Eyeless in Gaza

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John Foster Dulles gave us the concept of brinkmanship: ‘The ability to get to the brink without getting into the war, is the necessary art.’ I recall a critical cartoon of Dulles as a blind man groping his way to the edge of an abyss. It was captioned Eyeless in Gaza. That was during the Suez invasion of 1956. It was Milton’s phrase for Samson…’eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves.’ Samson brought the roof down on the Philistines and incidentally on himself. The devotees of God/Jehovah/Allah/Ra/Ammon/Baal/Moloch/and many more, have been particularly busy in the Middle East, for the last 5000 years or so. Milton singled out Moloch for special mention…’Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood of human sacrifice…’ The followers of Moloch gave their first-born children to the god, through fire. Has anything changed? Possibly, just for good measure, the children of others are offered also.

Moloch must be smiling. The shells rain down on the children of Gaza. The rockets of the weaker side, the Palestinians, (Philistines/Pelasgi, sea people) fuelled by hatred and despair, score infrequent hits on Israeli towns and psychological hits on Ben Gurion Airport. It is a recurring obscenity, without pity or magnanimity. Those who suffered the Holocaust, say ‘never again’. Their vision is one-sided. By ensuring their own security they store up years of future conflict for their children. Their great war hero, Dayan, wore a black eye patch. Arafat, it is said, kept one hundred young girls in readiness to act as suicide bombers…’my army of roses..’  This region is called The Holy Land, for God’s sake.

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On a beautiful sunny day I brought my four year old grandson to the playground. It was full of young parents and children, with a few grandparents, here and there. They have their uses. He lay on the wheel and travelled all around the world. The wheel is powered by parents and grandparents by turns. He went to The North Pole and America and Poland and Ireland and Australia, until, like Samson, I ran out of steam. There is a notion that playgrounds are places where children play and parents relax on the benches and smile benignly. It’s not so simple. The price of peace and harmony is eternal vigilance. The big children must not trample or push the smaller ones. The small ones must not climb beyond their ability or wander behind the swings. The adults are on their feet all the time. It is an exercise in tolerance and co-existence. You may not strike or abuse the parent or grandparent of some other child. There may be a need for negotiation and voluntary rules. The playground is no place for brinkmanship. {Dulles believed that as long as nuclear weapons remained in the hands of  ‘the good guys’, there would be world peace, under the threat of mutually assured annihilation.}

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We sat on the seat dedicated to Percy French, where he was inspired by the view, to write his famous song, The Mountains of Mourne. There was a fog so we had to be contented with singing a few  bars about the invisible mountains. It is a song of an exile longing for home. We went to watch the swimmers. We met a man whose four-year-old grandson is coming home from Australia. He is very happy about that. We had ice cream (obligatory) from the little shop on the harbour.

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We climbed the steps to the lighthouse and saw thirty seven jellyfish and a floating crab. We went to see the memorial pole, dedicated to those lost at sea. Tragic deaths but accidental. The names are inscribed all around the pole, stories of long ago and not so long ago. He had to climb the pole. It’s a tradition. When he is big, he told me, he will climb to the top. If you reach the top, you can make a wish. What else could you wish for your children and grandchildren, but peace and safety? What can you see from up there, Alex?

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It was a perfect morning.

When we came home the news was that Moloch was still smiling; the bombs were still falling on schools and hospitals and on children playing on the beach. The rockets were still flying. There is no vision beyond the next salvo. An eye for an eye, as the old adage has it, leaves everybody blind. What did Ariel Sharon see, as he lay all those years in a coma? What did Moise Dayan see with his dark eye? Is Yasser Arafat enjoying the fruits of his labours in Paradise, with all those virgins? God help the poor virgins and God pity the children.


Sea pole memorial, Skerries and Loughshinny.

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In the darkness before dawn, you will hear the sea from almost anywhere in Skerries. It is there like a distant drum-roll, so much part of our lives that we often don’t notice it. Listen for the cry of a gull soaring on the wind,a sound of home, a cry like a rusty hinge. Notice the ‘chink chink’ of an oystercatcher patrolling the sand, in his never ending quest for food. In times gone by, when a schooner or wherry arrived in the bay, returning from a fishing trip or foreign voyage, a crewman shouted her name, to alert the family to the news of a safe homecoming. In the concavity of the bay, the cry echoed. The word spread. Families rose from their beds or left what they were doing, to hurry to the harbour to greet the returning travellers. For the moment, anxieties were put aside. For a while the fear of rolling, ever climbing, ever tumbling waves and gaunt black rocks, could be forgotten.

Think also of those names that ceased to be called, of the families that lay awake at night, listening and praying and gradually letting go of the last few shreds of hope. There were no boots on the path; no children roused from sleep. Those names found a harbour only in private griefs and fading folk memory. Some are recalled on weathered, lichen-covered tombstones. Many are washed away and forgotten.

A train rumbles in the distance. The lights of an early morning car light up the window. Traffic begins to claim our attention. The radio with the ominous news of the day, the all-pervading music, the chatter of correspondents, fills our ears. The concerns and tasks of the day press in upon us. We think of our plans and anxieties. We look out of the window. The sun is rising over the islands, like a blessing. Jet trails fill the morning sky with iridescent geometry. People are going places. A cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss. A new dawn, with new hopes and new plans. We take up the work of the day. It is good to be alive.

This week Skerries was filled with music. It was the week of the splendid Soundwaves music festival. The night sky was filled with fireworks. Small children gazed up in wonder and some apprehension. The streets are strewn with fallen leaves but also the seeds of new life. Skerries was also filled with memories. Two dedicated young men gave us a lasting blessing. They restored the sea pole as a monument to all those lost at sea over the last three centuries. They have their own deeply felt reasons for bringing all those half forgotten souls to mind. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. Their generosity has enriched us as a community. Already people are drawn, by shared memories, into conversations. Yesterday our President spoke eloquently of solidarity and of how we live in the shelter of one another.

On September the 29th 2013, the names of the lost were called aloud. In spirit they have come again to harbour. May they rest a little more peacefully, wherever they lie.

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