An Accidental Settler?
by Craig Dershowitz
Hector “Nicer” Nazario was unsettled.
Nicer is one of the foremost respected legends of the New York graffiti movement. In the 1980s, he brought a local art form global and provided it with cultural and artistic significance. He has traveled the world, working for multi-national corporations, defining the look of whole industries and creating a worldwide phenomenon that has, at once, found a home inside and, more often, outside of the greatest museums. Even more important to Nicer, he knows that children from sub-Saharan Africa to the tip of Iceland are inspired by him – they take turns trying to practice and perfect the way he scribbles his “N.” He said yes to the Artists 4 Israel Breaking the Siege trip because of the children. Maybe he said yes for one child in particular. But, for this journey he was unprepared.
Before he boarded the El Al flight, Nicer learned that his trip to Israel would not be of the tourist type. Although he would get to bask in the Tel Aviv sun rays, experiencing what is considered one of the greatest party cities in the world and although he would visit Jerusalem, walking freely among the many religious sites that are protected by the Israeli government, he would also visit the war-torn and dangerous areas. Nicer was told he was to walk among the settlers – those imagined zealots who patrol Greater Israel with a rifle in one hand and a bible in the other. Nicer was to visit the dreaded settlements and come face to face with the Middle Eastern conflict and all the confusion and aggression that defines it. The most children he might meet would be soldiers – teenagers turned adult by weapons slung across their growing shoulders. He was nervous boarding that plane.
It is believed that you find Gd in a foxhole. But with each crazily-dressed sect of Orthodox Jew rising to turn and pray, it was as if Gd was whirling around, ricocheting off the tin can of a plane. So many prayers and beliefs, you assume someone must be right. And, if so, the whole plane is protected. The whole journey is safe. Unless so many opinions means no one is right. That would be bad.
It was a bad event that brought Nicer to this crazy, whirling, flying belief blimp in the first place. A very real bullet, without ricochet, without intention, without aim, struck and killed his son. Dead. A terrible accident.
Nicer was coming to say his goodbyes. He was coming closer to Gd to ask for his son’s eternal protection.
But, first, he had to walk the precipice of politics and the sharp, cutting edges of misinformed, popular opinion. “Jerusalem will come,” he was told, “but first you must see all of Israel.” As a non-Jew and as a respected and honest man, he knew that if he made it home from this journey, he would have many questions to answer. While he went to ask the unanswerable – others wanted him to return with all of them. Sponsored by Artists 4 Israel, Nicer was to be shown the whole of Israel so that, unlike the enemies who hiss and shriek against the country without knowledge, he could speak comprehensively and intelligently.
Nicer spent a week and a half in places where the newspapers say the bad guys live. He spent time in B’nei Netzarim, a religious community that had been evacuated from Gush Gatif in the Gaza Strip. He watched them swimming in the sands of the desert, humble families, rebuilding their homes. Bet El, a settlement founded on the site of Jacob’s Ladder to heaven, welcomed him with open arms. They served orange slices and beans and rice. The trip to Neve Yaacov was difficult – the racist GPS refused to find directions to this Northernmost Jerusalem community built outside the borders of the Green Line. But, once there, he entered a break dance battle with the young kids of the community. Some of the children were black, some Russian, some indistinguishable. One or two even looked like his deceased son.
He came to the border of Bethlehem, a holy site to this pious man – perfect place to pray for his son. But, he was chased from the town by the intimidating glares of its Arab residents and the threat of violence. When safely near the entrance, protected by the young men of the Israeli Defense Forces, he saw the sign that forbade Israelis from entering. Like dogs, niggers and Jews in the South in the 1960’s, Israelis were not welcome. He had traveled too long and too far with these Israelis to abandon them now. The journey continued.
Across Route 60, where so many Jewish children lost their lives to the intentional bullet of an Arab sniper, he saw and painted the concrete barriers where children are taught to hide the next time a terrorist takes aim. Finally, he spent a significant amount of time in Ariel, that controversial community within Samaria (or what the papers mistakenly refer to as the West Bank). He led classes, teaching little kids about art. He spent time with families, sitting in the clear night, playing guitar, drinking strong coffee and exploring the themes of home and place.
At one point, he looked out across the sweeping expanse of desert and empty space and asked why people would fight over land when there was so much there, unclaimed. Mayor Ron Nachum, unintentionally, answered. He had come to Ariel when it was just an arid and fearful mountaintop. He and his family and two tents sat in a place where no one else wanted to be. Today, Ariel is a beautiful, thriving near-Metropolis with a large and proud community, a college where all can enter and learn, Arab and Jewish alike, and an Arts Center.
That Arts Center is what started all this traveling in the first place. It was there that the citizens of Ariel were hoping to grow and learn and enjoy the fruits of culture. It was there, as in all arts spaces, where dialogue and hope could happen. Ariel was no longer two tents. But, just as Ron Nachum had built a glorious city, the enemies of Israel sought to tear it down. They wanted to ruin something that Israel had built for no other reason than Israel had built it. A few, misinformed, silly artists tried to stifle dialogue and discussion in the Arts Center. They chose self-censorship over thought. Nicer and the other artists he traveled with chose to break that boycott. Nicer says “Art belongs to the people.”
Nicer watched Yigal Golan perform and laughed at the Justin Bieber like hysteria caused by this one man singing in a language he didn’t understand. It was after this concert, after a week and a half traveling from settlement to settlement, that Nicer looked at the organizers of the trip and asked “When are we going to see the bad Jews? When are we going to see the religious nut jobs and the newspaper-described oppressors and agitators? He was told to look around him. He was told that he had been traveling, living, and creating great works of art among them for the last two weeks. He was told that, according to the papers and pundits, he had been living amongst the most guilty of Israelis.
One young Israeli looked at Nicer and said “you look like a settler.” And, he did. Indistinguishable from those around him, Nicer learned that that term settler referred, in reality, to one who had settled the land. Like he had settled graffiti as a respected and commercially viable art form. He had settled down from his journey. He had settled down from fear and questioning. In fact, Nicer had settled down to find home and family and art in a place that “reminds me of my childhood home – a community where people work and live together, with mutual respect and understanding.”
Then, Nicer went to Jerusalem. He placed a folded up piece of paper in the Western Wall. Then, he made one last journey. He visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and lit a candle for his son. And, finally, he was settled.