For the Lost Children
Children in Bethlehem: Photo Credit to SOS Children
With every new week, after the rest of Shabbat, my spirit is quieted and I wait in hope for the new week to unfold. Regularly, I think this week cannot be worse than the one we’ve just passed through. And each week I find myself proven wrong. The new week is like the last, only with more violence, more death, more “military excursions,” more reports of corruption, more terrorism. The world is careening through an escalating cycle of violence, reprisals, random acts of terror and increased military offensives in Europe, the Far East, Africa and, of course, the hotbed of the Middle East where I live and will likely finish my life on the Earth.
I’m bone weary from the constant barrage of journalism that chronicles the daily violence and death in our world seemingly gone mad. The subliminal undercurrent of my consciousness is grief and pain that lie close to the surface, ready in an instant to flood my eyes with tears. Living where I live, Aleppo, Damascus, Alexandria, Cairo, Beirut and Tehran are all less than 500 kilometers away. And then there’s Sanaa, Kabul and Mosul still only a few hours away. From my home, I can be in Palestine in fifteen minutes. How can I be apathetic when children are daily dying from violence in these places that, on the map, are my neighbors? Their lives are so different from mine. I who live in “peace” have chosen to remain aware and disturbed rather than to simply not look, not see, not feel.
The information age hourly inundates, bombards the world with unending statistics of those who have perished, been wounded, been made homeless, are refugees or are displaced. But it’s the dead and wounded children - their rising statistics - that really get to me.
In the first four months of this year, 2017, violence across Afghanistan killed 283 children and wounded 704. This was a 21% increase over last year. These children knew nothing but war. On April 17, 2017, 70 children were killed in Syria. 650 children died in violence in Syria in 2016; from 2011 – 2016, 24,000 children died in the Syrian war. Last week, 10 children, together with 18 adults, were killed in Egypt as the bus they were traveling in was attacked by armed terrorists. These Coptic Christian children were pilgrims on their way to a monastery to worship and pray.
According to the June 1st edition of The Middle East Monitor, more than 3,000 Palestinian children have been killed since September 28, 2000 (when the Second Intifada began) until the end of April 2017. In addition, the Palestinian Ministry of Information said in a report released ahead of Children’s Day, celebrated on April 5, that since the start of the Second Intifada, Israeli forces have injured more than 13,000 children and arrested more than 12,000 others, and Israel continues to hold 300 children in its prisons.
Statistics are difficult to verify but even if these numbers are halved, the figures are staggering. I cannot begin to contemplate the measure of grief and loss that today saturate the Middle East and, indeed, our world. My simple lamentation is not enough to carry the cry to heaven but still I plead for mercy for all the mourners whose weeping cannot cease.
As an elegy for the Egyptian children who lost their lives last week, I wrote the following poem.
Death in Egypt
will the pale moon rise
and shine on blooded sands,
and fresh children’s bones
scattered by desert winds?
Will echoes of their death cries,
flung from the flames
weight the air
with scent of scorched flesh?
Their newly dead dreams
hover in the twilight,
unravel into darkness.