Friday, November 03, 2023



In the midst of a situation so horrendous that most of us cannot bear to look at the images, an eighty-five-year-old Israeli woman who has just been released turns and holds out her hand towards (I am choosing my words carefully here) a member of the organisation that had held her captive.

During a press conference held later Yochevid Lifshiz said she had done so because the man, a paramedic, had treated her kindly and, with others, had attended to her physical needs. She has been criticised for her gesture, but from what I have read since, I gather that the criticism was really directed at the way in which the press conference was handled. Mrs Lifshiz may also have been thinking of her husband, still being held as far as we know, or she may have taken pity on the man's youth. Or perhaps she was simply offering a gesture of humanity in an absurd situation, and I mean “absurd” in the horrific sense.

It has always interested me that in English we talk of a “theatre” of war to denote geographical location and that we also understand the concept of the “theatre of the absurd”. Is there not a connection? Is it not absurd that in the twenty-first century, with the tragedy of World War II still (just) in living memory, we resort to war to attempt to resolve our differences? War – in which the innocent are always hurt. War, in which there are always terrible deeds because war itself is terrible. There has been much talk in recent weeks about the “rules of war” and surely if we can have rules of war, we can have “rules of peace”, rules to which all nations would adhere? Yet we who are fortunate enough, thus far, not to have experienced war in our homelands cannot know what we would do and for the moment we just look at our many screens and wish that it would stop around the world.

My own interest in the theatre of the absurd began with the study of French literature and it is to France that I turn now to bring to your attention an article, about a “theatre of war” from long ago, posted by the BBC on 27th August this year. At the time, the events recounted in it stopped me in my tracks but I certainly did not expect it to seem so relevant just a few weeks later: Near the town of Meymac in Corrèze, central France, a ninety-eight-year-old former Resistance fighter, as the last surviving witness, recently decided to speak out about the mass execution there of German soldiers by the Resistance. This was because a German army division had killed ninety-nine hostages in Tulle and 643 civilians in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in retaliation for a Resistance uprising. (Preparations for D-Day had been underway.) The soldiers were made to dig their own graves and afterwards faced the firing squad bravely. Coins, bullets and other objects dating from the period have been found at what was the execution site but no human remains have yet been located. The Corrèze prefecture and Mayor are determined to find the remains of the soldiers, exhume them and, presumably, bury them in a fitting way. In war, says the Mayor, “You can be on the side of the righteous and still carry out what is morally wrong” and this is the sentence that so impressed me in August. As I have said, all sides carry out terrible deeds in war because war itself is terrible.

Do I have an answer for this? No, and neither do presidents, prime ministers, generals and diplomats who are much more knowledgeable than I am. I can only say that peace must be not only the outcome, but peace must be the way.

Of course, no one can negotiate with a tyrant or a fanatic but sometimes, perhaps, it is possible to offer a gesture of humanity: On October 23rd, an eighty-five-year-old Israeli woman who had just been released turned and held out her hand towards a member of the organisation that had held her captive. That day, she walked in peace.

With thanks, as always, to Mimi Lenox, who inspires us all to blog for peace.


Sherry Blue Sky said...

I love the idea of rules for peace. That is what we need - globally. I think of Valarie Kaur's See No Stranger - urging us to see no stranger, no "Other", only "Us." I love the story you relate about the elderly woman - she was living seeing no other - just a human, as caught in the situation as she was. Sigh. Thank you for your post.

Mimi Lenox said...

Pat, I wondered about the gesture when I saw it and thought that perhaps it was in deference to a kindness, also, knowing her husband was still captive. It startled me when I saw it on the news. She did, indeed, walk free in peace.

Thank you for explaining and researching so much in this post. I learned much!
I like the concept of "rules of peace."
Oh, the horrors of war. Your historical descriptions are vivid and sobering.

I will direct others to come and read. It's a wonderful post and perspective on our times.

Peace to you and yours always,

Tink said...

I've seen that woman holding her hand out to the enemy. A very powerful moment.
Peace to you!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Thank you for this moving post. I so agree with you, about gestures of humanity, and about actions justified in war that are morally wrong. A thought-provoking post. Thank you.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Sherry Blue Sky. Yes, you are right - she saw no "other". This is the key. Hi, Mimi. Thank you for your kind words. That moment when she turned back made me cry. I do hope her husband is alive and will be released. Thank you for all that you do. Hi, Tink. Yes, an amazing moment. Peace to you, too.

Sean Jeating said...

Kudos, Signora Limoncello. A fine piece of (positive) humanity.
The peace of the night.


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