Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gaza: a sort-of review. From Marillion's new album "Sounds that can't be made"

Gaza. One track from Marillion's new album, SOUNDS THAT CAN'T BE MADE.

(My Polish, Israeli, Arabic family and friends... this is an outsider's view looking in. I love you all and hope nothing is offensive... as a wise man once said, "No-one has the right to think they can know what's happening inside someone elses' business/relationship"... this is my poor attempt, and a reflection of the thoughts sparked by listening to Gaza.)

Not only a moving piece of music--but also a provocative view of life in Gaza. Looking at conditions of life there, through the eyes of a child. So much musical depth to this piece; hints of the middle-east, a haunting guitar solo, and so-many musical and disruptive layers. I know that I will be listening to this for years to come, and still finding new nuances and notes that never heard before. I know from experience that I can listen to Marillion's music many times, and still hear something new. It's just the way it is.

Gaza... I know I will listen to it over, and over, and over again. Listen to it. You may do the same. And listen to the words... and think.

And... as I've said before, I cannot write a review without it pulling from my own life and experiences. That's what makes music real; it's not what you hear, it's what it does
to you inside.

Gaza caused me to think about other refugees, and the affect their exile had on their children, their childrens' children. And why they are no longer trapped in camps, but yet the people of Gaza are. By choice? By force? By someone-else's persuasian? Because they can do nothing else? Why?

I was married to a man who was born in 1951, and who spent his early years in a refugee camp.

He was not a Palestinian in Gaza: he was born in England. He was Polish.

Whose father, along with part of his family and many countrymen, had been exiled from their homeland; whose had endured forced, hard labour at the edge of the Artic Circle; who had trekked through Eurasia, joined his countrymen, fought against Nazism in the Middle East, in Italy, and who somehow ended up in a refugee camp, in the middle of England. Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire: Ashby Folville, Leicestershire. Many, many more: all over England, and Wales.

These camps were usually old British army sites; Nissan huts, wooden bungalows, abandoned dormitories. While the young men had joined the freedom fighters--the Polish army "in exile"--the elderly, the women and the children who had survived pogroms and attacks and Siberia and epidemics, somehow ended-up in Africa, only to be reunited later with those young men who survived the war, in rainy, chill, damp and dismal English refugee camps.

These were Poles. These were people whose country boundaries, whose very country's existence, had been rearranged and redrawn so many times over the centuries. If you study Poland's history, you learn how fragile and ridiculous political borders are--and how strong the human heart and family can be.

This man, my son's father, told me that at four years old, he thought he was a child in Poland. He spoke only Polish. He was with his extended family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles. Bocian maly.  No idea, no concept, of the England surrounding his home. The home where his sisters were born and where his mother and father prepared barrels of salted cabbage for the winter, and where his grandad told stories of chasing girls through the forests back home in Wolynia, when he was young and grandma wasn't looking. They had a shop and a church and a community center, where the grown-ups danced and where weddings and babies were celebrated, and they had a dream of home to hold onto. And then, one day, aged five, he was sent to school. And suddenly he was thrust into a world of another people, a strange language, different rules. What a surprise. How hard must that have been. There must have been finger-pointing and taunting and unkindness, because children can be very cruel to anyone who doesn't fit. But these young Polish-children-born-in-exile learned and grew and began to speak Polish at home, and English at school. They had the support of a common religion across both worlds; strict Catholicism. (Whether that was a good, or bad, thing, I cannot say... but it was a bridge across the world of the refugee camp, and the world of school.)

The Poles who lived in the camps in England always believed they would return home. For many years after arriving in England, living in the discarded army housing, they believed that they would one day return. And all the time the young children grew and became the interpreters, going with their elders to the doctor, to the bank, helping in ways that most of us would never think about, becoming fluent, bilingual, and learning how to live in the past and the future at the same time.

Yet the "world power"s had redrawn the map. There was no homeland, or home, to return to. Their houses and farms were now behind the Iron Curtain: no longer Poland, now the Ukraine, now Bielorussia. Those homes which had been in villages shared with Ukrainians, Jews were now scorched by memories of wartime attrocities and buried under the weight of communism. Most of the inhabitants were gone. Exiled, displaced, moved, or worse... 

Home did not exist, and yet the exiles still stayed hopeful that they would return. But in the meantime, they worked, saved money, made gardens, grew vegetables and flowers, raised chickens; fed their families, taught the children to pray and confess and carry on.

Years passed; the camps disintegrated; familes moved out, bought homes in nearby towns. Some migrated further, to America. Some of the oldest exiles reached the ends of their lives. The dream of returning home began to fade; still a dream, a hope, but one of little reality. Though the community remained and remains strong; language and recipes handed down from generation to generation, tightly-knit, close.

When the Berlin Wall came down, and Eastern Europe threw communism away, most of the Polish exiles in England were just living their lives. Families were reunited -- forty years or so later -- and some entrepreneurs went off to set up business or buy vacation homes in Poland... but there was no longer a rush to "return home". (Remember: the map was redrawn. It's not the same country. Even Poles who remained in Poland when "my" family was exiled were displaced. From the east, to the north of the country, near Gdansk-as-was-once-called-Danzig, which was previously Prussia, populated by Germans not Poles... it goes on, and on, and on. Who the hell thinks they can redraw a boundary without changing lives? Who has the right to change anyone's hopes and dreams, just because they can?) 

