I think about this song a lot. Not because it’s Tom Waits (who is the greatest artist in the world) or because it always makes me cry (even though it does) or because it is masterfully haunting, compassionate, and condemning in the way that all great protest songs are (and it really, truly is), but because for all of the years prior to its release in 2006 and for the eight years since and especially now, as it seems that much of the country is beginning to wake up from a decades-long sleep to see what is actually happening in Gaza outside of the frighteningly narrow pro-Israel blinders applied by US media, this song has and is resonating with such deadly accuracy.
Similar is Peter Schwartz’s response to Brian Eno’s understandably appalled e-mail to his American friends, demanding to know why the US refuses to withdraw support from Israel, especially when the Americans he knows are “compassionate, broadminded, creative, eclectic, tolerant and generous” people. I suppose we can forgive Eno for being too upset to acknowledge that, like Palestinians who don’t support Hamas and Israelis who don’t support the flechette-shredding of children on beaches and in schools, people do not always agree with their governments’ decisions, and that many of us are just as disappointed and outraged as he is.
I really enjoyed Schwartz’s response. I found it to be thoughtful, considerate, and knowledgeable about an historically volatile region fraught with occupations, violence, and idealistic wars since nearly, quite literally, the beginning of recorded time.
Schwartz reminds Eno that the gut reaction to the media’s blatant anti-Arab coverage-turned-circus of carnage is understandable, though a bit short-sighted, and that we must keep in mind that this current situation is simply another layer of a much older, much more complicated series of situations, and like the ones that came before it, it is entirely probable that we should not expect to solve the problem:
“Even though I have no support for the Israeli position I find the opposition to Israel questionable in its failure to be similarly outraged by a vast number of other moral horrors in the recent past and currently active. Just to name a few; Cambodia, Tibet, Sudan, Somalia, Nicaragua, Mexico, Argentina, Liberia, Central African Republic, Uganda, North Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Venezuela, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Zimbabwe and especially right now Nigeria…The only difference with the Israelis is their claim to a moral high ground, which they long ago left behind in the refugee camps of Lebanon. They are now just a nation, like any other, trying to survive in a hostile sea of hate…
“We find ourselves at a historic impasse. There is no way back…There will be no other state there but perpetual tribal war with an occasional truce. And in that perpetual state of tribal war there be ample opportunity for horrors on both sides.”
I’m fighting the urge to just copy-paste the entire response – it’s that enlightening, in my opinion – but I realize that I’ve already tested everyone’s patience by posting a 7-minute non-video video of a Tom Waits song. So I get it, everyone. I’m sorry and you’re welcome. (Also if you’d prefer something that has actual moving pictures and practically no words to read which means it is therefore basically entertainment, I highly recommend seeking out the Jerusalem episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, which is available for streaming on Netflix right now.)
It’s just…I guess that I’m a little bit like Brian Eno here, in that it’s hard for me to bear the images of smoke erupting out of Gaza juxtaposed with models sunning themselves on Israeli beaches. It’s difficult to understand how, in a tiny, contentious part of the world, people can go shopping and drive nice cars on roads provided by moneyed infrastructure, while just on the other side of a supermax prison-style wall, a wailing man can carry pieces of the body of his 4-year-old son in a shopping bag.
And throughout all of it, we have a government that has remained largely silent on the terms of a ceasefire, and a media that is insidious in terms of labeling Israel as a perpetually beleaguered religious utopia with the moral high ground and Palestine as a seething biohazard of terrorist cells that deserves to continue enduring its systematic oppression as second-class citizens of refugee camps and jails.
All of this hurts my heart and my head to the extent that I cannot just say “well, that sucks” or “gee, that’s depressing.” Partially because we are standing witness to what could amount to genocide. Partially because, as Schwartz noted, we should make no mistake that this war will continue. All wars will continue. And we cannot – we should not – seek to insert ourselves or our interests into all of them. But we should seek to learn, and to keep watching, and to be as honest as possible about what a victim is and how our shared history should inform the world’s actions.
From “Road to Peace”:
“And this is our land we will fight with all our force”, say the Palestinians and the Jews
And each side will cut off the hand of anyone who tries to stop the Resistance
If the right eye offends thee, then you must pluck it out
And Machoud Abbas and Sharon had been lost, along the road to peace
Once Kissinger said: “We have no friends, America only has interests”
And now our president wants to be seen as a hero and he’s hungry for re-election
But Bush is reluctant to risk his future, with the fear of his political failures
So he plays chess at his desk and poses for the press, ten thousand miles from the road to peace
In a video that they found at the home of Abdel Madi Shabneh
He held a Kalashnikov rifle, and he spoke with the voice like a boy
He was an excellent student, he studied so hard, it was as if he had a future
He told his mother he had a test that day, out along the road to peace
The fundamentalist killing on both sides is standing in the path of peace
And tell me why are we arming the Israeli army with guns and tanks and bullets?
And if god is great and god is good, why can’t he change the hearts of men?
Well, maybe god himself is lost and needs help
Maybe god himself he needs all of our help
Maybe god himself is lost and needs help
He’s out upon the road to peace