The Only Way Forward

With the recent re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, for another term of office the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians have receded and are unlikely to show any progress in the foreseeable future.

With the whole Middle East in a state of turmoil, peace seems a far fetched aspiration given that every scrap of goodwill between the warring sides is now non-existent. Therefore, a plea for sanity becomes the only course that might eventually give hope to those who believe in miracles.

As I am one of that rare breed of optimists I would like to republish a poem by Carol Rumens, a Jewish writer who resigned as the poetry editor for the Literary Review over the outcry that followed Roald Dahl’s review of God Cried in 1983. I will never forget my discovery of her dedicating this poem to me when it first appeared in the New Statesman that September.

It’s imperative that people in both camps begin to realise that dialogue not force is the only way to achieve a lasting peace in the Holy Land. Love and comradeship must ensue, which is the real message of the poem and its humanitarian thrust is the way forward.

Read this poem and pray that its contents will inspire a new generation of well-meaning individuals who might succeed where we have failed.

A NEW SONG (for Naim Attallah) 

‘Thou feedest them with the bread of tears, and givest them tears to drink in great measure.’ (Psalm 80) 

Silence of old Europe

Not even the Shofar

Can utter: Maidenek,

Mauthausen, Babi Yar –

 

Death of the innocent being

Our speciality,

Let us add Lebanon’s breaking

Sob to the litany.

 

So many now to mourn for,

Where can the psalmist start?

Only from where his home is

And his untidy heart.

 

We pluck our first allegiance

With a curled baby-hand

And peer between its fingers

To see our promised land:

 

Yours on a hillside clouded

With olives; mine a cot

In a London postal district,

Its trees long spilled as soot.

 

On a late wartime morning

In Northern Europe, my

First breath seems implicated

In yells of victory.

 

But it’s the quieter voices

That keep on trying to rhyme,

Telling me almost nothing

But filling me with shame.

 

Germany in the thirties

And half my family tree

Bent to an SS microscope’s

Mock genealogy.

 

Duly pronounced untainted

For his Aryan bride,

My uncle says it’s proven,

There are no Jews on his side.

 

Ancient, unsummoned, shameless,

The burdens of prejudice –

All through my London childhood

Adults with kindly eyes

 

And sharp throw-away phrases

Like bits of shopfront glass

(Grandfather: ‘He’s a schneider’

– Frowning and treadling fast.)

 

Later, the flickering movie:

Greyish, diaphanous

Horrors that stared and whispered,

‘God has forgotten us.’

 

Oh, if our unborn children

Must go like us to flame,

Will you consent in silence

Or gasp and burn with them?

 

It is so late in the century

And still the favourite beast

Whines in the concrete bunker.

And still the trucks roll east

 

And east and east through whited

Snowfields of the mind

Towards the dark encampment;

Still the Siberian wind

 

Blows across Prague and Warsaw,

The voices in our head

Baying for a scapegoat:

Historians gone mad,

 

Thugs on a street corner,

The righteous Gentile who

Pins Lebanon like a yellow star

To the coat of every Jew.

 

Silences of old Europe,

Be broken; let us seek

The judgement of the silenced

And ask how they would speak.

 

Then let the street musician

Crouched in the cruel sun

Play for each passing, stateless

Child of Babylon

 

Conciliatory harmonies

Against the human grain,

A slow psalm of two nations

Mourning a common pain –

 

Hebrew and Arabic mingling

Their single-rooted vine,

Olives and roses falling

To sweeten Palestine.

 

Carol Rumens

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