I’ve been feeling guilty about Palestine. I have to admit that, of late, I have deleted without reading the e-mails from the International Solidarity Movement, from Gush Shalom and from the local network—what’s the point of reading daily the latest report of the hunger strike, the latest house demolition, the latest new settlement, the latest ignoring of the latest UN Resolution, the latest shipment of US weaponry to Israel, the latest boat turned back, the latest fishing boat shelled, the ongoing water crisis in Gaza, the ongoing lack of building supplies, the latest suicide attack. What can I do? I can’t divest or boycott. I felt a moment’s pride when Murray McCully put forward the UN resolution and ‘declared war on Israel’ and then, more recently, a moment of shame as Gerry Brownlee corrected the aberration.
I still feet a moment’s anger when some dumb opinion piece appears in the newspaper or on radio. But that’s the problem with outrage. It’s hard to sustain.
I was in Christchurch for the weekend. I borrowed a friend’s car and there was a CD on the player which immediately grabbed my attention as I negotiated the traffic to the nearest mall – Christchurch shopping now seems to focus on malls. I listened with rapt attention as a young Palestinian woman chanted intense monologues with a musical backing, each one exploring a contradiction: gaining Canadian citizenship by swearing allegiance to the Queen; or preparing for the dumb press interview as Gaza is bombed, knowing that a sound bite is all that you’ll get; or rehearsing answering the dumb interview question: Why do you teach your children to be terrorists?’ This gave the CD its title: We Teach Life.
Listening to her I was struck by the power of art to restore feeling. The last time this had happened for me with regard to Palestine, was reading the emails of Rachel Corrie. Both these young women embody in words the outrage with creative skill. The thought has feeling, the feeling has thought. This was Brecht’s definition of art.
The young woman I was listening to, Rafeef Ziadah, was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Palestinians born in Lebanon do not gain Lebanese citizenship so remain stateless. Somehow she got to Canada and eventually gained citizenship. Corrie made the reverse journey, from the US to Gaza. If you google Rafeef Ziadah you’ll find a couple of clips of her performing her poems.
My friend in Christchurch also had a copy of a BBC drama series, The Promise, made in 2010. It cleverly plots the Palestinian tragedy. The grandchild of a dying grandfather, who had been a British soldier in Palestine, ‘peacekeeping’ prior to the UN resolution of 1947 which divided the country, discovers his diary. In the diary is a house key which he had promised to return to a Palestinian he had befriended. This sulky anti-hero granddaughter has an Israeli friend resident in the UK who has to return to Israel for her military service. She accompanies her friend and as she searches for the family to whom the house key belongs she encounters the contradictions and oppressions of the modern day conflict, ending up in the hell of Gaza.
Once again art made the issues accessible in a way political action cannot.
But of course art isn’t political action, simply a prologue to action, and, on these occasions, serves as a replenishment.
I’ll now open the emails.