Cain’s Creation

      

 Adam and Eve conceived Cain (he who is created),

And later his brother Abel.

And Abel became a shepherd, and Cain a farmer.

 

When he became a man Cain offered

The first fruits of his harvest to God,

And Abel brought the fattest young from his flock.

And God accepted Abel’s offering

But not Cain and his offering.

 

This troubled Cain.

 

Cain said to Abel let’s go for a walk

And when they were alone,

Cain killed his brother Abel.

 

Then God said to Cain listen

Your brother’s blood is crying out

To me from the earth.

Now you are cursed.

When you till the earth, it will not yield harvest

You shall become a wanderer and a vagabond.

 

And Cain said my punishment is too much to bear.

You have banished me, and

I must become a restless wanderer

But anyone who meets me can kill me.

 

And God said if anyone harms you,

You will be avenged seven times over.

And God marked Cain’s head,

So that anyone who met him would know

And Cain went away and settled in

The land of Nod (restlessness), east of Eden.

 

Joesph Flexer, born in Brooklyn,

Dropped out of Yeshiva and became a socialist.

1951, age 18, Zionist pioneer in the

Negev Kibbutz Urim (lights).

 

As Be’er Sheva Region military commander

Patrol with Jeep and Uzi;

His task: ambush Palestinian infiltrators.

Shoot to kill. On sight.

 

Isaac Flexer, born in Winnipeg

1974, age 18; soldier AWOL

Evening hitchhiking to Zophar military base,

(Transitioning to an agricultural settlement;

A border stronghold, “facts on the ground”).

 

In uniform (but unarmed), standing alone at

Crossroads near Sodom.

No vehicles pass. Nothing stirs. Not a sound is heard.

Nowhere a bird or a lizard or a snake.

Embraced by silent void and emptiness

(Must be what it’s like to be on the moon.)

 

Eerie. No fear. No concern whatsoever.

Yellow stars and white moon in a black sky,

Glow of orange from stacks and towers of the phosphate plant.

 

Zophar is named for one of Job’s three friends

Job who came from some unknown place.

Beside Zophar is the military post named Bildad.

Twenty kilometers to the south another military outpost

Eliphaz, where Daveed Flexer, in 1984, at age 18

Serves in the military in a similar border stronghold.

 

North shore of the Dead Sea

South of Jericho, the caves of Qumran.

At the lowest elevation on earth,

In a lifeless, silent, and desolate place,

Ancient Jewish religious community – the Essenes

Climb the ragged cliffs; cache scrolls of biblical scripture.

Undisturbed for 2,000 years.

In the spring of 1947, last days of the British mandate in Palestine,

Young Bedu shepherd Muhammad edh-Dhib finds

The Dead Sea Scrolls (probably looking for a lost sheep).

 

Archaeologists and biblical scholars retrieve hundreds of leather fragments,

Including an incomplete Isaiah manuscript, a scroll of Hymns, and

The story of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.

 

Abraham cast out the slave Hagar and her son Ishmael,

And Hagar went into the wilderness of Be’er-Sheva.

Soon without water they were close to death

And Hagar wept. God’s angel: Arise, lift up the lad

For I will make him a great nation.

And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.

And Ishmael grew, and lived in the wilderness.

He had twelve sons, ancestors of twelve tribes.

 

Bedu society is a swarm of independent families

Surviving in the desert on meager subsistence.

Each family part of a clan (for security);

The clan (khamsa) part of a sub-tribe (ruba);

Part of a tribe (ashira), part of a sub-confederation (fakhdh);

Part of a confederation (gabila), a bedu nation.

 

Head of the clan is an elder (kabir)

Head of the tribe is a chief (shaikh).

People without a state and without a central government.

Agreements made by consensus;

(It is better to destroy a people’s interests

with their consent than to enhance them on one own’s initiative.)

 

Winnipeg. 1964. Flexers watch Lawrence of Arabia (at the North Main Drive-in).

Hawitat shaikh shoots and kills Lawrence’s bedu guide,

Not allowed by law to drink from Hawitat wells.

Later Lawrence to Sherif Ali: So long as the Arabs

Fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people,

A silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.

 

Murder is like a witch’s cave. Easy to enter but impossible to leave.

Sleep with regret, but not with murder.

Even he with the long sword must submit to the law.

Murder marks a weak clan; damages reputation for strength;

Blood-revenge restores strength. Revenge dispels shame.

Often, to avoid retaliation, clansmen of the murderer

Pick up and flee, abandon all possessions, become exiles.

But exile is constant humiliation with

Dependence on the tribe that offers refuge.

 

Murder compels migration.

