Norbert Ruebsaat's Blog

Gaza 2

Norbert Ruebsaat

Hi Norb,

Your poem
reminded me of a poem called “Power Songs” that you wrote many years ago. I
could imagine a way to sing that
poem/song. The world it reacted to was clear and my opposition to it was motivation to want to
find a way to sing it. The “Gaza” poem
you posted is mostly unspecific, and, if I read it as intended, it does not
take sides but takes aim at the violence and war. Violence and the harming of weak or innocent people is
always distasteful and immoral. The
narrative I have of the Gaza
situation, and which at present I cannot
see is basically inaccurate, makes it difficult for me to accept the poem's cosmic evenhandedness. Hamas
has clearly and repeatedly stated its
policy that Israel
is illegitimate as an alien and hostile element in Daar-al-Islam and must be
destroyed. Since the evacuation of Gaza it has fired more than 5,000 rockets at settlements within range, often timing them
for when kids are leaving home for
school. They have killed tens of innocent people and celebrate each death. So how, politically, or
poetically, am I to relate to that? The Israeli
response was a gift to the media-savvy
Hamas. But what were we to do? What is an appropriate response to
the position, articulated by rocket
fire, that we have no right to exist?

The song I
would be inclined to sing here is the lament of a Palestinian mother in Gaza caught between the fanatical politico-religious ideology of some of her
own people and an enemy that responds
with Hobbesian harshness to attacks on its own people.

This is not to say that I don't appreciate
your poem, only that we seem to be
working from different metanarratives. And maybe that the broadly liberal
assumptions that seem to work in Europe and North America
don't work so well where people don't share the relativist and individualist
values, or lack of values, of the West. Can most North Americans get into the
mind of the Spartan mother who asked a soldier returning from battle whether Sparta
had won and when she was told in reply that all her sons had been killed she
said that she had not asked about her family, but whether Sparta had won? When
she was told it had, she seemed pleased. Or can we understand the Japanese wife
and mother whose husband wanted to become a kamikaze? The Japanese army being,
like most armies and big organizations, run by a rational bureaucracy, had its
criteria for different kinds of missions.

As a
married man and father, he did not meet the criteria. The soldier applied for
suicide missions a number of times and was turned down each time. His wife was
sensitive to the suffering this caused him. So she drowned her children and
then committed suicide. The soldier's next application was approved, and he
flew as a kamakaze. According the the TV program on the Second World War where I
heard about this (so it must be true), this family is commemorated in a museum
for the kamakaze somewhere in Japan.
Do we see in this story monstrosity, or do we see a kind of heroism and
devotion to the common good that we can hardly grasp? The Spartan mother has
daughters in Japan, among
the fundamentalists Palestinians, and among the fundamentalists in Israel. There
are probably fewer in Israel,
very few in Tel Aviv, quite a few in the territories. But enough to introduce
absolute and irrational values into Israeli politics, and these are leveraged
out of proportion to the size of the population that holds them, But that is
another story. You have my vote in favor of a reasonable compromise to the Israel-Palestine
conflict. Now someone needs to convince the Islamic fundamentalists in Hamas
and Hezbollah and the rest of the Islamic world, and the religious nuts in Israel.

Peace and love, Harvey


Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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