Jun 30th 2014

The Israeli Occupation: Different Voices

by Colm Herron

Colm Herron's first writing career began at the age of seven when he stitched together his vampire stories on his big sister’s Singer sewing machine and sold them to classmates for a penny a piece. He was in business. Two years later he was telling cliff-hangers to the ne’er-do-wells in the local gambling hall. Colm’s abiding memory is that these wasters seemed to enjoy this weekly break from misspending their lives. When he was fifteen he had a play on BBC and later brought his short stories to Brian Friel, an emerging playwright. Friel said “Great. This stuff’s better than what I wrote at your age." But Colm was unimpressed and thought “This guy’s going nowhere. I don’t know why I came to him at all." So Colm gave up writing, deciding to live instead. Meanwhile Friel took off and, while his plays were showing worldwide for the next thirty years,stories were kicking and turning in Colm’s head. But they still weren’t ready to come out. Till twelve years ago, that is, when he said to himself “OK, I’ve lived. Maybe it’s time to do the other thing." Thus began his second writing career. And his latest novel The Wake (And What Jeremiah Did Next) has just been published by Nuascéalta Teoranta.

Very recently I heard a young Israeli called Yehuda Shaul being interviewed on Radio Ulster. Yehuda is the co-founder of Breaking the Silence, an organization that aims to expose the harsh realities of the Occupation to fellow Israelis. His words made such a deep impression on me that I made up my mind to put my own thoughts on the Occupation into an essay for Facts and Arts. I made five attempts at writing the essay and each time abandoned it, defeated by the scale of what is happening in the occupied territories. But this morning I remembered that in 2010 I had written an unfinished novel a section of which touched on two opposing points of view, one Israeli and the other Palestinian. I found the relevant part and read it. Yes, I thought, this is probably as close as I will ever come to expressing the tragedy. Yet what I have written is fiction. What will I do? And then I remembered something the English philosopher Francis Bacon once wrote: “Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.”

So here is my fiction. Here is my truth.

                                 

                              They fettered his mouth with chains

                              And tied his hands to the rock of the dead.

                              They said: You’re a murderer.

                              They took his food, his clothes and his banners,

                              And threw him into the well of the dead.

                              They said: You’re a thief.

                              They threw him out of every port,

                              And took away his young beloved.

                              And then they said: You’re a refugee.

                                                                 Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet

                                                                                                        (1941-2008)

My name is Yohevet. I live in Area C on the West Bank. This is my home. International law says I am living here illegally but I spit on international law. I spit on Europe and I spit on American liberals. These cowards have the blood of millions of my race on their soft hands. I will tell you about my father. My father was born in Vilnius, Lithuania and every day he lived there he was reminded that he was a Jew. Once in the school playground some boys and girls wrestled off his pants and held his hands away from his body so that they could all see the sign of circumcision. The boys sneered and the girls sniggered. He was twelve years old when this happened.

In 1937 he and his parents moved to Warsaw. Two years later Hitler invaded Poland and announced that he intended killing every Jew living there. Rabbi Stephen Wise, head of the American Jewish Congress, went to see President Roosevelt and presented him with a large dossier, Blueprint for Extermination, which documented Hitler’s plans. Roosevelt tut-tutted and straightaway went back to dealing with Japan’s threat in the Pacific. For as far as Roosevelt was concerned territory was what mattered.

When Britain’s House of Commons heard about the Rabbi’s dossier it stood for a minute’s silence. And as the honourable members stood with heads bowed Anthony Eden their foreign secretary made an eloquent speech in which he expressed the hope that Hitler would refrain from exterminating these unfortunate people.

For some reason Eden’s hope and Roosevelt’s disapproval did not stop the Austrian butcher and six and a half million Jews were murdered. One of them was my grandmother, taken from her home and raped by German soldiers. It was my father who found her next day hanging from a lamp-post. But here’s what I couldn’t understand when I was a child. Britain had declared war on Germany in order to save Poland. Hadn’t they? No. They had declared war to preserve the balance of power in Europe. That was the reason. They could have fought to evacuate European Jews to Palestine but no, this would have upset the Arab oil producers.

But now we are in the West Bank and this is our home, my father, my wife, my children and I. We are here and here we stay. The miracle is that he never lost his mind. I think the reason is that he has been able to let things out. He dreams at night about things that happened and the next day if he gets the chance he will talk to me about it. One incident comes back often in his sleep and up to now he has managed to wrench himself awake from it before the final part. He is searching the darkened streets of Warsaw trying to find his home. Everywhere he goes there are blackened remains of buildings and high walls that go on forever. He cannot get over the walls and he is not sure if his home is a ruin for with every ruin looking the same as the others there are no landmarks. As he looks around tearful and frightened a boy only a little older than himself approaches and asks him: “Where is your star?” and he answers: “I do not have a star. I am not a Jew”, for that is what his parents have taught him to say to German soldiers. The boy strips him from the waist down and shines a torch on him. “There is your star,” he says and it is when he forces my father to lie face down on the road that the dream ends.

There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.        Hosea:  11:1

                                                                                                                                            

I dream. The night is strung with stars light years away. Foetid, sweet and thick is the smell from the sea. If people could see they would think it strange, a man like me, sitting here in the bay at such an hour so close to the slow surge of the tide. The waves are sluggish now with their cargo of human waste and the yellow foam fingers towards me. I almost faint with the weight of memories. Dreaming I feel the castles and the rock-pools in my hands and round the bend of the Mediterranean I touch the girl from Rafah. She is old now, or dead, old or dead it doesn’t matter. But I am stealthy when I think of her for my wife is alive, and worse, she hears me in my sleep. Yet dreams will come. Dreams. What is it they call them? There are names for them. The sovereignty of the mind, the charming illusion. When your land has been taken and your home from in front of you and your son cut down and his wife imprisoned what do you have?

