I cannot bear to look at the images from Israel and Gaza yet I cannot bear to look away.
A dead child does not judge. Whether her last moment came at the edge of a Hamas blade or at the white heat of an Israeli rocket explosion is meaningless. When one precious child is lost, revenge, belligerence and corrosive hatred won’t restore life. Those things will take – are taking – more lives. This is the way of wars – men’s wars.
I’ve read 100,000 words about this war. They are all true. Hamas is an evil monster. Israel’s repression of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere is immoral and has nourished the Hamas beast. Neither of these things justifies the other. And yet they have been used and will be used to justify each other until the last dwellings are crushed and more children are sacrificed in the name of “winning,” a pathological male preoccupation. This is the definition of a vicious cycle. The men will fight until there is nothing left to fight over.
Among the thousands of words, not a sentence explains how the continuing violence will solve anything. Hamas terrorism will not loosen the stranglehold Israel has on Gaza. The Israelis will tighten their grip. The bombing or ground assault on Gaza will not eliminate or discourage rabid terrorists – it will inevitably breed more.
Not a word explains how a child’s dead body – Israeli or Palestinian – will soften a heart or invite deeper understanding. And for those children who survive, what peace lessons are learned? How will a next generation learn to live and love together when their streets are reduced to rubble and they hear nothing but the whistling of bombs, the wailing of their mothers and the hot war talk of the men?
I’m not naive. There will be no immediate peace. Too much blood has been let. No lone peacemaker, like the brave soul in Tiananmen Square, will stop the madness.
But war will not bring peace. Poets and musicians will bring the peace. There is a language of love that can cross the political and religious divides. There are peacemakers in Israel and Gaza. The United States provides billions of dollars of war machines but not a dime for the peacemakers. Are we all complicit through our silence or our stubborn intellectual insistence on who is right?
The only words with moral strength are “No,” “Stop,” “Peace,” and “Love.” There are voices in Gaza, Israel, and a growing number of countries around the world that are singing and chanting these words. All anyone can do is join this chorus and hope the sound eventually overwhelms the calls for revenge and victory.
At times like these I revisit the eternal truths offered by the late poet and acquaintance Grace Paley. We must all cry out like Cassandra.
It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
also leaflets you can hardly bear to look at
because of the screaming rhetoric
It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy
to hang out and prophesy
It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes
It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory
towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C
and buckwheat fields and army camps
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the
It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
freedom without justice and this means economic
justice and love justice
It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original
and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it
on in the way storytellers decant the story of life
There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no
earth and air and water continue and children
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on
this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
listened to this time.