With your last breath you can exalt those fearsome prophets. As you die again and again. The million deaths they promised you.
With what’s unfolding in Israel-Gaza right now, I would normally be prompted to ponder the politics, weigh up the geostrategic implications and offer a considered analysis. This is something I have done countless times before for publications around the world.
But, as I entered this habitual space, I found I could not gain traction there.
Not this time. Not again.
While I have always sought to leaven my commentary with humanity and with compassion, I realised it was a shield to protect from the horrors our species can inflict. It doesn’t only apply to me personally but to those who might read what I write. It’s a game we all play to pretend there is some logic here, that it all makes sense if you let the smart people explain.
Focus on the politics, the narratives, and the darker truths can be contained and even ignored.
The reality of this situation is that there are people like you and me – sure, different languages, skin colour perhaps, different life experiences – who have been killed, injured or traumatised for no other reason other than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s it. No analysis required. At the human level, that’s all you need to know about this, or any other instance of state violence over, say, the last 50 years, possibly longer.
As people take to the streets, shouting “we are Palestine!” there is a deeper value here being exercised, or perhaps exorcised.
This is called humanity.
This is where ordinary people say to themselves, and gain courage to say to others, that this is enough. We cannot bear this any longer.
Yes, we are all Palestinians. We are all Israelis. We are all in pain. We are all watching our world fall apart. We are all caught in a loop of anxiety and despair. We are all watching prices increase. We are all watching our environment disappear. We are struggling to find a story, a meaning we can make sense of. We are seeing how distant and unresponsive our leaders are. We are all seeing how this system, of states, and economies, and businesses and politics, best serves a minority. We are all aware that we have, in form if not in actual structure, returned to a form of feudalism applied across our planet, whereby the only relationships between the elites and the rest is via an economic extraction, from bottom to top.
The only difference is the mechanisms are more complex, more sophisticated, more complete. The basics are the same.
Three hundred and seventy-two years ago, political philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote a seminal book called The Leviathan. In it, he espoused the value of a vast centralised power structure, which became manifest in the nation-state.
He argued that settled, civilised life on any scale was simply too hard without a core power to administer, set rules and keep everything in check, with violence if necessary.
His famous line was that without a central power elite, and a structure to support it, our lives are “nasty, brutish and short.”
What is life now? The only real difference for many of us, (and there are layers and complexities in our separate experiences but I am indicating there are common themes) is that modern science is giving us more years to live.
As such, today, centuries after the establishment of the structure Hobbes envisaged, life for a large number of us, even in the so-called “developed world” is nasty, brutish and long.
How we have managed to find a way to be worse off than our medieval peers defies belief.
Now, those Palestinians being inexplicably bombed into the stone age, and the Israelis who have suffered at the hands of outright murderers in their homes, are the very pointed ended embodiment of a system that serves very few of us. Most of us are not being bombed or killed by invaders in drones. But, we are all forced to turn up and to serve a system every single fucking day, that no longer serves us, or most of our fellow humans.
We may not be running from bombs today, but many of us feel that the current plight of Gazans is where any of us could be tomorrow.
Is this the line across which we collectively refuse to cross? We’ve had the opportunity before: Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Ukraine, climate change, the global financial crisis, covid.
Is this the one where we can say we are at the end of what good this system can do, and that we need a new one?
If so, we are required to not keep dealing out the system’s deck. We will need to think differently.
So in lieu of analysis, I offer this. A different take on the situation.
You searched for my soul
Through the screen of myths
While the winds of our terrors
Fanned the fires around you,
Tugging at the flames like the child you are
Seeking a moment from a mother who is no longer there.
You were born into the shadows of tyrants
You were obliged to be broken by their slaves, the sons of us all,
You were asked to stand aside while adults jostled to save you,
By stealing your every breath
You ran when they dropped and screamed at you
As you screamed back at them, asking for forgiveness
To their bullet faces, their eyeless gaze
You found yourself awake in The Promised Land,
And you searched in the rubble,
Every mote of dust a lie, every broken piece a curse
They delivered to you, exactly as foretold
For every hope in your world is a fear laden, hollow thing
What you see now, this theatre, this new history,
Is a fulfilment of this land’s purpose
For you are living the dreams of your makers
Of those who have decided you
And as you die, and watch those around you too
You can be secure that all in this place
Is exactly as was intended
With your last breath you can exalt those fearsome prophets
As you die again and again
The million deaths they promised you.