I tried to take their children for a walk this morning but the stench from the wrack and the reek of the sea turned us away. This is a place of death. Thirty-seven days ago a soldier blew off the crown of my brother’s head. Samih, stubborn foolish Samih, took the short cut to bring us bags of peas. The short cut indeed. Yesterday they killed a boy of fifteen, armed they said, and today they shot a toddler who I’m told will never walk. But maybe that’s wrong, maybe she will. Even in this enclosure it is still possible to exaggerate.

Sometimes I think we would be better without Hamas. America tells us we would. Europe tells us too. Sometimes I am almost sure they are right, other times I tell myself that without our representatives we would only have the peace of the pigsty. I remember the Aborigines, the Tibetans and the Burmese who live under the same sky as we do. They look up and they have dreams. Mandela had the wildest dreams of all and he looked up from his prison cell and took them. It’s hard to credit, I didn’t know it until yesterday that in America they still call him a terrorist. What a strange place America is. An angel, a girl from that very country, showed this very thing to me on her computer. Write to the House of Representatives, she told me, and you will see it is true. Enclose a postage-paid self-addressed envelope, she said, and they will write back and explain that they have him down as a terrorist and that he is subject to restricted movement. But all that comes from the time apartheid suited them and I’m sure they will fix it soon. An anomaly, she said.

When will they get round to us? The truth is, I would fly like the wind if they let me.  Would I leave my wife and grandchildren? Yes. I do not love her and the children will be victimised with or without me. The woman is a fool. She sleeps with title deeds in a plastic bag under the pillow and keeps in her pocket the key to a house that isn’t there. There are dreams but this is stupidity. And now I will tell you another truth. Nobody cares about us except the agitators for justice and the world says that they are left-wing cranks and troublemakers. All it takes to get into Palestine is to be born here. America and Israel blame us for this accident but still they will not let us leave. To get out we have to die because no matter how many times we say we are sorry for what the Germans did it will not be enough. Our jailers will never forgive us or allow us to forget the Holocaust.

What else must we answer for? Thirty million Indians were murdered by the British through famine and forced labour. India, we are sorry. Fifty million Chinese were murdered by Mao in the Great Leap Forward. China, we are sorry. In whose interest is it that we are so maligned? As for the suffering Jews who survived the Holocaust, I do not believe there are any of them here. For if there were they would speak out. The colonisers who are here in their place hold the handed down memory in their hearts like possessive lovers. But they hold us in their clenched fist. Their terror of their own extinction blinds them to our terror and to the memory of who did what. Allah forgive them for they know not what they do.



In the picture the author Colm Herron as portrayed by his daughter Nuala Herron. For her web site please click here.


     

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Jun 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Ruth Poniarski is a painter and the author of Journey of the Self: Memoir of an Artist (Warren Publishing, 2020), in which she tells the story of her decade long struggle with mental illness, a “spiraling malady” which led her into a “pattern of psychosis”. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Poniarski about her life and work, and how she eventually overcame her demons."
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Jun 17th 2020
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Jun 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Bonhoeffer’s life holds an important lesson for us today, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. And simply put it is this: you are called upon; you are called on behalf of your neighbor. When you are called to be responsible that is not an obligation which you can decline, discharge or acquit yourself of – it is an infinite responsibility, a “forever commitment” as Charles Blow recently put it. And we all must be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary when we are called."
Jun 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "People differ substantially in how much they’re affected by experiences in their lives. Some people seem to be more affected by daily stress, or the loss of someone close to them. On the other hand, some people seem to get through the same experiences relatively unscathed. Similarly, some people benefit strongly from counselling, or having a support system of close family and friends. Others seem better able to manage on their own. But understanding why some people are more sensitive than others isn’t just a question of how they were raised, and the experiences they’ve been through. In fact, previous research has found that some people in general seem more sensitive to what they experience – and some are generally less sensitive."
Jun 7th 2020
EXTRACT: " The root causes of anthropogenic climate change – which has led to the endangering of countless species across the globe – cannot be adequately grasped in isolation from the technological application of modern science. While Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was certainly justified in calling upon American legislators to “unite behind the science,” neither can we overlook the culpability of science in bringing about the environmental crisis. "
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."
Apr 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "A crisis such as this one demands that we exercise what the philosopher Immanuel Kant called the ‘public use of reason’ – as opposed to merely the ‘private use of reason’ where, briefly put, the expert, the specialist is tasked with resolving a defined problem. The private use of reason is sufficient when we are dealing with a problem that can be solved by simply applying the appropriate expertise...............The public use of reason asks: how we are defining the problem? Is our definition – our conceptualization of the problem – perhaps part of the problem itself? Is this pandemic solely a problem of public health, or is it also a problem of extreme economic inequality? ..............Since this crisis began, the greatest failure of the administration is not the denial, the lies, the lack of preparedness, but the inability to rally and unify the nation against this common threat, the lack of genuine leadership – Trump’s utter inability to bring the nation together."
Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Rarely has an architectural experiment aroused such extremes of ire and admiration. One side is convinced the house is a masterpiece. The other expresses brutal condemnation of the entire project (leaky roof, danger of flooding, too-hot, too-cold interiors depending on the American Midwest weather).........Farnsworth encapsulated her personal ambiguity in her comment to a Newsweek interviewer: “This handsome pavilion I own is almost totally unworkable.” She told one journalist, “ … all I got was this glib, false sophistication. The conception of a house as a glass cage suspended in air is ridiculous.”