 

Rage rises in Joesph Flexer, fulminating.

Loses faith in the Israeli-Zionist cause.

Festers in his own complicity

Obliterates his ability to love.

 

When Cheryl Strayed is a college senior,

Her mother dies of lung cancer.

Family scatters; her marriage ends.

She calls this loss her genesis story.

 

Four years later, at 26, driven by blind will,

She hikes the 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Three months, Mojave Desert through California

To Oregon and Washington. Alone.

A journey of strength and healing.

 

Robyn Davidson’s mother commits suicide

When Davidson is 11.

In 1977, at 27, leaves Alice Springs

For the west coast of Australia, 1700 miles away.

With her dog Diggity and four camels.

Across desolate outback, riding camel Bub.

 

A lunatic gesture of independence

Survival in a landscape of sandstorms, prickly rain, unbearable heat,

Poisonous snakes, charging bull camels (and a mass of tourists).

Six months later soaks in the Indian Ocean.

Transformed by the journey.

 

  1. Isaac in high school in Arad

(20 kilometers from Massada, 24 from the Dead Sea),

Shuns History and the Hebrew bible.

Unprepared for bible mid-term exam,

Writes 5-page essay in exam booklet arguing against teaching scripture

As compulsory subject in a secular democracy.

Days later stops going to classes. Drops out.

Gets a job as a welder’s assistant.

Soon IDF call-up notice comes in the mail.

 

Isaac Flexer’s lineage: maternal side Russian Jewish colonizers of Palestine;

1923: buy cheap land; toil the barely-arable soil.

Paternal side Jewish socialist pioneer in Palestine

Ensured Palestinians would never return.

Later Joesph/Joe Flexer seeks redemption by taking up Palestinian cause.

 

Poetry: the gem of Arab culture,

But Bedu masters of oral verse.

Recited from memory.

Metaphor a way of life.

 

Rarely do Bedu answer a question directly;

Direct answer suggests shallowness.

Answers rather, given in verse, story, or parable.

To understand, you must decipher.

 

Bedu children grow up with metaphor, proverbs, and poetry.

Unchecked emotions weaken group’s solidarity,

So poetry expresses sadness, love, anger;

Conveys feelings difficult to express.

 

A fog of despair shrouds

The eye, just when it starts to clear

 

When cousin kills cousin in a squabble,

This poem expresses sadness, triggered

By the painful memory of the murdered young man.

 

Adam and Eve’s three children: Cain, Abel, and Seth.

Cain and Seth become grandfathers of every human.

Cain, banished to a life of wandering and homelessness,

The essence of volatility and rootlessness.

 

Seth founder of the stable world

(Seth in Hebrew means “to set” or “to establish”).

Cain the disruptor of life. Seth the patriarch.

Cain the nomad, Seth the settler.

 

  1. A small unrecognized Bedu village in the Negev

Two hundred of the Azazmeh tribe live here

(Should have relocated to the state-planned town of Segev Shalom.)

Suleiman El-Hrenik runs a tourist business;

Hosts 50 tourists a year, mainly Jewish Israelis.

In a tent large enough for 100 visitors.

 

Suleiman, in his 70s, flowing grey-white beard,

Long white cloth covers head and shoulders.

Forehead wrinkled by decades of wind and sun.

Wears a T-shirt and cargo pants

Sits comfortably on the floor, legs crossed.

Pours tea. Describes his situation.

 

We are the original Bedu.

We have sheep, goats, camels, everything here.

We make pita on the saj. We have tea, coffee, lebaneh, humus,

And bread we cook on the fire.

We slaughter sheep for our guests right here.

 

We take the people to see the local area.

They can sleep here in the guest side of the tent.

We have a kitchen, and I have set up bathrooms for them.

They can come here and see how everything is open.

 

This is how we live, not in a stone house in town.

That’s no way to live, we can’t live like that.

I can’t live in a stone house, a house that’s closed in!

That’s not the life of the Bedu!

 

We do everything in this country,

We are guards, we serve in the Army.

We just want to be left alone.

But they want to destroy our houses.

There is a demolition order on my son’s house right now!

 

Where will we go, what will we do?

I am a Bedu! I have chickens, camels, goats, sheep! I cannot live in a city!

 

I was in the Yom Kippur War, in the tank corps.

There were seven Azazmeh in the unit.

Look at this situation! Everything here is in turmoil.

This country treats me like this.

It makes trouble for me and my family all the time,

Wanting to destroy our homes, to destroy our lives.

This country is shit.

 

Awlad ‘Ali Bedu tribe think it shameful

To complain publicly about one’s personal life,

Relations between spouses or family members;

Emotions such as pain, grief, vulnerability, and love.

