Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 20, 2011

Choosing between hope and fear

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 20, 2011

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama are scheduled to begin meeting at 11:15 today.  Most are expecting at least a tense engagement, perhaps even a serious clash. See Jerusalem Post, New York Times, and Ynet.

Each of us have our positions, our certainties, our minimums. Each of us have our particular fears and, if we are fortunate, our own well-springs of hope.

As the President and Prime Minister confront each other in the Oval, thousands of Syrians will stream out of mid-day prayers in protest against the Assad regime. A few more — perhaps many more — will pay with their lives. I am sure they are afraid.

For complicated reasons the Arab people perceive they are under siege. So do the people of Israel. Some days, so do I. We are not paranoid. Our enemies are real enough. The siege is certainly real in Daraa and Misurata and Kandahar. It is no less so in Gaza and for their neighbors in Israel. We each know besieged places near us. Under siege, not unreasonably, we can be inclined to strike out.

We have not been able to see much of what is happening in Syria. But what we have heard is extraordinary. Crowds leave Friday prayers, walking together, shouting “Salmiyeh, salmiyeh” (Peaceful, peaceful) as the regime’s security forces descend upon them with gas, guns, and tanks.

Salmiyeh, salmiyeh. In the midst of deadly fear, a lively hope persists.

As the President and Prime Minister meet, fear — and the certainties born of fear — will come all too easily. May they find the courage to make and share sources of hope.

The Siege
by Mahmoud Darwish

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.

A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
For we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
Our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
In the darkness of cellars.

Here there is no “I”.
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.

On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
And as my name I shall choose azure letters…

You who stand in the doorway, come in,
Drink Arabic coffee with us
And you will sense that you are men like us
You who stand in the doorways of houses
Come out of our morningtimes,
We shall feel reassured to be
Men like you!

When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
Fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
With unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
Of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
Fly off. Ah, if only the sky
Were real [a man passing between two bombs said to me].

Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
The sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
Soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
And the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
A street as wide as a church after Sunday mass…

[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.

The siege is a waiting period
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.

Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
Were it not for the visits of the rainbows.

We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
“Ah! if this siege had been declared…” They do not finish their sentence:
“Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us.”

Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees…
Added to this the structural flaw that
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.

A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
For my clothing is drenched with his blood.

If you are not rain, my love
Be tree
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
[So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral]

Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
Of lying in wait for the light in our salt
And of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
Are you not weary, oh watchmen?

A little of this absolute and blue infinity
Would be enough
To lighten the burden of these times
And to cleanse the mire of this place.

It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
And on its silken feet walk
By my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
Friends who share the ancient bread
And the antique glass of wine
May we walk this road together
And then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
Will choose to squat on a high-up rock.

On my rubble the shadow grows green,
And the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
He dreams as I do, as the angel does
That life is here…not over there.

In the state of siege, time becomes space
Transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
That has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.

The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
And questions me: Where were you? Take every word
You have given me back to the dictionaries
And relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.

The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
For the virgins of immortality for I love life
On earth, amid fig trees and pines,
But I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
With my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.

The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
Believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!

The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
And a crescent of moon on my finger
To appease my sorrow.

The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!

Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.

And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.

Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
The drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
Blackness of this tunnel!

Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
In the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.

My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
A soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
A marble epitaph of time
And always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died…who?

Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.

Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
To another like a gazelle
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
Reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
And that we are the guests of eternity.

By Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Marjolijn De Jager

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5 Comments »

Comment by Laertes

May 20, 2011 @ 9:11 am

At about 0900 Eastern AFP is reporting:

Syrian security forces shot dead at least five people, including a child, as pro-democracy protests swept the country on Friday after weekly prayers, with demonstrators calling for more freedom in defiance of a fierce crackdown, witnesses said.

The child and three other people were killed in the central city of Homs. Another person was shot dead in Sanamein, a village in the southern region of Daraa, epicentre of protests that have gripped Syria since March 15, they said.

Protests were also held in other regions, including the coastal city of Banias where a witness said security forces fired shots to disperse the crowd. It was unclear if there were any casualties.

A militant reported that a demonstration was held outside a mosque in central Damascus but it was quickly dispersed by the security forces.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 20, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

Laetes, Thanks. According to Al Jazeera:

Syrian security forces have killed dozens of protesters in the latest armed crackdown on protesters, a leading Syrian human rights researcher has told Al Jazeera.

Razan Zeitouna, a human rights lawyer, said activists had listed names of more than 30 protesters shot by security forces in Friday’s crackdown, adding that a further two victims were yet to be identified.

Nine protesters were killed in Maret al-Naiman and Kafr Nabal, suburbs of Hama, nine were killed in Homs, including an 11-year-old boy, four were killed in Berze, a suburb of Damascus, and one person died in Sanamein, near Deraa.

The White House meeting went about an hour longer than scheduled. After the extended discussion, the President told the media, “differences remain between US, Israel over path for reaching Middle East peace”. According to the AP, he added that the two allies agree, however, that uprisings in Arab countries “provide a moment of opportunity as well as challenges”

According to Reuters, the Prime Minister offered, “Peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle East reality,” an unsmiling Netanyahu said as Obama listened intently beside him in the Oval Office.”

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 20, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

There is substantial consensus that today’s Syrian protests were the largest yet. According to a report in The Guardian:

Today Syria witnessed the largest demonstrations, but also one of the most violent crackdowns, since protesters first took to the streets, according Damascus-based human rights lawyer Razan Zeitouneh. She said, “Even in Banias, which is under siege, there was a protest … In the suburbs of Damascus, thousands and thousands took to the streets. Every Friday we see more cites and more areas joining the protest … People [have] broken the wall of fear and they continuing no matter how [much] it costs.”

The Guardian’s MiddleEastLive Blog has a minute-by-minute report from across MENA. It includes extensive coverage of the White House meetings as well. Especially today it is worth reading.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 21, 2011 @ 8:18 am

Date of poem?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 21, 2011 @ 8:26 am

Bill, I think The Siege was written in 2002, coincident with the so-called Second Intifada. (Some are concerned we are the eve of the Third). Darwish died in 2008.

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