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Introduction: Steve Hogarth's note in the Sounds That Can't Be Made booklet:
"This is a song for the people - especially the children - of Gaza. It was written after many conversations with ordinary Palestinians living in the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank. I spoke also to Israelis, to N.G.O workers, to a diplomat unofficially working in Jerusalem, and took their perspectives into account whilst writing the lyric.

"It is not my/our intention to smear the Jewish faith or people - we know many Jews are deeply critical of the current situation - and nothing here is intended to show sympathy for acts of violence, whatever the motivation, but simply to ponder upon where desperation inevitably leads.

"Many Gazan children are now the grandchildren of Palestinians BORN in the refugee camps - so called "temporary" shelters. Temporary for over 50 years now...

"Gaza is today, effectively, a city imprisoned without trial. We ask you to add your voice to those already campaigning and lobbying for a peaceful and urgent resolution to this desperately unfair situation.

"Please check out the "Hoping" foundation ( which provides facilities and materials for Palestinian children enabling them to play, to learn, and to express themselves through art, music, and the performing arts.

"Help if you can. To dream, might not after all, be just a dream.

h (September 2012)"
H also discussed the lyric extensively in Chapter 42 of his Corona Diaries podcast.

Editor's Note: No one can attempt to write about Gaza and be unaware that it is a topic of great sensitivity. In writing what follows, I have attempted to be as neutral as possible, but it is clear from comments submitted that not everyone agrees with how I have attempted to convey the situation. I do not pretend to be an expert and therefore I would strongly recommend that anyone with an interest should do their own reading into the situation and arrive at their own conclusions.

All comments posted on this website are moderated. I do not approve comments that do not restrict themselves to a discussion of the song.

The Gaza strip is a region of Palestine 360 km2 (139 sq miles) in area. It is 51 km (32 mi) in length along its border with Israel to the east and 11 km (6.8 mi) along its border with Egypt to the south. Together with the West Bank, it makes up the disputed modern state of Palestine.

The history of modern Palestine is complicated, rooted back into the late Ottoman period. In response to increasing anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, Jews began migrating back into the Eastern Mediterranean region then known as southern Syria, then under the control of the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the 19th century, Jewish settlers, including many fleeing a hostile Russia and attracted by the emerging sense of Jewish national identity, had created sizable settlements and institutions in what is now modern Israel.

In World War 1, the majority of these Jews supported Germany since it opposed their enemy, Russia. The British, however, made overtures to the Middle Eastern Jewish community in order to help secure the support of the US Jewish lobby for a US entry into the war. They also (incorrectly) believed that the nascent Jewish state had power over the Germany-allied Ottoman empire that had invaded British-controlled Egypt in order to try and capture the strategically-important Suez Canal. In 1917, the British made a public statement of their commitment to a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Balfour Declaration. In the post-war carve up of the Ottoman Empire by the French and the British, the British ensured that Palestine fell under its control.

In 1920, Gaza became part of the British Mandate of Palestine. Bolstered by the Balfour Agreement, many more Jews started to arrive in the region and settle. Despite their increasing numbers, the Arabs still vastly outnumbered the Jews and were increasingly unhappy with Britain’s refusal to allow majority rule due to the commitment to a Jewish homeland. The arrival of nearly 40,000 Jews fleeing the rise of Nazism brought tensions to breaking point. Anti-Jewish riots by the Arabs in late 1933 were suppressed by the British. The rising tensions with the Jews, further fueled by Nazi propaganda eventually resulted in a three year Arab uprising commencing in 1936. Initially mainly political in nature, the uprising soon became violent, targeting British forces and being suppressed by force and collective punishment. The effect of the uprising would have serious consequences, with the emergence of the first Zionist paramilitary and intelligence organisations being directly attributable to the uprising. It also saw the exile of the main Arab leader of the time, 14,000 Arabs injured and 5,000 dead. Several hundred Jews were killed. Most pertinently, it resulted in the creation of the first exclusively Jewish region in Galilee.

During the period of the uprising, the number of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe became so large that no country was prepared to accept them, and the British, wary of inflaming the Arabs further, refused further Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The effect of the Second World War and the Holocaust was that 95% of surviving European Jews expressed a desire to move to Palestine. Britain, near bankrupted by the war, was dependent on Arab oil and the new Labour government was politically unwilling to commit to a Jewish state despite its support for the policy for many years. It maintained the zero immigration position of the immediate pre-war years, causing the Zionists, who had supported Britain during WWII, to engage in guerrilla war against the British and to encourage illegal immigration.

