Losing My Childlike Innocence

As the violence in Gaza picks-up again, I continue my search for answers to this conflict and solutions to make the madness end once and for all………

I’ve got nothin’!

In 2009 Israel launched an attack on Gaza called “Operation Cast Lead.”  That Israeli “defense” against Palestinian rock-throwers killed over 1,400 civilians.  More than 400 of those killed were children. Today we have not only reached that appalling number again, we’ve surpassed it. Truces, or cease-fires, are called for “humanitarian” reasons and then broken within hours; each side blaming the other.  It’s beyond depressing & frustrating!  It reminds me of my childhood when all the neighborhood kids would get together to play.  We played games like Freeze-tag, Kick-the-Can, Street Hockey, or (in the winter) we’d build snow forts & have snowball battles.  When a “cease-fire” or an “alle, alle, umption free” was called it was usually because someone got hurt or it got late and some of us had to go home for dinner.  So, yet again, another “time-out” in Gaza has ended and the playground bullies have learned nothing.  Nothing’s changed, and the violence goes merrily on with children and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.  To me the solutions seem obvious, but not to those at the negotiation tables (the Egyptian “principal’s office”).  The whole thing has me feeling overwhelmingly hopeless.

As an artist I inevitably look to the art world for solace, insight, and perspective.  Artists have a way of seeing that goes beyond the surface, and sometimes pushes us out of our comfort zones.  Artists have the ability to stretch our minds in ways we never dreamed possible.  A blessing and a curse to be sure.  In light of this summer’s latest assault on Gaza by the IDF, I am reminded of the 2009 play by Caryl Churchill, “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” and the controversy that surrounded it’s shows in London and the US (This is a link to Part One of Two of the presentation at Rooms Productions in Chicago, March 14, 2009.  In my opinion, one of the better and more compassionate interpretations of Churchill’s play).

To summarize, the play is about 10 minutes long and pretty much slaps you in the face and leaves you gaping at the mouth.  Most of the lines begin with “Tell her” or “Don’t tell her” and the actors are adults engaged in conversation about what to tell a Jewish child, either theirs or a member of the family. There are 7 scenes, or sequences, that lead us in time from the Holocaust to the establishment of the State of Israel, to the 2009 violence in Gaza.  I have revisited this play, its message, and its unfortunate timelessness in relation to this latest eruption of violence in Gaza as a way of looking at the conflict with fresh, compassionate, and impartial eyes (although I anticipate some negative comments for this post).  Tony Kushner and Elisa Solomon wrote an amazing, thoughtful, and scholarly article in response to some of the harsh criticism Churchill received for this work.  In it they comment, “Any play about the crisis in the Middle East that doesn’t arouse anger and distress has missed the point.”  I agree.  When I create political art it is always my intent to arouse emotions.  That’s what artists do!  I am impressed with their analysis of the last lines of that damning monologue that gets the most attention and criticism for being anti-Semitic.  They assert that the following line is not evidence of blood-libel, “Tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel?  Tell her all I feel is I’m happy it’s not her.”  It is, in the words of Kushner & Solomon, a warning:  “You can’t protect your children by being indifferent to the children of others.”

No matter what you think about this conflict, no matter how the IDF spins their right to defend Israel, and no matter how you feel about Hamas, the fact remains that Palestinian children are being killed along with innocent civilians.  This alone is a human rights violation, and what the UN would classify as war-crimes, or crimes against humanity. This “open-air prison” is an oppressive and inhumane reality that needs to end, and both “sides” need to make this happen now!

For me this is just common sense, but there’s my childlike innocence (or is it naivete?) again.  How did Americans in the Jim Crow South or Afrikaaners in South Africa rationalize their dualistic “kissy-smiley-face” with cute little black babies against their brutality of adult people of color?  If you are a dualistic thinker then you will forever be stuck in an “either/or” mentality that supports conflict and the killing of innocents with the mantra “better them than us.”  I think this is where most of our administrators, governments, political & religious extremists, and all rebel/extremist groups are stuck.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, these are the ones with all the weapons and the most power (the bullies on the playground).  We do outnumber them, but we’ve got to get on the “Yes!  We can make change” train, and, like the tired & oppressed people in places like the Warsaw Ghetto, South Africa, Rwanda and Bosnia, and now Gaza and Iraq, we’ve got to demand peace & justice.  Demand it with our whole heart and soul!

I am losing my childlike innocence in the face of all the world’s violence & genocide, but I’m also beginning to see and understand better the practice of non-violence in the face of such extreme violence, hopelessness, and inhumanity.  It really is the only way.  I don’t like it, but this is work, real work!  I’m not Gandhi, King, Merton, or the Dalai Lama, and I’m certainly no Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day, but there is so much to learn from these great saints of peace, justice, and non-violent action.  I only hope that my innocence and idealistic tendencies for a better future, a better planet, and a better humanity are not counted among the casualties of war.

Although “I’ve got nothin’ ” in the way of answers to all of the violence around the world, I have found some helpful resources & organizations on the web.  Jewish Voice for Peace in the US is doing a great job of getting information out about events, actions, and ways to help in Gaza and the West Bank. Other groups are working hard doing the same in other areas of conflict. Follow the links below to their sites to help spread peace and work hard for justice, for (believe me!), it is hard work!  Please add any organizations that I’ve missed in the comments below.

International Crisis Group; Belgium.

SURF/Survivors Fund/UK; Survivors of the Rwandan Genocide.

Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation; USA.  This site is full of good information about the Holocaust; an excellent resource for teachers.

United to End Genocide; USA Network.

If Americans Knew; now here’s a list & a 1/2, and other good info!

Seeds of Peace; based in the US, working with youths from 27 countries suffering the effects of ongoing conflict.

And, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions) site offers much in the way of Palestinian non-violent efforts to gain self-determination, freedom, peace and justice.


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