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Category Archives: Israel

Bonus poem: Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

Sunday is as good a day as any for reflection. But then so is Friday, or Saturday…

I have quoted Yehuda Amichai before, most recently in From left field, off the wall, and similar Christmas musings 1. The poem for today – and surely it is a poem for today – comes from this site.

Temporary Poem of My Time

Hebrew writing and Arabic writing go from east to west,
Latin writing, from west to east.
Languages are like cats:
You must not stroke their hair the wrong way.
The clouds come from the sea, the hot wind from the desert,
The trees bend in the wind,
And stones fly from all four winds,
Into all four winds. They throw stones,
Throw this land, one at the other,
But the land always falls back to the land.
They throw the land, want to get rid of it.
Its stones, its soil, but you can’t get rid of it.

They throw stones, throw stones at me
In 1936, 1938, 1948, 1988,
Semites throw at Semites and anti-Semites at anti-Semites,
Evil men throw and just men throw,
Sinners throw and tempters throw,
Geologists throw and theologists throw,
Archaelogists throw and archhooligans throw,
Kidneys throw stones and gall bladders throw,
Head stones and forehead stones and the heart of a stone,
Stones shaped like a screaming mouth
And stones fitting your eyes
Like a pair of glasses,
The past throws stones at the future,
And all of them fall on the present.
Weeping stones and laughing gravel stones,
Even God in the Bible threw stones,
Even the Urim and Tumim were thrown
And got stuck in the beastplate of justice,
And Herod threw stones and what came out was a Temple.

Oh, the poem of stone sadness
Oh, the poem thrown on the stones
Oh, the poem of thrown stones.
Is there in this land
A stone that was never thrown
And never built and never overturned
And never uncovered and never discovered
And never screamed from a wall and never discarded by the builders
And never closed on top of a grave and never lay under lovers
And never turned into a cornerstone?

Please do not throw any more stones,
You are moving the land,
The holy, whole, open land,
You are moving it to the sea
And the sea doesn’t want it
The sea says, not in me.

Please throw little stones,
Throw snail fossils, throw gravel,
Justice or injustice from the quarries of Migdal Tsedek,
Throw soft stones, throw sweet clods,
Throw limestone, throw clay,
Throw sand of the seashore,
Throw dust of the desert, throw rust,
Throw soil, throw wind,
Throw air, throw nothing
Until your hands are weary
And the war is weary
And even peace will be weary and will be.

Translated from the Hebrew by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav, in A Life of Poetry: 1948 – 1994, New York, HarperCollins, 1994

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2009 in humanity, inspiration, interfaith, Israel, peace, poets and poetry

 

Friday poem: 2009 #1 – Pablo Neruda

This does seem apt. I found it on iPeace.

PRAYERS FOR THE EARTH

For once on the face of the earth let’s not speak in any language
Let’s stop for one second and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines.
We would all be together in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea would not harm whales
And the man gathering salt would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire,
Victory with no survivors
Would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers
in the shade doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity,
Life is what it is about.
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single minded about keeping our lives moving,
And for once could do nothing,
Perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never
understanding ourselves
And of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

flyingdove2

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2009 in Israel, Middle East, personal, poets and poetry

 

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Is my blog changing direction?

I want it to, as I intimated a little while ago. If you go to the page 2009 month by month you will find a neat list, which I offer here without links in order to make a point.

On Floating Life

1 January: Floating Life and English/ESL in 2008. 2 January: Mendelssohn Bicentenary; Last 2008 in review post: my also-rans… Goodbye, Journalspace!; A whiff of sanity on Israel and Palestine. 3 January: WP stats and my latest; Yes, it’s on again; I hereby ban the word “fascist” from this blog…. 4 January: Hmmm… Been blogging for way too long…; Rationalising resources; Just a quiet Sunday afternoon in Surry Hills… 1; Just a quiet Sunday afternoon in Surry Hills… 2.

5 January: Joshua to Gaza 2009; My blog wordled, and Quote of the Week #1. 6 January: Radio National Poetry special: Five Bells by Kenneth Slessor; It’s hot, but so’s the cricket. 7 January: New Year blogging resolutions; 2009 book notes: 1; Yesterday’s crisis; What an amazing Test Match! 8 January: Breaking the silence on my English/ESL blog!; Two from regulars to this blog; Fascinating blogging and cultural phenomenon; A rabbi on Gaza; I’ve been writing an HSC English essay! 9 January: You can tell Thomas is on holidays…; Friday intellectual spot 1; Behind the news: Rosemeadow NSW. 10 January: DO ANY OF THESE SYMPTOMS FIT YOU?; Five more from regulars to this blog; Reconciling cybercondoms with a low end computer; What’s new: Sunday 11 January to Saturday 17 January. 11 January: Sunday is music day 1; Sunday Floating Life photo 1.

