Two Visions of Gaza

Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY-SA 4.0

It is now becoming increasingly evident that Gaza has become a quagmire, one from which Israel will find it difficult to extricate itself. At stake is what to do with Gaza once the hostilities cease, and even if the Israeli military are victorious over Hamas, the essential question will remain, what to do with Gaza?

It is no secret that there is no unanimity on how to proceed once the war ends. US and Arab officials fear that Israel is ignoring the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where initial military victories were followed by years of violent militancy and unrest. The massive killings of Palestinians will probably create new generation of fighters willing to die against a much more powerful enemy.

In an effort to eliminate Hamas, Northern Gaza has been ravaged and an environmental disaster has been quickly unfolding. A poem by Aharon Shabtai, an Israeli poet, may offer a vision of the future for that devastated land. In The Trees Are Weeping, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole, Shabtai writes,

The trees are weeping

in the Land of Israel

Rome’s soldiers are razing

acre after acre;

there is no compassion

for the land’s raiment –

its seven species.

The trees will all

be sold to a broker;

they won’t be made

into crosses

for Jesus and Barabbas.

And on these parcels of land

concessions will be granted

to Burger King

and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The immense destruction is increasing hatred and makes one wonder if it will ever be overcome. The poem Revenge, by the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali may provide an answer (A biography of Muhammad Ali by the writer Adina Hoffman, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century, a biography of Muhammad Ali by the writer Adina Hoffman, won the 2010 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize.)


At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.

Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school…
asking about him
and sending him regards.

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”