January 14, 2009

Watching Them Burn

And now far-off smoke pearls from homestead rooftops
and from high mountains the greater shadows fall

--Virgil, Ecologues I

They took to the Tennessee hills to watch the civil war battle below (1864). Today, Israelis watch the smoke pearls from the besieged Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. The reported story points out that only two miles separates the spectators from the bombing and those being bombed; only two miles of hills and ground and rock, absolutely walkable, divides the citizens of one state from the stateless dwellers of a patch of coralled territory beneath them.

As the political economist and Gaza-expert Sara Roy has said of late, the walling in, the concrete division of the civilized from the barbarians -- who are tunneling, cunning, vile and clever, it is said, over and over -- was the first, long stage of this assault. With withdrawal of the settlers came the purity of curtailing human movement, the further cleansing of Jerusalem, the ensnarement of the prey. It is almost a year to the day that she published a piece describing the absolute economic and psychological and legal collapse of the strip. A year of weakening before the figurative bulldozing of life by air, sea, and finally land.

Those sitting upon the hill, on plastic chairs, eating olives, drinking Pepsi, what do they see? Do the plumes of smoke rising so close bring them a feel of homestead calm? Of righteous delivery onto that land? Does their skin shiver with the thrill of death delivered to the enemy? Or do they shift in the dust, knowing that their IDF has not yet killed enough, that the government they choose cannot create a wall high enough, and that the enthusiasts for the slaughter cannot bring their dire dream to fruition fast enough to fend off the eventual inheritance of incomplete empires?