A Speaking Out, Again – Poems and Quotes in the Aftermath of the October 7th Attacks on Israel and the War in Gaza

Flags of Palestine and Israel painted on cracked wall. Photo Credit: Gilnature, iStock.


Silence rides shotgun
wherever hate goes.

Andrea Gibson from You Better Be Lightning, Button Publishing Inc., 2021

I was grateful to find this poem by the American spoken-word poet, Andrea Gibson. Her charge, her claim, that silence is hate’s quiet partner. And how I see this in the tragic catastrophe that Gaza has become. Born out of the tragic historical consequences of two peoples in one land: made a named true home for one but no named true and independent home given for the other. And how silence seems easier when support for one side of the other can lead to extreme abuse or worse. One “I am right” damning another. The use of incendiary and polorizing language. Easier, it seems, to stay silent.

And so this blog post. One to break silence, again. A post I have been imagining for months but that felt vital to finish and post now after I read the searing account of the desperate starvation conditions in Gaza described in a a piece in The New Yorker last week by Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha. A piece of writing that bears witness to the unbearable. To read my January 2024 post on Mosab please click here. And thanks to Mosab’s piece in The New Yorker I wrote a poem a few days ago inspired by it. I include that poem below. Also, poems by Jasmine Donahaye, Yehuda Amichai, Tal Hever-Chybowski, Refaat Alareer and quotes by Ursula Le Guin and Primo Levi.

And today, a few days after I had finished this post, I am grateful for the poets I read online in posts shared this Sunday bearing witness to events in Gaza. For the poem in Poets Respond on the Rattle website by Jewish poet, Micah Ackerman Hirsch. His poem in response to the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell in Washington, D.C. last week as an act of resistance to the war in Gaza. For Pádraig Ó Tuama’s remarks about  the children in Gaza in his weekly Substack column that featured his beloved poem To a Child Dancing in the Wind by Irish poet W.B. Yeats. And for the poem on grief dedicated to the children who have died in Gaza in Vox Populi online by the brilliant Chard deNiord, American poet and gifted interviewer of poets published in two books of collected interviews.

This necessity of witness but also to hear each other with respect and compassion. How I long for a place where we, with empathy and concern, can discuss issues as raw as what is happening between Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinian territories. To be not quiet but in our voicing what matters find a way to find a solution. To find a way to an enduring peace. Not in the future after thousand more die but now.

I am grateful for the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai for his poem describing the hard “isness” of what we create when we “know” we are right. This being “right” that so often leads to war and countless deaths. And I am grateful for him pointing out the grace that can happen when maybe we are not so sure of our rightness! Oh for this whisper in his poem that might be heard over all the ruined buildings in Gaza.

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Yehuda Amichai, translated by Stephen Mitchell from The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, edited by Robert Alter, Farrar, Straus and, Giroux, 2017

I am grateful when people voice with respect the existential fear of the Jewish people still living in the shadow of the holocaust, that fear horrifically triggered in the violence of October 7th of Hamas against Israel. The fear of a people living in a state where others still refuse to acknowledge that state’s right to exist.And I am grateful when people voice with respect the horrors and injustices inflicted on the Palestinian people after years of failures on both sides to find a way to peace. And now those horrors elevated to an unimaginable way in Gaza as Israel respondas to the egregious attacks of October 7th by killing thousands and displacing millions.

And I am grateful for the Jewish writer and English professor Jasmine Donahaye, born in England, now based in Wales, with roots that stretch back into the Palestinian province of the Ottoman Empire. In her poem below Jasmine mourns all the mourners on both sides of this conflict. Jasmine, who is not silent as she ends her poem dated during the Israeli violent incursion into Gaza in 2006 after the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. Her searing words being made so true in Gaza as I write: ….again there’s nothing to fight over/ but stoney ground, as the only thing ever to fight over/ is stoney ground.

from Gaza, Summer 2006

…………………….and ten thousand mourners
will bring their little stones – from Odessa and Baghdad,
from Granada and Seville. Over the field where the dead are waiting,
and the kibbutz, the nearest towns, Afula and Beit She’an,
and finally Nazareth, the stones will rise and rise –
in the Jewish quarter and the Arab quarter,
piling up around the bell-towers and minarets,
until the bell-tongues are stilled,
the crowd chanting shema Yisrael will forget
what it was they were called to mourn, and the muezzin will sing
Allahu—and choke, but still they’ll come, the mourners
until Mount Gilboa itself becomes a tomb,
its rare black irises, its iridescent insects undone,
and lop-eared goats will roam along a dusty track from ruined Gaza
to Sidon, from Tiberias to the scattered remnants of Sdot Yam,
so that once again there’s nothing to fight over
but stoney ground,
as the only thing ever to fight over
is stoney ground.

