Art by Gaston Zvi Ickowicz
Are you awake? I texted Gaza, but no one answered. Last night the Israeli planes we paid for flew over the body of Gaza & tried to destroy any place that might touch the rest of the world, so the imperial killing might happen in darkness this time, in silence, except for the voices of officials & weapons & planes. When I lived in Havana & the lights would go out, in part thanks to the imperial blockade people we know helped design & build, I’d sit on my eighth-floor balcony & look out over the shadows of the city under the light of the moon coming up over the sea. Was the moon coming up over the sea last night in Gaza, could people see a little of what the rest of the world had failed to prevent from happening to them? “Them,” I’m saying, but a text on my phone I can’t stop reading says, “my dead are your dead, we both know it’s true.” “We,” I’m saying, are those becoming words like “nature,” distortions of perception, delusions of division, failures to see, whose costs are very high now & every day higher?
Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the library steps in midtown after a doctor’s appointment across the street. My doctor’s windows look down on Fifth Avenue & across to a sixty-story building that has its own zip code, number 500. As I was putting my shirt back on, I looked out at the gold light spilling over the heads of the walkers & up to see if I could see the windows of the forty-first floor, which used to be the offices of New York Senator James Buckley, where Michael Townley, employed by Chilean & US intelligence, stopped on his way from Kennedy airport to Washington, DC, where he planted a car bomb that killed former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier in the middle of Sheridan Circle at half past nine in the morning, almost fifty Septembers ago now. Senator Buckley’s brother William F. was in charge of the propaganda machine that whirred into place—you’ve heard it quite a lot these past interminable twenty-one days, haven’t you?—to blame Letelier’s imperial killing on anyone but those responsible for it. In 1982 Scott Thompson wrote an article identifying the Buckleys as part of what he called “the fascist International,” a few months before I heard the slap of the New York Times on the step of the house where I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the house of Ruth Hubbard & George Wald, the parents of a college compañera. Ruth had fled Vienna in 1938, as had her mother Hella, whom I stayed with when Ruth & George were away. That morning the front page of the Times carried a photograph of the massacres in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila, & Hella, who was quite deaf, was standing over the paper with her hands over her whistling hearing aids, shaking her head back & forth, opening & closing her eyes, saying the word “No,” as George from Brooklyn yelled, “The Israelis are the neue Nazis.”
I kept thinking of that September day as I listened to the arguments along Fifth Avenue during the Israel Day parades I started to attend after visiting Beirut in 2002—"Go to Gaza,” I remember one bearded man yelling at another over a blue police barricade, “they’ll slit your throat.” One Israeli expression for “Go to hell” is literally “Go to Gaza.” In the wake of the Israeli army “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, Jerusalem rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu advocated carpet-bombing, “regardless of the price in Palestinian life.” “If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand,” said his son Shmuel Eliyahu on his behalf. “And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.” “You’re not Jews,” said one middle-aged couple arm in arm one May, to the anti-Zionist Satmars. Hasidic Jews with Palestinian flags wrapped around their young shoulders. “Why don’t you go back to Auschwitz?” said a short man in a suit jacket, “you lowlife animal,” & a tall man in a jacket leaned close to one of the Satmars, touched his wrist, & said, “I could kill you.” “Too bad your family didn’t get gassed,” one group of young men yelled, loudly enough for the police to move them along. “We'’re gonna burn your house down again.”
“My phone said the United Nations had passed a resolution calling for a ‘humanitarian truce’ & that the United States had voted against it. Mohamed El Baradei tweeted in four languages: ‘The repercussions of what is happening in Gaza right now against civilians will haunt the region and the world for years.”
Yesterday afternoon after the doctor’s appointment, I was sitting on the stone steps of the library, behind the beautiful hips of one of the lions, talking to people I love about helplessness, trying to rest my eyes on something other than imperial killing. At one point four police vans pulled up across the street & about forty cops got out. When I looked up again five minutes later they were gone. I was bent over my phone, as I was on a very cold day soon after Trump was elected. I was sitting not far from where Jacqueline Woodson was standing when she stepped to the microphone & read Countee Cullen’s “If We Must Die” in her clear, unwavering voice that’s stayed in my mind ever since. “Pressed to the wall,” she said, “dying, but fighting back”—& the next time I lifted my eyes it was to the chest of a young bearded man coming up the steps, with “ACT UP Dublin” on his black T-shirt.
I looked at him a little too long, & he smiled at me—there was something about the combination of grief & grace in his walk that felt like sun in my face, although the sun was going down. He was too young to have been around in those first ACT UP days, & it made me happy to think that it was his new chest carrying that reminder of effective medicine to interrupt the necroworld—& then he hugged another young man in a black T-shirt, & I saw that there were half a dozen people, close to where I was sitting, greeting each other & checking names off a list. My phone said the United Nations had passed a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” & that the United States had voted against it. Mohamed El Baradei tweeted in four languages: “The repercussions of what is happening in Gaza right now against civilians will haunt the region and the world for years.”