Poetry speaks veiled social messages.

 

This poetry is called the ghinnawa (little song).

Can be recited in a regular speaking voice:

Tears increased,

The beloved came to mind in the time of sadness.

 

Or chanted to a repetitive, mournful melody;

Gradually pealing layer after layer of emotion:

 

In the time

In the time

In the time of sadness

In the time

The beloved in the time of sadness

In the time

In the time

The beloved in the time of sadness

In the time

In the time

In the time my tears

My tears increased oh Lord

In the time

In the time

The beloved came to mind

The beloved came to mind in the time of sadness

 

The Awlad ‘Ali say beautiful poetry makes you cry.

 

Proverbs from the common people are like salt for the food.

 

One’s maternal uncle is like a loop.

Bedu Boy’s qualities come from his maternal relatives,

His personality depends on theirs.

The loop is the loop of a saddle bag or sack

By which it hangs, as a boy’s personality is hung on

Or tied to his mother’s men folk.

 

Anez abu Salim al-Urdi, born in 1920,

(The finest living poet in Sinai).

While in prison (led smuggling ring; spent 15 years in prison),

Two of his wives ran off with men of his own tribe.

He composed this poem in prison,

At the time of the Feast of the Sacrifice:

 

Last night I slept unsound

Yet how few to whom I’d complain of my pain.

O how pleasing’s the cup one sips under palms

And the gun’s sound where the wadi bends.

And lamb’s meat we’ve heaped on embers of broom

With friends in the shade of a booth, reclining

Near darkened-eyed lasses with fine even teeth,

Their tattoos as green as the pasture of spring.

But today I’m trapped in the tangles of fate,

Imbibing, by draughts, purest poison.

Others are covered but we are exposed,

As jerboa-mice frolic within my abodes.

Though I’ve whitened the withers of mares, I’m despised;

Even those who wear the black shawl shun me.

My clan’s like hyenas at small stinking pools,

Crouched to the ground like hyenas drinking.

 

During the first world war, the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca,

(With T. E. Lawrence), organized a revolt against

The Turks in western Arabia; many Bedu joined,

Leaving womenfolk despondent:

 

I’m sad out herding goats today,

Crying for those who’re far away,

Who’ve pitched their tents where death goes by;

What luck if we see them again someday.

And woe to the walker or he who rides slow

When chargers veer, their sticks asway.

Looking out as far as anyone can,

I see only tattered dresses swaying.

All that remain are virgins and flocks,

And asses, in the wormwood, braying.

 

A Bedu child hears proverbs on every aspect of life, many in rhyme:

A child is a child, though he rule a town;

You must live with a neighbor, though he oppress you;

What’s done is done.

A trial is called an assembly and a full coffee pot;

Or a semicircle of kneeling men.

When they water their camels, they make

A simple rhyme called an “urging”,

Sung over and over again while

Urging the camels to drink.

 

The village of Al-‘Imara, (more a hamlet than a village),

Once located in the middle of a wide plain

Linked by roads to Be’er Sheva, twenty-seven kilometers to the east

And to Gaza, twenty-two kilometers to the north.

Arid. Agriculture not possible.

But villagers cultivate beds of nearby wadis.

 

December 26, 1947: small-scale battle;

Jewish patrol clashes with local residents.

Fall 1948: Israeli army seizes the village;

Clearing operations: Arabs expelled;

Livestock confiscated; wells blown up.

 

  1. Kibbutz Urim sprouts on Al-‘Imara land.

Two kilometers southeast of the kibbutz

Are ruins of several stone structures;

Houses of Bedu families from before 1948.

Today, kibbutz farmers cultivate village land.

 

My own search for freedom,

For the Self obscured by Isaac/Jerry;

Tarnished by lineage.

No need to be right in a place.

Better to wander out of place from home to home

Not at home anywhere in particular.

 

Shepherd, farmer, wanderer; harmonization is futile.

Currents of water and grains of sand can be out of place

But combine in unpredictable motion and synergy.

Unpredictability is freedom.

 

Job suffers: possessions gone, children lost, no wife.

Endures loathsome sores, bad advice, and much anguish.

Why does blameless Job suffer?

Why does God allow his suffering?

 

Job grieves; not for lost possessions or children.

Job mourns for the lost belief that righteousness protects.

Pleads for the chance to reason with God.

 

Three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar,

Say he’s being punished for his sins.

But Job knows this is false.

 

Then God’s voice from the whirlwind.

And Job submits.

And God restores his world: possessions doubled; a new family.

 

Job has come closer to God.

Before, he could hear God

But now he sees.