My Womb Does Not Belong to You: A Reflection on Memorial and Independence Day

My Womb Does Not Belong to You: A Reflection on Memorial and Independence Day

Memorial Day

I stood on a rooftop in the Old City feeling the cool reprieve of early nightfall and the broken heat wave, a breeze that gently chilled my skin as I forgot the long, hot day that left me parched for water.  I looked around me as inky blackness settled over the city.  In the midst of falling darkness, lights flickered, and I could still make out the unlit crosses of churches towering around me.  The lit dome of the Hurva Synagogue with Israeli flags fluttering in the wind and the golden orb of the Dome of the Rock stood out more prominently as other structures fell into the shadows.  

The shrill shriek of the Memorial Day siren pierced the darkness, reverberating loudly off the surrounding buildings.  Even when the siren is expected, the sound always causes me to sharply suck in a breath as my heart stops for a moment.  The full name of this day of remembrance is “Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism.”  I stood on the edge of the rooftop, thinking of the moment this siren commemorates, observing my surroundings which did not change.  As an immigrant who came here as a young adult, as a mother to young children, and as a woman, this day of commemoration touches me in a particular way.  I’m fortunate that my loved ones have not fallen in war, but I have friends and family who were injured, who live with memories they cannot erase, who acted bravely in the face of fear and adversity, who, at times, were asked to perform acts of duty or valor against their conscience.  I hold a space of mourning in my heart for every man and woman, son and daughter, Israeli or Palestinian, who knows loss and remembers it on this day.  In truth, it is all of us who have lost the chance to know someone longer, to love someone deeper, to see someone wholer as a result of the wars we’ve fought and terror we’ve both perpetrated and suffered.  

From Memorial to Independence Day

And then, the following day, as dusk falls, the solemn ceremonies of collective mourning, lighting candles in remembrance, turn to dancing and wild celebrations with drinks and colorful lights and fireworks that shriek through the night sky.  From all that we’ve lost to all that we’ve gained.  These two are so inextricably linked.  I’m not sure how to live in this space where empathy draws my heart in many directions, and my young children look to me and my spouse to try and understand the solemnity and celebration in it all.  

Independence Day

On Independence Day my heart leaps in solidarity, pride and joy, knowing what this day symbolizes to Jews who felt they had no homeland before 1948; thinking of the pioneers who came before me and struggled to make a home where they could be free to live as Jews, religious or secular; thinking of those singular but larger-than-life characters -- advocates, allies, accomplices -- who called for justice, equality and humanity in the midst of the Zionist project to build a flourishing state that all Jews could call home.  I feel solidarity as an immigrant by choice, one who willingly came to align my future with Jewish and Palestinian Israelis.  

And Yet

From the first years of the state, Israeli Jewish women were perceived, first and foremost, as wives and mothers, not individuals or citizens.  This trend can be seen in some of the early laws of the country and the accompanying discourse which continued in the coming decades, lingering until today.  David Ben-Gurion once said “Any Jewish woman who does not bring into the world at least four healthy children is shirking her duty to the nation, like to a soldier who evades military service.” The meaning of womanhood and motherhood are closely related to a woman’s reproductive ability, and as such, “Motherhood is defined as a public role that carries national significance;” in essence, a national mission through which women contribute to both the nation (the ethnic collective) and the state (the political collective).  [1] 

And so, on these two days, I feel the waves of emotion, of joy and sadness that intermingle, and I know what Israel asks of me as a woman.  My womanhood and femininity are reduced to my reproductive capability.  It’s this delicate dance, this invitation to be a part of the nation and state in this particular way.  The state beckons me to not only gladly give my body for the cause through military service and ideological support, but also to lend my reproductive organs to perpetuate the zero-sum framing of “the other” as a demographic and security threat: Who will be the majority, us or them?  

And if this is not enough of an allure, as our days of memory and independence remind us, there is also an ever-present threat looming in our consciousness, this thought that maybe I will lose a child, and I should have another...just in case.  I thought that, perhaps, this is just my particular anxiety until I began to read how this is a trend: “To be afraid that my child will die in war [or terror] is just another way of influencing me to give birth to more children to safeguard myself, my people and my country.”  [2]  Again, reduced to my reproductive faculties.

It is here my joy and sadness begin to change.  I will hold a space of mourning in my heart, in solidarity with those who are no longer with us, whose emptiness loudly reverberates for what could have been.  And I will laugh and rejoice in solidarity with those who have gone before me to acquire places, and spaces and freedoms, some of which I cannot endorse.  Yet, it is here I draw a line and become resolute and stern.  I will gladly contribute to a good and healthy society as a citizen.  I will promote ethical and just discourse in our private and public spheres.  I will advocate for those who, like Jews in other places or periods, find themselves on the margins of society.  Just know this: my womb does not belong to you, and I do not lend my children to perpetuating the state’s patriarchal and militaristic actions and discourses into this 69th year.  


Notes:

[1] Nitza Berkovtich, “Motherhood as a National Mission: The Construction of Womanhood in the Legal Discourse in Israel,” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 20, Nos. 5/6, pp. 605-619, 1997.

[2] Gal Harmat, “Obedient, Beautiful and Silent,” in A Force Such as the World Has Never Known: Women Creating Change, Toronto: Inanna Publications and Education, Inc., 2013.  She discusses a number of the themes referenced in this paragraph as well as this quote.  She references Nira Yuval Davis regarding the emphasis on having children and Uta Klein regarding the media’s incessant discussion of the Israeli Jewish birth rate.

 
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