Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Living in the Garden of Perhaps: Ordinary Life as an Obstacle to Political Change in Israel

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Living in the Garden of Perhaps: Ordinary Life as an Obstacle to Political Change in Israel

Article excerpt

   Fresh flowers of perhaps once grew    in a landscape dewy and warm,    and I the best of gardeners knew    how to foster and keep them from harm.     Night after night, a sentinel    I kept watch tirelessly    to protect my buds from the cold wind,    the wind of certainty.     But finding out my secret, the wind    coldly outwitting me,    turned my garden of perhaps    into a cemetery.  --Ra'hel, Flowers of Perhaps 

Standing in Ronit's garden, I looked out over the rolling hillsides of brown, grey and green, that compose the pastoral scenery of Mevasseret-Zion, a suburb outside West Jerusalem. Upon arrival to the day's interview I had been ushered warmly through a locked glass gate into a bright and spacious home, a welcome contrast to the blocky homogeneous stone exteriors which together rose like a fortress above the valley below. Led through the home and into the garden space beyond, I was struck first not by the stunning view but by the massive fence which enclosed the yard completely--standing nine feet tall, the mesh fence was topped by a 'y'-shaped frame from which a fanned extension projected toward the valley. Definitely a security fence of sorts, the first association that sprang to mind was a prison compound, minus the concertina wire and with the addition of an incredible view. "I built this for the cats, to keep them inside," Ronit explained with a laugh as she began our tour of the garden. "I have five cats at home who I want to keep in--and I want to keep the weasels out!". I smiled and we walked toward the flora, as house cats' wary eyes shined from behind a thicket of leaves and stems.

Moving around the garden, Ronit introduced me to trees of cherry, almond, lemon and clementine-300 orange fruits harvested in the previous year!-then on to graceful stems of white calla lilies, cheery pentas whose pink and red flowers attract butterflies, and fading purple and white anemones which mark the arrival of spring. The garden was bursting with flowers and trees, providing an ornate display against the ascetic nudity of the brown hills and their lines of stone. Together we stooped to inspect a small door cut into the fence through which Ronit fed the street cats, along with the occasional weasel. Though banned from the garden sanctuary, Ronit cared for these creatures at a comfortable distance. Gazing across the hills once more I felt compelled to comment on their beauty: "Gosh, the West Bank is just so striking-it's unreal." Ronit smiled and gestured to the valley as she replied, "No, the Green Line is quite far from here. This is Israel." Stepping back into the house past the buds, blooms and branches I was confused, certain that Mevasseret-Zion was located on or near the 1949 Armistice Agreements borders-later I would learn that 'near' and 'far' possessed relative meaning: "The Green Line is not close to here," Ronit reiterated, "But it's not like it is in another country ... " Indeed, it bisected the valley below.

In the calm and cool of Ronit's garden, the reality of conflict is held 'far' while the sanctuary of home and the realm of beauty are kept 'near,' though each possesses a window to the other. Here buds grow safely, fostered and kept from harm under the protective watch of a sentinel--a gardener of flowers, a cultivator of security and a protector of a world unto its own. Yet ever visible beyond the fenced perimeter exists a wider world looming on the horizon, seemingly empty yet posing threat and promising danger metaphorically dressed in weasel's clothing. Entwined discursively, materially and emotionally, these worlds cannot decouple as the garden sanctuary--a site of desire and imagination, 'perhaps' what life might be-relies upon precarity, with lush abundance appearing in stark contrast to hills of scrub and rock. Thus, even in the warmth of May the cold wind slips long fingers between the mesh of Ronit's fence, prying at her garden while creating the conditions of its possibility. …

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