A couple weeks ago, I read an article in Jewish Currents magazine about Israeli efforts to claim the writings of author Franz Kafka for their national library. If you’ve ever read Kafka, you’ll know that his writing tends to focus on the dangers posed by menacing, arbitrary bureaucratic forces in the modern world.
After visiting Jaffa this week and learning about the atrocious treatment of native Jaffans for 70 years and counting, I can’t help but wonder if Israeli officials have ever even stopped to read Kafka.
The whole series of events could not be more Kafkaesque.
Walking us around historic Jaffa, our tour guide Abed filled us in on Israel’s bizarre cruelties toward the city’s Palestinian population. He explained how in 1948, after targeted terror attacks provoked Jaffans to temporarily vacate their homes and find safety, their temporary evacuation became an indefinite displacement. Denied the right to their own homes, even the wealthiest of Jaffan merchants were relocated to the impoverished Ajami ghetto. All the while, strange Europeans would move into their houses, wear their clothes and lay claim to their possessions (it took three months for Israelis to sift through and seize all Palestinian belongings).
When all the former Palestinian houses had been filled by European Jewish settlers, Israel had no choice whatsoever but to move newcomers into Ajami, where Palestinians were forced to share their already subpar homes with the random white folks who moved in.
Hearing Abed’s account, I imagined Kafka writing a story called “Jaffa.”
The main character, let’s call him Omar, wakes up for work one morning and finds himself in the wrong house, a cramped home in the ghetto where he’s sharing his house with a strange European, perhaps someone who killed his nephew in combat last week.
Omar steps outside, walks over to his real home and rings the doorbell. Another white man answers the door, this one clad in Omar’s own clothes. He asks the man to at least return his family photos, and the guy shuts the door in Omar’s face. Omar never gets his photos back.
After all, by Israeli law, Omar’s house, clothes and heirlooms are no longer his own.