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‘...where ignorant armies clash by night…

I don’t really want to be part of the conversation around what’s happening in the Middle East. I don’t have to, actually. I’m not a public figure. I live in London. No one is after me. My relatives got out of Kiev two generations before I was born a Jew.

I go to sleep at night after yet another glance at the headlines, wondering what the score will be in the morning: how many dead will be Palestinian, how many Israeli. At times, it feels like watching a scorecard, bloodsoaked but distant. I check in with friends and relatives who have family in Israel. I text my Palestinian contacts, hoping to get through.But I’m having a hard time seeing this as a real event in real time. I’ve become inured to what’s reported to be real, what’s actually happening, what my opinion is supposed to be.

Mostly, I rage, filled with contempt for what Hamas has done and terrified at the vengeance Israel will exact. There are no winners. There are just dead people, enraged and bloodthirsty people, grieving people. And lest we forget, there are stupefying responses from world leader people.

If I follow the dominant narrative, there is no question as to how I am to respond: Israel must be defended at all costs. She is in danger from an enemy who will destroy her. Countries which dominate the world outperform one another by beating the drums for more munitions, more fightback, more revenge. There is little to no talk of restraint, to consider carefully how to respond and what it will mean to bomb innocent people in retaliation for terrible atrocities committed by a crazed, religio-fascist, Jew hating armed force.

What can I add to the conversation? I don’t know. I’m unwilling to root for the Israelis over the Palestinians. This is in no way to diminish the brutality of Hamas, an embodiment of masculine, blind, indiscriminate blood lust. Their world view places them, as men, in a position of dominance over anybody they see as weaker. There are no leavening influences, no feminine input to temper testosterone rage. They are as wild as men when they clubbed their first bear cub to death. That’s Hamas.

But what of my people, what of us Jews? Who are we in this combat? Alas, we are also filled with blood lust, our warriors ready to destroy first and ask questions later. It’s ironic that at this moment, much of the world is on ‘our’ side. Go, Jews. Ironic given our place in world history as expendable humans. Now it’s the Palestinians who are expendable. As we were vermin to the Nazis, they are animals to far too many of us.

The situation will change. It always does, as it has over centuries. Wars come and go; peoples come and go; the villains and the good guys change places. Jews and Palestinians have both been around a long time. Once upon a long time ago , they lived compatibly in surroundings near to one another. Perhaps they will find a way to do so again. But right now, it’s hard to see the cycle of violence receding.


The title for these remarks is taken from Matthew Arnold's 19th century poem, Dover Beach. Below are selected stanzas.

The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.


Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.


Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery;


Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Rose Levinson is the founder and managing editor of Emerging Voices. Read more from her here

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