Argus title : Life has no joy while innocent die
We have had builders in for the last 5 weeks, fitting a new kitchen.
When we bought our house it had a hole in the kitchen floor. We knew it was probably rotten, but never had the time to fix it. The kitchen wall was crumbling and over the years tiles fell off with monotonous regularity. Then, 5 years ago, a big chunk of the kitchen ceiling came down. Just a matter of age, said the insurance company. It was the old lathe and plaster ceiling, and nothing could have been done to avoid it.
Various builders confirmed they’d need to pull the whole ceiling down to fix it. And of course we knew the floor needed to be ripped up as well. We just didn’t have the time. We were both busy and had pressing family commitments. My father was ill, then after he died, work needed to be done to my mother’s house.
Eventually, the time seemed right and we called in the builders, Tony and Scott. After 5 weeks of chaos, things are pretty well back to normal. We have a modern kitchen, with places to put things and a new cooker. We are faced with mundane problems like how to look after the work surface and where to put the microwave oven.
I should feel happy. For a while I did, but not now. I spent much of the week struggling to write this column, not knowing quite what to do with myself. I wandered around disorientated, not able to settle to anything, like a dog with toothache – except that I had no pain.
I was worried how my mother would cope in the heat-wave, but she seemed fine. I thought that perhaps I was dehydrated. So I drank as much water as I could – but still didn’t feel better.
I couldn’t quite understand it, because good things have happened within the past few weeks.
I was touched and honoured to receive a message from John Catt, the local artist and peace campaigner, to say that he’d liked what I’d written in this column about homelessness and about the importance of preserving old churches. As a consequence, he decided to give me an oil painting of St Peter’s Church which he completed in 1980.
I felt especially honoured when I saw him pictured in the Argus – an 81 year old man in the blazing heat – demonstrating once again outside the EDO/MBM arms factory against the use of its products in the bombing of Lebanon.
The painting he gave me is wonderful, vibrant with colour, something similar to a Cezanne in style. I’ve put it on my office wall, and it cheers me every time I see it. But even this hasn’t been enough to really raise my spirits.
Another good thing that happened – as a result of the article on homelessness – is that I met Jocelyn Dodgson, Catering Volunteer Co-ordinator at Brighton Housing Trust’s First Base Day Centre and amateur marathon runner.
She has been in the forefront of BHT’s efforts to ensure that during the current heat wave homeless people have an adequate supply of water and do not suffer from the worst extremes of heat exhaustion and exposure.
I planned to write about her this week – and yet I found I couldn’t do it. My head ached and I couldn’t settle. I found I had no belief in my own writing, which seemed to have no point or purpose.
I started my article several times, but nothing went as I wished it to. My spirits seemed depressed. I found myself walking aimlessly from room to room, standing in doorways – as if I was waiting for something.
One of the conventions of contemporary therapy is that depression is a form of repressed anger. I’m not sure this is always true. In my experience depression can co-exist with the most intense and obvious rage. Depression comes when it seems that nothing can be done about the causes of anger. It is a sense of crushing impotence in the face of terrible truth that creates despair.
I finally realised what was troubling me when I put on the television. As I watched the news about Lebanon, I began to recognise what I was feeling. It wasn’t depression. It was shame.
I had got rid of the hole in my ceiling and the pit in the floor and the rotten floorboards. But as I looked at the new cupboards and shiny fittings, I kept thinking of the houses and people of Lebanon, being smashed to pieces by Israeli bombs.
Families just like my own have lost, and are losing, all that they have. When a modern bomb hits a building, even if its inhabitants survive, their possessions are crushed and burned, covered in ash and rubble, dust and sewage. Everything is destroyed, from the stoves on which people cooked, to the tables at which they ate and the beds in which they slept and conceived and bore children. There isn’t time to save wedding presents, or toys, or clothes or the absurd knick knacks couples collect over the years. Nothing survives.
While our kitchen was being rebuilt I fretted when the water supply was cut off for a few hours or when we couldn’t use the sink for 2 days. Over vast areas of Lebanon – as in Gaza and the West Bank – Israeli bombing has knocked out the electricity and water supplies, destroying the infrastructure of the country. They have bombed bridges, roads, the civilian airport and even hospitals.
I’m sickened by the sight of body bags and body parts lying in the sweltering heat. I imagine what it must be like for frail old people like my mother to be blown from their beds in the choking darkness. I watch with horror as Lebanese children just like my daughter cry hysterically with fear because they do not know where the next bomb may fall.
And these are the lucky ones who have survived. By Thursday, 287 Lebanese civilians and 65 military personnel had died at the hands of one of the most sophisticated and best equipped military forces in the world, while 1000 military personnel and civilians had been wounded. In contrast, the Israelis, who justify their bombardment on the basis of the Hizbollah threat to Israeli civilians, had lost 16 civilians and 14 soldiers.
The Israeli government has said that its purpose is to destroy Hizbollah and that the Lebanese government should have disarmed them. But the people they are killing have nothing to do with Hizbollah. And most political commentators agree that the Lebanese government is too weak to disarm that organisation. Israeli actions will serve only to strengthen Hizbollah, while weakening the Lebanese government.
In reality, Israel is carrying out a policy of collective punishment against the Lebanese people. It is a war crime, one of a long list of breaches of international law and UN agreement – but, as always, carried out with impunity, because Israel has the support of the USA and because Britain lacks the courage to stand up to George Bush.
Many speculate that Israel’s real purpose, working with the USA, is to destroy the legitimate democratic government in Lebanon and install a puppet government. They believe this is why the USA – slavishly supported as always by Tony Blair – has blocked all international attempts to call for immediate ceasefire.
When BBC interviewers have asked Israeli government representatives why their government’s response to the abduction of Israeli soldiers has been “disproportionate” they have brushed such objections aside. They say that their intention is to destroy Hizbollah “whatever the cost”.
I look at my kitchen and feel very sad. Strangely enough I don’t just feel shame at the actions of my government and grief at the deaths of Lebanese and Israeli civilians. I also feel grief and shame for Israel.
I was 15 when the 6 Day War took place. I remember one night, praying till dawn that ‘little Israel’ would win. Now all I can think about is how many dreams have been destroyed in that country and how many crimes committed in its name.
I think what the country could have been, and what it has become – an Apartheid state, rotten with racism and class prejudice, an ‘attack dog’ for the most corrupt and brutal US government for decades.
I look at my kitchen. Everything is peaceful and ordered.
I think of Lebanon and wonder why I am so lucky.