Heathcote Williams: ‘An Old Man and a Young Man in Gaza’

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

On Saturday evenings KALW, the smaller and less corporate of San Francisco’s two public radio stations, airs a terrific music show called Tangents. The host, Dore Stein, puts together an amazing mélange of world and roots music, blues, jazz, and especially hybrids that combine several of these genres. But what really makes the show unique is “Gaza Corner,” a weekly feature Stein added in June 2010, just after the murderous Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara and the rest of that year’s Gaza Freedom Flotilla: every week at 11 p.m., he reads an article he’s found particularly illuminating about the situation in Israel/Palestine or, in recent years, Syria or elsewhere in the region, followed by some relevant music, usually by a Middle Eastern artist. (He also posts the articles he reads on “Gaza Corner” here.)

For Saturday night’s “Gaza Corner,” while Gaza experienced the heaviest bombardment of the current Israeli onslaught, he read long excerpts from a powerful prose-poem called “An Old Man and a Young Man in Gaza,” by Heathcote Williams, a noted British poet, actor, and playwright. Here’s the poem in full, with illustrations apparently selected by the poet, as it appears here. (The captions under some of the photos are slightly blurred at the original site.)

An Old Man and a Young Man in Gaza

“No man can cause more grief than the one clinging blindly to the vices of his ancestors.”
William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

Gaza 1


An old man holds a placard that reads,

“You take my water, burn my olive trees,
Destroy my house, take my job, steal my land,
Imprison my father, kill my mother,
Bombard my country, starve us all,
Humiliate us all, but I am to blame:
I shot a rocket back.”

Here are some ungodly chants
From the Zionist Book of Psalms
Which are used to justify
Laying waste to a whole country
And to its inhabitants:

“We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages
Destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water”
Eli Yishai, former Deputy Prime Minister.

“There should be no electricity in Gaza,
No gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing…
We need to flatten entire neighborhoods…
Flatten all of Gaza”
Gilad Sharon, Ariel Sharon’s son in the Jerusalem Post.

“There are no innocents in Gaza. Mow them down …
Kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.”
Michael Ben-Ari, an ex-member of the Knesset.

Gaza should be “bombed so hard the population
Has to flee into Egypt”
Israel Katz, a Minister of Transportation.

Gaza should be “wiped clean with bombs”,
Avi Dichter, a Minister of Home Front Defense.

Israeli soldiers must “learn from the Syrians
How to slaughter the enemy”,
The Israeli Rabbi Yaakov Yosef.

Here is Ze’ev Jabotinsky, admirer of Mussolini
And the godfather of Zionist militarism,
Justifying “transferring” the Palestinian people
From their homes in 1940:
“The world has become accustomed to the idea
Of mass migrations and has become fond of them.”

Jabotinsky adds, “Hitler— as odious as he is to us—
Has given this idea a good name in the world.” [1]

It is ironic that Jabotinsky used Hitler
As a precedent for the Palestinians’ “transfer”
Since forcible expulsion
Was among the charges against Adolf Eichmann –
One of the architects of the Nazi Holocaust
Captured in Argentina, and tried and hanged in Israel.

Undeterred, the former chief rabbi,
Mordechai Elyahu, has urged Israel,
Its army and its government
To “employ the Nazi choice”
Against the Palestinians.
To carry out a series of carpet bombings
Of Palestinian population centres in Gaza;
He urges the “indiscriminate killing of civilians”.
On religious grounds.

The Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Schneerson,
A self proclaimed Messiah
Whose followers await his return from the dead,
(As if the Rabbi hadn’t preached
Enough when alive by his making the claim
That his religion heralded a new Master Race) –
Has a devoted and powerful acolyte, Rabbi Manis Friedman,
Who declares that the “only way to fight a moral war”
Is to “destroy the Arabs’ holy sites” and “to kill them.”
To “kill men, women and children”, and to eliminate anyone
Who stands in the way of a Greater Israel.

Friedman embraces Israel’s ruthless colonizing power
With an Old Testament ferocity  –
With what Christopher Hitchens has called,
“The root of religious evil” –
Whereby the Torah can be misused
To mow down men in a mosque
With an automatic rifle,
And such vengeful triumphs
Given a country’s blessing:

Streets in Israeli cities
Are routinely named after armed cuckoos –
Murderous Israeli heroes
Who’ve evicted indigenous birds
From the Palestinian nest,
And then killed them.

