“Life and death are the same”

Funeral in Gaza Strip on Sunday. (photo: Ibraheem abu Mustafa / Reuters)

What Gazans are saying about the latest round of violence with Israel.

By Jack Khoury | Haaretz | May 30, 2018


“There is no joie de vivre, no joy during Ramadan. People have no incomes, no food, no medicine. The sense is that the world has forgotten about the Gaza Strip and its people. Life and death are the same side of the coin for a lot of people. I hear people say that explicitly.”
— Samir Zaqut, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza


The feeling among people in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday night swung between despair and indifference, beyond the desire for revenge or fear of Israel’s reaction. “The feeling is that there’s nothing to lose,” a Hamas activist wrote. “So maybe war will change something in the miserable reality of the Strip. People are prepared to take another blow if war or conflict will lead to change.”

Calls to take action against Israel intensified with the dozens of deaths in recent weeks; every neighborhood and perhaps every street has known a death, or somebody badly injured, the activist said — and at the same time, the humanitarian situation has not been improving.

“The reasons are legion but death is the same death,” said Samir Zaqut of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, quoting an Arab saying. “I have been living continuously in the Strip since 1998, and we’re in Ramadan, and this is the first time I see the despair everywhere, in every corner,” said Zaqut, who has been monitoring social media. . . .

Continue reading ““Life and death are the same””

On Optimism and Despair

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015. (photo: Pete Souza / White House)

A talk given in Berlin on November 10 on receiving the 2016 Welt Literature Prize.

By Zadie Smith / The New York Review of Books
December 22, 2016


At this moment, all over the world — and most recently in America — the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along.


First I would like to acknowledge the absurdity of my position. Accepting a literary prize is perhaps always a little absurd, but in times like these not only the recipient but also the giver feels some sheepishness about the enterprise. But here we are. President Trump rises in the west, a united Europe drops below the horizon on the other side of the ocean — but here we still are, giving a literary prize, receiving one. So many more important things were rendered absurd by the events of November 8 that I hesitate to include my own writing in the list, and only mention it now because the most frequent question I’m asked about my work these days seems to me to have some bearing on the situation at hand.

The question is: “In your earlier novels you sounded so optimistic, but now your books are tinged with despair. Is this fair to say?” It is a question usually posed in a tone of sly eagerness — you will recognize this tone if you’ve ever heard a child ask permission to do something she has in fact already done.

Sometimes it is put far more explicitly, like so: “You were such a champion of ‘multiculturalism.’ Can you admit now that it has failed?” When I hear these questions I am reminded that to have grown up in a homogeneous culture in a corner of rural England, say, or France, or Poland, during the 1970’s, 1980’s, or 1990’s, is to think of oneself as having been simply alive in the world, untroubled by history, whereas to have been raised in London during the same period, with, say, Pakistani Muslims in the house next door, Indian Hindus downstairs, and Latvian Jews across the street, is thought of, by others, as evidence of a specific historical social experiment, now discredited.

Continue reading “On Optimism and Despair”