Saturday, 06 July 2024 13:25

Where We Go, Others Will Follow: Review of 'Gaza: This Bleeding Land' by John Wight

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Where We Go, Others Will Follow: Review of 'Gaza: This Bleeding Land' by John Wight

The current horror in Gaza is just the latest in a long line of such horrors. The present incursion is called Operation Swords of Iron. The metallurgical concept of this ‘operation’ recalls a previous one in 2008-9 called Operation Cast Lead. While it would be fair to say that ‘cast lead’ sounds fairly deadening, the idea behind ‘swords of iron’ is designed to give the impression of heavy-handed retribution.

Smiting by Israel is all Palestinians have known for several generations now. And that thin strip of land called Gaza has seemed to be on the receiving end of continual bouts of smiting in recent years. There have been some fine poems and intelligent essays written about this horror, but very few novels in the West have ventured to try and give some understanding to this interminable and intractable conflict. 

It is therefore gratifying that John Wight has been brave enough to take this challenge on in Gaza: This Bleeding Land, in which he brings his considerable knowledge as a political commentator to add the requisite information on the complexities of the Israel-Palestine impasse.

The media throughout the West and, it should be added, throughout the Arab Western – oriented world, give a rather superficial view of this conflict. In the West it is largely a case of good Israel and bad Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Added into this mix is Israel, with the memory of the Holocaust and ‘the smell of the ovens and gas chambers of Auschwitz’ unable to go away. In the Arab world with its Western-baked governments, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran will be painted as un-Islamic and as terrorist.

If only things were as simple as that. Jews and Christians good and Muslims bad has been the dominant narrative in large swathes of mainstream political commentary in the West for some time now. Wight shakes this all up, digging much deeper in both the historical and political sense.

He uses a dual narrative throughout the text. One narrative comes from Omar. He lives in Gaza with his parents and siblings and grows up to become active in the Palestinian resistance. Wight is clearly more nuanced in his terminology here. The term ‘Palestinian resistance’ is much more open than the word ‘Hamas’ would ever be. Using the latter word would be simply to negate it as terrorist since that is how brow-beaten we have become with regard to our understanding of what is happening.

The other narrative comes from Gabriel, who has grown up in a Jewish family in Brooklyn. With echoes of West Side Story, Gabriel gets involved in gang violence and ends up in a juvenile detention centre. His sense of his Jewish identity had been fairly minimal until a teacher at ‘juve’ took an interest in him and told him about Jewish history. Gabriel’s father, it turned out, was a non-believing Jew who viewed Zionism with a deep sense of hostility.

It also turned out that Omar’s father was a non-believer. These subtle touches show that there is never one convenient narrative concerning religious and ethnic identity. Humans are much more complicated and complex. They respond to their histories in a variety of ways. Later in the novel we discover that Omar’s mother had been born into a Christian family in Bethlehem, though they later moved to Ramallah.

This detail is important, because it reminds us all that Christians are also on the receiving end of Israeli aggression. Their churches, just like mosques, have been reduced to rubble too. This subtle detail is also at odds with the Christian evangelicals in the USA who unreservedly support Israel. There is no solidarity with their Christian – Palestinian brethren. Wight reminds his reader that it was members of the Bush administration – as well as many others in the US - who believe that:

Armageddon, as they call it, when the world will be engulfed by fire and the chosen ones lifted up by Jesus to take their place at the side of God in an event described as the rapture.

This is where Wight uses his extensive political and historical knowledge to not only enlighten the reader but to expose many of the contradictions involved in this ongoing conflict. While the two narratives of Omar and Gabriel develop their momentum, there is also input by Wight to give us a much broader understanding of how historical and political forces compound themselves in the Israel-Gaza conflict of today.

Zionism was the response to centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution of the Jews by their new cheerleaders in the West. And Omar’s decision to join the Palestinian resistance has come about simply because he sees no alternative. Wight reminds us that Israel itself was created through terrorism and a former Prime Minister, Menachim Begin, was once a member of the Irgun who fought the British when they held the Mandate over Palestine.

Such details make us as readers see a fuller story. It is the fuller story that Wight infuses into the dual narratives of Omar and Gabriel. You are left understanding how Zionism can appeal and equally how armed resistance can also appeal. Both characters are trapped by all that has gone before them. And, of course, what has gone before them has not only been western anti-Semitism but western imperialism in the Middle East. This has trapped both peoples.

While the characters of Omar and Gabriel tell their stories and can be seen as credible characters in their own right, at the hands of Wight they also represent the living embodiments of the histories that have gone before them. The novel gives a historical lesson as well as an engaging narrative.

If we think of Suella Braverman suggesting that those marching in opposition to the genocide in Gaza today are nothing more than a ‘hate-filled mob’, we can see how such comments have come to create the idea that everyone on such marches is somehow anti-Semitic. Not only that, such a comment also implies that Israel is the eternal victim. Yet, not only are there Jews who regularly attend such marches and speak out against the genocide not being in their name, Wight reminds us that it was Western countries who supported the creation of the state of Israel precisely because they were anti-Semitic, and did not want Jews in their countries after the Second World War.

There is a tier of aggression and violence in the novel and it is both real and metaphorical. Both families have outbursts and both characters seem created by violence. This source of much of it comes from an international economic system that creates inequalities, creates winners and losers, creates constant scapegoats. Violence is often the response, since it is capitalist violence that violates people around the world, and their response to this is invariably violent, both among themselves and to others.

Gabriel becomes a Zionist after discovering his Jewish history and identity and heads off to Israel with his wife, Rachel. He lives in a settler community and wants to join the Israeli Defence Force. He came from a violent background in America and will bring that violence to his new land. He is accepted into the elite Golani Brigade.

What Wight has also told us previously in the novel is the story of left-wing resistance by Jews and how they also have socialist and communist stories in their past. However, the Zionist one has been the determining one that will lead to Operation Protective Edge which took place in 2014. This is the ‘operation’ that Gabriel will take part in, and the one that Omar will resist.

Both narratives quicken their pace towards the end of the text to suggest the tension as Omar and Gabriel will face each other in combat. Though the text does not actually say it the suggestion is that Omar will be killed and Gabriel will be victorious. Omar’s entries towards the end of the text become much shorter and essentially amount to a series of prayers as he will inevitably find martyrdom.

The ending could not have been other than it was simply because this is what we have witnessed so often. Yes, Wight implies that this is the appalling level we seem to have reached in political terms. The absence of any political discourse in the West is largely responsible for this. We have seen this recently during the UK General Election where all the main parties have not mentioned the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Is Wight’s novel polemical? It is and unashamedly so, because the political commentator that Wight is simply used the structure of the novel to fill in all the blanks that are generally missing from any discussion on the issues around Israel and Palestine. The novel, however, does possess credible characterisation and there is even a journey when Omar and his family visit an uncle in Amman, Jordan.

The final word must go to Omar as he awaits the Israeli onslaught. He tells us, ’Where we go, others will follow after us.’ Unless there is a solution to this dreadful conflict that is exactly what will happen. Wight’s novel screams out for an end to such a pointless waste of life.

Read 164 times Last modified on Sunday, 07 July 2024 08:59

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