Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do


The most recent message received from Amir Or was on 27th of August 2014. He expressed one simple hope, namely that the newly found ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip will hold. So precarious has peace become between Israelis and Palestinians that even a pause in the fire is considered to be a sign of peace even when no weapons have been put down or time given to mourn over all the losses.

In one way, this is understandable. Not to have to run for shelter before the incoming rockets or bombs hit the house, that may explain the yearning for some normality. Yet the problem of the Middle East is that things have been far from normal. Kevin Cooper from Belfast warns rightly so that it is even dangerous to one's own mental health and balance, if the abnormal is taken to be normal. In turn, it says something about the true measure of peace.

During the Cold War peace was based on having stable borders. In reality, it meant accepting the condition the iron curtain imposed upon people living in both the East and West. Germany was divided at that time and anyone travelling from West Germany to West Berlin had to go twice through the border checks of the East German border guards. And the Berlin wall was justified by the East German regime as a protection against Fascism in the West. Since a similar term is evoked once again in the stand-off between Russia and the Ukrainian government in Kiev in 2014, that reminds about the use of terms in such a way that they seem to justify nearly everything but do not serve the truth of the matter. That is why the poets keep saying truth is the first to suffer in any war.

Something is true in this criticism of the West. West Germany broke the promise made by the people never to wage war again. It did so under Adenauer by creating again an army and joining NATO. Are things to be repeated with Russia strongly opposing that Ukrainian government making the decision to join NATO?

During the Cold War West Berlin was the exception insofar as it was governed by the Four Powers which oversaw the decisions made by German politicians. No German army was allowed to stand in West Berlin. Consequently young men were not obliged to do any military service, and only Right Wing politicians complained that these young men would not be socialized in a proper way. They meant by doing service in the military they would be trained to be loyal to the state. Since then conscious objectors forced finally the army to depart completely from conscription, and is now based solely on professional recruitment practices. It has always been a matter of the dialectic of securalization to ensure that individuals were free to decide according to their conscience, and therefore not obliged to just follow orders, if it would mean going against someone's life.

The freedom of conscience is something poets and writers seek to uphold as well, but in that sense disarmament meant also taking up the dialogue with those still holding weapons. It became a slogan of the West German peace movement to convert weapons into ploughs, and to hand to the soldiers flowers. Yet the mental disarmament is much more difficult, as has proven history since then. Today German soldiers are engaged in Afghanistan, and in 2014 Europe is at the risk to come out even more wounded over Eastern Ukraine with what took place in Crimea but something which can foreshadow what else Putin may do to keep these territories under Russian tutelage as if a self assumed sphere of influence and therefore a region where Western influence should be limited to a minimum.

The dispute may high light as well how wars can easily start by encouraging a kind of self assertiveness especially in border regions where the population is made up of diverse minorities, including Russian speaking citizens who could become the legitimacy for Russian intervention as if protecting its own citizens. 

No wonder many disputes are related to states respecting or not the territorial integrity of the other state. That language alone underlines what seems to matter when it comes to preserving world peace. It goes back to the Wilson doctrine issued after First World War and which was called national self determination. Today, it has changed into a principle of self assertiveness to obtain power at the cost of any international obligation. The drive is towards self rule, even though a world governance is needed which respects the one moral principle that needs no further justification according to the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, namely the respect for human dignity.

Precisely this is in contention between Israelis and Palestinians when engaged in a war of words leading so often to eruptions of violent conflicts which leave in the end many more dead. Rightly so Menna Elfyn reminds of Gaza when the second intifada swept the Palestinian territories in 2012. When Israel pulled out of Gaza and allowed for free elections to take place, to everyone's surprise Hamas came out as the strongest party. However, the world had already declared this movement as a terrorist organization which does not recognize the Right of Israel to exist. Ever since then this has been one of the most crucial contentions with subsequent break-downs in many efforts to uphold the peace talks in the Middle East.

What delicate dialogue can prevail in the Middle East with one side feeling constantly threatened, while the other is under constant siege of not peace but threat of war, that Amir Or can tell perhaps best. As poet in Israel, he founded a poetry centre where he brought together poets from both sides so that by translating from Hebrew into Arabic and vice versa, he says that “they had to slip a bit into the role of the other to understand the poetry of the other better”. That was the beginning of a delicate dialogue.

Naturally such a dialogue has no chance to survive, if extreme forces are bent on letting only weapons speak. Behind their use seems to be an uncompromising attitude on both sides, and this in flagrant ignorance what history should have taught men and women ever since the Holocaust happened during Second World War and 6 million Jews perished. Thus Gabriel Rosenstock cannot help but wonder what connection exists between the concentration camps the Jews experienced during Second World War and the way Israel treats at times the Palestinians either in Gaza or the West Bank. There should also not be forgotten all those Palestinians who fled after 1948 and live ever since in various refugee camps. Their wish to return to their home land has been in vain so far since there could never be brought about an agreement in the Peace Talks with regards to that controversial point.

But the poetess Najet Adouani adds another dimension to this conflict in the Middle East: while her mother was on the side of Nasser in Egypt, her father wished a peace made possible by sharing the land. Two different concepts within the same family tells already how divided can be the road for those growing up in such a world where often angry shouts do not allow the voice of the poets be heard. Cavafy had said a long time before that good bye to Alexandria but now even poets after the Arab Spring turned literally sour, whether in Egpyt where by now a new type of military dictatorship rules or in Tunesia where an uneasy peace means constant threats of arrest for those who wish not only to protest, but to criticize their government for the mistakes being made, extreme elements seem to sicker through and threaten life directly once again. In view of what happened in July and August 2015 left Najet Adouani as poetess muted in her hand. Unable to write, she just recalls the magic voices of her ancestors who would listen to the wind coming in from the desert and fill the air with wonder.

Thus it is most befitting when Marc Delouze would respond to what is going on in the Middle East, by translating Palestinian poetess Nathalie Handal into French and develop for a poetry festival a concept seeking to unify the poetic voices of the Mediterranean. For that is the area in which much of world culture originated from, according to Borges.

A delicate dialogue can begin by heeding what Frederique Chabaud wrote already in 2002, insofar no dialogue can place as long as people have made up already their minds in accordance with what is happening on the ground. They will answer any attempt to restart a dialogue with a defiant silence which can be just as well a resignation of view of so many cease fires and peace agreements having been broken over and again. They are more reluctant to give peace any chance and therefore see no need to raise the voice. All the more important that poets risk this dialogue.

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