(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, October 21, 2023)
Think of the war in Gaza and think of flowers.
This, with a nod to Banksy. He’s the street artist who moves anonymously at night to paint public spaces. Often powerful images – you’ll see them from Paris to Detroit – they pull at our collective conscious.
“The Flower Thrower,” painted on a nondescript building in Bethlehem, in Palestine’s West Bank, shows a fighting youth throwing no Molotov cocktail, but a bouquet of flowers. I passed it one day while there. Later I saw a skirmish involving Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers and stones and teargas: life imitating art, without the flowers.
Now you and I are close enough to see other things, horrible things, on one screen or another. We’re all in it together, like it or not, psychologically. And this war won’t be over in a day.
I’m no expert on it, on war. I did fear for my life after an Islamic extremist killed some friends, gunning them down in a hospital, in Yemen, while I lived there during Gulf War 2. But when it comes to war, I find it hard to imagine anyone’s really an expert, except maybe, in a strange way, the dead.
It’s clear, though, that Gaza’s two million people, before this hellish war, suffered as impoverished victims of their own, of Hamas. The terror organization fronted as government, but, by its founding constitution, was always more interested in simply destroying Israel.
Palestinians in the West Bank, governed by the moderate Palestinian Authority, have fared better in daily life because the PA moderated over time, realizing the old “us versus them” thinking simply doesn’t work, that, in truth, there is no “us” and “them.” There’s just “us” and “us.” Anywhere.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the dissident Russian writer, put it this way: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” He continues, “But who’s willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
That’s any heart. Your heart. Mine. Some Politburo heart. Solzhenitsyn’s heart. But this is especially true for Jews and Arab-Palestinians sharing the same story, the same promise, really, of a blessing through their common forefather, Abraham. Historically, the Arab-Jewish conflict is family kill family.
The other thought is that as a community we need to hold each other accountable. So thanks to McMaster University for deploring comments by CUPE Local 3906 – “Palestine is rising, long live the resistance” – after Hamas murdered and kidnapped and raped innocent Jewish civilians by the hundreds. Thank you Air Canada for firing pilot Mustafa Ezzo after his outrageous antisemitic postings.
If we’ve learned anything by now, even as antisemitism rises, Israel, a tiny state in a sea of Arab nations, has the right to exist. The free world recognizes this. Did you notice, for example, Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate recently bathed in colours of Israel’s flag, highlighting the Star of David?
Imagine. Germany. You know the history. Imagine a German-Canadian like myself, born in Berlin just 20 years after the Nazis surrendered, even walking in a modern state of Israel. Imagine, considering Jews, before 1948, had no homeland for 2000 years; and considering the Nazis killed so many that 80 years later, worldwide, their numbers still haven’t fully recovered.
War is easy, of course. Peace is hard. But peace is possible.
A two-state Palestinian-Israeli model was the UN’s original intent in 1948. It remains the path to peace. When enough death piles up, when the radical Hamas becomes irrelevant, it’s a case to present, again. Something new will come of this. The question is, what will be imagined? And reasoned?
Even so, when you want to change someone’s mind, you don’t give an argument. You give a picture. You show what’s possible. You imagine peace that’s built on a new, just image. Even now we need to imagine it together.