August 12, 2008

Exodus reprise

One of the signature moments in the Zionist project between the end of the Second World War and the founding of Israel was the summer of 1947 Exodus affair. When a ship (the Exodus 1947) of Displaced Persons gathered from camps in postwar Europe was set on a course for Palestine, the goal was not the delivery of persons in need of land, sanctuary, a home, and a life. It was instead a sacrificial exercise designed to run aground on the British blockade at work to limit immigration. It was undertaken as performance of victimization - using real victims - to garner support through the shaming of the British and the blockade. Antagonizing the blockade, having the persons turned away and sent back to France, back to Germany would succeed in delivering the Holocaust unto Jewish Palestine in symbol only.

Now human rights activists are setting sail from Cyprus, on their way to the Gaza strip, which remains isolated under an Israeli blockade and the delicate truce between Hamas and Israel. These activists are using two sail boats. Their gesture is one of quiet passage, of a tiny, collective assemblage intent on opening Gaza to the world once again.

Unlike the events of 1947 there can be no expectation of martyrdom or sacrifice, simply the opening of a passage. There is something of the gesture's smallness, then, that strikes a chord in opposition to the history that has been written in those waters. But it will not, for all that, escape the cameras or slip silently into oblivion. It is easy to anticipate the images that will come out, the press conferences to follow, the public display of concern for those dwelling in Gaza. Will the gestures, however pronounced, be noticed at all? Or will they be like some song sung into the night wind along a far-off quay, a plaintive plea for some bodily peace that has all the worldly force of silent prayer?