The Head of Israeli’s National Defense College,
Professor Arnon Sofer,
Outlines his country’s Defense strategy:
“If we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill.
All day, every day.” [2]


Colonel Yoav Gal, an Israeli Air Force pilot,
Tells Israel’s Army Radio
“I believe that it [Operation Cast Lead]
Should have been even stronger! Dresden! Dresden!
The extermination of a city!
Not even a stone will be thrown at us. Because we’re Jews.
I want the Arabs of Gaza to flee to Egypt.
This is what I want. I want to destroy the city.” [3]


Ethnic cleansing is Israel’s origin
Not peace:
Netanyahu tells students at Bar Ilan University,
“Israel should have exploited the repression
Of the demonstrations in China,
When world attention focused on that country,
To carry out mass expulsions
Among the Arabs of the territories.” [4]

Despondently, the philosopher Martin Buber
Once told a New York audience,
“When we followers of the prophetic Judaism
Returned to Palestine…the majority of Jewish people
Preferred to learn from Hitler rather than from us.” [5]

Enflamed when Palestinians fight back
With increasing desperation
And despite overwhelming odds
To try to regain their ancestral land,
Israelis chant “Death to the Arabs”
“A Jew is a brother, an Arab is a bastard”.

In front of their Arab neighbours,
A song is sung by settlers at Purim
Praising Baruch Goldstein’s massacre
Of 29 Palestinians at prayer during Ramadan:
“Dr. Goldstein, there is none other like you in the world.
Dr. Goldstein, we all love you… he aimed at terrorists’ heads,
Squeezed the trigger hard, and shot bullets,
And shot, and shot.”

At this settler hero’s funeral, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin
Famously claimed that even one million Arabs
Are “not worth a Jewish fingernail”.
Goldstein’s mass murder created suicide bombers –
Some two hundred amongst ten million Palestinians –
Which led to Israel’s land-grabbing apartheid wall.

The Israeli lawmaker, Ayelet Shaked, calls
For the genocide of Palestinians on Facebook
And she advocates “the slaughter of Palestinian mothers
Who give birth to ‘little snakes,’”
“The entire Palestinian people is the enemy.”
She urges their complete destruction,
“including its elderly and its women.”

A Jerusalem city councillor in charge of municipal security, Aryeh King, publicly advocates the murder
And the mutilation of non-Jews:
“I am calling out to all the Pinchases that are here …
Every one of us has a mission …
The Rebbe, who is here with us, expects us to commit acts of Pinchas.”
Pinchas (Phineas in English) in the Torah was so incensed
By interracial (Jewish-Midianite) sex
That he took a sword and plunged it through both bodies
Of a couple in the middle of their lovemaking.
Then with a medieval fervor, Rabbi Noam Perel
Advocates scalping Arabs
By removing their genitalia –
A blood sacrifice to a mad mind-set
Of mystical thuggery. [6]

Two Israeli girls hold up a banner
“Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values!”
Placing the Hebrew word for “Arabs”, ARAVIM,
Into Twitter reveals young Israelis desiring
That Arabs die or be tortured to death.

The US House of Representatives
Votes unanimously to reaffirm its full support for Israel.
US jets duly declare war on Arab children
Whose futures they disintegrate.

In the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis,
Eight members of the Al Haj family
Are killed, including five children.
gaza 2








Four Arab children, fishermens’ children
First cousins from the Bakr family, aged nine to eleven,
Playing football on the Gaza beach in July, 2014,
Are shot dead by an Israeli gunboat.

gaza 3
A 12-year-old boy loses 18 members of his family in an air raid
From US planes including his father, a schoolteacher,
A photograph of Abdul Rahman Al-Batsh
Shows his shoulders slumped against a car.
It’s the moment that he’s discovered
That his father is amongst the dead.

gaza 4







Later Abdul Rahman would say,
“They think we are worth nothing. They are killers,
They have no humanity,
And one day I will avenge my father.”

gaza 5


Israel receives more aid from the US

Than the whole of the continent of Africa
Whilst the US population remains docile.
The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman,
Says that Israel must “go all the way” in Gaza.

gaza 6


Comfortably seated on camp chairs and sofas
Some fifty Israelis gather to eat popcorn
And watch from a Sderot hilltop
As bombs rain down from US-supplied F-16s.
They clap and applaud each deadly blast
From 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs. [7]

gaza 7


“We are here to see Israel destroy Hamas,” Eli Chone,
A 22-year-old American tells Allan Sørensen,
Of Kristeligt Dagblad, pointing to a dot of light in the sky.
“It is a fighter who is about to dive. This means that it is about to shoot.”

gaza 8












The conquerors’ fans draw up their chairs;
Swigging on beers as they tend their barbecue
And watch Gaza burn from their vantage-point
In Sderot (once the Palestinian village of Najd).

