November 20, 2012

A Note on Gaza, November 20, 2012

A Note on Gaza, November 20, 2012

CAIRO — The slaughter in the Gaza Strip is five hours away by car, plus a few hours’ waiting time at the border checkpoints. Yet Gaza’s suffering is several surreal dimensions removed in time, space and feeling. To my family at home who think I’m in a war zone, I email that there’s more urgent danger from the three-pack-a-day load of auto fumes on my lungs than from any Gaza spillover. But it’s more complicated than that. Photographers and fixers we know have migrated to Gaza, and 500 or more humanitarian activists in a bus convoy are tweeting urgently back to the social-media adepts in Cairo. But for Egyptians we meet on the streets in Cairo the pain of Gaza seems lost in an unreachable space of heart-break, powerlessness, deep sadness — a familiar area of humiliation for their Palestinian cousins and themselves. “The word is ‘depression,'” a young Egyptian man said to me this afternoon. An Egyptian lady practicing psychiatry at a busy clinic in Downtown Cairo spoke of what she calls a commonplace “chronic depression:” “Our transmitters are clogged,” she observes. “Our receptors are fogged. We don’t have the reservoirs we need for our own lives. We are not thinking about the Palestinians.” I got the same take today from man of infinite sophistication in Egypt’s public life. Would the president of revolutionary Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, do more, I asked, than recall Egypt’s Ambassador to Israel? No, said my Egyptian wiseman: there’s no news forthcoming for the Palestinians, he said, certainly not from Egypt.  “Action requires fuel in the tank, and we don’t have it.  Egypt has too many of its own problems,” he said, turning palms up. “There are so many open fronts in the Arab world…”

Photo Credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy

It’s still more complicated in that Egyptians seem quite capable of expressing highs, lows and indifference almost in the same sentence. In Tahrir Square all day into last night, they have been standing in trances of mourning on this year’s anniversary of the massacre of 50-plus protesters around the corner into Mohammed Mahmoud Street; but they are rejoicing in their revolution, too. In another “news” zone entirely we heard the same two-track emotions: over the past weekend, Egyptians were shocked, outraged and embarrassed by the collision of a train with a bus — an accident foretold that finally happened, dragging 51 children to gruesome deaths inside their bus. Almost immediately their faces were painted onto the mural of revolutonary martyrs in Tahrir Square. Later on Saturday evening, on our alleyway of shops and apartments in Cairo, we heard Egyptians asking each other if it was excusable to cheer Egypt’s football team to victory over Tunisia on the same day as the bus horror. But cheer they did, in a roaring urban mob of 30 or 40 sober, giddy sports fans watching a TV screen under my window. So on the mismatched war up the road in Gaza — between the regional superpower and its malnourished prisoners — Cairenes seem both hurt and numb, alienated and engaged, angry and calloused. I am coming to think they talk of a post-revolution in a dateless future, because the present is too full of raging uncertainty and the past is too awful.

For myself? The sum feeling is dumb nausea at the calculations of war’s dividends, of the certain political advantages for Netanyahu’s comeback campaign in shooting fish in a barrel over in Gaza. The bored, boilerplate comments from White House (and the New York Times editorial) about “Israel’s right to defend itself” must strike most Americans, I think, with their sickening banality and their obliviousness about the historical record and the disproporationate power and injury in Gaza. President Obama’s remote ambiguity, his license to a client state to “make their own decisions,” is taken here as egging Israel on to prolong the attacks and the loss of life in Gaza. I liked Barack Obama so much more back in the Iowa Primary of Spring 2007, when he was so new to the game that he could blurt out the simple judgment he’s never repeated. “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people,” is what Obama said, and it’s still the unarguable truth.

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  • Potter

    Thank you for this Chris. I feel pretty much the same. I have loved ones emailing me from Tel Aviv that they are okay. Wake up time.

    Obama managed to disappoint this time with no re-election politics to consider.
    Hamas is surely legitimate, and Israel has to deal with them. Hamas has been elevated; the moderates (Abbas and Fayyad et al.) on the West Bank diminished. The peace process does not exist and the Palestinians in their discomforts and daily humiliations are bound to support violence because peaceful means do not work, have not worked.

    Israel’s is not defending itself or building it’s future by “cutting the grass” like this every few years while building settlements, occupying Gaza (yes) and the West Bank and offering excuses, propaganda points for why there can be no deal. Shamefully our Obama has bought it.

    Hamas (in effect) “go ahead and make our day.. invade with a ground war” knowing that Israel would be mad to do so and pay a very heavy price. A game of chicken.

  • nother

    Victor Hugo said “Revolution is the larva fo civilization.” Be careful, Chris! Don’t get stuck in that larva over there. Thank you for your courageous reporting. Keep on keeping on…

  • Robert Zucchi

    I do not envy the state of Israel. The Great Powers that abetted its creation had rivalrous motives for doing so; and while the rationale the Powers put forward for midwifing Israel’s birth often invoked simple humanity, that sentiment would never fully cloak the naked realpolitik that underlay it.

    A people stateless for two millennia were “repatriated” to a “homeland” that had meanwhile vanished. The indigenes were of course not consulted, and they reacted as an injured people already too familiar with imperialist maltreatment and subjugation (by no means exclusively Western). Suddenly two tribes are in propinquity, and an unwelcome one, despite constituting two branches of the same ancient ethnicity, and sharing many homologues as to language and culture and religion.

    Many will be reassured that this sounds like a family, while others (like me) will be put in mind of the unsettling aphorism about families that begins “Anna Karenina.”

    A divinely promised land. A people uprooted. An ancient claim reasserted after a terrible campaign of extermination. But I’m not thinking here of Israel. I’m thinking of native Americans in the country that supports Israel à outrance. Be careful how you employ your spiritual and material energies, America. There is a rough justice in this world, and the Great Spirit may possibly be familiar with its workings.

  • Potter

    Just as we don’t go back to ancient Egypt when talking about liberation, Tahrir Square, we should not go back to Judea and Samaria or ancient Israel even as Israeli’s defensively work furiously digging up real evidence that they belong there to reassert their ancient claim. Let’s stipulate that both belong there and both are already modern and mixed. We should go back only to the the farthest points in modern times to settle this. Start with the post colonial era, the Partition of 1947, and after that Israel’s War of Independence along with the terms upon which Israel was accepted into the community of nations ( the UN). Then think justice for all, the highest of religious and secular ideals, that we are one world now and that being at war endlessly ( fundamentalism) is self destructive and drags us all down.

  • The Parrot

    Thanks for the reports Chris. Stay safe, and find some clean O2 to breath. As for the presidency: it’s a job requirement/occupational hazard to disappoint on most policy positions.

  • moe schneid

    Hamas can prevent further suffering to the people of Gaza. Just stop shooting missles.

  • Potter

    I am amazed and even shocked to read my own comments from 2012. We have gone nowhere with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s all the same again :mowing the grass again, Hamas rising again and Abbas sinking, Netanyahu as revolting as ever, Obama still saying that Israel has the right to defend itself. Is this defending?Is this security? It looks pretty immoral to me. And as I look around, the world seems to be agreeing.

    Regarding Ganzeer, I wish I could catch that show in NYC, Instead I am going to see Chinese Bronzes in the Berkshires at the Clark ( I am always running behind). But I think Ganzeer will love Brooklyn. I wish for him success and not to have to drive a cab. I hope this will ease his longing for home and maybe he’ll find a home here.

    Thank you Chris.