A Friday Poem: Running Orders

Another round of violence in the Middle East broke out while I was on holiday. The death toll in the Gaza Strip has topped 700, last I read. Yesterday, the Israeli army bombed a UN school, killing 15. The wildly asymmetric nature of the conflict makes the Israeli government’s contention that it’s acting in self-defence difficult to accept. Gaza is a large open-air prison camp, surrounded on all sides. Even the sky and the sea are blockaded. The people have no control over their environment – they are subject to the Israeli army at all times. And when anyone resists, it’s a terrible dreadful thing and Israel claims to be under existential threat. The army lashes out indiscriminately, punishing everyone for the actions of a few (in contravention of the Geneva Convention), and hundreds of Palestinians die.

I don’t know what the answer is, but maintaining a prison state right outside its borders doesn’t do Israel itself any good, let alone the Palestinians. It undercuts the notion of Israel as a modern democratic state, and it ensures an endless supply of angry, despairing people who have every reason to hate and fear Israel. I don’t think the conflict will end until the Israeli government and people can find some way to release their death grip on the region and stop holding the Palestinian territories in subjugation. As the controlling power, the solution has to come from them.

Here is today’s poem, Running Orders by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha:

“They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

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