Palestine Poems after Operation Pillar of Cloud

From a forthcoming book

Operation Pillar of Cloud

The name of the Israeli military operation in Gaza is based on the pillar of cloud that accompanied the nation of Israel during the Exodus as they left Egypt and were traveling toward Israel. They wanted protection from the troubles of the desert, from robbers and people that would attack them and from snakes and scorpions. The name is meant to send the message that it is a defensive maneuver.
––Eytan Buchman, head of the North American media desk for the IDF

Six days into the aerial attack on Gaza, 84 percent of the Israeli public supports Operation Pillar of Defense, with 12 percent opposing it, according to a Haaretz-Dialog poll taken Sunday. The poll surveyed proportional samples of Jews and Arabs, indicating that Jewish support for the war stands at upwards of 90 percent.
––Haaretz, November 19, 2012

The Israeli military’s eight-day assault
on the people of Gaza
was no downy pillar of cloud
no feathered wing
moving lightly across the landscape
defending its chicks
leading the way
to life.

It was iron talon and hooked beak.
It was switchblade and brass knuckles
a heavy metal club in the dark
from behind.
It was panes of glass
falling from the sky
opening arteries
severing limbs.
It was piano wire and guillotine
a child’s blood on the walls.

Which is to say
it was the same as the 2009 assault
and the one before that
and so on.

For something else,
listen to Palestinian ambulance drivers
who arrive at the scenes of missile attacks
and offer a lifeline,
who themselves are targeted by ‘double taps,’
secondary missile attacks at bomb sites
after rescue workers have arrived.

“I do it,” Shadi says,
“for the sake of my country.”
And Aadl, who graduated in journalism,
who suffers “until this moment” from PTSD,
“I want to give more and more to my people.”

For something different
listen to Palestinian doctors.
“Part of the problem is psychological…
I hate hatred.
We should talk with Israeli people
and learn what they actually want.
Start with the ten percent of Israeli society that is sane
and work from there.”

For words that will stop you
in your tracks
and then point the way to life
listen to the al-Nasser family,
whose fifteen year old son, Odai, was killed
in his bed
in the middle of the night
when shrapnel
like a chainsaw
cut him.

Listen to Odai’s aunt.

“Over the years
our neighborhood has been attacked five times.
During their operations
Israeli soldiers take over my home
and fire on Palestinians from it.
They also urinate in my pots and pans
and defecate nearby in the yard.
I clean up after them
because they won’t do it.
When they first arrive
they use me
as a shield
while they search my house
even though no
one else is in it.
During this most recent attack
I was locked in my kitchen
for most of the time
and I had to ask a soldier for permission
before I could use the outdoor restroom.

There is so much to be sad about.
In Palestine
and in Israel.
We are sad about rockets killing Israelis, too.
We care about their children, too.
Their suffering
and our suffering
are the same.”

Only Farmers, Only Families
(from an interview by Kathy Kelly, Josh Brollier, and Johnny Barber

Fares’ parents speak

Fares was not in the wrong place.
This wasn’t random
or unavoidable.
It wasn’t bad luck.
Fares was exactly where an eight-year old boy should be
at midnight
asleep in his bed.
The missiles had no right
no right to be here.
But they came anyway
cutting off the electricity
so we had to move
in darkness
using a mobile phone light
to find our children.
They were screaming for us.
Smoke filled their room
and blood spattered the walls.
Their blood.
The explosion shattered windows
and to reach our children
we choked and stumbled
on glass.
Shrapnel had torn through two walls.
It tore through our younger son’s leg
and Fares’ neck
decapitating him
leaving his headless body
to fall on top of his younger sister.
Fares, who loved games
Fares, who was a little naughty
but kind.
Fares, who was the generator of our house.
An eight-year old boy.
They executed him.

We had to carry two of our children
out of their room
and out of the house
because they were in shock.
And our daughter wouldn’t speak.

It had been quiet in Beit Hanoun.
There was no one living here
that you could call a terrorist.
Only farmers.
Only families.
But terror came anyway.
It came from outside.
It moved uninvited into our home.
And it lives now
like a cancer
in the minds
and bodies
of our children.


A part of us had always understood.
For years
the letters had lain scrambled
in some neglected side passage, pulsing
and rubbing against each other
in a dark quadrant of our minds.
Over time,
we piled rocks in the passageway
trying to imprison them.
But still we felt their heat
as they formed words
and the words gathered together into phrases.
We kept to the wide main chamber
with its high ceiling
with the fire in the center of its floor
and the great ring of torches
marking it boundaries.
But we knew the words were there.
At night
when the fire burned to embers
we heard them murmuring
and scratching
trying to climb out.
And we turned uneasily in our sleep.
But it wasn’t until we entered the Basyouni family home
in Gaza
and met Fatima face-to-face
that we knew they had formed a sentence
and escaped.
Then there was nowhere to run
from their message
and the question it implied:
War is a horror. Always.
What am I doing to stop
and prevent it?

