“. . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day . . .” (Fadwa Tuqan)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

French Hill settlement in Occupied Jerusalem. (photo credit: ANGLO-SAXON JERUSALEM)

What happened to that light-hearted look at growing old? my friends ask about this blog. It doesn’t quite seem to be light-hearted on the infrequent days I manage to post. What has happened?

Am I less happy than I was on about October 25 (the last time I really wrote a piece for this blog)? Probably not. The not-too-well-kept secret is that I’ve always had something of a struggle to have anything approaching a sunny disposition.

Somewhere about February 15 (exactly February 15) of this year I decided to begin a blog dedicated to gathering bits of news from Palestinian online news sites and publishing a little digest of some I think are interesting or important. Yes, my bias shows absolutely (. . . some I think are interesting. . .) I don’t know if anyone either in Palestine or anywhere else would agree that they are the most important things to repost.

I wish I could remember why I began that blog. One of the joys of old age: I forget more than I remember these days. I should write a light-hearted blog post about that. But there are thousands of such writings by senescent beings out there.

Perhaps I don’t remember because it was nine months ago, and the impetus for my starting the project was some little event or idea that I couldn’t ignore.

And then, for another reason I can’t quite remember, on or about October 1, I decided to go to Palestine for the third time in this century. I signed up to go on the Fall Witness Visit of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.  I had been thinking about returning to East Jerusalem and the West Bank (particularly Bethlehem) for a long time, and when I discovered two old acquaintances would be on the Sabeel Visit, I decided to plunk down the money and get myself over there.

I love Palestine.

I don’t think Israel is much to brag about. French Hill is sort of like a wannabe Bushwick in Brooklyn, or a suburb of Dallas, or any other 21st-century materialistic city. That’s no wonder because it has been built mostly by Americans and others whose lives are controlled by acquiring stuff and self-centered modernity. And also, as nearly as I can figure, by Tea Party types. They might on the whole be better educated and more sophisticated than American Tea Partiers, but they think pretty much the same. Damn! Do I speak in unsupportable and unforgivable generalities, or what?

Palestine, on the other hand, is about as real and interesting a place as you can find. It’s poor and rich, old and young, liberal and conservative, political and apolitical (well, not many apolitical folks), and the Palestinians have too much invested in just trying to stay alive and keep body, mind, soul, and their society together to be interested in any Bushwick or French Hill kind of existence.

Take a young woman from Ramallah who has managed to get a job in Jerusalem. I heard this story last week in Jerusalem. I may have the cities or other specific details wrong, but the story is correct. She is a Palestinian Israeli, born in and a resident of Jerusalem, one of those folks who is caught in a no-person’s land. She made the mistake of marrying the man she loves, who happens to be from Ramallah. She moved there and soon had two sons. Then she found a job in Jerusalem that paid more than any job available in the Occupied Territories. So she now lives in Jerusalem and cannot see her husband and sons because they do not have Jerusalem residency permits. He works as a truck driver and can come to Jerusalem for work, but he has to be out of Israel by 7 PM each evening, and he cannot bring his sons into the city because they were born in the Occupied Territories.

Once in a while he manages to hide at his wife’s apartment overnight, but if he ever gets caught, that will be the end (of lots of things). She can only VERY seldom go to Ramallah because she is a resident of Jerusalem, and those privileges have been virtually taken away for all Palestinian Israelis. She wants to be with her sons. She has petitioned the government of Israel either to be allowed to go to Ramallah regularly or have her children with her in Jerusalem. The official answer? If you want to be with your children, divorce your husband.

This family struggles daily simply to keep themselves together (literally). They are not much worried that “Unique Clothing Is Taking The Fashion World By Storm.” Really, they’re not. Having dinner together this weekend and hugging each other is right at the top of their priority list.

My light-hearted writing about the pitfalls (or just falls—I did it again in Palestine; not to worry, I’ve put the cane away for the second time) of getting older really seems kinda silly at this point. It seems to me that anyone who is not depressed about the situation Palestine, in Syria, in Yemen, in Paris, in . . . has simply capitulated to a materialism that is the same in Bushwick Brooklyn or French Hill Jerusalem.