As an outsider, and with an almost-sober British upbringing, I saw things in the Polish community, exaggerated by exile: alcoholism, misogyny, domestic struggles, and an unwillingness to accept outsiders... but on the day that my son's great-grandmother said to me, "Nice dress!"--the only words she ever said to me in English--I felt some of the pain of exile, some of the struggle, and a lot of the longing for home and a common language. (OK, it was an occasion. I wear a dress once every thirty years.)

But now, fifty or more years after the Poles arrived in England--almost the identical amount of time in exile as the Palestinians--these same Poles do not live in refugee camps. Their children and their grandchildren and their great-great grandchildren live as part of the land where they are now citizens. They still have a strong community, but they have not lived or acted as refugees for a very, very long time. They are no longer strangers in the country where they live. They are at home in themselves.

And why is this not true for the people who live in Gaza? What is the difference?

"Outside the pitiless sun bleaches the broken streets"

Why have they not yet moved to "proper" homes, with proper sanitation and facilities and more bedrooms than they need? With flowers in the garden and children singing on their way home from school? Why? It's the same amount of time, isn't it? This happened to the Poles at the same time as the state of Israel, and partition, happened in the middle east. What the hell went wrong--and how can the world--you and I and everyone else who hears this--start to make it right?

We cannot just put the blame on Israel for the conditions in Gaza. Israelis have their own children to care for and protect. If you don't know what it's like to walk down a street or to sit on a bus or to go to a night-club, knowing that the person next to you may have chosen to take his/her life and to take you and everyone around you with them, don't make that judgement. If you have not rushed your children into an air-raid shelter while missiles whistle overhead, don't make that judgement. If you have never lived in a home which must, by law, have one room safe enough to withstand a bomb, don't ever make that judgement. Everyone deserves the freedom to raise their children without fear, without hatred; to feed and clothe and cherish them with love.

Israel and Gaza; looking at each other through a barbed wall of fear, pain, anger and resentment, tinged with hope and a common love for the beautiful land that both call Home... mothers on both sides who have lost children to the conflict.

"There are grieving mothers on both sides of the wire."

How can anyone think that this situation will just work itself out? It's not just Gaza... there are Palestinians still in camps in Lebanon. In Jordan. In Syria.

Compare this to the exiled Poles in England. It's the same amount of time since they all lost their homes at around the end of WWII

Don't tell me that the Poles did not long for their homeland, like Palestinians do. My ex once wrote about his father, who in a dream was, "thrusting his arm up to his elbow in the rich, fertile earth of Wolynia, 'my heart is here somewhere, where is my heart, why can't I find my heart?' ".

All exiles dream of home, and even those of us for whom exile is a choice, either economical or just-because-we-wander: "Back Home" becomes something idealistic, something soft and special and better than it might ever have been when we lived there. For those people who have lost their homes through war, or famine, or cruelty--how much more perfect must that Home be? If no-one lets them put down roots and start to grow again, how much worse the pain and resentment? How much longer does the longing last? (How long did Israelis long for Israel?)

And if there is no escape from the refugee world, no opportunity to assimilate and to work and to make business and to "carry on", what sort of hell are children born into?

"It just ain't right, it just ain't right..."

My big question: Why has the world not allowed the people of Gaza, and the generations of Palestinians in other refugee camps, to build new lives, just as the Poles in England and America have? I say it again: you cannot blame all of this on Israel. Look at the map. Israel is a tiny sliver of land, surrounded by vocally-hostile countries, with a couple of fragile peace agreements. If you have never been there, never met families and children in that beautiful, holy part of the world, do not sit in judgement.

But what is it, other than taking back a land that is no longer the same, unchanged, land it was more than fifty years ago, just what is it that will allow the people of Gaza to raise their children in hope, and love, and peace, and trust? Would it be possible, after all these years of fear and resentment, for these diverse peoples to share the land that has been home to them all? And for Jerusalem never, ever to be fought over again?

We--the rest of the world--need to help, need to allow the rebuilding to begin.

"We all want peace and freedom that's for sure  But peace won't come from standing on our necks..."

Maybe Marillion's Gaza will encourage more people to think.

And provoke someone, somewhere, to spark a small, bright idea. And then another. And for people to start thinking about the children on both sides of the fence, including the children who are today dressed in military uniforms or in bomb-belts; thinking about the future, and not about political rhetoric or military power or about losing face.

And maybe, one day, people will realise that countries are just lines pencilled-in on an old map. We don't need them any more. We just hold hands.

"With the love of our family we can rise above anything"

Gaza... I know I will listen to it over, and over, and over again. Listen to it. You may do the same. And listen to the words... and think. And then share your ideas with the world. Someone can find a peaceful answer. We can only try.
For more information about Marillion, see


Other Marillion reviews on this blog:

- Ocean Cloud
- Monday, and a little more sanity
- Marillion, and that grin on my face

And my full set of photos from the June 29th show at the Fillmore, San Francisco

(In memory of Mirek Popowicz, Dot + Zbyszek Los)


  1. beautiful song and a very thought provoking piece. Its not right for any oppressed individual and until we start thinking about groups as individuals with hopes and fears then it will continue

  2. Thank you for taking the time to put this to "paper."