Next Summer in Gaza

by Chema Arraiza - 

There is something sacred and untouchable about kids and the summer. Summer is the time for endless evenings, for cycling, jumping on a river, a beach, a lake, for staying up late. Summer is pure life. It is freedom, the scenery of our best childhood memories. Swimming, laughing, discovering love... Life as whole may not be a happy story all the way through, but no one can take away from us the joy of summer. Poverty kept Albert Camus from thinking that everything was well under the sun and in history. The sun taught him that history was not everything. For the author of The Plague, playing soccer as a kid in an Algerian beach during some summer evening was the symbol of happiness.

For these reasons, the ongoing war in Gaza and Israel is a heresy against childhood and youth. A sacrilege made of teenagers kidnapped and killed, of children blown up while playing soccer on a beach. From the safe distance of my Spanish hometown such barbarities seem unreal. In Spain, where ETA terrorism was beaten not with bombs but through the rule of law, it is hard to believe that things can go so bad in a country as to have people sitting on plastic chairs (as in the hills of Sderot) watching over a beer their neighbours getting bombed. People watching people getting bombed, where those bombed were apparently watching the final match of the World Cup.

It could be a good script for an anti-war tale, if it was not for the fact that it is a sick reality. Or else people cheering the throwing of rockets by Hamas off to Israel to hit whoever has the bad chance of crossing their path (the latest being a four years-old kid). I cannot imagine sympathising with neither of those criminal games. These are all too harrowing to be taken seriously.

Indeed, fanaticism is an illness, as Amos Oz very well pointed out. It is the sickness of believing that one’s own idea of justice is worth more than the life of an innocent other. And illness is not to be understood, contextualised historically, over analysed, sympathised with or believed to be more than what it is. The illness of fanaticism is to be cured with conscience about what the value of life really means. For Oz, there is a struggle “between those who believe that justice, whatever they would mean by the word, is more important than life and those of us who think that life takes priority over many other values, convictions and faiths”. It is a struggle between madness and common sense, and today madness is winning by far.

A sociologist friend of mine, tired of seeing political elites competing with each other in cruelty and stupidity, including of course the “Great Caliphs” of the ISIS, decided to name the Middle East as “Cuckooland”. I disagree, because the borders of Cuckooland go well beyond Israel, Palestine or the Middle East. There are cuckoo’s nests in each of the world’s nations.

A character in Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana” put it beautifully: “I don't care a damn about men who are loyal to the people who pay them, to organizations... I don't think even my country means all that much. There are many countries in our blood, aren't there, but only one person. Would the world be in the mess it is if we were loyal to love and not to countries?” We owe loyalty

to those persons at both sides of the infamous wall who understand the value of kids playing soccer in the beach. The intrinsic value of three teenagers taking a summer walk while telling bad jokes. This is worth much more than any imagined national or religious ideals of the adult world.

However, the summer’s now nearly over and hundreds of kids will not see the next one. Future summers are the job of citizens and policy makers at both sides of the wall. They need to urgently fight the occupation of their political space by the forces of myopic zealotry, rigid prejudices and sick patriotism and work towards an Israel and a Palestine where all children can safely enjoy their share of a good summer.

- Chema Arraiza is a researcher on ethnic diversity and conflict, he blogs here 

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