Poem of the Week / Blood Spills, Yet We Hear Nothing New

For Tisha B'Av, a jeremiad by Dan Almagor from more than a quarter century ago.

Wikipedia

From now on

Dan Almagor

Daniel Bar-On

Up till now we had it easy.
Up till now
when Jewish blood was spilled –
we always knew whom to finger,
we always uttered that familiar phrase
about “the long arm of the IDF.”

From now on –
from now on
it’s even easier for us
to point the finger of blame.
From now on –
if the long arm, the very long arm
of this nation doesn’t reach out
to take the short hand offered to it –
from now on,
when blood is spilled,
Jewish, Arab,
we’ll have to start pointing
The finger of blame
in another direction as well!

From now on,
whoever can prevent
any additional bloodshed
and doesn’t;
whoever can save
any child
any shepherd,
any yeshiva boy
any settler
from a bullet, a knife, a bottle, a stone;
from now on
every drop of blood spilled
this blood – is on the head
of anyone who can stop,
change,
try to offer a hand
but keeps ignoring it.
Dismissing,
insisting;
because of stones,
because of slogans,
because of territories;
saying: “We haven’t heard
anything new!”
And not just he.
Everyone close to him,
In front of him, and even behind him.
All those
who even now refuse to forgo, forgo, forgo
territories, myths
at the price of human lives –
history’s long arm –
longer even than the IDF’s –
will grab him sooner or later.
History is patient.
We aren’t any more.

Haaretz
December 12, 1988
Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden

***

Tuesday is the Ninth of Av, the fast day commemorating the destruction of both Temples and later ills that befell the Jewish people. Synagogue readings include Lamentations and verses from Jeremiah, for example 8:15: “We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and behold terror!”

This week’s poem is of the genre known as jeremiad, after the prophet. “We haven’t heard anything new!” refers to a remark by Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012), who twice served as Israel’s prime minister, in 1983-84 and 1986-92. Speaking in defense of not seeking peace with the Palestinians, Shamir said, “The sea is the same sea and the Arabs are the same Arabs.”

Today, Israel’s policy is the same policy. Interestingly, It’s worth remembering that the definition of insanity, according to Alcoholics Anonymous, is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

The first intifada erupted on Shamir’s watch, on December 9, 1987. At a rally protesting Israel’s policy a year later in Tel Aviv, the lyricist and literary scholar Dan Almagor read a poem entitled “We Shoot Children, Don't We."

That same week, Almagor brought the above poem to Haaretz editor Hanoch Marmari, who said he didn’t publish poems, yet “From Now On” appeared on the editorial page that Friday.

Following his reading, the publication in Haaretz and an appearance on American television, Almagor’s car was burned and he received many threats. That also seems to have remained the same, as men and women who express opinions critical of the official line are again being subjected to vitriol, economic sanctions and calls for violence against them.

Musing: Are poetry and political commentary necessarily distinct categories?

Bonus: From Edward Fitzgerald’s 1859 rendition of 12th century Persian astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam’s “Rubaiyat”:

LXXI
The Moving Finger writes; and having writ
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

LXXII
And that inverted bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help – for It
As impotently rolls as you or I.

LXXIV
Yesterday This Day’s madness did prepare;
Tomorrow’s Silence, Triumph or Despair …