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Tuesday, 29 August 2006 04:15

Michael Winship: Every Day a Little Death

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by Michael Winship

Hard to break old habits. As is true for so many, I measure the year as if I'm still a student condemned to the classroom. It doesn't commence January 1, but in September, when summer's over and school starts.

In recognition of that cycle, this week I was trying to clean the apartment of some old papers and files and stuff, no easy feat for a packrat like myself. The task requires sorting and tough choices. Napalm would do the trick more effectively but the neighborhood firehouse frowns on it and the shriek of the smoke detector upsets the mice.

Interesting items surface: a promotional snow globe from the premiere of the movie "Fargo," the file on amusement parks I was looking for but couldn't find when I wrote the column two weeks ago, campaign buttons picked up at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, featuring a picture of William Jefferson Clinton playing the sax and the now unfortunate slogan, "Blow, Bill, Blow!"

And what am I doing with 200, self-adhesive "Hello, My Name Is" badges?

Amongst the wretched refuse in my living room/office, a batch of newspaper and magazine articles from almost exactly a year ago. Pluto was still a planet then, Cindy Sheehan was camped outside the Bush ranch in Crawford, and Katrina was just beginning its deadly ravishment of the Gulf Coast.

Some things barely change at all. Front-page headline from the August 22, 2005, Washington Post: "Democrats Split Over Position on Iraq War." Fast-forward a year, front-page headline, August 27, 2006, Washington Post: "Democrats Split Over Timetable for Troops."

Other things change a lot. A year ago, the articles remind me, Israeli troops were unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza and the Jewish settlements there were being dismantled. Many of the settlers were furious, but one Palestinian man told PBS' Newshour with Jim Lehrer, "Life is going to change. We will be able to live well. We will live in freedom." A Palestinian woman added, "With God's will, after the disengagement we will be happy because the roads will be open and they will remove the checkpoints and we can move freely."

It was not to be. International aid and tax money were cut off to the Palestinian Authority after the radical group Hamas' success in Palestine's parliamentary elections, crippling Gaza's economy. On June 25, on the border with Gaza, Palestinian gunmen killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third. This triggered a blockade, and artillery and aerial bombardment, including the destruction of Gaza's power plant, affecting not only electricity but also the water supply, which requires electric pumps.

John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told Monday's Washington Post, "Gaza is heading down the tubes. We are down to a subsistence existence... You have children growing up in a violent and uncivilized society, without the things most countries would take for granted as a normal existence."

But, as the Post reported, "The war in southern Lebanon has overshadowed Israel's second front, a military and economic siege of the Gaza Strip that is deepening the poverty and desperation in this dense area of 1.4 million people."

Speaking of children, speaking of Lebanon... in the pile of papers to be tossed from my apartment, a transcript from a discussion the Israeli novelist, essayist and peace activist David Grossman had with Bill Moyers in May 2003. I met him that day. A kind, thoughtful man.

Grossman is a devoted Zionist. Like virtually all his countrymen, he has served in the Israeli military, as have his two sons. "We doom ourselves to this vicious circle, that our children will kill their children and vice versa," he told Bill. "And we are stuck in this hermetic bubble of animosity. And there is wonderful justification for each side to justify what he does or inflict on the other side.

"But in the meantime, we are all being suffocated in this hermetic bubble. And I want to start to breathe. I just want to start to breathe the air that we should breathe, the air that we deserve to breathe."

Two weeks ago, I opened the paper to the news that Grossman's youngest son, Uri, an Israeli tank commander, had been killed in Lebanon, two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

"He was a man of values," David Grossman said of his child at the funeral. "In recent years, that word has faded. It has even been ridiculed. Because in our disjointed, cruel, cynical world, it's not cool to have values. Or to be a humanist. Or to be really sensitive to the distress of others, even if the other is your enemy on the battlefield...

"May we know how to be a bit more gentle with each other, and may we succeed in saving ourselves from the violence and hostility that has penetrated so deeply into all aspects of our lives. May we know how to get our bearings and save ourselves now, at the very last minute, because very hard times await us."

I'm saving his words. I've got a sad feeling they'll come in handy.


Copyright 2006 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes a weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York.