An Exhibition of Photographs Taken by Israeli Soldiers During Their Period of National Service
Hosted by Trócaire
Gallery of Photography, Meeting House Square, DUBLIN.
Since Trócaire had awarded me €100 for my poem “Glaciers” I decided to use some of the prize money to visit this exhibition hosted by them in Dublin. I had of course just recently seen Zion Ashkenazi’s one man show about Jean Genet, so Israeli Art and politics were much on my mind still. It is not so widely known that Genet spent six months in a Palestinian refugee camp and wrote “Four Hours in Shatila” which I think I saw as a play in Madrid (Teatro La Puerta Estrecha) some years ago. (I would love some information about this …comments please!) See the link here to The Irish Times report on the Exhibition plus a nice video with Yehudi Shaul.
The Exhibition was very moving and also made me very angry. I was moved very much by the bravery of the soldiers in speaking out, I imagine, at great personal risk to themselves in Israel. They have a website at http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il Here is what the Israeli Embassy in Dublin said about them when asked to comment by the Irish Times:
“Breaking the Silence represents only an insignificant minority of IDF veterans (less than 1,000). It is not an objective human rights organisation. It is a political organisation devoted to tarnishing the reputation of the Israeli Defence Forces and by extension the Israeli state. Breaking the Silence are “useful idiots” allowing themselves to be manipulated by the international boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign against Israel. it seeks to delegitimise and ultimately destroy the state of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.”
It is a sad comment; for me the reverse was true! I felt a great sense of comradeship with these men and women veterans and they gave me a great sense of hope in the efforts of many in Israel who disagree with the policies of its government and who regard the Palestinians as having legitimate rights to a homeland too.
After the launch I asked if there was any representation from the Irish Government present and a young man said he was representing them. He was a Civil Servant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I had meant an elected TD (member of the Irish Parliament) but I guess Civil Servants think they are the government really. I asked him why the EU was giving Israel funding and said I thought our response to the human rights violations in Israel should be more emphatic, e.g. why not a boycott?
The following poem is my response to the Irish Civil Servant and our conversation that took place at the Exhibition. I have asked for his name though perhaps he wishes to remain anonymous.
The Man from the Ministry
The man from the Ministry is here,
Foreign Affairs and Trade
to be precise and smartly suited
which he is and so young
he proudly points out he was a schoolboy
when we boycotted South Africa;
it seems that that solution doesn’t count,
only old men remember that.
I put words into his mouth he says:
(an unsavoury idea)
but I do try to draw
conclusions from them;
which he doesn’t like.
“The situation in Israel
is much better now.” He tells me.
I disagree but ask: if he is right,
then who has made it so?
I insert the words carefully between his lips,
between his brightly shining teeth
and on to to his slippery tongue:
“The Israeli policies have been successful
then to make it happen?”
I didn’t say that, he snaps,
(I just get my fingers out in time)
No I did, I say: it seems the only logical conclusion!
The problem with you, he says,
Is you know nothing
And talk bullshit.
I dislike his choice of words I tell him,
but if I do,
I hope the taste stays in his mouth
as an idea for a while at least.
“Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories 2000-2010” Compiled by “Breaking the Silence” Picador 2012
“Sustaining Injustice: EU trade with Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories” Garry Walsh. Troccaire: 2012.
“Breaking Ranks: Refusing to Serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip” Ronit Chacham: Other Press, New York: 2003.
“An Orchestra Beyond Borders: Voices of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.” Elena Cheah: Verso: London: 2009.