‘An Old Man and a Young Man in Gaza’

The brutality of the Israelis in its savage response to Hamas rocket attacks has been documented in photographs so horrendous I can’t bear to look at them. Listening to “An Old Man and a Young Man in Gaza” — as read by Alan Cox in a recent radio broadcast on the KPFA program Cover to Cover with Jack Foley — had me feeling no less shamed but more bitterly enlightened. The poem, by Heathcote Williams, ends with these lines:

Israel’s vision of itself was once

As a ‘light unto the nations.’

It has no need of the fearful hatred,
Fueling its bombs and its bullets,

Unless it wishes to fade away — 

Putting out the light that might enable it

To see the stranger as a friend.”

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  1. says

    War makes people sick. It destroys their sanity. After 70 years of war Israel has inevitably lost its way, as would any country. That’s when true friends should step in a help guide a country suffering in this way back to rationality, but Israel doesn’t have any true friends.

    • says

      Yes, Israel has no true friends. It started out deep in a corner and since then has painted itself — and been painted by both its enemies and so-called friends — even more deeply into the corner.

  2. says

    There are several sites on the web with a print copy of the poem that include war photographs that unfortunately overshadow the words and give the poem a propagandistic effect. The only copy I could find without the photos is on website of the Palestinian Chronicle. It might seem partisan to list that site, but ironically it is the only one that doesn’t include the photos:


    I have a folder with about 100 photos of children from the latest Gaza offensive that are wounded, dead, or deeply traumatized. How should these photos be displayed? Or should we turn away and not look at them at all?

    • says

      Yes again. When the photos are presented within the poem, they distract me from the words. The tone of Alan Cox’s delivery steadies the poem. It brings a necessary distance to it without sacrificing any of the meaning. Maybe the only way to exhibit all those photos is to show them, say, at Yad Vashem or a similarly proper setting.

      • says

        The problem, of course, with showing the photos at Yad Vashem would be that heavily disproportionate force in war, and an excessive disregard for civilian casualties, is not the same as genocide – especially one as systematic and horrific as the Holocaust. At the same time, I sense the irony and disillusionment you mean to express by the idea.

        The world needs museums whose specific purpose is to show the horrors of war. Many countries have war museums, but they mostly glorify victories and militarism. London’s Imperial War Museum (a name ironically honest) is currently hosting an exhibit that shows, in part, the horrors of WWI, but the museum’s central purpose is still about militaristic glory. If we had museums that showed war is always detestable, abhorrent, and an abomination, that is where the photos would belong.

  3. Christian says

    Ah, yes, Gaza again. Where are the poets and peace marches on behalf of the victims in Darfur, the victims of Boko Haram, the victims of Bashir al Assad, of ISIS, in Mali, in Yemen, in Sudan, in Congo, in the Central African Republic? Throw in the victims of repressive regimes, including Russia, China, Cuba, N. Korea, Iran, Brunei. Who cares?

    • says

      I think war in countries closely associated with Western culture would receive similar coverage. An example would be the Balkan War. This is especially true when there is so much death and destruction within a 6 week period. Or shall we hold Israel to a standard equal to the Congo, Sudan, and Mali?

      • Christian says

        But none of them involve Jews trying to protect themselves from being slaughtered by Muslims.

        Good luck when ISIS comes to your town.