but also and precisely to conquer the land within which the tunnels were dug. The refugee camps in Gaza are living evidence of this enormous land robbery, the original sin. Since 1948, there’s been an attempt to divide the Palestinian people, to deprive them of all national consciousness; there’s been an attempt erase their memory, as if memory were the inalienable property of only Judeo-Christian thought. It was assumed that afterwards they could be branded with a new, divided consciousness as Arab-Israelis, Arab-Jerusalemites, fundamentalist Gazans, West-Bankers, and exiled Palestinians without the right of return. But we in the West didn’t anticipate that the Palestinians would still see themselves as one people. And yet, despite the attempt to erase their collective memory, they are reunited again. That’s the real reason for the missing fourth beat [i.e., Israel’s refusal to release the fourth and last batch of Palestinian prisoners in March 2014 as guaranteed during US-backed peace talks], and that’s the main reason for the war and the killing. All of the rest — footnotes.
And so it was discovered that the more we attempted to expel them from on top of land, the more the Palestinians united to burrow underneath and wrap themselves in it, like a Jewish prayer shawl. While we thought they were digging themselves a grave, they thought they were digging an opening for life. This is the essence of tsumud [Arabic word for the fidelity of Palestinians to their land], and it’s bigger than all of the factions — bigger than Hamas and Fatah, bigger than farmers and urbanites, bigger than secular and religious alike. In the context of tsumud, it doesn’t really matter who you are. Because at the end of the day, you are Palestinian, a child of this land.
Most Palestinians are willing to share the land — many, not any more. But no Palestinian will give up on it. The attempt to expel them from the face of the earth was an attempt to erase them from our consciousness. But they migrated to the belly of the earth and the heart of our consciousness. They are the children of the land, the land where they are buried and resurrected inside of tunnels. Tunnels in which they roam as living-dead refugees, looking for an opening to roll up and reincarnate into their homes and villages.
When they are used to smuggle food, tools, or a bride and a groom, the tunnels can function as a manifestation of life. Or, when armed militants emerge from them, they can be conduits for death. They can be tunnels of salvation here on earth, salvation of life as such. Or they may become apocalyptic salvation, salvation by weapons and destruction. We can help to define the future meanings of the tunnels. We can help determine whether through their gates will come the messiah of peace and justice, or the angel of death. They are very heavy on us, the gates of Gaza. Maybe if we open them together to life, themechilot (underground tunnels) will become mechilot (forgiveness).