I have proposed that the second beatitude, “blessed are those who mourn,” offers an apt metaphor for depressive resistance in the age of global neoliberalism. Those who mourn, the depressed, are blessed insofar as they bear witness to the veiled oppression of today’s global hegemony. The concealment of this subjugation is made more complete by a contemporary strategy in which depression is turned into an illness, thus silencing its political importance. (Rogers-Vaughn, Bruce. “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: Depression As Political Resistance.” Pastoral Psychology 63.4 (2014): 503-522.)

One difference between Bushwick and French Hill is, of course, that the genocide in Brooklyn in the name of materialist hegemony was accomplished 400 years ago, while that in French Hill is ongoing.

“THE  SEAGULL  AND  THE  NEGATION  OF  NEGATION,”  BY  FADWA  TUQAN
It crossed the horizon and cleft the darkness,
Mastering the blue, darting on wings of light―
Twisting, turning and still turning.
It knocked at my dark window, and the gasping silence quivered:
“Bird, is it good news you bring?”
It divulged its secret, yet breathed not a word,
And the seagull disappeared.

Bird, my sea-bird, I know now
That during hard times, standing in the tunnel of silence,
All things change.
The seed sprouts even within the heart of the dead,
Morning bursts forth from darkness.
I know now,
As I hear horses galloping the call of death along the shores,
That when the flood comes,
The world will be cleansed of its sorrows.

Bird, my sea-bird, rising from the depths of darkness,
God’s blessing upon you for the good news you bring.
For I know now
Something happened . . . the horizon parted and the house greeted the light of day.

About Fadwa Tuqan.
From THE PALESTINIAN WEDDING: A BILINGUAL ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE POETRY. Ed. and Trans. A. M. Elmessiri. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011. Reprint from Three Continents Press, Inc., 1982. Available from Palestine Online Store.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat  Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

The Israeli demolition of a home in the Shufat Palestinian refugee camp in West Jerusalem.

“When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter. . .” (W. H. Auden)

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

With even a modest ability to consider objectively the barrage of “information” overwhelming us hour by hour by hour by minute, one can see that any media—any format—presenting information about the current attempt of Israel to obliterate Palestinian Gaza assumes a priori that Israel’s actions are justified.

The common—no the absolute overwhelming majority—wisdom is that “Israel has the right to protect itself.”

This is a “truth” so often repeated that it sounds as if it came from, Oh, I don’t know, perhaps the Holy Bible. Or the United States Constitution. Or the United Nations Charter. Or the Bhagavad Gita. Or the Qur’an. Or Shakespeare. Or SNL. It is simple truth, not to be questioned. It is as universal belief as the made-up science of economics.

Belief in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no less pervasive than that “Israel has a right to protect itself.”

Hardly anyone (at least hardly anyone in public) thinks about whether or not the proposition is true. And almost no one wants to hear any information that might contradict the received wisdom.

The wisdom began to be received, I would guess, during and immediately after the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I have, in fact, read about the process whereby the Israeli Cabinet decided to use Madison Avenue tactics, if not a Madison Avenue firm, to begin to persuade the American people that the belief, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” is simply true, is simply to be accepted without thought. I will plow through the stuff I have and find that article (or reread the book, whatever it takes).

Until then, trust me. OK, don’t trust me. There’s no reason for you to do so until I have located the evidence that I am correct.

So in lieu of trusting me, trust yourself.

Ask yourself why the massive destruction of cities, the horrifying murder of civilians Israel is perpetrating right now is in any way an expression of the “right to self-defense.”

Do you think Russia’s annexation of Crimea was an act of self-defense?
Do you think Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 was an act of self-defense?
Do you think the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus of Rwanda in 1994 was an act of self-defense?
Which side in the Bosnian war of the 1990s, the Serbs or the Croats was exercising its “right of self-defense?”

Think. Simply think about it.

Defense against a child

Defense against a child

My guess is that anyone who might be reading this can quote the last sentence of

Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. Socrates speaking Plato’s Apology [37 (e) to 38 (a)].

The unexamined life is not worth living.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people,” [President] Obama said.

What on earth does that phrase mean—and what are its implications? Its implications are that Israel has a right to continue the ethnic cleansing of all “Arabs” (read “Palestinians”) from the territory Israel claims as its own—the ethnic cleansing that began during the war that led up to the declaration of the founding of Israel in 1948.

