The Dance of the Cranes in Jerusalem

By Mats Svensson

Woke up early. Had had a strange dream. Got up and looked out the window. Foggy, could hardly see the house on the other side of the street. Far away, within myself, I heard the shrill, strong, desolate sounds, the sounds of calling cranes. Together with my brother I had gone to Hornborgarsjön in the middle of Sweden. Early spring morning, had arrived during the night. Had slept a few hours in the car, in the dream we were in the car, Renault 4L, in a hiding spot in the forest. Unclear dream, but then it begins to grow light, the fog remains across the plain and when it lifts we see black silhouettes in the distance. With the lake in the background we see thousands of cranes, munching on potatoes. We put up our tube binoculars, point the long lenses and see how the cranes begin to dance. In the dream I hear their high calls, that’s when I wake up.

Last night I was at a reception, cocktail party or why not call it a diplomatic get-together. Diplomats meeting after the summer, diplomats, like the migratory birds, the cranes, returning to their permanent playgrounds. Repetition, everything is repeated, as if nothing has happened in the meantime.

Every year when we went to Hornborgarsjön I was struck by a feeling of unreality. That these gigantic birds kept returning. Kept carrying out these enormous journeys across the continents to collectively land on this partly desolate place, land to eat potatoes and carry out the mating of the spring. High above they fly over a continuously changing landscape, which has been struck by war, which has led to peace and again war followed by new peace agreements. But the cranes are completely unaffected, return with great stubbornness, to meet each year, meet to dance in the early morning.  What have they seen? What do they have to tell? They come from different places and within themselves they have something drummed into them that we find difficult to understand. Date of departure, direction, distance and landing spot.

And last night I saw another type of migratory birds meet. We also danced and carried out the yearly ritual. We are well educated, from the large universities with many languages and experiences in our baggage which would make most jealous or at least minimised. On the cards that I get in my hand I understand that we have studied international relations, peace and conflict, Arabic, international diplomacy. PhD seems to be the most common title. And while we dance, move in the room in a prescribed and studied way, a conversation is held about histories, stories. Anecdotes are lifted into the dance and become truths and are taken from person to person. The stories change but we are unaffected.

During our absence, holiday, some houses have been demolished. Five children have been made homeless, three children homeless, four children homeless. The children stood on the side and saw when the Caterpillar chopped down their house. They tried to run towards the house, tried to pick up a forgotten toy, but were stopped by young Israelis, soldiers. What had represented generations of saving was crushed in 13 minutes. In some cases the home was exploded. When the dust lay to rest the child sees only a pile of sand. As if they would have received a gift, a playground from the occupation power.

An old man in the hospital, a handicapped old man imprisoned. The man I met before he was imprisoned was silent. Seemed depressed, sad, dejected. His wife, on the other hand, a wife that had also become old, tirelessly tells their story. The story of how they had occupied half of the house. The distance between the two doors only a couple of meters. They are not friends living next door, no, they are occupants, occupants protected by soldiers. The woman who still had the energy to tell, tells how the occupants use the small open spot in front of their door for parties. Never asked whether it suited, never apologized. As we sit and converse with the elderly woman the door opens and a young civil man passes by, holding an automatic weapon in his hand. Pass us as if we did not exist, showing no signs of seeing us even though he slowly walks amongst us sitting on our white plastic chairs.

The cranes, no, the diplomats dance, whispering in each others’ ears, whispering as if about secrets. Secrets that become secret reports, as if there was anything that was secret in Jerusalem. Everything that is being said and told has already been noted. Everything is accessible on the internet, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, or most easily in the daily newspaper Haaretz.

Did not think very much about it during the evening. Have suffered through hundreds of evenings like this one. It is in some way my life, my calling or task. Part of my role. No, it was when I woke up after having dreamt about the thousands of cranes that I began to see myself as a migratory bird. Flying high above, flying over the large course of events. Protected, protected. Land when I know that it is safe, concealed in the fog. Meet my own, converse and dance. Never need to take a risk. Do not risk my health, do not risk my career, just make sure that my pension points improve. When the fog lifts and reality comes too close I can fly on or lock myself up and write a secret report.

– Mats Svensson is a Swedish former diplomat. He contributed this article to

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