Friday, July 23, 2010

Kafka In Palestine

One morning, after mouldering away in his grave for 86 years, Franz Kafka found himself transformed in his coffin into a... Zionist.

Israel's supreme court recently ordered the opening of 10 safety deposit boxes containing the papers of Czech writer, Franz Kafka, who died in 1924. The papers had been in the possession of Esther Hoffe, the secretary of Max Brod, Kafka's friend and biographer. On her death in 2007, Hoffe left the papers to her daughters, who wanted to sell them to the Archive of German Literature in Marbach. Hoffe's will, however, was challenged by the Israeli National Library, which claimed the collection on behalf of the state of Israel: "Kafka scholar Mark Gelber, a professor at Ben Gurion University told The New York Times that the writer's 'intimate connection to Zionism and Jews' was among the prime reasons his lost writings should remain in Israel. 'This material belongs in Jerusalem', he was quoted as saying. 'Brod became a Zionist before the First World War, lived and worked here and is buried here. Less well known is the fact that Kafka was a totally engaged Jewish personality and writer with many intimate connections to Zionists and Jews'... Gelber and other Kafka scholars say... that Kafka was not only devoted to Zionism and the study of Hebrew, but possessed a life-long dream to move to Israel." ('Kafka's life-long dream was to make aliyah': Remnants of Franz Kafka's estate found in Tel Aviv flat prompt speculation of writer's Zionism, Haaretz, 18/8/08)

That's it then. Kafka, author of those nightmarish classics, The Trial and Metamorphosis, was a card-carrying Zionist. Not!: "But in his new book, 'The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay', Louis Begley posits that despite the writer's preoccupation with his Jewish identity, he was neither a Zionist nor an active member of the Jewish community. 'I admire Zionism and am nauseated by it', Mr Begley quotes from Kafka." (ibid)

A curiously ambiguous verdict indeed. But if Kafka had lived to see the fruits of Zionism for himself, I feel sure that his verdict would have been far less nuanced. And, were he alive today, who would be better qualified than the man who gave us the adjective Kafkaesque to sum up the experience of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation:

"[T]he particular nightmare of the Palestinians is best described in the pages of Franz Kafka. In Kafka's world the prevailing theme is uncertainty and unpredictability. There are no set rules for behavior and the orders given by authorities seem arbitrary and even contradictory. You do not know what the laws are. The 'authorities' in Kafka's work sit in their fortresses and periodically intrude upon the lives of the confused and apparently helpless protagonists. This Kafkaesque situation describes life in Occupied Palestine. Israeli authorities suddenly intrude themselves into the lives of the Palestinian population, and do so in an unpredictable and arbitrary manner. They also destroy in an arbitrary manner. Israel's message to the Palestinians reflects one of Kafka's more depressing maxims: Why build knowing destruction is inevitable? A Palestinian might be safe one moment and in danger the next. You cannot predict if you will make it to work, the grocer, or school, or for that matter back again. As a result many Palestinians could identify with Kafka's character Joseph K in the novel The Trial who, 'without having done anything wrong was arrested one fine day'." (Orwell & Kafka in Israel/Palestine, Lawrence Davidson,, 3/4/04)

The opening sentence of Metamorphosis might read today, for example: One morning, after a night of consensual sex with a Jewish woman, Sabbar Kashur, a non-Jewish man, woke to find he'd been sentenced to 18 months in prison for rape...

And how exquisitely Kafkaesque the words of the Israeli judge who sentenced Kashur: "The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price - the sanctity of their bodies and souls." (Palestinian man jailed for rape over Jewish lie, Jason Koutsoukis, Sydney Morning Herald, 22/7/10)

Their souls for Jehovallah's sake!

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