We were the first to commit these acts.—David Ben-Gurion

Let me start from the beginning:
Each one of us is responsible for our own actions,
not our parents no matter how abusive or evil,
not our teachers who may have bullied and insulted,
not our peers who showed us a code of behavior we knew to be wrong.
I was following orders is not an excuse.

I will tell you my story:

Around the time Jews had already settled in Palestine (and many other places), perhaps near the time of the grand Roman census or centuries later, a man was about to be put to death. The rabbi who was also the executioner asked if he had any last words. He nodded his head toward the sea of onlookers. I’d like to whisper something to my mother, he said. She’s out there in the second row. His mother was escorted to the platform and bent her ear to hear what her son had to say. He bit it off. The rabbi aghast looked first to the mother holding her hand to her head to stop the flow of blood and then to her son who spit out the ear and calmly rubbed it into the wooden platform. Why did you do that? The rabbi almost screamed. Calmly the man answered, Since I was a small child, my mother taught me only to do evil. This is why I am here today. The rabbi ran his fingers through his beard. No, he said, that’s not why. In your life journey, you met many honest and good people and you—not because of your mother—chose to ignore what they had to offer. Then the rabbi pulled the lever and the man went to his death.


I thought we better than this,
the Holocaust wet paint over fresh plaster,
the bloody fluids cleansed, debris and bone raked away.
Then I read a passage in Carolyn Forche’s book,
Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, and everything I knew,
believed I knew, believed in, believed about me,
my people’s history, scattered like the flight of pigeons before a hawk.
You try to ignore it, but a scab does not form nor a scar,
just an everyday breaking of flesh, a reopening of wounds.
There are not enough stitches in the world to keep all of it intact—
so you give in (I gave in) and the pursuit to truth begins:


I am human first, Judaism my religion—
not my ethnicity, my skin color, my nationality.
I never saw myself a Zionist, but I was proud of Israel,
her history my history, a piece of my identity,
a rendering of facts, the rule of Torah.
You sleep and when you wake, there is power to a myth.


To the victor goes the writing of history,
the rewriting, even a creation of fiction.
1948: The famous Israeli War of Independence
and truths associated with it covered up.
What did happen to the Palestinian people?
The indigenous people? How did their villages vanish?
Were they destroyed in fire and bomb or simply
stolen from them and made a gift to someone else?


There are always “ifs” in a rendering of history
and many sides to the same tale, even the same fiction.
The atrocities of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict—
The Nakba—have been documented, photographed,
displayed and archived—and still
the great myth of Israel’s beginnings persist--


It has been said that there were cases of rape in Ramile. I could forgive acts of rape, but I won’t forgive other deeds, which appear to me to be much graver. When a town is entered and rings are forcibly removed from fingers and jewelry from necks—this is a much graver matter. —Aharon Zisling, Agricultural Minister to the Israeli Cabinet, July 21, 1948

To begin with, utensils and furniture, and in the end, bodies of men, women and children.
—a witness

What is worse, Aharon Zisling,
the looting of a town or a forced march into dust,
the heat and the weight of what is owned
a double burden, and then the third,
grandfather down, grandmother unable to continue,
the substance of child so heavy
the sand, the birds, all of the maggots
home? What can you do, Aharon Zisling,
you who rant against Pogroms,
you who believe the Exile of Israel,
you who spoke against criminal and thief?
I thought we better than this,
Aharon Zisling, not even enough saliva left
to bathe the stone in the mouth of those too weak
to go on. The heat, lack of shade, scream of guns.
I thought we better than this, Aharon Zisling.
This one here, she is fourteen,
her legs not strong to go on,
and this one, almost ninety,
no one strong enough to carry either one,
Aharon Zisling, you who condone rape,
you who condone murder,
you who condone the breaking of the tablets.


When I returned to the village the following morning with an order to send the villagers away (the villagers had surrendered a day earlier and begged to be able to remain in their homes), I found out that while I was away, two of the troop’s officers had killed all of the captives who were in the house (the men of Hule were detained in a large house) with a sub-machine gun, and then had blown up the house on top of them to be their grave.—Dov Yirmiya

There is a reward for murder,
for the surprise burst of everything into hearts and souls of men,
a prize of value for the seeking of revenge.
At the falling of the dead, men saw wings of glory,
and others fresh picked olives,
cinnamon and curry. Murder is blood,
the thick paste of smoke, a litter of limbs.
The murderers walked away, Aharon Zisling.
I thought we better than this.