Fares’ Seven-Year Old Sister

At first
coming out of a deep sleep
I thought the missiles
were a bad dream.
Then I wanted them to be.
And even today
I think
if I just wish hard enough
my brother’s broken body
flung over mine
will come back to life.

At approximately 15:30, Israeli warplanes fired 2 missiles at 2 cars that were traveling in the al-Sabra neighborhood, in which 5 civilians, including a pair of twins, were traveling. As a result of this attack, 5 civilians were killed: Subhi Nemer Mohammed Dughmosh, 29; Salah Nember Mohammed Dughmosh, 29; Ahmed Jameel Hamdan Dughmosh, 30; Zaki Saeed Mohammed Qadada, 42; and Mosab Mahmoud Rushdi Dughmosh, 25.
-–-–Palestinian Human Rights Center website


During the eight-day siege of Gaza
no person
no place
was off limits.
Israel’s military tornado touched down
when and wherever it chose.
As Hazem Jamal Nasser
a young Palestinian
whose brother was killed by a missile
put it
“They want to clear everything.”
schools, ambulances, mosques, bridges
mothers, fathers, children, grandparents
past, present, future.
Even people driving home from a funeral
people with one foot in this world
and one temporarily in the next
were sucked into the vortex
and swept away.

“My brother Zaki was targeted
for no reason,”
said Saad Qadada,
“just like the Dalu family and anyone else who is civilian.
He had seven children.
I will take care of them,
but it’s not the same,
not the same as having your father.
A father is half of everything.”

Mohammad Bakr
(after a story related by Josh Brollier)

the IDF speaks

What are we going to do
with these Palestinian fishermen?
We force them
at gunpoint
to strip
and jump into icy water
miles from shore,
but they surface
bobbing like corks,

From helicopter gunships and naval vessels
we fire into the engines
of their boats
but they haul them away
and repair them.
The same boats hum again
and churn these waters
back from the dead.

And today
with fishermen
on a half dozen other boats as his witness
Mohammad Bakr
looked straight into our gun barrels
and refused to blink,
refused to strip.
“You can put a bullet in my head
before I will jump into the water.”
He draped his body
like a shield
over the engine.
Our guns lay limp in our hands.
We stood naked in the sunshine
and the eyes of the other fishermen
sparkling like the sea at noon
as his boat steered around us.

We Asked the Media For

November, 2012

We asked for vigorous reporting
and they gave us tired words
an endless desert of bloodless words
words like sand
sand in our ears and eyes.

We asked for stories
and they gave us statistics
the percentage of missiles
stopped by Israeli’s iron dome
the distance
the farthest-reaching Hamas rockets can travel.

We asked for people
and they gave us numbers
the increase or decrease
in the quantity of rockets
fired by Hamas
compared to the previous two- or three-day period
the number of Israeli ground troops
massing on the border of Gaza.

We asked for mouths and eyes
for hands
and they stared at us.

We asked for faces
and they turned their backs
and walked away.


In Gaza,
time has stopped.
Hearts still beat
trees flower and hands harvest their fruit
eyes open, shut, and open again
the sun still travels overhead
and melts into the Mediterranean Sea.
But time has stopped.

On one street in the al-Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City
it stopped on Tuesday, November 20
when lightning from a blue sky incinerated two cars.
The time was 3:30 pm
and their five passengers
were traveling home from a funeral.
One cause for grief wasn’t enough.
They never heard the twin blasts of thunder
that rocked the neighborhood
that still ring in the ears of its residents.

On November 16
around midnight
four missiles rained down
causing a massive landslide
that dammed the free-flowing river of time
and flooded a neighborhood east of Beit Hanoun
killing two Palestinian children
and destroying five homes and a mosque.
22 civilians
including 14 women and three children
were injured in the flood.

In Beit Lahia housing project
time stopped on November 18
at 1:50 in the morning
when an Israeli warplane
bombed a four-story house
destroying it
along with five neighboring houses
five shops
five cars
two trucks
and a bus.

Ten minutes later
it stopped in Jabalya
east of Tal al-Zatar
when a missile destroyed a house
belonging to the Eseifan family
killing two children
Tamer, age four
and Jumana, age two.

The next day
in the Ebad al-Rahman neighborhood
it stopped at 2:10 pm
when an Israeli drone
fired a missile
into the garden of a house
killing 29-year old Ayman
12-year old Abeer
and their father.

In al-Mansoura Street
at dawn
in the al-Shujaiya neighborhood
Sadiya al-Dib’s wife
was feeding chickens in the garden
when a missile stopped time.

