Jan
15
2024

Update: Poet/Cultural Worker Solidarity

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Justice – Poetry

I continue to call on my representative Richard Neal of MA Congressional District 1 to be on the side of life by calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, rejecting military aid to the right-wing dominated Israeli government, and working to have funds diverted for humanitarian aid abroad and critical services here in the US. 

Because I have an official role as a Poet Laureate, I’ve focused my outreach on Rep, Neal’s Art Liaison, Chris Cozzaglio. His email is chris.cozzaglio@mail.house.gov. Talking to Chris has led to more meaningful conversations than speaking with reception staff, and Chris reported that he spoke directly to Rep. Neal about the call that I and other poets have been making. 

But we haven’t changed Rep. Neal’s mind … yet. I know he will be a tough one to turn around, but the only certain way to fail is to do nothing. So yesterday I sent another email to Chris. It’s below.

If you are a poet or culture works in MA Congressional District 1 and want to send a message to Chris about this, feel free to and I’d love to hear how it goes. Not in MA-1, you still might want  to use a culture lens for your advocacy (see below for the shattering impact of the war in Gaza on the cultural sector).

Dear Chris,

I’ve been surprised at how little coverage of the Genocide Case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague there has been. I’ve been following the case and write again to share my ever stronger message for Rep. Neal that a permanent ceasefire is needed in Gaza immediately to preserve life all across the region as well as the culture and lifeways of the Palestinian people. 

The ICJ’s mandate is to determine if there has been genocidal intent by the right-wing dominated Israeli government. That’s not my threshold. I am looking at impact. I am looking at the loss of life that is unprecedented. This past Friday, the Israeli legal team argued that they have gone to extraordinary measures to preserve life. No matter their intent, they have failed to preserve life. In fact, the loss of life in Gaza outstrips other wars and conflict situations. 

The South African Application to the ICJ includes so many horrific numbers and comparisons. I will highlight just a few (sources are all in their document): 

1.) “By 29 October 2023 alone, it was estimated that 6,000 bombs per week had been dropped on the tiny enclave. In just over two months, Israel’s military attacks had “wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol, or proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II” (page 9, section 18) I highlight this because the US is providing many of the bombs being used, including “dumb” bombs that are not precise in their targeting. As a country we share in the responsibility for what is happening in Gaza, for the incredible loss of life. 

2.) “Entire multi-generational families have been wiped out completely. Over 355,000 homes equivalent to more than 60 percent of Gaza’s housing stock in Gaza has been damaged or destroyed. 1.9 million Palestinians — approximately 85 per cent of the total population — have been internally displaced. … The entire population in Gaza is at imminent risk of famine, whereas the proportion of households affected by acute food insecurity is the largest ever recorded according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (‘IPC’).Experts warn that silent, slow deaths caused by hunger and thirst risk surpassing those violent deaths already caused by Israeli bombs and missiles” (pages 10 – 11, section 18). Nearly half of Gazans are under age 18. 

3.) “It is estimated that more Palestinian children were killed in the first three weeks in Gaza alone (a total of 3,195) than the total number of children killed each year across the world’s conflict zones since 2019. The scale of Palestinian child killings in Gaza is such that United Nations chiefs have described it as “a graveyard for children” (page 34, section 48). The impact of this war is that children are being killed at beyond alarming rates and those that survive bombardment are being slowly starved to death. 

4.) “At the same time Palestinian journalists are being killed at a rate significantly higher than has occurred in any conflict in the past 100 years. In the two months since 7 October 2023, the number of journalists killed already exceeded that of the entirety of World War II” (page 30, section 43). The underline is my emphasis because that is a staggering number. World War II lasted 6 years.