12 January: Only the demons are dancing…; Quote of the week: Week 2 2009; Coming up on the photoblog. 13 January: Transamerica — SBS last Saturday night ****; More top viewing, and the pity of war.

More to come.

The first post tomorrow is sitting on schedule. It’s a “100 best novels” post.

Looking over that list you will see a number of entries about Gaza; I did these because I wanted to clarify some issues for myself. I also wanted to make a stand for some things, and against others — particularly against the kind of demonisation I was seeing in so many other places, and against virulent antisemitism and anti-Americanism, though God knows I am no fan of the policies of either Israel or the USA in recent times, and I am certainly not impressed with the Hamas Charter either — a particularly virulent, even insane, document. I can’t imagine anyone on the left honestly endorsing it. And there is an element of truth in the proposition that Hamas have brought on themselves, and worse on the people of Gaza, the consequences of being in a state of war, essentially. War does cost. Before you scream at me, I suggest you look at what I have tried to say: that there is a back story here that includes many lost opportunities, much corruption, many wrong choices, morphing into a victory for the least righteous on both sides, in my opinion. One can only hope that something can be saved when all is done, but I am not holding my breath. I am also well aware that my posts are very tentative, but I do hope they have resonated with some out there. The little feedback I’ve had suggests they may have.*

OK, that out of the way you will see I have actually ranted very little. If you take the whole picture and include the photoblog I have even retreated from words themselves. And that is what I wanted to do.

So here is a poll, pointless except as a kind of feedback:

You can choose more than one answer.

Update

*Jon Taplin this morning has asked a very fair question; there’s nothing antisemitic or crazy conspiratorial about it either: Who Runs U.S. Mid-East Policy?.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2009 in blogging, Israel, Middle East, personal, site news

 

Only the demons are dancing…

Sadly, that is my belief about the current situation in Israel.

Twenty years ago I was working in a place where the Israeli and Australian flags flew, where the anthems of both countries were sung in school assemblies, and among my colleagues were quite a few Israeli citizens. They would come down here to Surry Hills when they were homesick to eat in Abdul’s Lebanese restaurant, where they may have heard Arabic spoken as they partook of the shared pleasure in felafels and hummus. Among those colleagues, especially the Israeli ones, was a wide range of views. On the one hand there was the Jewish Studies teacher who caused a bit of a stir when she told her class: “If I was a Palestinian I would join the PLO tomorrow.” (This was in 1988-89.) She had been a tank commander in the Israeli army, was invited to join Mossad, and knocked them back on the grounds she didn’t approve of them. Her father, after all, was an Israeli communist. On the other hand there was one young man called Conan the Barbarian by the (Jewish) kids, whose claim to fame was the number of Arabs he had strangled. Or so the kids told me. Another colleague told me he preferred not to be called a “Jew” as he was an atheist and thought “Jew” expressed a certain religious assumption he didn’t relate to; he was however happy to be called an Israeli.

All that complexity no doubt still exists, despite policies that were well under way in 1988-9, which my colleagues would often argue about. I met great people in my time at that place; one, from South Africa, had a brother who defended ANC members in the courts and whose father had at one time hidden Nelson Mandela when he was on the run.

All of them had been touched, one way or another, by the Holocaust.

But it is hard to deny the implications of these maps, which I first saw on 3 Quarks Daily a few days ago. I posted the entry in my Google Reader, along with quite a few other posts from a range of people, including the Kashmiri Nomad, a bright but comparatively hard line Muslim. Comparatively, but not into violence, as far as I can tell after several years reading his views and even sometimes exchanging comments. But to the maps.

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Posted by on January 12, 2009 in faith and philosophy, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, interfaith, Israel, memory, Middle East

 

A rabbi on Gaza

I was going to leave this alone, but in checking my blog roll (which I will soon revise and prune) I happened on Shalom Rav, Random Blogthoughts by Rabbi Brant Rosen in the USA. In particular see Outrage in Gaza: No More Apologies (28 December), Israel and Gaza: In Search of a New Moral Calculus (30 December) and Israel and Gaza: One Geographer’s Prediction (6 January). Really, these have more weight than anything I can say. A brief sample from the first:

The news today out of Israel and Gaza makes me just sick to my stomach.

I know, I can already hear the responses: every nation has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens. If the Qassams stopped, Israel wouldn’t be forced to take military action. Hamas also bears responsibility for this tragic situation…

I could answer each and every one of these claims in turn, but I’m ready to stop this perverse game of rhetorical ping-pong. I don’t buy the rationalizations any more. I’m so tired of the apologetics. How on earth will squeezing the life out of Gaza, not to mention bombing the living hell out of it, ensure the safety of Israeli citizens?…

So no more rationalizations. What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage. It has has brought neither safety nor security to the people of Israel and it has wrought nothing but misery and tragedy upon the people of Gaza…

More on all sides thinking like that and there could be hope. That’s leadership.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2009 in America, inspiration, interfaith, Israel, Middle East

 

Joshua to Gaza 2009

It is somewhat ironic that my private Bible reading scheme, which often follows the US Episcopalian lectionary, brought me today to the Book of Joshua.

