Cultural responses to the Gaza war
As some scores of thousands of demonstrators converged on London’s famous Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, on 10 January at the beginning of what would prove to be Britain’s largest-ever pro-Palestinian demonstration, speakers addressed the crowd from a stage.
A particularly moving moment came when the British Jewish poet, writer, broadcaster and official Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen read a poem for the children of Gaza. His poem gives a child’s-eye view of the terrifying Israeli onslaught [text and video link on 11 Jan tanjara posting]:
Videos and transcriptions of Rosen’s reading of the poem are now being circulated around cyberspace through websites and blogs. Rosen is one of many people who are turning to the arts express their feelings over the catastrophe of Gaza. Websites and video-sharing sites enable this material to be shared and spread quickly.
Los Angeles singer and songwriter Michael Heart has written and recorded the Gaza song “We will not go down”, dedicated to all the Palestinians in Gaza and juxtaposed with images from the war [linked to in a 14 Jan Tanjara posting]. It is being spread widely over the internet , and a posting of it on YouTube has been viewed more than 380,000 times. Other Gaza songs on YouTube include The Dark Bob’s “The war on Palestine (Gaza)” [link at bottom of this post], and [North London Turkish rapper & MC] Edzai’s “Israel War Gaza song” [link here].
There is a resurgence of interest in “Letter from Gaza”, the short story by the Palestinian writer and political activist Ghassan Kanafani, who was assassinated by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in Beirut in 1972. The fact that the story was written more than half a century ago, but is still entirely relevant, shows the long-standing agony of Gazans.
A video of John Berger reading the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s “Mural” is also being circulated on the internet. Berger translated this meditation on with death jointly with Palestinian Professor Professor Rema Hammami.
Before the 10 January demonstration in London, many musicians, actors, poets and writers were among the prominent people who signed a letter urging people to participate in the demonstration. The letter said: “We speak out for the people of Gaza, what is happening there is a crime against humanity.”
Even before the latest violence, Gaza had been on the cultural radar in Britain. The Gaza-born artist Leila Shawa is one of the most prominent Arab artists residing in the UK. Her art, inspired by the children and graffiti of Gaza, has been shown at several exhibitions in Britain and her work “Children of War, Children of Peace” is part of the British Museum’s collection.
Four months ago a new play “Eating Ice Cream on Gaza Beach” [pictured], performed by the National Youth Theatre, had a run of several weeks at the Soho Theatre in London.
In October Channel 4 TV screened the drama documentary “The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall” on the fatal shooting of British photography student Tom Hurndall in Rafah, Gaza, by an Israeli army sniper in April 2003 while he was helping small children to safety. The film showed the huge efforts his parents had to make to get the truth in the face of the obstructive attitude of the Israeli authorities, who insisted that the sniper had been shooting at a gunman It took two years of dogged efforts by the Hurndall parents for the sniper to be jailed for eight years.
Since Tom’s death his mother Jocelyn has devoted herself to the cause of the Palestinian people and is development director of Friends of Birzeit University. A few days ago she wrote in the New Statesman weekly magazine that “faced with the killing of more than 300 Gazan children in barely a fortnight , I can’t help but replay the image of my son Tom, reaching out to three Palestinian toddlers sheltering from Israeli sniper fire behind a mound of rubble in Rafah.” She said that the experiences of her family “showed us is that where their own actions are concerned the Israelis are not greatly interested in truth or justice, or even apology.” [picture is a still from the film]
The Scottish musician and vocalist singer Annie Lennox, who started out as one half of the Eurythmics, has emerged as an outspoken voice on Gaza. Lennox was from 1988 to 2000 married to Israeli film and record producer Uri Fruchtmann, by whom she has two daughters. At a rally in Trafalgar Square for Gaza, she said: “There are no winners, there are only losers when it comes to death, when it comes to innocent civilians. There are no sides. We call on the ministers of all nations to please take responsibility.”
Another speaker at the rally was the Jewish comedian, TV personality and fiction writer Alexi Sayle. He said: “I want to one day be proud of my country – of that country. I want one day to be proud of my people, but at the moment I am ashamed. If only Israel, and if only Jewish people, can turn away from violence, what an amazing thing that would be.”
Sayle is one of many British Jews to have publicly condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza. Jews for Justice for Palestinians placed a full-page advertisement in the Times newspaper on 14 January signed by 570 people. Independent Jewish Voices has published an open letter to Foreign Secretary David Miliband in the latest issue of The New Statesman, signed by 205 British Jews.
A letter to the Guardian newspaper from more than 70 Jewish academics, writers, artists and others said: “When we see the dead and bloodied bodies of young children, the cutting off of water, electricity and food, we are reminded of the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto.”
The launch of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza coincided with the winning of a Golden Globe, for best foreign film, by the cartoon documentary “Waltz with Bashir”. The film, directed by the Israeli Ari Folman, tells of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and in particular of the massacres carried out in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps by Christian militiamen acting with Israeli complicity.
Gary Kamiya, an executive editor and founder of the US online news magazine Salon, writes: “In a strange case of art imitating life, at the same time that Israel is blasting a defenseless population enclosed in a tiny area, an Israeli film has appeared that depicts an earlier war in which Israel was complicit in an appalling massacre. “
He adds: “Of course, Israel’s moral culpability for the 1982 massacre is not the same as its moral responsibility for the civilians killed in the current war. But there are painful similarities. Sooner or later the patriotic war fervor will fade, and Israelis will realize that their leaders sent them to kill hundreds of innocent people for nothing.”
Saudi Gazette 19 January 2009