The application contains pages and pages more of numbers about the loss of life, collapse of the healthcare system, decimation of infrastructure, and destruction of cultural institutions and sites, including some that are thousands of years old and part of world history. Section 93 of the Application (pages 56 – 57) summarizes the cultural loss

“Along with its destruction of the physical monuments to the history and heritage of the Palestinians in Gaza, Israel has sought to destroy the very Palestinian people who form and create that heritage: Gaza’s celebrated journalists, its teachers, intellectuals and public figures, its doctors and nurses, its film-makers, writers and singers, the directors and deans of its universities, the heads of its hospitals, its eminent scientists, linguists, playwrights, novelists, artists and musicians. Israel has killed and is killing Palestinian story-tellers and poets, Palestinian farmers and fishermen, alongside Gaza’s local legends: pastry chef Masoud Muhammad al-Qatati, killed in an Israeli airstrike on his house on 3 November 2023, whose shop’s motto ‘let the poor eat’ — and reputation for giving away the popular Palestinian treat ‘knafeh’ to indigent customers — earned him the nickname ‘Father of the Poor’; 84- year-old Elham Farah, from one of Palestine’s oldest Christian families — a reputed accordionist and music teacher, known as ‘Mother Orange’ to generations of Palestinian music students for her shock of red hair,  — shot dead by an Israeli sniper outside the Holy Family Church in Gaza City when she returned home for warm clothes, and was left to bleed to death; and Al-Shaima Saidam, the student with the highest final high school exam grades in the whole of Palestine, killed with multiple members of her family in a strike on Al Nuseirat refugee camp. Just as Israel is destroying the official memory and records of Palestinians in Gaza through its destruction of Gaza’s archives and landmarks, it is obliterating Palestinian personal lives and private memories, histories and futures, through bombing and bulldozing graveyards, destroying family records and photographs, wiping out entire multigenerational families, and killing, maiming and traumatising a generation of children. As a Palestinian man, in a video by UNRWA, succinctly sums up: “These are all our memories, our entire lives . . . Now it’s all gone; everything has turned into ashes.”

As a culture worker yourself, I imagine that you understand that the impact of such losses ripples outward for years if not generations to come. Imagine Westfield State University and Berkshire Community College being physically destroyed and leading members of the faculties left dead. Imagine local libraries all across the district, say in Easthampton, Holyoke, West Springfield, and Springfield (they exist inabout a 25 mile stretch which is the length of Gaza) turned into rubble, books unreadable, and librarians dead. This is a terrible thought exercise for us, but a reality for the people of Gaza. 

This cannot continue. We in the United States do not control Israel, but we certainly have influence and control over the flow of military aid. President Biden and members of his administration have talked about how they told the Israeli government that more needs to be done to protect life. The numbers above—which only grow each day—show this approach has failed. The longer we continue with it the more death we as a country will be responsible for. 

The US must call for an immediate ceasefire and stop supplying the right-wing dominated Israeli government with military aid. The militarized approach to the conflict has failed. Assaults and violence are spreading across the region. There is no security for anyone, neither for the people of Gaza nor the people of Israel. 

As US bombs have caused the destruction in Gaza, we must offer aid for re-building out of the $14.3 billion proposed for military support of the right-wing dominated Israeli government. Or some of that money could stay in the United States. Think of what we could do with it:

  • Invest in the transition from fossil fuels to renewables to slow the climate crisis that among its many impacts caused the catastrophic flooding this past summer threatening our food security here in the Valley.
  • Increase funding for the immigration system so that asylum seekers can be more quickly aided to settle into life in the US and contribute to our communities.
  • Fund US infrastructure from roads to rail.
  • Support the arts, which as we’ve talked about our drivers of revitalization of communities such as Easthampton. 

Let’s put that money toward serving life in the Middle East and here at home rather than bringing death. Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I am thinking of his prophetic words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

I have critically called out the amount of money that Rep. Neal had taken from defense contractors like Lockhead Martin and General Dynamics that are profiting from this war. Not-fun fact: According to the American Friends Service Committee, General Dynamics “makes the metal bodies of the MK-80 bomb series, the primary weapon type Israel uses to bomb Gaza. The bodies of the bombs are filled with explosives by the U.S. military.” These are the dumb bombs mentioned above.

But I know that Rep. Neal can be a peacemaker. Scanning his website, I was reminded of his role in promoting peace in Northern Ireland, a conflict that like the Palestine-Israel conflict once seemed impossible to bring to a peaceful resolution. I wonder if Rep. Neal has heard of the Irish lawyer working with the South African team on the Genocide case. I’ll end with her words so you will share them with Rep Neal. 

Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh

This is the “first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real-time in the desperate and so far vain hope that the world might do something”.

“The world should be absolutely horrified. The world should be absolutely outraged. There is no safe space in Gaza and the world should be ashamed,”

Thank you for listening,

Carolyn Cushing 

I’ll be calling Chris in a few days to follow up on the email.

 

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