A bloody artwork mirrors Mideast tragedy
FOR ANYBODY who has been around silver-tongued diplomats, watching televised rebroadcasts of the Israeli ambassador's outburst in Sweden last Friday was as startling as Premier Khruschchev banging his shoe upon the table of the United Nations. But the furor around the ambassador's vandalism of a museum installation has widened to embrace -- and to symbolize -- the paradoxes and the ironies of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy.
Third graders in Haifa's Reali School are used to the one empty desk in their Israeli classroom. At 8 years old, three months is an eternity, and the desk where Tomer Almog spent the first month of the term seems as if it has always been unfilled.
After Tomer was killed with his grandparents, father, and 17 others while having a family meal in Maxim's restaurant in Haifa on Oct. 4, his school held memorials, psychologists visited his classmates, and for several weeks his photo and candles blanketed the desk.
Tomer's mother never had time to grieve, for the explosion seriously burned his 4-year-old sister. It also immediately blinded the right eye of his 10-year-old brother Oran, and acutely injured the other one.
Specialists in the United States are trying to save Oran from permanent blindness. After reconstructing the eye, Helen Keller Eye Foundation for Research and Education head Dr. Robert Morris said that the best that could be hoped for was "walking around vision."
When the 29-year-old Palestinian woman, Hanadi Jaradat, calmly had lunch in the crowded restaurant before detonating the explosive belt hidden beneath in her clothes, did she also know that the establishment she would decimate had been jointly owned and managed by Jews and Arabs for the past four decades? Her bomb killed five of her Arab brethren, most young people in their 20s and 30s, and injured the 90-year-old father of Maxim's Arab co-owner.
Just days after the bomb, the management hung a banner across the wreckage: "We will not allow coexistence to be destroyed," and by December the restaurant had reopened. Now the bomber herself has been reincarnated, prominently featured in an art exhibit in Stockholm coinciding with an upcoming conference on genocide. Entitled "Snow White and the Madness of Truth," her angelic face gazes from the sail of a miniature white boat floating in a large pool of liquid grotesquely dyed the crimson of fresh blood.
Ironically, it was not one of the commissioned Palestinian artists who created "Snow White" but rather an Israeli-born radical artist now living in Sweden named Dror Feiler. In an uncontrolled outburst during a reception, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, disconnected the installation's illumination. When he tried to explain how he perceived "Snow White" as an indecent justification for murder, the ambassador was ejected from the hall. The incident aroused ire in Sweden. The Israeli press and media chewed every angle. The former Israeli ambassador to Sweden called Mazel's conduct counterproductive, suggesting that in order to defuse anti-Israeli sentiment, he should have spoken to the Europeans in their own language.
Each side rallied to its expected positions. The Israeli government threatened to boycott the conference unless "Snow White" was withdrawn. The Swedish ambassador in Israel responded that, although perhaps in "bad taste," "Snow White" would stay. Jaradat's mother insisted that her daughter was a martyr. The artist's aged mother, a radical left winger living in an Israeli kibbutz, expressed pride in her son's creation -- and received anonymous death threats. Prime Minister Sharon gave a tired knee-jerk reaction, supporting Mazel's act as a response to "mounting anti-Semitism."
As usual, the ideologues are using this undiplomatic diplomatic gaffe and the brutal "Snow White" as grist for their respective mills.
Meanwhile, Tomer Almog's desk remains empty, scar tissue forms over his sister's burns, and his brother squints dimly at the world through one reconstructed eye.
Helen Schary Motro, an American writer and lawyer living in Israel, teaches at the Tel-Aviv University School of Law.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.