Arguably Palestine’s national poet, Mahmoud Darwish has always been very dear to the Palestinian people. This author remembers attending a tribute to the poet after his passing away in 2008. As ordinary Palestinians came up to the mic to read his poems or say a few words, they would just dissolve into tears. He was among the few poets who expressed in the most searing and stark ways the realities and injustice of dispossession, rootlessness of refugees, the ache of belonging to one’s land.
His book, Journal of an Ordinary Grief (2010) is dedicated to the people of Gaza. In it there is a section called “Silence for the Sake of Gaza.” Here is what Gaza is for the poet:
Gaza is not the most beautiful of cities.
Her coast is not bluer than those of other Arab cities.
Her oranges are not the best in the Mediterranean.
Gaza is not the richest of cities.
And Gaza is not the most polished of cities, or the largest. But she is equivalent to the history of a nation, because she is the most repulsive among us in the eyes of the enemy – the poorest, the most desperate, and the most ferocious. Because she is a nightmare. Because she is oranges that explode, children without a childhood, aged men without an old age, and women without desire. Because she is all that, she is the most beautiful among us, the purest, the richest, and most worthy of love.
Gaza is far from its relatives and close to its enemies, because whenever Gaza explodes, it becomes an island and it never stops exploding. It scratched the enemy’s face, broke his dreams and stopped his satisfaction with time.
Because in Gaza time is something different.
Because in Gaza time is not a neutral element.
It does not compel people to cool contemplation, but rather to explosion and a collision with reality.
Time there does not take children from childhood to old age, but rather makes them men in their first confrontation with the enemy.
Time in Gaza is not relaxation, but storming the burning noon. Because in Gaza values are different, different, different.
The only value for the occupied is the extent of his resistance to occupation. That is the only competition there. Gaza has been addicted to knowing this cruel, noble value. It did not learn it from books, hasty school seminars, loud propaganda megaphones, or songs. It learned it through experience alone and through work that is not done for advertisement and image.
The well-known graphic novelist, Joe Sacco, published the book, Footnotes in Gaza in 2009. His earlier book, simply titled Palestine, was published in 1996. Sacco is well-known for his visual narratives of war-torn regions. His classic, Safe Area Gorazde, documents the horrors of the Bosnian war. As an aside, Sacco also published a book titledKushinagar, documenting the realities of caste in the Kushinagar district of UP in India.
In Footnotes in Gaza, Sacco uses his journalistic incisiveness to try to uncover details of a massacre in the Rafah and Khan Yunis areas of Gaza by the Israeli army in 1956, during the Suez Crisis. The actual events, and especially the details, were forgotten over the years. Sacco used his skill as an investigative journalist to piece together a sort of a coherent account of that event. As he notes, such events are “like innumerable historical tragedies over the ages that barely rate footnote status in the broad sweep of history — even though . . . they often contain the seeds of the grief and anger that shape present-day events.”
In Khan Yunis the men of the town were brought to the town square and then shot. In Rafah, the killings of the Palestinians took place in a school where they were summoned to decide if they were terrorists or not.
Sacco, in the book’s Foreward, recounts the interview with Abed El-Aziz El-Rantisi, a former commander of Hamas who was 9 years old when the Khan Yunis massacre took place, in which his uncle was killed. “…I couldn’t sleep for many months after that…This sort of action can never be forgotten…[T]hey planted hatred in our hearts.”
Through his endeavor of uncovering the details of the horrific events, Sacco hoped that we could see how the past informs the present.
“Perhaps it is worth our while to freeze that churning forward movement and examine one or two events that were not only a disaster for the people who lived them but also might be instructive for those who want to understand why and how – as El-Rantisi said – hatred was ‘planted’ in hearts,” says Sacco as a conclusion to the Foreward.
As it stands at the brink of another imminent onslaught, we can only remember the tender words of present day Gaza-native and Instagrammer who goes by the handle “byplestia,” as she made a recent post. “I filmed this video yesterday. Today?? I don’t think there’ll be a city called Gaza.”
For Gaza, the scarred, ravaged city, the atrocities run very deep. “The only value for the occupied is the extent of his resistance to occupation,” as Darwish puts it poignantly. Hopefully the spirit of the resistance and resilience of the Gazans will enable them to endure and emerge triumphant from yet another injustice being visited upon them now.
Umang Kumar is a social activist based in Delhi NCR.