Someone points out that Hamas
(Rather than it having been elected)
Is “a death-cult” and Palestinians “enjoy martyrdom”
So “we’re doing the Arabs a favour.”

A lurid cocktail of triumphalist hatred,
Mixed with smoke from burning flesh,
Blinds them to Palestine’s righteous yearning
For self-determination,
Their right in international law;
To be unencumbered by occupation
To be free from being Israel’s penal colony;
Free from being stateless in a brutalized Bantustan –
A colonized people who are jeered at and decried
For their minimal attempts to fight back.

Later that night a bomb would land on a Gaza care home
Filled with elderly patients who cannot move
And with children who are already disabled;
Both are bombed in their wheelchairs or in their beds.

gaza 9








The Rabbi Noam Perel, head of Bnei Akiva 
The world’s largest religious-Zionist youth organization,
Urges on his Facebook page that the IDF,
The Israeli Defense Force be transformed
Into an army of avengers,
“Which will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins”

gaza 10












And, thus incited by a fascistic atavism,
Israeli Jews go on the rampage
Looking to beat any Arab they encounter
To heighten their sense of victory.

gaza 11







On July 2nd, 2014,
A young man in Shuafat, Jerusalem,
Muhammad Abu-Khdeir,
A 16-year old boy with a knowing, elfin smile
Is pulled into a car
And kidnapped in East Jerusalem
While waiting to go into the mosque.

He is tied and beaten;
He has gasoline poured into his mouth
And he is burned alive.

His body is found in the Jerusalem Forest;
Battered in the head
And with soot deposits in the lungs
Suggesting he’s still breathing
When set on fire.
Ninety per cent of his body is burned.

gaza 12


Another victim of Israel’s slow motion genocide –

A holocaust which, this time,
Is being financed and uncritically supported
By ‘the good guys’,
By the internationally ‘great and the good’,
By the craven chorus of the compliant
Who ritually pipe up to defend
Israel’s right to defend itself –
To defend the indefensible,
And to supply the money
The weapons, and the excuses
To enable it to do so.

gaza 13


Israel’s vision of itself was once
As a “light unto the nations”.
It has no need of the fearful hatred,
Fuelling its bombs and its bullets,
Unless it wishes to fade away –
Putting out the light that might enable it
To see the stranger as a friend.


Heathcote Williams

(with grateful acknowledgements to Angela Godfrey-Goldstein)



[1]  Source: Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Metropolitan Books, 1999, p. 407

[2] The Jerusalem Post, 24 May 2004

[3] Broadcast during “Operation Cast Lead”, 11 January 2009

[4] Benyamin Netanyahu, then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, currently Prime Minister of Israel; from the Israeli journalHotam, November 24, 1989:
One night at a dinner party in Jerusalem in 1977, I heard a young Israeli [Netanyahu] talking about the Arabs in terms which chilled my blood. “In the next war, we’ve got to get the Palestinians out of the West Bank for good.” Max Hastings, ‘The paradox of Israel’s pursuit of might: Forty years ago, I was enraptured by Israel’s courageous sense of mission. For me today, as for many, that idealism has palled,’ London: The Guardian, 9 May, 2009

[5] Jewish Newsletter, June 2, 1958:

[6] David Sheen, ‘Israeli calls for Palestinian blood ring at fever pitch’, The Electronic Intifada , 15 July 2014

[7] Robert Mackey, Israelis Watch Bombs Drop on Gaza From Front-Row Seats
New York Times, July 14, 2014

h/t Dore Stein, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, and of course Heathcote Williams

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Thanks for highlighting this, Henry. It’s invaluable.

Thanks for this vision yesterday + today, + always, Henry, and Dore Stein + Angela Godfrey-Goldstein. And to wondrous Heathcote Williams: you’re unforgettably radiant even in bit acting parts, as well as all else. Thank you for everything.

I can’t find anyone around me or with whom I’m in contact who’s even listening. I live in the Tampa Bay area, where the Tampa Bay student was mauled by Israeli border undercover thugs. My own family members have shown little interest, and they are educated and pretty cynical about government.

Thank you.