JERUSALEM POST BLOG 4 – Of all the Gauls
What’s so Belgian about Belgium? What constitutes a nation? Julius Caesar once famously said, “Of all the Gauls, Belgians are the bravest.” Luckily he wasn’t there to see me run that day, in ignominious defeat, from a flock of geese. I am a man of rituals. The half-hour walk to work is integral to my waking up in the morning, my cup of coffee if you will. Nothing can start though, before I slush away the night with actual, non-proverbial caffeine.
They were domesticated geese, by the way, belonging to a small farm that’s managed to cling to a plot of land amid the soaring concrete of Ramallah’s construction boom. There, absurdly, a wild goose chase ensued of which not they, but I was the victim. I yelled, stamping my feet. “Why are you following me, hissing like that, wings outspread, menacing? It’s uncouth.” Or something to that effect… I assume now that they didn’t speak any English. These feathered reprobates clung to my heels regardless of the verbal abuse I slung at them, regardless of the wide arch I’d drawn around the stretch of sidewalk they were occupying for reasons beyond my fathom.
The ruckus must have awoken the farmer. The old man appeared for a brief moment, sizing up the threat, and called off his troops by means of some unintelligible Pavlovian command. The camels in the paddock chewed on listlessly, no doubt disappointed about this anti-climax. I can only hope they got their money back. My workplace has meanwhile moved to a part of Ramallah that’s more ruggedly urbanized. My walks are uneventful now, a tad boring perhaps, but at least I’m spared the indignation of being chased by animals one-tenth my size. I’ll see a stray dog sometimes, but all it does is run for succor. The only goose bumps now are Jacques Brel’s in my iPod.
He came, he saw, and he sang about Belgium, his “plat pays”. The brave heart of Brel often railed against hypocrisy in this “flat country” where dwelled his muse.
His was a different time though, an epoch that’s melted away in the reveries of a retiring generation. It’s a split country now. Walloons and Flemings. Belgium appears as more of a problem than any kind of solution, and talk of two states is all the rage. A good marriage requires two loving partners, not just one. That sort of thing. The monarchy shifts uneasy.
The conundrum though, the Gordian knot of splitting lies in the capital. Brussels, predominantly French, is an enclave, an island floating in the belly of Flanders. Both sides want it, claim it as inalienably theirs. Waffles are only part of the story.
Ring any bells? Sure, the analogy, the Jerusalem parallel is rough like sandpaper. Far be it for me to be so arrogant as to offer some all-encompassing solution, a clear-cut Solomon’s judgment. Perhaps, unlike the Belgians of Caesar’s fancy, I’m simply not brave enough. Sandpaper, after all, merely scratches at a surface. And yet, it can expose rust, fraught welding, or worse; the knell of breakage. Scissor. Paper. Dome of the Rock. Today, the old lady who, um… mans the register at the bakery close to my house asked me; “You are German right?” “Nope, from Belgium,” I answered.
In stead of the usual “What’s that?” she said, “Oh, did you know the Jordanians call us Palestinians ‘Belgians’?” I’d heard of this, but no one had ever been able to tell me why. “I don’t know, you like waffles?” She shook her head, and took two Shekels for my bread. “The fedayeen, on their raids from Jordan, used to wear Belgian boots. After a day of wearing these boots, the cheapest on the market, the ‘Made in Belgium’, embossed on the inside would remain readable on a person’s leg.”
“Oh. Interesting.” Sometimes I feel that’s all we leave behind; skin-deep impressions. A nicked paint job. Almost three years here and all I’ve had is a sneak preview, a mere gander. Half-witted metaphor confines my thoughts. I really do sometimes miss the simplicity of whipped cream on waffles.
