Writing is the Closing of Circles: Nava Semel

‘WRITING IS THE CLOSING OF CIRCLES’: NAVA SEMEL

From R. Lentin, Israel and the Daughters of the Shoah: Re-occupying the Territories of Silence, (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000)

Introduction

I met Nava Semel on November 25, 1992 in the apartment she shares with her husband Noam Semel, director of the Tel Aviv Cameri Theatre, and their three children, Iyar and twins Eal-Eal and Nimdor. Semel was born in 1954 in Tel Aviv. Her father, Itzhak Artzi, a former Knesset member and deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, was born in Bukovina and is not a concentration camp survivor. Her mother, Margalit (Mimi) Artzi (nee Liquornik), also born in Bukovina, is a survivor of several concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Kleineshenau. The twins, born in the US while Noam Semel served with the Israeli consulate in New York, have American passports. ‘This too is part of my being a daughter of survivors,’ Semel explained, ‘at least when the helicopters come to rescue the survivors here, they would be saved.’ Semel’s brother, Shlomo Artzi, is a leading Israeli popular singer. Semel is small, short haired, and very intense. Her use of the Hebrew language is very precise. She had obviously done a lot of thinking about being a daughter of Shoah survivors and has written both fiction and journalism about it.

Nava Semel describes her childhood as an ‘ordinary Israeli childhood.’ She served in the army as a news producer with Galei Tsahal, the army radio channel. She began writing when she had her first child. Her collection of short stories, the first ‘second generation’ fiction collection published in Israel, Kova Zekhukhit (A Hat of Glass) (1985), met with a wall of silence when it first appeared, but has been written about extensively since then. The collection was re-issued in 1998 with an introduction by the literary critic Nurit Govrin. Several stories have been translated into English, German, Spanish, Turkish and French and appeared translations in Germany and Italy in 2000.

In all the stories there is a ‘child of’ persona and they are all based on the various stages of learning about and coming to terms with her parents’ survival as Semel explains in the following narrative. Indeed, in all her books, the reality is often viewed from a child’s point of view.

Her one-woman play Hayeled meAchorei Haeinayim (The Child Behind the Eyes) (1987), a monologue of a mother of a Down Syndrome child, had many showings in Israel and abroad and several radio broadcasts internationally. In 1996 it won the Austrian radio play of the year award. Her two novels for young people, Gershona Shona (Becoming Gershona) (1988/1990), and Maurice Havivel Melamed Lauf (Flying Lessons) (1991/1995) deal with young people living among Shoah survivors in search of an Israeli identity. Both were translated into English. In 1996 Flying Lessons was selected in Germany as one of the 30 best books of the year. The novel Rali Masa Matara (Night Games) (1993) is the story of a group of Israeli forty-something friends playing a treasure hunt on the 1987 Day of Independence, half a year before the Intifada broke out. The novel Isha al Neyar (Bride on Paper) (1996) tells of life in a pre-state Israeli moshava (collective settlement) in the 1930s. Semel also translates plays, mostly on Shoah-related themes.

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They called her Ms Y: Migration and abortion

pro-choice-protests-6-310x415They called her Ms Y. She is a young asylum seeker who had been raped in her country of origin. When she arrived in Ireland she realised she was pregnant during the medical examination; she asked for an abortion and was told she could have one at eight weeks. But by the time she had spent weeks in hospital, being assessed by a variety of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and obstetricians, she was told that the only way of ending her unwanted pregnancy was to have a Caesarean section.

Like many other pregnant migrants, going for abortion in England was not an option for Ms Y. Although the process seemed to be in train, she found out that the estimated cost of travelling to England, having the abortion and possible overnight accommodation could be over €1,500 and that the State would not fund the costs. At this stage she was 16 weeks pregnant and although being pregnant because of rape is a source of great shame in her society, she had no option but to have that Caesarean section at 24 weeks.
A new December 2014 report by the IFPA, Right to Travel for Abortion Not Reality for All Women in Ireland (http://www.ifpa.ie/node/601) reveals that at least 26 asylum seekers or migrant women with travel difficulties who had used its counselling services in the 12 months prior were unable to access abortion abroad due to insurmountable legal, travel and financial obstacles. As a result at least five of the women were compelled to continue with their pregnancies and gave birth against their wishes.
In Ireland it is almost impossible for a pregnant asylum seeker to arrange travel to access abortion abroad. The first obstacle is obtaining an entry visa to the country they wish to go to; the UK has been reluctant to issue entry visas to women with temporary travel documents, so pregnant asylum seekers often prefer the Netherlands.

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Book review: Pregnant on Arrival: Making the Illegal Immigrant, Eithe Luibheid

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press 2013     Price: $25

ISBN 978-0-8166-8100-6

In January 2002, a Nigerian woman appealed to the Irish High Court to prevent her deportation on the ground that she was pregnant. Her lawyers argued that her deportation contravened Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution which guarantees to defend and vindicate the right to life of the unborn, who, Irish law considers to be ‘a person’. The woman, who became known as Ms O, had lost her asylum application and her appeal, but in a judicial review of her deportation order, building on the right to life of the unborn, she argued that due to high Nigerian infant mortality rates, the rights of her unborn child could not be guaranteed if she was deported. The Supreme Court rejected her appeal, apparently concluding that in the case of some (non-Irish) women, the unborn is not a person. In this book Eithne Luibhéid employs Ms O’s case alongside the infamous X case to draw attention to the long history of Irish women travelling across borders, both as emigrants and as women seeking abortions abroad, and the shorter history of women immigrating into Ireland, to suggest that the Irish state’s pro-life position is one of the factors shaping its approach to managing migration in and out of the country, and thus, that (hetero)sexuality is a factor in shaping Irish immigration policies.

Considering the plethora of recent books on the topic of immigration to Ireland and, to a lesser extent, emigration from Ireland, and though there had been several previous studies of Irish women emigrants,   it is surprising that Luibhéid’s Pregnant on Arrival: The Making of the Illegal Immigrant is the first volume to fully engender migration which, she argues, illustrates Ireland’s heteronormative regime. Luibhéid’s main argument is that constructing pregnant migrant women, and in particular pregnant asylum seekers, as illegal immigrants, has implications not merely for Ireland’s immigration and deportation regimes, but also for the future of the children born to these women through what she calls ‘reproductive futurism’. Continue reading “Book review: Pregnant on Arrival: Making the Illegal Immigrant, Eithe Luibheid”