Last year brought 75th birthday ‘celebrations’ for the NHS, the state of Israel, and for me.

The last British troops left Haifa four days after I almost killed my mother, the home-birth of her second child suddenly a medical emergency, our hospital discharge coming a month before Aneurin Bevin, taking the keys to Park Hospital Manchester from Lancashire County Council, marked the creation of a National Health Service. Neither the troubled institution nor the troubled state – nor me in 2023– having much to celebrate.

Health issues troubling me for much of the year, November and December found me on the sofa, recovering, thanks to the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, from excisions of skin cancers on both leg and face, reading books and keeping up with news of NHS strikes, Israel’s pounding of Gaza, and the Ceasefire marches, in the newspapers.

I had bought Nathan Thrall’s A Day in the Life of Abed Salama before the brutal attack on October 7th brought Israel’s brutal response. Having earlier read a review, the book was on my To Read list – as was Edward Said’s Orientalism. A supporter of Medical Aid for Palestinians for many decades, I’d long been aware of how tough life was under Israeli occupation. But what I and so many other humanitarians could not comprehend, now, was how democratic states in the so-called civilized world – who’d previously let down a people who already had a tenuous grasp on hope – could turn their backs on them now. How the slaughter of men, women and children, the destruction of schools, universities, hospitals, could go on month after month, without the US and UK calling for a ceasefire. How they could sanction the deliberate extermination of a racial, national, religious, or ethnic, group: the definition of genocide in my Chambers dictionary. Albeit the 11th edition. Who know? Perhaps a more recent one makes these actions justifiable?!

Among the quotes on the back of Thrall’s book, the writer and activist Arundhati Roy speaks of . . . the cunning and complex ways in which a state can hammer down a people and yet earn the applause and adulation of the civilised world for its actions.

And, with those fat US-dollar cheques still being signed, it seems the IDF can carry on hammering the people of Gaza into the dust, to dust, as those of us who care for all humanity, wipe our tears and hang our heads in shame.

On December 6th, amongst the many Gazans who died that day was a poet and Professor of English. If I must die was written five weeks before he was murdered (murder according to my Chambers being: to kill deliberately with malice aforethought) may his brave and beautiful words live on . . . and on . . .


If I must die

by Refaat Alareer (1979-2023)

If I must die
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze –
and bid farewell
not even to his flesh
nor even to himself ­–
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying above
and thinks for a moment an angel is here
bringing back love
If I must die
let it bring hope
let it be a tale

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama (Allen Lane/Penguin Books imprint) Nathan Thrall

Don’t Look Left & The Book of Gaza (Comma Press) both by Atef Abu Saif

Medical Aid for Palestinians