Whose cheese is it?
It happened during an uneasy and dramatic time in the north of Israel. Roi was recovering from open-heart surgery. He lives in Forest Row, Sussex, but had lived some time in Galilee, Israel. Galilee is a wonderful area with much water and many flowering plants. It was there he wished to recuperate. But in this summer 2006 recuperation was not possible. The second Lebanon war broke out. Skies over Galilee were rent by warplanes, their deafening noise cutting the air to the threshold of pain. The nerves of the people were left raw and defenceless.
During these days, when Roi celebrated with friends his recovery from the surgery in England, he was given a book of Palestinian folk tales as a present. Some of these tales he started to read at once. Later they had supper and wanted knafe for desert. Knafe is an Arabic sweet of rosewater, various soft cheeses and sugar. This was only available in the village from the Palestinian baker. Roi was advised not to drive there as the tension between Israelis and Palestinians was at breaking-point. But the appetite for this special sweet was not to be denied. Roi and his wife got into an old, clapped-out car and drove off to the baker’s. They entered the small room, where the baker and two friends were watching a television screen showing the destruction and bloodshed in Lebanon.
The baker stood behind his counter, the tray of knafe, baklava and other sweetmeats before him. Roi and his wife were immediately recognised as Israelis. “We spot each other straight away,” explained Roi.
With the images and sounds from the television as well as the planes outside, the atmosphere became even more tense: incurable, full of rage and hate. What would happen? The situation could turn violent at any moment. Roi spoke to the baker: “Today my friends and I are celebrating my recovery from heart surgery and we would so love some knafe. They gave me a book of your folk tales and some of them I have already read. I’d like to tell you one of the stories. Would you allow me?”
The man nodded, and Roi began.
Once upon a time there was a small mouse. This mouse was delighted to find a large piece of cheese. The mouse was just about to start nibbling when another mouse appeared. “Hey, that is my cheese! I was here before you – it belongs to me!” Now the first mouse didn’t want to give way. The two soon began to argue, to scratch, to bite, squeaking and snarling all the while.
Then along came a fox. “Now then, you mice. What are you arguing about?” Both mice began to shout across each other: “There was no way the cheese belonged to the other mouse, it simply couldn’t be because, because . . . ” The fox at last got them to talk just one at a time. After hearing each mouse, he offered to make sure that justice was done, the conflict solved and each be accorded his rightful piece of cheese. He suggested that the cheese be divided. And the mice agreed.
The fox stretched out a sharp claw from his right paw and cut the cheese into two. But the two pieces were not of an equal size. “Oh,” said the fox. “I’ll have to cut a bit off the bigger piece.” This he did, and to make everything simple he ate that bit up. But again, the two remaining pieces were not an equal size. So once more he had to cut a bit off, and that piece he also ate up. And so it went on. The two pieces were never equal, and in the end the fox had eaten the lot.
What the mice then said or did in Roi’s story, I have forgotten. But this I shall never forget. The baker looked at Roi:
“And that is one of our tales?”
“Then I thank you for it! That is just the way it is with us here. We argue about something, and in the end it is others who enjoy our beautiful land – America, the NGOs, and I don’t know who else.”
Roi was given a box of knafe and baklava as a present. The two men became friends.
In the end, thought Roi, only we ordinary people, left to ourselves, can make peace. That is our task, and our possibility.
This event was the inspiration for Roi to create a Storytelling for Peace festival and also his work with Healing Words.
Retold by Micaela Sauber, translated from German by Richard Martin
An Indian Storytell friend, Sowmya Srinivasan, sent me the following:
This story is quite a favorite in India and is told in many schools and in fact can also be found in our Grade 2 Text book.
Except that we tell it as 2 Cats fighting over a piece of Chapathi and a Monkey Judge who takes it all away…
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