Image of tank in Gaza by Yairfridman2003 from WikiMedia Commons

Updated: Scottish poets respond to Israel’s genocide in Gaza

A number of our members and other Scottish poets have written poems in response to the current conflict, and have kindly given permission for them to be shared here. Scottish PEN invites further poetic and literary responses to the poems.

January 10, 2024

A number of our members and other Scottish poets have written poems in response to the current conflict, and have kindly given permission for them to be shared here. Scottish PEN invites further poetic and literary responses to the poems. As always, we reaffirm our commitment to the principles of the PEN International charter:

We pledge ourselves to do our utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.

Devastation: Gaza, Dec. 2023
by Mario Relich

A tall, bearded, dignified man in a white robe
looks at the rubble all around him, almost oblivious
to the sound of explosions not too far away.
He turns to the camera on him, totally helpless,
and stoically explains to the BBC correspondent 
that his little daughter had disappeared under
a collapsing apartment block, now certainly dead,
collateral victim of a war he didn’t start.
His anger is subdued, yet it’s all too easy to see
in him an Old Testament or Koranic patriarch.
Nothing can mitigate his grief, not even
the cat he holds and caresses in his arms.

Land of Olives
by Linda Jackson

The longest genocide in living history
final solution on the borders of Hell.
A terrorist attack means obliteration of the land,
of the people growing olives,
thyme and quiet roses

Framed on all sides by the massive state,
cowered down in leaderless abandon,
ears deafened, eyes dust.
Is anyone willing to help us find water,
food, light and air?
This slaughter can never be the answer
to the half-lives we’ve lived
the brutal way we die.

Mouth filled with concrete,
stones pile above
You have killed me but I am living
the woman cries,
and men use strength they never knew
but can pull no family through the rubble
of this end time

by Jim Mackintosh

and what now the sanctuary
of an ambulance, red crescent 
splinters in dust grey choke-light

the oxygen of innocence
turned off
flatlined in cliff edge despair 

laser precise justification from
a remote conscience lost or
stolen in a darkened room 

stripped to the functions of war
surging in and out of plain sight
to be shaped and manipulated 

into the acceptable accounts 
for general consumption
as if truth was no longer relevant 

the ladder of hope alight – its 
rungs of ash in mediterranean wind
always out of reach of the urgent 

spirals past tanks and drones, out
between bairn-soldiers footsteps
like lost souls in thyme scented sun

by Jim Mackintosh

We only ever hear it from behind dumb glass yet 
the crumple and choke of broken lives cannot be 
ignored by adjusting the volume on the television
as it fills with the hellish gloop of blood and dust.

How’s your life doing? That’s nice. The usual 
chaos of family? Work in the morning, more bills,
no work in the morning then your mobile lights up
and your world crashes, ‘You don’t know me but

we’re bombing your home in two hours. Leave!
Tell all your neighbours – leave now or die soon!’
And the play park where your children laughed,
shared innocence is now a midnight sanctuary

where the breeze off the sea is now a cruel wind
spiralling in bomb dust clouds of destroyed homes
where children’s futures were planned, buried now
under the rubble of collective punishment. Hello!

How’s your life now? That’s nice. Have a nice day!

by Ruth Aylett
Originally published by Culture Matters

They bombed other people’s houses
in Gaza, fish-in-a-barrel
so we sold them some more bombs

agreed that those others
were terrorists
so the world was probably
better off without them
agreed that the planes
had done everything possible
to avoid civilian casualties
and sold them some more bombs

agreed that they had every right
to defend themselves against
fish in barrels
who after all were terrorists,
had only themselves to blame
and we sold them some more bombs

But answer me this
what life must you have lived
to be a terrorist aged eight
or an elderly woman terrorist
aged sixty or a doctor
in the clinic that must have been
hiding terrorists
or they wouldn’t have bombed it
would they?

and tell me how fish in a barrel
can swim away when the bombs fall

Ein Gev 1960, Gaza 2024
by Jenni Daiches

I’ve forgotten his name but remember
the dusk at Ein Gev and drinking mint tea
as he talked of his time in the Foreign Legion.
His gentleness belied his soldiering.

In that place they were all fighters, taught
to expect attack. For the first and last
time I held a weapon, fired at empty cans
on a dry slope lit with almond blossom.
How peaceful it was close to the Galilee shore,
under walls scarred by bullets, as he spoke
calmly of war, as dusk darkened the hills.

How hopeful I was.

She returns, the woman my age, scarred
by captivity. She acted on hope –
still hopeful now? Helpless to halt
the massacre but not silent, never silent.

Long gone, my Legionnaire, but his words linger.

Never silent.

Beneath the Rubble
by Jim Aitken
Originally published by Culture Matters

Beneath the rubble of Gaza
lie the broken bodies of babies, of children,
of their parents and grandparents too
along with the fragments of bomb casings
beneath the rubble of Gaza.

And it is a rubble that is generic
for it brings to mind Stalingrad
and Dresden; it brings to mind
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mosul and Aleppo
and vast swathes of Afghanistan.

Beneath the rubble of Gaza
also lie some unlearned lessons –
the one about rubble begetting more rubble
the other one that peace only comes with justice
beneath the rubble of Gaza.

Uday, One Day
by Jim Aitken
Originally published by Culture Matters

In memory of Uday Abu Mohsen who lived only one day
after being killed during the Siege of Gaza, 2023.

Uday was the baby boy’s name. Uday, it was.
He would have known so little but he would
have known he was someone with being.
He would have been welcomed and loved.

He would have been welcomed with fear
and would have known little of the blast
that ended his one- day old life, mayfly Uday.
Yet he leaves behind much more than a name.

He leaves behind the insanity of surgical strikes,
the criminality of collateral damage, the nonsense
of precision bombing, the lunatic costs – and profits –
of warfare set against the massacre of the innocents.

Uday’s death certificate was bizarrely issued before
any birth certificate arrived and the bombing continued
after his death. But mayfly Uday must be remembered
and not just in Gaza and in Palestine, not just there.

The cry of Uday must be heard in Israel, in Syria, in Iraq,
in Russia and Ukraine, in Yemen, Tigray and Sudan.
Uday’s little whimper should cross oceans, mountains
and plains, teeming cities and deserts, turning louder.

Turning louder all the time so that the whole world
begins to realise that without justice there is no peace;
that only justice can guarantee peace. Uday, one day
peace and justice will reign in your name. Uday, one day.

Ghazal for the Palestinians in Gaza
by Vicki Feaver

They go to bed in shadow,
wake to tread in shadow.

Death hurtles from the sky;
they live with dread in shadow.

Children are kept indoors:
schoolbooks read in shadow.

Where are the men and boys?
Rumours spread in shadow.

A hospital is bombed.
The wounded bleed in shadow.

Food and water are scarce.
Diseases breed in shadow.

No place is safe to shelter.
Soldiers speed through shadow.

Under the rubble of a city
the lost lie dead in shadow.

For help, for home, for peace –
prayers are said in shadow.

Not there but here, secure,
It fills my head with shadow.

Image credit: Yairfridman2003, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons