Jerusalem: A Hope in Hell
Startled, I jolted out of my sleep, sitting up as our walls and windows shuddered at the residual impact of a bomb. It was early, still dark. What could be happening? After an hour of scrolling through Facebook and news sites, I found an article reporting a terrorist’s house demolition.
The past few weeks have been difficult. My family members and I have been less than a kilometer away from most of the attacks in Jerusalem. It was just a matter of time until the destruction touched someone I love or a loved one of someone I know. My heart hurts for my wounded acquaintances; it could have easily been my family if the timing were a few hours different.
During these few weeks, I’ve felt fear, anxiety, stress, and listlessness, yet also determination not to be sucked endlessly into these debilitating, paralyzing feelings. When I can’t reach a family member on the phone, I check the news to make sure that nothing has happened in their vicinity, a reassurance that they are not caught up in an attack. I feel anger combined with frustration and understanding that those without hope can act terribly, irrationally, desperately, destructively, morphing the faces of innocents into images of the guilty. I see the extra security personnel throughout the city and respond with mixed emotions, simultaneously noting their youth, kindness, protection of us, as well as their racial profiling, the provocations they partake in, and more. I begrudgingly try to be open, looking not only at our news but at their news as well, to see how the same acts are portrayed so differently. My thoughts are often grim.
Netanyahu says one thing, Abbas another. “He incites,” one says. “He provokes,” responds the other. A member of my people perpetrates a terrible crime. A member of theirs perpetrates another. Few among my people are willing to discuss the context, the system of occupation and injustice we have perpetrated for decades. Few among their people are willing to condemn the attacks against innocents, some of whom believe and work for a better future for Palestinians as well.
We are engaged in a twisted game of wits and violence, and most of us participate in some form or another, even if it’s seemingly benign, in our posts and shares and arguments on social media. These games aren’t necessarily bad when we are simply exercising our freedom of expression without intentional incitement, but it’s important to ask ourselves, to where does this lead, this one-upping and proving justice or injustice?
This crazed devolvement reminds me of a story entitled “A Hope in Hell” in the graphic novel The Sandman. Morpheus, the King and personification of Dream (also known as the Sandman), has lost his helmet, and he must go into Hell to reclaim it. He finds the demon who has it, and in order to get it back, the demon challenges him to a battle of the wits, the battlefield being reality. It is a duel of imagination where each side must shift into various defensive shapes, maintaining the nerve to outwit the other. If Dream wins, he regains his helmet. If he loses, he will be bound to hell as a slave.
Demon: “I am a dire wolf, prey-stalking, lethal prowler.”
Dream: “I am a hunter, horse-mounted, wolf-stabbing.”
Demon: “I am a horsefly, horse-stinging, hunter-throwing.”
Dream: “I am a spider, fly-consuming, eight-legged.”
Demon: “I am a snake, spider-devouring, poison-toothed.”
Dream: “I am an ox, snake-crushing, heavy footed.”
Demon: “ I am an anthrax, butcher bacterium, warm-life destroying.”
Dream thinks that he understands the demon’s strategy. He abandons the offensive for a moment and tries a new tactic, “I am a world, space-floating, life nurturing.”
The demon ups the ante, meeting the challenge, “I am a nova, all-exploding, planet-cremating.”
Dream: “I am the Universe--all things encompassing, all life embracing.”
Demon: “I am anti-life, the beast of judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything, the end of universes, gods, worlds...of everything.”
Dream: “I am hope.”
Baffled , the demon has no answer. It cannot be despair, for that is the merely the absence of hope. And what can dispel hope; what could be greater? Dream has won.
In Israel and Palestine, we too have lost something. For some Israelis, it is our sense of safety or perhaps our belief in peace. Our wounded carry the marks of torn, knife-penetrated skin. For Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem, they’ve lost more lives than we have in this recent bout of violence. Their wounded bear the burnt bullet-penetrated holes in their skin, and many have lost freedoms in Israel’s infliction of collective punishment. I don’t think most ever believed that peace was possible during this time or anytime in the recent past, but now these feelings of impossibility and unlikelihood have given to despair. We’ve both lost something dear to us, our ability to dream, our ability to believe in the possibility of coexistence, even less a belief in peace.
Together, we need to enter the abyss and face the demons, the battlefield of reality that has stolen from us. We need to engage in this battle of wits and imagination, realizing that what can sustain us, what beckons us to the future, is a hope that needs a Dreamer.