East of Khan Yunis
in the Abu Nasser area in Abassan village
farmers were harvesting olives
on November 19.
Time stopped with the sun straight overhead
when a missile killed Ibrahim Abu Nasser
and his 14-year old granddaughter, Ameera.

The day before
in al-Qarara village
it stopped in mid-morning
when a missile struck an olive grove
killing two-year old Waleed al-Abadla.

North of Rafah
in the al-Shaboura refugee camp
it stopped on November 18
in the cold hours before dawn
when Ahmed Abu Nuqaira and his family
were frantically evacuating their home
after warning missiles had been fired
at a nearby house belonging to a member of an armed group.
Before the terrified family could flee
a missile struck
killing Ahmed.

In every neighborhood in Gaza,
time has stopped.
In every neighborhood
it is a different day or hour.

But the rest of the world
continues to roll forward
getting farther and farther
and Gaza
a small strip of land in the first place
until once again we can barely see it.

It Must Be Said: A Binding Resolution

it is recognized that objectivity is a hallmark
of professional journalism; and,

it is also understood that objectivity doesn’t preclude
personal and editorial decisions about what stories to cover,
their tone and texture, how wide the camera angle,
how close, how detailed the portraits; and,

the media flocked to Newtown, Connecticut
and set up camp there for weeks
in the wake of the horrific killing
of twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary school; and,

journalists and bloggers baited us with pictures
of the children and their parents,
hooked us with personal stories,
and drew us in with interviews and intimate accounts
until we felt we were part of the drama; and,

during the first six months of 2012
at least 231 Afghan children were killed in the war
and 347 were injured; and,

on November 12 in Logar Province, Afghanistan
a US drone strike killed 3 children
who were working on the family carrot farm; and,

on October 20, again in Logar Province,
a NATO airstrike killed four boys
who were tending their livestock; and,

on June 6,
yet again in Logar Province,
a US aerial bombardment killed seven women and twelve children
including a 10-month old baby and five young girls
all gathered to celebrate a wedding; and,

the week before, in Paktia Province,
a U.S. drone strike killed 6 children and 2 women; and,

three weeks earlier in Helmand Province,
a U.S. warplane killed 5 children and a woman; and,

in November, 2012,
during a hideous 8-day Israeli military assault on Gaza
33 Palestinian children were killed
247 were injured, and many more were traumatized; and,

the Afghan and Palestinian children
were ignored on television
and rarely presented in the press; and,

no flock of journalists migrated to Gaza
to document the lives of these children and their families
no barrage of reports came to us from Paktia or Helmand or Logar
no pictures of the children
to evoke a sympathetic response
to help us view them as our own
no interviews with their parents or their friends or their teachers
no blogosphere lit up by stories of their interests, their ambition, their potential
cut short.

it must be said.

Therefore, finally,
be it concluded,
that some children matter
more than others.

Backroom Military Strategy

Sunday. November 17, 2012, Central Gaza: At approximately 20:30, Israeli warplanes attacked a number of civilians who gathered at a plot belonging to Ahmed Salem Bin Saeed, 52, when they heard that one of his relatives was killed. As a result of the attack, Bin Saeed and Hani Abdul Majid Buraiem, 31, were killed, and 6 others were wounded.
— Palestinian Center for Human Rights website

One grief is never enough.
One grief could unify people.
One grief
like a patch on torn clothes
could cover fear
strengthen resistance.
One grief could remind people
who they are
what they have.
But lay one grief on top of another
and they multiply each other.
Build the pile high enough
and the whole community
the whole Gaza strip
will fray
tear at its seams.

Every Color
Palestinian Center for Human Rights’ Weekly Report
On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Territories

A long list.
Line after line
of black words
on white pages.
Between the lines
blood red
gray despair
blue hope
aquamarine compassion
flaming defiance.
Every color
on the planet.

There Was Nothing I Could Do
(Haneen’s mother speaks)

It happened that quickly.

Haneen Khaled
my first-born
my only child
Why did they do it?
Tell me,
tell me why they did it!
Tell me why I had to pick
my baby’s broken body up
from the floor?

Only last week
our house stood
and I stood
watching Haneen.
Sunlight filled the room
and I saw him in front of me.
He had just learned to pull himself up
to stand.
Everyday he dreamed of walking.
It was his idea.
He was a great thinker
puzzling out the steps
an explorer
preparing for a journey.
Who knew how far he could go?

Then a missile fell
our ceiling fell
the walls fell
a piece of concrete fell
and now
even at midday
a dark veil falls over everything.

At approximately 11:30, Israeli warplanes fired 3 missiles at a plot located near houses belonging to the Tafesh family in the east of al-Zaytoun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City. One of the missiles hit a house belonging to Khaled Ahmed Tafesh… and destroyed it. As a result, 10-month-old Haneen Khaled Ahmed Tafesh, was killed. A nearby house and a car were also damaged.
–––Palestinian Center for Human Rights website