An escalation of tensions, particularly in the face of further European pogroms, culminated in the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, the headquarters of the British Military, with the loss of 92 lives. The British response to the situation, which included the questioning of 120,000 people, 20% of the Jewish population in Palestine, was strongly criticised by the US, which delayed the payment of war loans. Britain referred the problem to the newly-formed United Nations and proposed to end its mandate and control of the region. The UN proposed and approved (though rejected by all Arab members) a two state system, with the disputed city of Jerusalem administered by an international trustee system. Britain was also required to allow Jewish immigration, but concerned for its relationships with the oil-producing Arab nations, it failed to implement the recommendations, allowing the mandate to expire. In the run up to the expiration of the mandate, it became clear that the Jewish authorities had designs on the Transjordan region and the Negev.

After the expiration of the mandate, tensions between the Arabs and the Jews was high. The Palestinians anticipated that the Jews would attempt consolidation of their territory and brought in outside assistance to resist. Despite early gains by the Arabs, the Jews eventually gained the upper hand, gaining significant territory from the Arabs, who became refugees. In May 1948, the State of Israel was declared.

The new state was immediately recognised by America and Russia. The Arab League of Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq launched an attack on Israel, starting the first Arab-Israeli war. Again, initial gains were by the Arab forces, but gradually, swelled by increasing number of new arrivals from Europe, many of whom were WWII veterans, and arms supplied despite an international ban, the Israeli forces succeeded in defeating the nations against them and eventually signed armistice agreements.

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Gaza was administered by Egypt until it was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967 and was placed under Israeli military command. In the late 1980s, the First Intifada occurred, an uprising in response to a series of escalating incidents involving the oppression and death of Palestinians (in total, over the four years of the Intifada, the Israeli Defense Forces killed an estimated 1,162-1,204 Palestinians, while Palestinians killed 100 Israeli civilians and 60 IDF personnel and injured more than 1,400 Israeli civilians and 1,700 soldiers. Non-fatal Palestinian casualties are difficult to calculate for sure, but Save the Children, estimated 7% of all Palestinians under 18 years of age suffered injuries from shootings, beatings, or tear gas during the first two years of the conflict.

The Oslo Peace Accord was signed in 1993 and accordingly, in the late 1990s, Israel transferred responsibility for security and civilian administration to the Palestinian Authority for Palestinian areas in Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat was marred by corruption allegations.

There are many significant factors that contribute to the instability in the region. Arguably the single most inflammatory factor is the status of Jerusalem, particularly the Temple Mount, regarded as an important religious shrine for both Jews and Muslims. The Mount is controlled as a religious site by the Palestinians but the area is Israeli. A right to free worship is maintained by both sides. A provocative visit by the Israeli premier Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in September 2000 resulted in stone-throwing Palestinians attacking the police and being repulsed by tear gas and rubber bullets leading to the Second Intifada, which was characterised by atrocities by both sides. A particular feature in the later period of the Second Intifada was the use of suicide bombers against Israeli civilians.

A 'road map for peace' drawn up by the US, EU, UN and Russia was presented in 2003. It proposed a full peace settlement could be in place by 2005, with two states Israel and a democratic Palestine. The death of long term Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004 was followed by the election of Fatah leader, Mamoud Abbas, as the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlers and soldiers within the Gaza Strip, although it continued to control access, airspace and borders.

The subsequent election saw the more militant HAMAS in Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, but unable to form a government in partnership with Fateh, leading to internal tensions with violent clashes between the two sides. HAMAS has remained in control of Gaza and Fateh in control of the West Bank ever since. In 2014, a significant conflict broke out after the kidnap and murder of three Israeli youths by HAMAS. The resulting conflict left over 2,000 Palestinians dead, a quarter of them children. More than five times as many were wounded, and nearly half a million were displaced. 66 Israeli soldiers, 5 Israeli civilians (including one child) and one Thai civilian were killed and over 450 IDF soldiers and 261 Israeli civilians were injured.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It has the 13th highest population growth rate in the world (2014 figures) and a median age of just 18 years. Together with the West Bank, it has the 16th highest unemployment rate in the world, largely as a result of Israeli restrictions on movement and trade imposed.

Of the 1,816,379 (July 2014 est.) population, 1.2 million are recognised as refugees by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). UNRWA defines refugees as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict".

'Outside the pitiless sun bleaches the broken streets'
Rosalinde pointed out that the phrase 'Pitiless sun' is from the 1919 poem The Second Coming by WB Yeats. It can be found in his 1920 collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer (as can Easter 1916).

