Poppies, Monet's Garden, Giverny, France.
As a journalist, I covered the Arab-Israeli conflict for many years, with friends on both sides of the equation. Some Palestinians I knew personally were assassinated; others were jailed or deported. All these years later, it's dismaying to watch crimes against humanity still being perpetrated daily in Gaza - the world's largest open-air prison, as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy noted in 2008. Both the Israeli and the Hamas-led Palestinian governments apparently haved learned little from their decades of war and mutual suffering.
The poem "A Stone's Throw Away..." that I wrote in 1998 depicts how the endless self-destructive cycle of violence and war impacts future generations and their attitudes. Sadly, the words are just as apt today:
To glance at his face, he appears just a youth
But look deep in his eyes: therein lies the truth.
Exposure to violence at too tender an age
Shaped his thoughts, bent his will, filled him with rage.
A life with sparse shelter, intertwined with abuse
A life fraught with peril, until he thinks ‘what’s the use?’
It’s only when throwing a stone he feels brave;
For a moment, he’s free: neither victim nor slave.
Perched high in the hills, boys continue to throw.
A stone’s throw to freedom; how far will they go?
Their defiance not just for the occupying force,
but for pain and despair in a life without choice.
Their houses crushed flat,* families rotting in jail,
in a fight over land that’s long cast its spell.
Thousands have died in this battle of wills
provoking world outrage; yet still the blood spills.
In Afghanistan, Gaza, the West Bank today,
war crimes are brutal; dark forces at play.
Human rights unknown in too many places.
Unimaginable sorrow etched on tired faces.
Who will speak for that child, whose voice is now gone?
Will anyone protest, ‘He should have lived long!’
That promise, bright spirit, so quickly snuffed out
by a rocket or bomb that police failed to rout.
What has this to do with me, you might ask?
My friend, we’re connected, we discover at last.
What hurts one, harms all in this vast global village,
inextricably linked in the plunder and pillage.
But for now, so secure in our comfortable beds
we can quickly change channels, when someone’s shot dead.
It can seem so remote, so distant, so far;
such madness, such violence, that bomb in a car.
We are sleeping now, perhaps one day to be jolted wide-awake.
When the wolf appears at our front door; not via videotape.
© Tara Bradford, San Francisco 1998
*Refers to the Israeli practice of bulldozing Palestinian homes.