Sunday, July 13, 2008

Exclusion and Embrace: the Mechanics of Oppression

This poem is a somewhat-companion to my last post. Though rather flawed, the element that really struck me when I first read it -- and that continues to strike me -- is the theme of distance. And how distance breeds hate and violence. Without human contact, it's easy to stop believing in the humanity of the other. And when the other is not human, or at least not as fully human as you believe yourself to be, oppression ceases to be difficult.

It is for this reason that the separation barrier is so terrifying.

Another note: Shepherdson states "Faceless voices make demands/ Travellers scarce could hear." We found this VERY true, and very odd, on our recent trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. At checkpoints, guards sit in glass boxes, far removed from the traveler, and it is almost impossible to hear their instructions. We pondered the reason for this on our trip, but couldn't seem to understand. It's inefficient and extremely frustrating. However, it does serve one purpose: it separates the Israeli from the Palestinian, and keeps contact and communication to a bare minimum.

As one (Arab?) proverb states: what we do not know, we fear; what we fear, we hate.


Concrete-clad confinement cells
Iron rails and turn styles
Sheds and bars and wire and rocks
Line the lonely mile

Faceless voices make demands
Travellers scarce could hear
Distance, planned, enforces space
No human contact near.

Compassion, bred from guarding eyes
Purely duty calls.

Withdraw the contact of the eyes
In airport hanger halls
And men become a processed part.

Without this window on human hearts
It's easier to number us
Than face, the hurt, the pain, the loss of those who
mirror now the past
To those descended from Holocaust

Yet surely some must wonder
As they rend Arab homes asunder
Why they comply in genocide
Of Palestinian hearts and mind.
And surely some who've heard the tales of apartheid
And Robyn Island jails
Must question in their silent hearts
Why scraggy donkeys pull decrepit carts
On dusty roads and potholed 'mac
The poor, who break their ragged backs, and
Cling to Gaza's desert tracks, their homeland?

And surely we must question why
This land turns into nibbled cheese
And check points fear and barricades
And mortar fire and bullet littered streets
Are all their lives entail
In Gaza's cramped and foetid jail.

-Rev. Maria Shepherdson
From Both Sides Now

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