Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Naomi Shihab Nye: Questions in July

 

Where does terror come from? Possibly from people who are terrified. Why does it hurt more when the killed were boys on a beach? They had the breath of the sea in their lungs. They were running, leaving footprints. Does the word “innocent” have no bearing anymore? Depends on what you want to use it for. Why can’t the world see? The world can see. It’s the people with keys to bombers in their pockets who lose vision. Who flex, display. Is this another way to commit suicide? Maybe they don’t value the past – just making pronouncements for the future.

We will win. Be on top. No more shoddy little rockets from you second-rate folk.

Maybe they forget what it felt like to be slaughtered, collectively.

 Who, me?  We are the righteous. We have the right. We right the wrong.

It’s been going on now so long we forget what we did to begin with.

How this thing got going. Why so many of them ended up pressed into small hard places.

We stole the land. Murdered their grandparents. Chopped their trees.  Rechanneled the water. Changed the stories. We said everything belonged to us.

*

Read Naomi Wolf’s posting on what being the “chosen people” might really mean. Listen to Tom Waits singing “On the Road to Peace” and ask yourself again how much money and weapons our country gives to Israel to help them  act this way.

A Jewish friend sends an email of one word only: STOP!

Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet, once invited me to his home in Jerusalem for scrambled eggs. We had encountered one another on the street. How did he even recognize me? Then I remembered the nametag on my shirt. We were part of an international poetry conference.  I walked with him right then and there. He stared at my carry-bag and said, “Just like an American product  – pockets for everything, even a water bottle.” I said, “Actually this bag is from Germany.”  In his home, he and his wife told me of their great anxiety for their son, who was, or had recently been, a soldier. Amichai stood with me at the window and pointed out the general section of the city where my father’s childhood home, seized in 1948, still stood. My father and I had only recently walked together to see that home. My father became so emotional when a rabbinical student from Brooklyn casually asked us if we “wanted to see the inside” that he nearly had a heart attack on the pavement. I didn’t ask Amichai how he knew the location exactly. Had he read my father’s writings? He went on, “It is important for me to tell you I would NEVER have lived in a home seized from an Arab family. NEVER. There are many of us who feel this way. I live in a home I built myself.”

The eggs were delicious.  I felt the shadow in that room. Amichai gave me a copy of his love poems in Hebrew, signed the volume to me in English. Later that single book would get me out of a nasty interrogation by Israeli security guards at Ben-Gurion Airport. Ransacking my entire bag, they found the book with Hebrew lettering on the front and shook it in my face. “Why do you have this? Why?” I opened to his signature. “He gave it to me.”  They stared at the inscription. Friend. They let me go.  They didn’t like it though.

Amichai is dead. Ravikovitch, Darwish, Said, all these truth-tellers, dead. Believers in something better. If there is any afterlife, I know they are horrified. Ashamed. Disgusted.

What are the young Israeli soldiers telling themselves when they come home from their devastating missions?  We did well. We should be proud. How do they sleep? That’s only one thing. I want to know how they can bear to live.

The humble American poet William Stafford, born 100 years ago and a conscientious objector during World War II, believed strongly that “every war has two losers.” His son Kim edited a collection of his writings on peace and war, conflict and dialogue, titled the same.  I wish these books could be left at every bus stop in Israel. But who would be interested? Children. Grandmothers. Hopefully – students. The parents of the murdered young people on both sides who keep saying, Don’t do this! The students at the Hand in Hand Schools. Residents of Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salaam, the shared democratic village. They know that mutual respect is the only way.  Have you ever heard an Israeli politician say or suggest these words? Mutual respect. They want respect from others, but what do they give back?

Something enormous is being betrayed. Every religion, for starters.  Not one person in the Israeli government seems to be reaching toward “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”  All the Women in Black, demonstrating regularly for years for shared justice, are being betrayed. The legacy of heroic leaders. Dr. Martin Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Palestinians haven’t seen any justice in 66 years. And many of them never gave up the hope. My father on his deathbed told the hospital chaplain he still had hope. The chaplain said, “Really?”

Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh of Bethlehem. Advocate of nonviolence. Educator. Public Speaker.

Whole generations of hard laborers and workers. Betrayed.

I wish you could see the tiny plots of mint people nurtured around their rough little homes in Gaza.

But what about those rockets! Hamas! How terrible!

If you were desperate, would you do desperate things?

If you were locked in an open-air prison for years and years, how might you behave?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if a government could say, “Let’s ask them how they hurt, what they need. How we could make their lives better. Let’s find a way to bridge this thing. It’s the only way to move forward together.”

Many people are now saying the hardliner Israelis have never had any interest in the word “together” anyway. No two-state, one-state, even the recent suggested three-state, nothing. They want the impossible. The cruel. The hideous, insane legacy of World War II re-enacted.  They just want all those people to be gone.

A few summers ago, many of our Texas neighbors had their birdbaths stolen.  This inner-city neighborhood was going wild. (No one took ours because it was too ugly, tucked away among palms and vines in the back yard.)  The police said the birdbaths were probably being sold at a flea market south of town. They suggested the irate residents go down there and look for them. People said things like “I will take my gun.” I thought – seriously? A gun for a birdbath? Try being a Palestinian for a day!

 

copyright 2014 Naomi Shihab Nye. All rights reserved.

This piece was written for Vox Populi.

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