Thursday, October 14, 2021

"Apeirogon" and "Haifa Republic"

The novel “Apeirogon,” written by Colum McCann, is about the friendship and activism of the Palestinian Bassam Arami and the Israeli Rami Elhanan, united by the tragic loss of their daughters in acts of violence. I thank Marta Fraile for convincing me to read this fantastic book, from an article she wrote in El País.

The novel is based on real facts, and uses an absorbing narrative technique made of short 1001 chapters (counted in ascending order from 1 to 500 and then in descending order from 500 to 1, with an isolated page 1001 in-between) of very variable extension, where time goes back and forth,  and a diversity of interconnected fields (from biology to mathematics) are touched. One chapter for example just reports that the average life expectancy of Palestinians is 72.65 and the equivalent for an Israeli is almost ten years longer.

Bassam and Rami also have in common that they are treated as traitors by others in their communities. They know from experience what is attributing evil or hidden intentions and motivations to the critics. The story, as Marta Fraile explained, is a homage to empathy and the hope of peace. It is also an impressive description of life in a small land dominated by walls, check points, fear and discrimination.

Anyone who has a direct interest or just curiosity about the complexities and tragedies of national conflicts should read books like “Apeirogon” (literally, a generalized polygon with a countably infinite number of sides), and be interested, without being naïve, in exploring possible solutions. That the solutions are very difficult to come by in Palestine/Israel is illustrated by the fact that the mediator that was key in finding a (temporary at least) solution to the very complex conflict of Northern Ireland, Senator Mitchell of the US, could not find a similar broad and effective agreement in the Middle East.

That is why I am very cautiously attracted to attempts to revive a proposal by the late historian Tony Judt in favour of a one democratic state solution, given the failure of the two-state solution that is still routinely endorsed officially by many well-meaning parties. One such attempt is the book “Haifa Republic,” written by Omri Boehm, and reviewed by Peter Beinart here. Following the ideas of Judt, Boehm proposes a federal binational Republic shared by Palestinians and Israelis (it’s too small a land to have two viable states). The author argues that this would follow and old and somehow forgotten Zionist tradition that distinguishes between self-determination and sovereignty. Both Palestinians and Israelis can have self-determination for their culture, religion and language in the context of one shared state where every individual has full citizenship, everyone is educated in the past tragedies of each people, and everybody learns at least two languages: Arabic and Hebrew.

The name of the book comes from the admiration of the author for the city of Haifa, which he prefers to the divided Jerusalem or to the Jewish dominated Tel Aviv. Haifa seems to be an example of coexistence and diversity, which reminds me of my home city of Barcelona, where the constant threat of divisive nationalism has so far not prevented people from different origins and using different languages (in this case, both, Catalan and Spanish, coming from Latin) to be friends and to set up families. I just hope that Haifa does not become a new Sarajevo (with which the City Council of Barcelona has had links before and after the war), also shown as an icon of multi-culturality before suffering a horrible ethnic conflict in the 1990s.

Perhaps the examples of Haifa and Barcelona will help us promote an even more ambitious idea than the binational federation, and that is the idea of a postnational federation, where individuals are not tagged by their belonging to one side or the other, but they can just be everything and more at the same time (in the spirit of the Apeirogon concept).


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