Eyeless in Gaza

A bus stop bomb shelter near Kibbutz Be’eri (Photo: Dita Kohl)

Yadin Roman

From ERETZ magazine – issue no. 187 – December 2023

My mother was an avid fan of Aldous Huxley. A dozen of his novels in hardcover and matching jackets stood on a library shelf in my childhood home. My mother even corresponded with Huxley in the early 1940s. I had never read any of the books; however, one name on the book-backs drew my attention: “Eyeless in Gaza.” I wondered why this English author wrote about Gaza. Eventually, I learned that the book was not about Gaza but about a young English socialite who had lost his way in life. Huxley, who was half-blind in one eye, dwelled a lot on the blindness inflicted on society by the principles of mass production and Pavlovian conditioning. The book’s title was from a verse in the drama “Samson Agonistes,” written by John Milton in 1671. Milton depicts the biblical Samson, the once-mighty warrior, as blinded and a prisoner of the Philistines (“eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves”).

 The same motive appears in a 1991 collection of essays by Shulamit Har-Even. In the title essay, “Blind in Gaza,” Har-Even tells of a visit to a family in the Rimal quarter in Gaza during the Israeli occupation.

Last winter, with my wife, I set out on a trip to Kibbutz Be’eri. It was a spontaneous last-minute decision, and my niece Yarden, who lives on the Kibbutz, was absent. However, we drove along the green fields surrounding the Kibbutz, descended to the “Concrete Road” built by the British in preparation for the Second World War, visited Nakhabir – the original site of Be’eri, and continued to the memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had fought at Gaza during the First World War. The monument is just off the security barrier around Gaza, and I felt slightly uneasy as we climbed the steps to the top of the memorial.

On October 7, my niece, her three-year-old daughter Geffen, and her husband Alon were taken hostage at Be’eri. Five terrorists forced them into a car and sped toward Gaza along the same road we had taken a few months earlier. On the way, an Israeli tank appeared, and the terrorists halted for a minute. Yarden, with Geffen in her arms, and Alon, jumped out of the vehicle and ran. The terrorists opened fire and gave chase. After a few moments, Yarden handed Geffen to Alon. “Run for your life she told him.” Yarden took shelter from the bullets behind a tree and was captured and taken to Gaza. Alon and Geffen managed to escape.

Somehow, the tragedy of that day, with thousands killed and wounded and nearly 250 taken hostage, brought me back to thinking about Samson, eyeless and chained in the Philistine temple in Gaza. Why were we so blind, shorn of our ability and strength?

Huxley’s most famous work, “Brave New World” is an Orwellian dystopian novel. However, the time has come for us to create a different New World. A world that will bring us back to the ideals that were our country’s core: social justice, innovative agriculture, education and science, and a quest for peace.

I hope that we will manage to release all the hostages and overcome the Hamas and Hezbollah. Then, we can finally put ourselves to the difficult task of regaining our vision, rebuilding, and rejuvenating our country with the ideals that gave us our strength.