'You ask for trouble if you stray too close to the wall'

Picture Credit: Lora Lucero
The Israel-Gaza barrier is a border barrier built by Israel in stages from 1994-2005. Originally designed to cover the area between the Gaza Strip and Israel, later extensions covered the border between Gaza and Egypt. The majority of the crossing points are for cargo. Only one point, located in the north of the Strip, allows for the movement of people. In theory it is capable of handling 45,000 people daily, though it normally handles about one percent of that.

The wall is, for the most part, actually a substantial fence, made of wire. There are wide buffer zones either side of the fence and Israel maintains a series of manned posts and sensors to prevent anyone crossing at unauthorised points.

Israelis regard the barrier as a security to stop the movement of arms into the territory and to control the movement of people to prevent security incidents, citing its success in preventing suicide bombers getting into Israel. Palestinians regard it as a blockade on trade and free movement.

There is an actual solid wall constructed around the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank, frequently encroaching on the internationally-agreed border between the two regions.

'For every rocket fired the drones come back'

Israeli forces have used Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, drones) for reconnaissance and attack in the Gaza strip for many years – back as far as the 1970s - although there is no official acknowledgement that they have been deployed.

Drones with attack capabilities are frequently used for targeted assassinations or 'roof knocking' (a small explosion is made on the roof of a building intended for demolition. The knock is supposed to give inhabitants the time to get out of the building).

Many observers have declared the near constant buzzing of drones is designed to cause a permanent state of heightened tension. Many youngsters have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a consequence of the drones.

For further information, Drone Wars UK has an excellent summary of Israeli use of drones.

'For thirteen years the roads have all been closed'
The Gaza strip had been blockaded continuously since 2007, after Hamas came to power, along with the imposition of sanctions by Israel and the Quartet countries (US, EU, UN and Russia). The Quartet refused to provide aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority with the exception of some emergency humanitarian aid. Israel restricted movement within the Palestinian territories and of goods moving in and out, and withholding of tax revenues collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority. Egypt also supported the blockade, stating that to not do so would grant legitimacy to Hamas and undermine the supposedly united Palestinian National Authority.

The conditions for the lifting of sanctions were:
  • Renunciation of violence.
  • Recognition of Israel by the Hamas government (as the PLO had done).
  • Acceptance of previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
Some lifting of restrictions occurred in 2010, but many of the restrictions placed by Israel have been criticised by the international community as representing collective punishment and a significant cause of Gaza’s humanitarian situation.

'They build houses on our farms'
For many years, the Israeli state pursued a policy of allowing armed settlers to build settlements on land that belonged to Palestinians. The settlements are held to be illegal by the international community. Settlements in Gaza stopped in 2005 after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the region. It still maintains settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

'I had no idea what martyrdom meant Until my older brother...'
Some Islamist teachings say that those that die in the pursuit of jihad (a word which properly understood has a much wider connotation than just the common Western association with violence) will become martyrs and receive entry to paradise. The families of those that die will receive money and will also be promised guaranteed entry to heaven upon death.

'You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind, it is said'
Originally from the Old Testament book of Hosea, 8:7: "they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind".

This line refers to an Israel that had defied Jehovah's commandments and which was idolatrous. It essentially says that that if you sow your grain in the air, you bear responsibility for the resultant lack of crops.

'It's like a nightmare rose up slouching towards Bethlehem'
This line is also derived from Yeats' The Second Coming. Using imagery drawn from the Bible in respect of the Apocalypse and the second coming of Christ, it is an allegory about the atmosphere of post-Great War Europe. The poem concludes with the stanza in question, which proposes that the age that arose with the birth of Christ is coming to an end and a new, more terrifying age is rising up to replace it:
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
'from this small strip of land'
The Gaza strip is a region of Palestine 360 km2 (139 sq miles) in area. It is 51 km (32 mi) in length along its border with Israel to the east, and 11 km (6.8 mi) along its border with Egypt to the south.

Song Listing:

The entire album listing is included for completeness, but only song with a link have explanations.

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MSH SfaJT Fugazi MC CaS
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  1. Thanks for your explanations and helpful background information on Gaza, Fraser. Would it be an idea to have the lyrics printed on the same page as the explanation? Regarding Gaza, the phrase "pitiless sun", which is unusual enough, can also be found in Yeats's The Second Coming. Take care.

    1. Thank you for the additional info, Rosalinde; I will include that on the page. If you'd like me to include your surname, please let me know.

      I've not included the lyrics in full as I don't have permission to do so, although I've never formally asked. Perhaps I'll run that past Lucy.


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