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Now I Am My Mother, Weeping...

I Could Not Save a Single Child

by ELLEN CANTAROW

When I was a child my mother used to cry, “I couldn’t save a single Jewish child.” 

Now I am my mother: I cannot save a single child in Gaza.

Not the ones wrapped in green cocoons lying row on row, surrounded by throngs of grieving men. I cannot comfort the fathers who jump up and down in agony, screaming as their children lie dead before them on the ground.

I cannot comfort the mother whose eyes, ravaged and blanked by terror, stare beyond me from the photograph, nor save the little one with bloodied, bruised face who stands beside her, nor the older brother, the only two who survived of six. I cannot say, “Come, we have a big, comfortable basement with a bed for you and the children, and a bath, and plenty of food. We will take you and shelter you.” I cannot welcome them to a home full of calm, of sunlight, with the warmth of potted plants, the refrigerator full of food, the showers waiting to receive them, the warm water streaming down to comfort their bruised and tired bodies.

I cannot save a single Gaza child.

Not the ones I saw on Al-Jazeera lying dead with heads all bloodied, under blankets on the ravaged ground. Not the little one, 2, maybe 3, bloodied bandages covering her bloodied skull and face leaving me her bruised lips and part of one dull and hopeless eye, her helpless bigger sister, surely no more than 4, beside her. I cannot take her, bring her back to normal life, hug her and sing to her, hold her up against my piano and ask her to listen to the strings as I run my fingers over them, watch while her face lights up with pleasure as she spots my cats, hold her, hold her, and hold her….

I cannot save the little girl, maybe 5, who says the soldier stood and looked at her, then shot her hand and then, as she turned to run to her mother, her back: “One bullet went out my back and through my stomach.” Will doctors in a hospital the siege had already drained of medicines and equipment, a hospital where patients must share beds, where the floors are full of the wounded, and the blood pools around them — will the doctors working quickly, as expertly as they know within the chaos of the terrified families pouring in from the terrified streets of Gaza City, will the doctors working as quickly as they know, but in this wasteland, save her?

I cannot save the newborn Mohammed, monitors on his chest, a respirator over his tiny face, born within the ground-shaking, ear-splitting terror of bombs falling from F16s, into a life from hell, where the smoke of exploding shells and bombs gags the other children, the women, the men, fleeing helpless before the behemoth wielding their “pure arms” to crush these “two-legged cockroaches,” these Palestinians of whom Golda Meir said, “There are no Palestinians,” and whom the Hebron settlers curse in savage scrawled grafitti: ARABS TO THE GAS CHAMBERS. These people concerning whom the Rabbi said, “One Arab is not worth a million Jewish fingernails.” Concerning whom Avigdor Lieberman, that man of the Israeli people, says, drop the atom bomb on them as the Americans did on Japan.

I cannot lift the dark-faced, dark-haired teenaged girl from the stretcher, rock her in my arms and say, “Darling, Shhh, it will be all right,” because it will not be alright. She is already dead, face down on the stretcher where the hopeless cover her body while I watch her image at my computer.

It will not be alright.

It will not be alright.

It will not be alright. I am my mother, and it is 1942 all over again, and this is the Warsaw Ghetto – different, I’ll admit. I’ll admit they aren’t killing everyone. Just some of them. Only 400. Only 600. Only 800. Only 1000. When does “collateral damage” become malice aforethought? When does that malice translate as “deaths?” When do deaths become “a massacre?” How many in a massacre? A holocaust? The shoa Mr. Vilnai wanted?

I cannot save a single child in Gaza. I am my mother, and we are weeping together.

(All of the images of Gaza in the prose-poem above are from Al-Jazeera English. The references to Deputy Defense Secretary Matan Vilnai and other figures come from my archives and library.)

ELLEN CANTAROW can be reached at ecantarow@comcast.net