Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Three artists from Gaza - Basel Almaqsi, Sharif Sarhan and Majid Sala - have created an art installation to commemorate the 14 doctors and paramedics killed during Israel's assault on Gaza. Using whatever materials came to hand they installed their visual requiem on the blackened, crumbling walls and in the rubble of the destroyed hospital at Tal el Hawa, south of Gaza City.

They embody the spirit of Palestine. Without art materials they continue to make art. Just as their fellow Gazans refuse to be starved and bombed into submission*.

* In the four months since the Christmas and New Year massacre, Israel (and its crony, Egypt) have allowed no building materials to enter Gaza, which remains in a condition of devastation. Medical supplies, clothing and foodstuffs rot inside huge warehouses at Rafah, on the Egyptian border. Only the barest essentials needed to maintain a semblance of life are allowed through.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rest in peace, Bassem

Bassem Abu Rahme, alive (photo courtesy of Khatija)

I have just learned that the young man murdered by an Israeli soldier at last Friday's demonstration in Bil'in, Bassem Abu Rahme, was someone I had met on a visit to the village last year. Fatal shootings and maimings of Palestinians by the Israeli Occupying Force are a weekly, if not a daily, occurence but somehow, if it's the face or name of someone you know, it brings the tragedy home.

The fact that Bassem was wearing a luminous yellow shirt (making him an easy target) and was standing with a group of journalists on a small hill, apart from the demonstrators, made no difference to his killer. He was shot, from a mere 40 metres distance, with a high-velocity projectile. As I say, an easy target.

Devout Muslims recite this verse upon hearing of a death: "To God we belong, and to Him we shall return". Small comfort to Bassem's family, to his friends and to all of us who admired his bravery and persistence.


Saturday, April 18, 2009


Francisco Goya's painting, "The Third of May 1808" depicts the execution, at dawn on that date, of Spaniards who had resisted the occupation of their country by Napoleon's forces.  In Madrid, hundreds of citizens were rounded up and summarily shot. This powerful work is one of the archetypal images of the horrors of war.

In Bil'in yesterday a young man was shot in the chest and killed while protesting the ongoing theft of his village's lands. Once again, non-violent resistance to the Israeli military and colonial occupation has been met by deadly force. There will be no inquest, the killer will not be charged. Two hundred years have passed since the events which Goya depicted and what has changed?


Monday, April 13, 2009

Guernica Revisited

The most famous anti-war image of modern times is Pablo Picasso's large mural, "Guernica".

It commemorates the 1937 bombing by German aircraft of Guernica, a small village in the Basque country of northern Spain, a bastion of Republican resistance to Franco's fascists. The raid targetted the civilian population, mostly women and children, gathered in the village centre on market day. The attack, which lasted for several hours, killed an estimated 250 to 1,600 as the warplanes repeatedly bombed and machine-gunned the defenceless population.

Hitler's forces carried out the raid in solidarity with their Spanish fascist allies and as an opportunity to test out new weapons. It may have been the first time that aerial warfare had been used to in an attempt to intimidate and demoralise a civilian population.

The lesson of Guernica has been well learned by the leaders of modern-day Israel. What else was the recent attack on Gaza for than to test out its arsenal of new weaponry and to bomb a defenceless population into submission? While it may have successfully tested the effect of white phosphorous, flechettes and new and horrifying munitions on human bodies, it failed utterly to demoralise a population of incredibly brave and resilient people. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Massacre of the innocents

"The Massacre of the Innocents" by the great Flemish master, Peter Paul Rubens, is probably the best known of the many interpretations of this theme by European artists. In almost every painting the "innocents" are women and children. Occasionally, animals, particularly horses, are depicted as the innocent victims of warfare and armed aggression.

What a treasure trove of ghastly images awaits any artist who chooses to focus on the recent massacres in Gaza! While Israel attempted to hide the gory details of its blitzkrieg from the eyes of the world - by denying entry to the Western media - photographs, amateur videos and graphic first-hand accounts have since emerged from within that charnel-house. Unable to run, with nowhere to hide, women and children, teenagers, medical personnel and all the other innocent victims were gunned down, maimed and bombed in their scores, in their hundreds.

It would take a Goya to visually enshrine the suffering of the poor people of Gaza. Meanwhile, we have the photographs, and the knowledge.  Lest we forget.