On the library steps I saw a couple of people with hair as white as mine—but almost everyone else was under forty, two different groups, dressed in black, hugging each other, eating apples, exchanging names, putting on T-shirts that said either JEWS SAY CEASEFIRE NOW or just CEASEFIRE NOW for the allies, like the ACT UP Dublin man, or the Black man pulling off a black hoodie that said GOD IS DOPE to put the T-shirt on. At another table farther from me were stacks of pizza boxes & water, & the same black T-shirts, talking to the necroworld, CEASEFIRE NOW, & two little candles lit as it got closer to 6 p.m. People kept hugging each other in a way that shared the same power the Dublin man had shared with me, with his walk & his smile, & his magical multiplication of the memory of a movement into four or five people with eyes on that same prize last night, then a little crowd, then another. By the time I followed when they lined up & walked to Grand Central Station, & turned the corner into the main concourse under the ceiling constellations, they were thousands.
“I will never forget how the world mourned Notre Dame when it got burnt down,” Sami Day said from Manchester City on my phone, “how they mourned Ukrainians, & the 5 people in that submarine, but cannot seem to mourn Palestinian lives.” “The West’s mask is well & truly off.” “Point of no return.” “Gaza is burning.” Saree Makdisi, nephew of Edward Said: “What we are not allowed to say, in other words, is that if you want the violence to stop, you must stop the conditions that produced it.”
In New York, one of those conditions was the creation of a climate where anyone questioning Zionism—questioning the terms under which the state of Israel exists—was made to pay a heavy familial, social, professional & political price. Last night, Jewish Voice for Peace & Jews for Racial & Economic Justice & whoever else made the miracle in Grand Central happen with such agility & skill gathered thousands of singing & shouting New Yorkers to change that climate into something else. The necroworld’s beloved values of nationalism & conquest & categories of lives that don’t matter were shut down like Grand Central’s usual business, & the new day’s values—diasporic values, beyond division, addressing accounts unsettled for centuries—raised their mourning, loving voices & held the floor. “We have lost contact,” the phone kept saying. “There is no returning from this,” & the minaret speakers in Gaza said, “We have no communication with the outside world. They are using their military might to harm us”—while @Zeinobia tweeted from #Jan25 Cairo, “Thanks to everyone who decided to go to #GrandCentral to say #CeasefireNOW” and “#SaveGaza from the bottom of my heart.”
MOURN THE DEAD said the big banner hanging down from in front of what‘s usually the Apple Store, over the balcony lined with shouting, singing rabbis, AND FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR THE LIVING. NEVER AGAIN said the banner held up by two CEASEFIRE NOW messengers who’d climbed up in front of the lit INFORMATION board, FOR ANYONE. No trains ran on time.
I press a button on a long Arabic text & the English appears: “...the resistance today in Gaza is fighting to win. And you will win. Gaza will not raise the white flag. Its children will not emerge from it, & we will not have to wait for a new generation to win. The people of Gaza will not leave. Aside from any slogan or action, they will not leave, for various reasons, the first of which is that this is their place, & this is their time.”
Before I slept, the New York Times headline on the phone: “ ‘Let Gaza Live’: Calls for Cease-Fire Fill Grand Central Terminal.”
Hadeel Assali, @gazawia: “I’m so heartbroken for our elders who are reliving this trauma over & over again—and for us who thought we could find any sense of belonging in this world.”
From #Jan25 Dima Khatib: “This past night may well be the darkest & deadliest night in the modern history of Palestine.”
“Our hearts are broken forever. This is not repairable. I will never forgive.”
& Emily Wilder passing on the voice of a friend from Gaza: “We will survive.” “And I will tell you many stories.”
Caoimhe Butterly, whose tall internationalist dignity I remember from the siege of Ramallah in 2002: “Remembering a Gaza not defined by massacres, bombs & fragmenting grief tonight.
Fishermen singing at dawn, the tenderness & hospitality, paramedics able to sit in the sun & drink tea & just be.”
“The dignity that makes our failure to stop this even more painful.”
& Weelaunee2Gaza @YesAurielle: “Oh Gaza. My heart. I am so sorry for all we didn’t do.”
& just before I slept, a scrap of video of the Gaza dawn, finally, the sounds weaving through that soft blue light I remember, near the beach where we were counseled not to walk in the early mornings to avoid being shelled by the Israeli destroyers offshore: the sound of bombs, of birds, of planes designed to kill, of birds, of helicopters, of birds, & did I imagine it or did I hear the sound from behind the camera of someone breathing.
Fall / Winter 2023
Suzanne Gardinier is the author of 12 books, including most recently Amérika: The Post-Election Malas (2017) & Notes from Havana (2016). She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Manhattan.
Gaston Zvi Ickowicz
Gaston Zvi Ickowicz (b. 1974, Buenos Aires) immigrated to Israel in 1980. Ickowicz graduated from Musrara School of Photography and Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem. His solo and group shows include Magazine III, Jaffa; Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art; The Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv; Hezi Cohen Gallery, Tel Aviv; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; the MACRO, Rome; and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. “Whirlwind” was created in a series of visits to the northern part of the “Gaza Envelope” between March and October 2018. Tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in “marches of return” near the fence, releasing kites and balloons carrying flammable materials. Ickowicz began photographing lands that had been set on fire by these burning kites near the kibbutzim Or Haner and Gvar’am, and the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Simsim, Najd, and Al-Mansurah. The fire destroyed vegetation surrounding the rubble of the Palestinian villages, giving them new visibility.