The constant repetition of an idea for decades does not make it true.

Ad populum: This is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand.

Much writing is available to anyone who wants to think about the “received wisdom” that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” One might—after reading any or all of such writing—decide that the proposition is correct.

The question remains, however, where did the idea originate, and why was it first stated? Is it, in fact, the “truth,” or is it an Ad populum logical fallacy used to justify aggression and the subjugation of one people by another?
I said above there is much writing available. My project over the next few weeks is to gather a bibliography of such material and publish it on my other blog as a resource for anyone who believes that

talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man,

and that the unexamined life is not worth living includes questioning our received beliefs about atrocity. The link to the first installment of the bibliography is below Auden’s explanation of tyrannical speech.

“Epitaph on a Tyrant,” by W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

http://sumnonrabidus.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/when-he-laughed-respectable-senators-burst-with-laughter-w-h-auden/

Defense against a worker returning home

Defense against a worker returning home

 

 

“. . . love with no need to pre-empt grievance. . .” (Elizabeth Alexander)

A British travel poster from the 1930s - to visit a place that didn't exist?

A British travel poster from the 1930s – to visit a place that didn’t exist?


Elizabeth Alexander
wrote her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Obama’s first inauguration. In the foreground, the poem is, of course, about the event which few of us had imagined would happen in our lifetimes—the inauguration of our first African American President.

I’m appropriating the poem because I think its background “meaning” is infinitely more complex than simply a marker for one event.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

For the past ten days I have been depressed in a way that is both familiar and unfamiliar to me. I have not managed to write anything organized well enough to warrant posting here or anywhere else. I have written and written, but all of that stuff is either in Word documents with bizarre names on my desktop or—mercifully—in the “recycle bin.”

Most of the depression is, I think, a normal reaction that even those of you who do not have to take Prozac feel. It’s separation anxiety. Some of it is already here (retirement), but some of it is projection. Three of the people I depend on for emotional stability are going away, one temporarily, one permanently, and one either temporarily or permanently. I’m feeling ordinary sadness and fear at being left alone, albeit projected fear because their departures are in the future.

Augusta Victoria Arab (Lutheran) Hospital in Jerusalem

Augusta Victoria Arab (Lutheran) Hospital in Jerusalem

Ordinary sadness.

Then there’s a small item of difficulty in being hired for sure for the part time tutoring job I am already doing at the university. That there can be a problem with my application to teach part time at a university where I have been teaching full time for fifteen years is terrifying to me. What if they don’t, after all of this, hire me? Is my next step applying at Walmart for a job? (After all of my criticism of Alice Walton, that’s not a likely prospect.) I spent three hours sitting in the waiting room at the Social Security office yesterday to get a new Social Security card (I haven’t had one for 30 years at least) to insure the solution to part of the problem, but the rest of it is still uncertain.

This is ordinary fear.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

It is all about words.

Ordinary words.

Goodbye. Employ. Security.

Fear.

And the one I have not mentioned.

I have not mentioned it because I don’t know for sure which it is.

Dismay.

Anger.

Or Grief.

In any world of logic (which I seldom inhabit) events taking place 5500 miles from home should not cause depression. Anger, dismay, grief, perhaps, but not depression.

The Israeli project of genocide and the destruction of the Palestinian culture and society in Gaza is, I think, the background meaning of my depression. I cannot fathom it. I cannot accept it. I cannot believe it.

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed. . .”

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Elizabeth Alexander is, I know, speaking directly of the experience of African Americans. But every day the experience of the people of Gaza corresponds more closely to the historical experience of African Americans.

The version of Niebuhr’s prayer we all know is, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

There is an enormity of difference between “the grace to accept with serenity” and “the serenity to accept.” I will never have “serenity,” but I can try to find “grace”—or (in Christian theological terms) to accept “grace” [see note below] that is freely given (by whom or what, I do not know, but I believe it’s possible).

I cannot accept with serenity the vicious, warmongering, uncivilized assertion that “Israel has the right to defend itself”—with the extension of that logic to the end that Israel has the right to obliterate an entire society.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

Americans must—yes, I will moralize and even preach—“reconsider” the words that are too easy to repeat as if they were fact.

