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Gaza by day and night

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By day Gaza is news and images in the media. Perhaps we avoid them. Perhaps we read about the latest deaths and diplomacy, look at the photos, glance at the opinion pieces that justify or criticise Israel and Hamas, or that set the war in the larger geopolitical interests of the various actors, including Australia. But some delicacy, some despair, some supressed feeling may hold us back from dwelling on it. We concentrate on the business of our daily lives.

But sometimes at night Gaza returns. It becomes personal. For some of us it comes linked to biblical texts such as that of the prophet Jeremiah speaking of the destruction of the Northern kingdom, ‘In Ramah  a voice was heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not’.

We imagine the mothers in Gaza keening for their children who have been killed, the children who were left maimed and orphaned and who will never again be touched in love, the families scrabbling at rubble desperate not to leave their crushed children unburied, the children crying out for food and water which their parents cannot give them, the children whose last memories of their parents were of gunfire, the children who in another universe could be our children. And we hear the echo of Rachel weeping for for their children who are no more. In night there is no comfort.

During the day we nod as we see the plausibility of all the arguments. Yes, Hamas started this war; Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself. Yes, many Israeli people have died in the war. Yes, their lives are as precious as those of the people of Gaza; Yes, many peoples have a historic claim on the same land. Yes, Israel is a democracy. Yes, Hamas fights and hides hostages among civilians. Yes, a ceasefire is of itself no solution. Yes, there are other players arming each side in the war with their own aims. Yes, more people died in other wars. Yes, it is not in Australia’s interests to separate ourselves from our powerful friends. And yet these arguments bring no comfort.

But sometimes at night, we may hear again the voice of lamentation, weeping and great mourning. We see the cities lie in ruins; the houses, the apartments, the shops, the mosques and market places are now rubble; the hospitals, havens of healing, are now places of death; the delicate network of daily human living is now torn apart. We smell the fear that precedes each drone, each bomb, each shell, each scattering of a family. We see the families who have fled from the city into tents and other cities, and touch their terror as bombs fall close. We taste the bitterness of hunger, the humiliation of fighting one’s friends for food. And we look into the eyes of children who know only this as their world. And Rachel weeps for her children who are no more. At night no comfort comes.

By day, we feel for the Jewish and Palestinian communities in our land who grieve for dead relatives, fear for their nations, are enraged at their nations’ enemies, and who experience abuse on the grounds of their religion, race and national origin. And perhaps we march for peace and support our friends in these communities. Yet these things bring little comfort.

But sometimes at night the voice of lamentation cries out again to us as we look out over a stricken land of our hungry, homeless, humiliated brothers and sisters. We try to imagine the faces of the thirty thousand dead, to look into their eyes one by one, children, women and men. We see also the faces of the millions of people still alive, marked with grief, weariness, anger or despair. And we notice the faces of the many of those living who envy the dead. At night we find no comfort.

 

'By day, we feel for the Jewish and Palestinian communities in our land who grieve for dead relatives, fear for their nations, are enraged at their nations’ enemies, and who experience abuse on the grounds of their religion, race and national origin. And perhaps we march for peace and support our friends in these communities. Yet these things bring little comfort.'

 

In daytime, we wonder what will be become of Gaza and Israel in thirty years’ time. By then the surviving children will be adults carrying the memories and the scars of this war. Will the relationships between the people of Israel and their neighbouring peoples be dominated by fear and hatred magnified by this war and controlled only by military power? And what will serve the interests of other powerful nations? Such questions bring no comfort.

But sometimes at night, if faith has shaped our imagination, we may see the thirty thousand persons who have died in white robes, washed in the blood of the lamb, each valued, each alive. And we may be led to pray for all those whose lives have been blighted by this war – the people who live in fear, hunger, grief and isolation as a result of it - that they might live securely and be free. We may pray also for the leaders responsible for it, the soldiers involved in the killing and devastating, and the people who have supplied the weapons, and all the people of Israel and Gaza, for a change of heart that looks in the eyes of the persons whom their decisions maim and kill, and seeks peace through respect.

Such prayer does not bring comfort. But it may foster hope against hope.

 

 

 


Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Gaza at sundown. (Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Gaza, Lamentation, Israel, Hamas

 

 

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Existing comments

A powerful piece of writing which has made me confront my evasion of reading about and looking at the darkness that has overcome Gaza. We like to think we are children of the light and we are that. But children are often afraid of the dark and it is fear and devastating sadness that makes us look away. We cannot forget, though, the children, women and men buried under the rubble; the young girl in a car under bombardment pleading for rescue, for help which did not arrive. Many Psalms speak of lament, of prayer, of penance.


Pam | 07 March 2024  

You speculate on what might happen in 30 years' time in regard to Israelis and Palestinians, Andy. I am hoping that hatred may not fester in the two peoples' memories and lead to an even worse situation. Even though, on paper, the situation looks hopeless, there are still people on both sides desiring and working for peace. In Australia we really need to calm down. There are so many non-Palestinians involved in what looks like barely disguised anti-Semitism that it disgusts me. Often, they have no idea of what is really happening. Palestinians do. I have no doubt the real perpetrators of outrage on both sides will suffer, either in this life or the next.


Edward Fido | 08 March 2024  

Prayer is important and good.
But Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers, not the peace prayers.
You should also be exhorting Christians to nonviolently resist the genocide.
Make our Politicians accountable for their complicity in mass murder.
Resist the arms dealers like Boeing who immediately sent 1000 JDAM missiles to Israel after Oct 7, which almost certainly killed countless children.
A group of us have been charged in Brisbane for occupying Boeing offices.
Just to mourn and pray is not enough.
As that great resister (and fellow Jesuit) Dan Berrigan said "We have war because we want peace with half a heart and half a will, bu the making of war is total."


jim Dowling | 09 March 2024  

I'm with Jim. To paraphrase the epistle writer, 'prayer without works is dead'. If the US and the rest pf the West were serious about bringing this obscenity to a stop they would be imposing a blockade that denied, to both Israel and Hamas, access to all war materiel, (including munitions and petroleum fuels) and gas from Israel's off-shore platforms (which is essential for Israel's electricity production), and imposed a no-fly zone over Gaza. If the West is not prepared to stand up to Israel and Hamas, why should the countries of Eastern Europe expect any real help in the event of Russian aggression ?


Ginger Meggs | 10 March 2024  

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