Tuesday, March 07, 2017

This poem is the documentation of a modern miracle, brought forth out of the sheer stubbornness of a people and their relationship with a land that is just as stubborn.

In 1946, under the British Mandate, it was discovered that the Jewish community of Biriya, next to Tzfat, had stockpiled weapons. The British felt that Jews could not be allowed this freedom (self-determination) and decided to demolish the community. An order was given that declared the area “military territory” in which Jews were not allowed to live. The Jewish leadership saw this as an unprecedented infringement on the right to settle Jewish land and decided they would not relinquish their rights or the land.

Thousands of Jews flooded in to Biryia. The British army fought them off. With unwavering determination, another wave of Jews came, their numbers so great that the British were overwhelmed. The mighty army simply gave up.

Natan Alterman witnessed the victory over the British and the re-establishment of Biryia. The poem he wrote describing the event, so powerfully captured the relationship between the Jews and the Land that the British censorship would not allow it to be published in the newspaper (so it was published a few months later in a book!).

It was clear that the Jews would not give up on their land. Or was it the land who would not relinquish her Jews?

Biriya’s Earth \ Natan Alterman

Three times the British army uprooted Biriya’s fences,
And they were replaced. The local people and the hundreds who flocked
And came to their aid threw themselves on to the ground, and the soldiers
Labored to shake them and uproot them by force from the land of Mount Canaan.

He flattened the full height of his body in the field,
And his eye flashed like a knife.
And the earth craggy, wild, ancient
Clung to him, caught and held him.

The army was given the order: "Shake him, take him from here!
Against his will, we will make him stand on his feet!”
But the earth, the craggy and bold devil’s daughter,
Did not want to let him go.
On his face and back they rolled him
They pulled him.
Dragged him by the arm.
But that day the craggy earth would not allow
His body to be ripped off of her.

And three time he was ripped
And thrown back
And made to rise and thrown back
Because the craggy earth, the grey daughter of demons,
Chased him and growled.
And three time he was ripped
And thrown back

And three times she vowed to him,
And three times the fence was uprooted
And three times the fence was put back in place.

Then the witnesses said: I declare
Other lands are beautifully attired
No other land would cling
To the body of a Jewish person in this way!

As the army withdrew, a boy said softly:
The army did not shoot this time.
But they could have, today with their bullets, you know,
Disconnected me from you, Land of Rage.

She answered him with a laugh, the craggy, the salty [earth]:
Even had a bullet split your brow,
They could not have disconnected your body from me,
Because then, you would have stayed with me till eternity.

The land Alterman described is not the land of plenty the Jews in exile dreamt of, the Zion he described is not flowing with milk and honey, she is harsh and difficult. She is grey, craggy and salty – a land almost impossible to draw fruit from, one not made for agriculture. Another man might give up on such a land, searching for easier, prettier shores. But not the Jew.

What other land would cling so to a Jewish person?

Ancient and wild, the land has claimed us for her own.

As the poem describes, try as they might, the British were unable to disconnect the Jew from the land. Understanding the danger, the Jewish boy tells the land, “they could have killed me and broken our connection.” The land, knowing better, answers: “even your death will not part us.”

For better or for worse, even death will not part us.

There are many beautiful places in the world but there is only one place on earth that the land clings to the Jew.

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