14. Bruce Griffin (if that’s your real name) : if I wrote about the Jews what you are alleging about the Belgians, I would stand accused of blood libel. Based on an innocent story about Ramallah, you accuse us of bashing Israel, exploiting the cocoa producers, being selfish and selling weapons to anyone. When asked to stop the character assassination, you accuse us of having occupied the Congo. Time to get your facts straight. It was Belgian public opinion in the 1906-07 campaign, helped by the British and Americans, that forced King Leopold II to give up his personal domain (which was granted to him by the international community at the Berlin Conference in 1885). Belgium worked very hard after WW I to make the Congo a showcase of what it had not been before 1908. In fact a few years before the 1960 independance, the UN proclaimed the Congo “a model colony”. What is it with Israelis that when told to get out of the West Bank, they reply they are immune to any criticism because others misbehaved in the past ? Guido Courtois, Antwerp, Belgium, Aug 26 7:08AM
13. Guido i dont beat my kid sister but i call a spade a spade, I love beligum,I have been there about 6 times,good food and I met nice people ,but your leaders and kings of industry,do have a bad historical record,lets get real,But your governments are pro arab and anti-israel.Theodore rooselvelt said the Beligan congo was the most evil of places,full of brutality and abuse of local african tribes,never equalled in any other colony known in the world.Compared to our occupation, your leaders in the past and those who ran the belgian congo should have been charged with slavery and ethnic persecution.Where is the world court for your crimes as a nation.Guido one thing good about jews we know and learn history and remember.Belgium is part of a trend of that ethnic groups expressing there rights and becoming micro nations .Guido what im pissed about is the wetern european nations attack israel for taking land from palestians but each country is a hypocrit.Like france and the corsicans.Italy and sicily.Spain and cetua.Scandinavians with the lapps(sami people).The creation of these micro nations is the best for Israel.Then Israel can deal with them on a more level playing field so I agree with u a independent flanders would benefit israel alot.hooray for flanders and wallonia and lets say remember the belgian waffle. bruce griffin, petah tikvah, Aug 24 6:08PM
12. No peace in our own house ? Belgium is one of the precious few countries that never knew domestic violence : no IRA, no Red Brigades, no Red Army Faction, Basque separatists, Corsican or Breton irredentists, Moluccan terrorists or Yougoslav catastrophes. For the past fifty years we have invested in domestic peace, and our politicians don’t get stabbed in the streets, Charles dear. Not sad, but proud to be a Belgian ! In fact so many Dutch have chosen to live in our country that in some villages they form the majority. Guido Courtois, Antwerp, Belgium, Aug 24 3:08PM
11. Sad to be a Belgian nowadays. They don’t have peace in their own house, so how can they have peace with the world? How can they understand their neighbour with such a broken heart? charles, The Hague, the Netherlands, Aug 24 2:08PM
10. Sad to be a Belgian nowadays. With no peace in its own house, how can it make peace with the world or how can their own people understand their neigbours? sad Belgians. charles, The Hague, the Netherlands, Aug 24 2:08PM
9. Hero of mine! They should make you the new formatteur in your home country. Bring the Flemings and the Walloons back together! Antonio Montana, Milano, Aug 24 12:08PM
8. Albert Reingewirtz, we are shattered. Will our foreign trade ever recover ? I thought this blog was about a rather nice Belgian bloke who is trying to overcome the psychological pressures of living in an occupied territory by doodling witty comments – poking fun at himself and his people, he almost sounds like an Israeli, for Chrissake ! Must you react by spewing your gall over our little country ? Stop kvetching, already ! Guido Courtois, Antwerp, Belgium, Aug 23 4:08PM
7. I have not bought any Belgian anything for a long time. I do not plan to buy any for an even longer time. Albert Reingewirtz, USA, Aug 23 3:08PM
6. Bruce Griffin, have you stopped beating your kid sister ? Or is Belgium-bashing just an additional pastime ? Even an independent Flanders would still have a GNP three times that of Israel. And we in Antwerp get along very well with our Jews, ask them where they prefer to live if you dare. Guido Courtois, Antwerp, Belgium, Aug 23 11:08AM
5. You mean Ned Flanders? John Wilkinson, Milwaukee, Aug 23 9:08AM
4. Time for Flanders to get her independance from the Belgian oppresive state. I would like to see a flemish republic with Filip Dewinter as his president. At least one politician who support Israel ! Castor Troy, USA, Aug 23 6:08AM
3. Beligan a interesting little country in europe who has a interest with jewish people thru the diamonds,most people forget they bash israel alot,maybe its payback time from G-d again, after selling weapons to anyone,abusing africans in congo,their heart lies only what benefits them ,Their chocolate is great and how much do workers in cocoa trees in africa and third world countries make for the expensive chocolate they sell to us in the duty free stores around the world.This country is going to go like czech and slovakia.I think the wallons and flemish need to also look enemy within islamic terror,whats good for israel these micro states will end up less significant on the international picture which can only benefit us in israel.then we can say remember the beligan waffle. bruce griffin, petah tikvah, Aug 22 10:08PM
2. Wa doet ge eigenlijk in Ramallah? J, Antwerp, Aug 22 4:08PM
1. Wow! Echt een mooi stukje… bie, brussel, Aug 22 11:08AM