Yair will never go back there to live. Every time he says that, part of me wishes he would, for Israel needs a young man who detests the very notion of boundaries between countries. But if he left New York, I would be deprived of a friend who gently sets down his futuristic visions on café tables too small to hold them.
“Jews should be allowed to live on the West Bank if they want, and Arabs should be allowed to live in Israel if they want. The whole idea of nations and borders makes no sense to me. It’s an outmoded concept from another century. It’s undemocratic. I should be able to live anywhere I want. Anyone should.”
How nutty, I thought initially. But the more we spoke, the more I realized that the presence of so many hungry shadows trekking from south to north (to say nothing of future climate change refugees) carried implications that went beyond our traditional responses to what we call borders. Shy, with the smile of a little boy first discovering light in the palm of his hand, Yair works for a high-tech firm by day and calls himself “textual,” as if it were a religion.
Though textual, he is also radical. I love the idea of a computer nerd who was part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
I laugh thinking of my friend turned simultaneously inward and outward in his life. He acknowledges the perils of virtualness. He sees the café world he loves turned into a “factory” filled with nerds working on their computers by themselves, not socializing with those around them, but with others often worlds away. But the computer itself functions without borders, mirroring the natural functioning of Yair’s mind.
I tell him one day, “Now that the world is beginning to turn in your direction, what do you think political structures will look like if mass migration becomes unstoppable?”
“Maybe they won’t look very different. Maybe governments then will continue to look like governments now, with those on top able to manipulate those on the bottom.” (I should have mentioned Yair is quite the revolutionary pessimist.) “But there is always the chance things will move in a radical new way. We don’t know. If the idea of a world where unlimited and continuous migration is accepted as something natural, then maybe something positive will happen.”
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Robert Hirschfield is a freelance writer and photographer whose work appears in Ode Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, Outlook (the Indian newsweekly), and the London Jewish Chronicle, among other publications. He has travelled most recently to north and South India, and to Israel and the West Bank.
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