I was idling through a long layover in Charles de Gaulle airport a few weeks ago, halfway to Damascus, trying to nod off in the terminal but interrupted by the sun coming up over the cold. An Air France flight to Tel Aviv left the gate first, followed two hours later by my flight to Syria. This was in the middle of the war on Gaza, the end of the first week of January. I remember wondering that if Israel was sunny and clear like France was that day, could the passengers, on their afternoon descent into Ben Gurion, see plumes of smoke and the evidence of Gaza burning? Maybe they would see those oddly shaped white phosphorous attacks, which look like a smoke stream of tentacles descending.
The first few weeks back in Sham: there have been a few government-sanctioned protests and rallies for Gaza. I was in Aleppo for a few days, and walked through a mid-morning rally of school children, waving Palestinian and Syrian flags in Aleppo’s central Public Park, chanting the usual chants: ” من روح, للدم, والفداء في الله “From our souls, to our blood, we will sacrifice (for Allah).”
Before last Friday, the Old City was plastered with Gaza rally posters jointly advertising the PFLP, the DFLP, and the Syrian Communist Party. This week there are new, larger posters of George Habash smiling next to the PFLP logo, coinciding with the anniversary of his death. Billboards saying this or that about Gaza are on roadsides and bus stops all over the city — end the occupation, against the aggressions of israel, etc. The favored way of protest in the Old City and in shops in the new parts of town is to spray-paint the Israeli flag on the street (or better attach a large decal of the flag to the pavement, some combined with the American flag and a Swastika) so cars and little trucks and people have to stomp over it to get a croissant, some fruit, or a bootleg dvd.
Satellite tv is a refuge and anger machine at once. Flipping between Al Jazeera English and Arabic, the pictures and montages are gruesome and accurately so. Some call this media hype, but when you live in a neighboring capital a days drive (if borders were open) from the destruction of Gaza and still can’t help feeling disconnected, the immediacy of suffering that makes Al Jazeera’s programming seems essential. It’s not a fair trade with the jingo montages and raving of Fox News, because Fox News doesn’t show violence. The political agenda of Jazeera, and there are many, has through the Gaza war been supplanted by the simple task of communicating suffering.
1. Who remembers the original dream of Israel? A place where the observant could practice their religion in peace and the secular would be invisible as Jews – where being Jewish only mattered if you wanted it to matter. That dream was realised, not in Israel, but in New York City.
2. The second dream of Israel was of a place where socialist collectives could flourish in a secular nation with democratic freedoms. Who remembers that now?
3. ‘Never again’ should international Jews invoke the Holocaust as justification for Israeli acts of barbarism.
4. As in India-Pakistan, blaming the Brits is true enough, but useless.
5. A few days ago, to illustrate the Gaza invasion, the front page of the New York Times had a large pastoral photograph of handsome Israeli soldiers lounging on a hill above verdant fields. Unquestioning faith in the ‘milk and honey’ Utopia of Israel is the bedrock of American Judaism, and reality does not intrude on faith.