Jasmine Donahaye from Self-Portrait as Ruth, Parthian, 2015

A number of weeks ago I featured the Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha, his poems, and his harrowing experience trying to get his family out of Gaza into Egypt which he was able to do after being released by Israeli soldiers who had detained him at the border. Mosab continues to speak out and write on the plight of his family and others trapped inside Gaza. His latest update in the The New Yorker on the horrifying and life-threatening lack of food in Gaza inspired my poem below:

Malva Neglecta

“I got a video call from my brother Hamza, a father of three with a fourth on the way. He was in northern Gaza, picking through the rubble of the house that we once shared. In the background was the recognizable sound of military drones, and I urged him to get to safety. Instead, Hamza passed the phone to my mother, who was there, too. She looked pale and tired, and she told me that they were running out of food, but she still thanked God for what they had. She was scouring the area for edible plants such as cheeseweed.-”

—Mosab Abu Toha, The New Yorker, February 24th, 2024

No sounds of bombs or drones here where I write,
no sounds of the cries of the wounded, the neglected,
no living on a knife’s edge where fear counts bodies on either side,
no rubble but only this house standing straight and intact,
no dead or starving relatives in a war zone eating seeds,
no scavenging in rubble for lost sacks of flower,
no need to scour stoney ground for cheeseweed
no need to know cheeseweed is edible,
no need to find its other names: dwarf mallow, buttonweed, malva neglecta,
no need to know its small flower was the origin for the name of its colour, malva: mauve,
no need to figure out neglecta in English, neglected,
no need to worry over malva neglecta, how to find it and eat it.

Richard Osler, previously unpublished

I am so grateful for the voice of bellowed science fiction and Fantasy writer Ursula Le Quin. For how a character in one of her books so exquisitely and painfully describes the awful denial of life war is:

What would that world be, a world without war. It would be the real world. Peace was the true life, the life of working and learning and bringing up children to work and learn. War, which devoured work, learning and children, was the denial of reality. But my people, she thought, know only how to deny. Born in the dark shadow of power misused, we set peace outside our world, a guiding and unattainable light. All we know to do is fight. Any peace one of us can make in our life is only a denial that the war is going on, a shadow of the shadow, a doubled unbelief.

Ursula Le Guin from Betrayals in Four Ways to Forgiveness, Harper Collins Publishers, 1995

And I am so grateful for the voice of the Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, Primo Levi, whose sufferings from his wartime experience likely led to his death years later. His apparent suicide. I am grateful for this voice saying none of us get out of this earth alive. Any so-called wins we accumulate here, especially those that come at the expense of others, do nothing to prevent our ultimate destiny: to die.

We too are so dazzled by power and money as to forget
our essential fragility, forget that all of us are in the ghetto,
that the ghetto is fenced in, that beyond the fence
stands the lords of death, and not far away the train is waiting.

— Primo Levi from Moments of Reprieve, Penguin, 1995

I am grateful for and challenged by, the tortured voice of the Gazan poet and scholar Refaat Alareer who wrote a prescient poem about his death a month before he died in December in a bombing that appears to have been a targeted attack on him by Israeli forces. Refaat’s poem has had a huge world-wide audience. Rightfully so. Here, now, that poem:


If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze—
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself—
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love
If I must die
let it bring hope
let it be a tale

Refaat Alareer, from his X (Twitter) account, Nov. 1st, 2023

I will remain grateful to the courage of Refaat but what has challenged me is that this poet and friend to many poets outside Gaza had also reached a place of such anger and, dare I say hatred, against Israel for the sufferings of his peoples and family as reflected in comments in X and quotes cited in the The Guardian. But living so far away from what he had lived through how can I judge it? How can I know or understand his obvious agonies?

I am grateful for the Jewish poet, born in the U.S., brought up in Israel, Tal Hever-Chybowski who wrote this poem, translated from the Yiddish by David Forman, this past January.

The Destruction of Gaza

My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west — Yehuda HaLevi

In the midst of horror
comes a moment
when I feel an urge
to pull myself from the community.

Just then a voice inside me speaks:
How can you deny your origin
when the tears on your boy’s cheek
remind you of the Destruction
of the Temple?

When the Destruction of Gaza begins
I find myself in Guernica.
Not metaphorically,
not figuratively,
but actually there
as a tourist,
a new father with his son and his mother,
in an old caravan,44
a mobile home more grounded
than all the countries in the world
at this moment.

On the telephone
my father reminds me
of Abba Kovner’s line:
“A Guernica on every hill.“

He wrote it
in nineteen hundred forty-nine
in response to the first Nakba.

We drive on farther
to the uttermost West –
Finisterra –
“the end of the earth.“

In the caravan, shut tight,
I talk to the Eastern Wall
Shma Yisroel, in Your name
and in mine, they are doing this.

Tal Hevar-Chybowski from Yiddish Forward, January, 2024

I am grateful for this need to witness by the poets above. And the many others crying out within the turmoil of this ever-breaking world. And I hope as we are witness from the deepest part of what makes us human we poets can have a positive impact against the violence ripping so many bodies away from this earth.


  1. Barbara Pelman
    Posted March 18, 2024 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Richard, thanks always for your thoughtful and courageous words, and for stressing the importance of breaking silence. One thing, in your first paragraph: the Partition in 1948 gave Israel to one portion of the British Mandate Palestine, and Palestine to Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Then there was a war. The 8 Arab countries lost. Thus the terrible events to follow. But originally the intent was to partition the area into Israel and Palestine.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted March 19, 2024 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Oh Barb, thank you for your considered remarks. One of the world acknowledged historians on the history of the creation of Israel and subsequent events works at UVic! He wrote ” A little Oxford Book” on the history of the Israel Palestinian conflict.

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