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Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

On the Slaughter

July 31, 2014 | by

A political poem’s ironic new life.

Bialik_ParisReview 001

Bialik at around age thirty.

ON THE SLAUGHTER

Heaven—have mercy.
If you hold a God
(to whom there’s a path
that I haven’t found), pray for me.
My heart has died.
There is no prayer on my lips.
My hope and strength are gone.
How long? How much longer?

Executioner, here’s my neck:
Slaughter! You’ve got the ax and the arm.
The world to me is a butcher-block—
we, whose numbers are small
it’s open season on our blood:
Crack a skull—let the blood
of infant and elder spurt on your chest,
and let it remain there forever, and ever.

If there’s justice—let it come now!
But if it should come after I’ve been
blotted out beneath the sky,
let its throne be cast down.
Let the heavens rot in evil everlasting,
and you, with your cruelty,
go in your iniquity
and live and bathe in your blood.

And cursed be he who cries out: Revenge!
Vengeance like this, for the blood of a child,
Satan has yet to devise.
Let the blood fill the abyss!
Let it pierce the blackest depths
and devour the darkness
and eat away and reach
the rotting foundations of the earth.

Political poems lead strange lives—they often wither on the vines of the events they’re tied to. Old news gives way to new, and the whole undertaking starts to seem, well, an expense of spirit in a waste of shame. For many and maybe most American readers, “poetry and politics just don’t mix.”

But sometimes they do. Quite violently.

On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped while hitchhiking home together from their West Bank yeshivas. They were murdered—most likely within hours of being taken—and, eighteen days later, after an extensive search, their bodies were discovered under some rocks in a field near Hebron. Israel mourned, and raged. Emerging from a cabinet meeting convened just after the corpses were found, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the families and quoted the great modernist Hebrew poet Hayim Nahman Bialik: “Vengeance … for the blood of a small child, / Satan has not yet created.” He went on in his own words: “Hamas is responsible—and Hamas will pay.” For good measure, the Prime Minister’s office tweeted the lines as well.

As anyone who hasn’t lived atop a column in the Congo for the past seven weeks knows, a series of violent, retaliatory acts followed. Israel carried out mass arrests on the West Bank, killing six in the process; a Palestinian teenager was beaten and burned alive by a group of Jews; throngs of Palestinians destroyed tracks and stations on the Jerusalem light-rail line; Jewish gangs shouting “Death to the Arabs!” rampaged through Jerusalem in search of victims—and found them; some thirty-five thousand Facebook users “liked” a page called “The People of Israel Demand Revenge”; Hamas fired rockets by the dozen into Israel from Gaza; Hamas officials warned that “the gates of hell” would open if Israel attacked in retaliation for the killings or the shelling. Read More »

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The Dying Sea

November 28, 2012 | by

On the road from Jericho to the beaches of the Dead Sea, there is an architectural curiosity, a yellowish abandoned building. My grandmother would tell me its story every time we passed it on our way for a day at the beach. One should bear in mind that “a day at the beach” at the Dead Sea is not “a day at the beach.” It is its evil twin. The day is spent walking on jagged rocks, falling into pits of gooey black mud, and trying to pretend that such an unearthly density of salt sticking to your body is not as painful as it actually is. The adults would further complicate my love-hate relationship with those beach days by tell us terrifying stories about the ghoul who lived in the cliffs and would eat us up if we strayed too far.

This might explain why my favorite moment was the glimpse we got of that yellowish building. I can’t remember when this place used to be a hotel, or what its name was, but I remember the description. It was prewar—pre-1948, or pre-1967, it doesn’t really matter which; we have had as many golden ages as we’ve had catastrophes. Suitably enough, the hotel was a gem of gold and velvet. The people there were rich, they spoke five languages, they were beautiful, and they knew how to waltz. Read More »

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Letter from the West Bank

August 2, 2010 | by

A bar mitzvah outing—at a West Bank shooting range.

Photograph by Scott Pargett.

It’s not easy to get directions over the phone from someone who works at a shooting range. I was pretty sure Eran had said that Caliber-3 was accessible by public bus, but it was hard to hear him over the gunfire. So I took the bus into the West Bank, through various IDF checkpoints, down highway 60 with its anti-sniper barriers and razor wire, past the giant, snaking “Wall of Separation,” to a settler outpost, a pleasant little heavily-armed suburb.

“You are not in the right place,” Eran is now telling me on my cell. “You are in the wrong place.”

The right place, it turns out, is a forty-five minute walk to a remote hill. I embark on a cautious solo West Bank hike along a road where Hamas militants once tried to kidnap a friend of mine. Empty cans of power drinks labeled in Arabic line the road—when these turn into empty cans of power drinks labeled in Hebrew, I know I am close.

Caliber-3 is located on a dusty slope of a dusty hill, between the Jewish settlement of Migdal Oz and the Arab town of Bayt Fajar. It is part of a settler industrial park built on land that nearby Palestinian villages claim as their own. Each company housed in the industrial park seems to play a role in the Jewish settlement enterprise: contractors, a land development corporation, a real estate management agency, a shady outfit that calls itself “Google Ranking Experts,” and an even shadier outfit that calls itself “The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud.”

I am here for a bar mitzvah outing. Since the party bus is late, I join three men sitting at a picnic table. They identify themselves as “French businessmen who live and work in China.” Why are they on the West Bank, at this shooting range? They are training for urban combat, they tell me. “We need it for work,” one of them explains.

Somehow this segues into an impassioned monologue. The lead Frenchman demands to know why the Americans get away with killing twenty-seven Iraqi civilians a day while the Israelis dispatch a few pirates and are roundly condemned. It’s an outrage! Under the table, I feel a foot cozy up to mine. I try to ignore this. The man, now pounding on the picnic table, continues to decry the hypocrisy of the international community; at the same time, he grows increasingly familiar with me under the table. He is now gently massaging the top of his foot over the top of my foot.

According to its website, Caliber-3 “works in close cooperation with the IDF in the field of counter-terrorism” and has “set up security installations in order to train both professionals and laymen in Israel as well as in Africa, Asia and Central America.” They also offer paintball to visitors who are willing to wear the required external jockstrap. Again, from its website, “[we] simulate urban combat using paintball. This is real fun for families and tourists and great entertainment for bar mitzvahs.”

At long last, the bar mitzvah bus arrives. It is a large group of men, women and children dressed for a day of golfing. Chinos, polo shirts, belted plaid shorts. Many are also wearing official bar mitzvah apparel: navy blue baseball caps and tote bags emblazoned with a giant Ralph Lauren Polo-brand logo over the words DAVID’S BAR MITZVAH. They are snacking. It is Friday. Today they shoot guns, real guns, not paintball; tonight they pray at the Western Wall, followed by a Sabbath buffet dinner; tomorrow, young David is called to the Torah. Read More »

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