A shirt purchased in 2003 for the weekly vigil in Jerusalem of the Women in Black

A shirt purchased in 2003 for the weekly vigil in Jerusalem of the Women in Black

Israel’s right to defend itself does not include killing hundreds of children in retaliation for the murder of three teen-agers. Or even retaliation for an almost-completely-nonlethal bombardment with rockets. Israel has experienced nothing to warrant genocide and the destruction of entire cities.

That is, nothing but the words that declare God has given Israel the land that belong(s)(ed) to the Palestinians, and the Palestinians must either leave or be killed. Words for us, as Americans, to REconsider. Because they make no sense for us as the protectors of equality and democracy.

We need to find a place where we are safe—where the ideas of equality and democracy that we want the world to believe define us are safe.

We are duplicitous enough for the entire world to see. We pride ourselves in holding “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” while we give aid in the amount of $2,000,000,000 per year to a nation that is determined either to subjugate another people in toto or drive them from their land. Are the Palestinian people created equal to the Israeli people or not?

Are we caught in a self-contradictory lie of “words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,” or are we so self-deceived that that we are willing to ask for “serenity,” when what we need to seek is “grace?”

We might not need the Prozac of “homeland security” if we stopped lying to ourselves. We are, I think, suffering from separation anxiety—our own separation from the ideals we say we believe.

[Note:  I trust if you listen to this hymn, you will be able to sort out the mild sectarianism and get to the words of the last stanza, “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.” The evils we deplore are our “warring madness,” from the third stanza.]

“Praise Song for the Day,” by Elizabeth Alexander (b. 1962)
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Limited Options

Gaza Beach, before Israeli blockade, 2007. Families together.

Gaza Beach, before Israeli blockade, 2007. Families together.

Two days ago a friend (a friend of 20 years, well before FB) posted on my FB wall a piece written by one of her FB friends.

Sheba Siddiqi has given me permission to post her writing here.

About fourteen years ago, before I met my husband, I considered myself, a happy and blessed American. I didn’t pay attention to world issues because simply put — it didn’t affect me. Why should I care about what’s going on in the world? I’m happy, safe, free to do what I want, go where I want, whenever I please. International affairs were irrelevant in my life. But then I got married to a wonderful Palestinian man… And it’s amazing how my world view changed! He’s not just Palestinian, he is from Gaza.

I didn’t understand that my husband’s people in Palestine were forced out of their home… out of their country when he was very young. I didn’t understand that their livelihood was taken away, so much so that there was no way of income, no way to provide for the family. This is still the case in Palestine now, many years later.

For the past several days, I have watched the media coverage of Gaza, both US and Arabic media— and I realize there is so much that we as Americans don’t see and understand. Did you know that there have been over 600 people killed, mostly civilians— just sitting in their homes, looking for shelter? Hundreds of those killed were children. Did you know that the hospitals/morgues are full, and out of supplies? Did you know that the Palestinian people have been told to evacuate— but their city is surrounded by walls, and they can’t get out?! The one way place they could go is Egypt, but Egypt has closed its borders and will let no one in? Is this not genocide? I’m not going to comment on who is doing the killing, nor shall I mention where they get their weapons… As a people, if you are being beaten up, if someone is holding a gun to your head, your options are— to run to safety (of which there is none in Gaza), or to fight back.

My heart is breaking for the people of Palestine. I see the faces of my children in those children who will never see freedom because they were hit by gunfire or their home crumbled on top of them. I see the face of my beloved mother-in-law in every grief stricken woman who loses their family. People think that I have changed? Well they are right! I stopped being that “happy American” who thinks it doesn’t affect me. It DOES affect me. When I married my husband, his people became my people. So it is MY people who are being killed– and have no options. I say this because once, I, too, had no reason to care. But as one of my friends, family, acquaintances, I ask you to care—pray for the people of Palestine, communicate with your political leaders, give generously to Gaza.

It’s not about religion, it’s about humanity.

(HAK: it’s not about “politics” or “strategic interests,” either.)

Closed crossing into Egypt - the only escape.

Closed crossing into Egypt – the only escape.