1 Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying,

2 Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.

3 Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.

4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

5 There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

6 Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.

8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

The first thing that must be said is that we are reading saga and legend here, not history. One may as well take Beowulf literally, though of course Beowulf is very informative about the life and times of its culture and milieu and reflects history, which is also true of Joshua. It is pretty much certain that what really happened was nothing like what we read in this book. I don’t find that a problem, personally. One can be inspired by the words of the last verse there without believing that verses 3 and 4 represent some real kind of divine decree still relevant in 2009. Sadly, not everyone agrees.

Israel and Palestine: A Brief History – Part I on the Middle East Web captures this quite well.

The archeological record indicates that the Jewish people evolved out of native Cana’anite peoples and invading tribes. Some time between about 1800 and 1500 B.C., it is thought that a Semitic people called Hebrews (hapiru) left Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan. Canaan was settled by different tribes including Semitic peoples, Hittites, and later Philistines, peoples of the sea who are thought to have arrived from Mycenae, or to be part of the ancient Greek peoples that also settled Mycenae.

According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites, or a portion of them, out of Egypt. Under Joshua, they conquered the tribes and city states of Canaan…

Paragraph one indicates what really may have happened; the next paragraph recounts the hallowed legend.

Leaping forward around 4,000 years we find ourselves where we are. You can trace that in varying degrees of depth on that Middle East Web, which I referred you to in my update yesterday on A whiff of sanity.

Long term the approach I commend there will be what must happen, but in the world as it is it will be a long time before such an approach is taken seriously by those in power. The point is, however, that we have been told. What looks like good strategy in current Washington and Tel Aviv or Jerusalem – which really should be an international city as the United Nations long ago proposed – or among irredentists in the Muslim world is actually short-sighted policy. Given that Israel may attain its objectives – more about that in a moment – the true cost is incalculable. In brief it involves fuelling further the problem. It inflames further the grievances that have made too many turn to terror as an appropriate response.  The present cost in human lives and suffering is only too manifest.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Paul McGeogh offers an interpretive report that rings true.

THE revelation of the daring objective at the heart of Operation Cast Lead calls for Israel’s air-and-ground assault on Gaza to be given a new name. As the rhetorical layers are peeled back, what we are hearing makes Mission Impossible a more worthy contender.

Tel Aviv’s early insistence that this massive military exercise was about putting a halt to Palestinian rockets being fired into or near communities in the south of Israel never rang true.

Measure it by the number of rockets – 8000-plus over eight years – and indeed it sounds like a genuine existential threat. Consider the toll – 20 Israeli deaths spread over eight years, which is about half the number of deaths in just a month of Israeli traffic accidents – and it all loses its oomph as a casus belli.

Israel does not want to deal with Hamas – it wants to annihilate the Islamist movement.

The Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, said as much when she dashed to Paris last week to head off a French push for a 48-hour ceasefire. "There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region," she said.

If there was any doubt after Livni spoke, it evaporated on Friday when the Deputy Prime Minister, Haim Ramon, told Israeli TV: "What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern. That’s the most important thing."

And at the United Nations in New York, the Israeli ambassador, Gabriella Shalev, also seemed to depart the approved script. "[It will continue for] as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely," she said.

Analysis and commentary through the first eight days of this conflict have been about Israel’s goal of stopping the rockets. But if the objective is obliterating Hamas, it does indeed seem an impossible task….

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Yesterday in Sydney

Good luck to Obama. Let’s hope for some shift in US policy, which is critical; I am not totally despairing on that front, nor am I totally hopeful.

Update

See Jim Belshaw’s post this morning: Gaza, democracy and the question of world government. Very thoughtful. I think Jim and I share both a certain tentativeness on the issue – which I am sure is a clear sign of intelligence!—and a desire to get beyond the reflex responses we’ve been seeing. That Jim has used one of my photos is of course a bonus.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2009 in Bible, current affairs, Israel, Jim Belshaw, Middle East

 

Just a quiet Sunday afternoon in Surry Hills… 2

A person in the crowd told me the Egyptian consulate was in this side street. Certainly we have lately acquired a new idiom for expressing displeasure.

The photos in this post are my own original photos.

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More over the fold.

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Posted by on January 4, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, current affairs, events, Israel, memory, Middle East, multicultural Australia, Sunday lunch, Surry Hills