I hold the key to my home, Aharon Zisling,
safe in a pocket.
When they forced me from home,
I kept it.
When they searched me, Aharon Zisling,
they did not find it.
Yes, someone else lives in my house,
strangers who do not welcome me,
strangers who never met me,
strangers who carry with them the myth of ownership,
the house I built with my hands,
cool in the heart of day,
warm as woman’s breath in the night.
I have memories,
but I am now old, Aharon Zisling,
and all I have to pass on
is this key, my key,
to the lock of my home
stolen from me.



The last gash of light
came with the ratchet of a single gunshot
and the baby’s head broke to the side.
Before her mother could react,
a second bullet tore away her cry.

Mother and infant, a chair,
the sigh of blood against wallboard and glass,
a disarray of flesh and matter.
Because it had been ordered, Aharon Zisling,
no one was punished.


The man in the uniform came into this world with one purpose:
to cause pain.
The infant also had one purpose:
to know its consequence.
Soldier and infant complimented one another—
murderer and the one to be murdered.
But what was the mother’s purpose in this transaction?
She made the introductions.


There are people visiting this world who came here to die.
These are the angels of our lives.



The white flag is not colored red for a purpose
nor is the red cross of the Red Cross two black lines
or the rip of bone near the heart an explosion of halos and wings.

The lemon ice on the waffle cone fell to the cobblestones
joining the pools of blood and debris, and one white flag
no longer white, but speckled now—no, splotched—

like a nose bleed on a clean white shirt, on a pair of new shorts.


In this field we played
moving small pebbles into shallow holes
one piece, two, three at a time
across what is now blood mud, Aharon Zisling,
the last memory of my mother.


The flesh and wood effect,
a lack of bone—
roof and walls,
a Jericho revisited.
A home stolen
is a home stolen
and a ring from a finger
still attached to a hand
is a ring stolen.
Perhaps there is a difference,
Aharon Zisling,
when the house has been vacated,
when the finger is no longer
attached to a hand,
when the rapist is of your army
and the girl not one of your own.

PART 2:  HOW THE WESTERN WALL BECAME THE WAILING WALL (Keep reading if you can, Aharon Zisling)


How do you question
one so young sobbing against brick
and mortar, blood licking
their skin, the scent of gunpowder
and bone fragments in the dust
on their hands and faces.
Have you ever looked in the eye
of the dead who go on living?


So let me create a refrain:

They dumped the children
before the western wall
and that is how it got its name.

Slip a piece of paper
in the wall for me
for each of the children.


We talk about everything I don't want to talk about, and that is enough.
Quiet sings from beyond widowed walls
and earth does expose children gone to pieces.
It's just that machine-guns really are that loud
and there really is intrinsic value to pain.
My daughter asks if blood washes vegetation,
if words can come from soil when it rains.
I'm afraid I do not know if I will ever understand the answer.


You told me graveyards are that loud
and you were right. Noise skittles over crab grass
and dandelion greens, over locust stone and devil’s claw
thick with spikes and wooden lures bloody for light.
Passageways of water flow beneath them,
and the voices flow with them gray and waterproof,
overcast and significantly silent. We are a people
of mourners. Hire us. We cry on cue.
like vultures at the edge of the Sinai frontier,
like elephants leaving their path to caress
the bones of a sister. We can scream like war planes,
rend our clothing into scars, draw tattoos of death
exactly as a battle begins. Remember it was us
who fire bombed the cafes of Jaffa
and it was us who people bombed
the villages near Jerusalem.
We are one hundred sixty pounds of manure,
blood, gravel, fog–not enough
to cover all of the newly dead, but enough
to ensure there will never be silence in the graveyard.


Time is not of essence here
emptying body bags near the ocean.
sand heavy with waste,
mud and water feeling for bone.

There is quiet now,
the quiet of sunset,
the quiet of sunrise,
the quiet of dance-
dance without sound.

Fog covers holes gaping at stars,
settles the last of the rot in the jungle,
forces emergency planes away.

There is one image I will never let go:

the man builds a casket
for his shattered wife
and holds her as if
he is slow dancing with her
one last waltz.


Because an Israeli squad threw a bomb into a crowd of laborers waiting for a bus, Arab workers inside a refinery murdered Jewish workers. Because Arab workers inside the refinery murdered Jewish workers, Israeli officials ordered the attack on a nearby village with the order to kill as many men as possible. Because the Israelis did not know all of the Arab attackers in the refinery assault, they ordered five men at random—or were there more?—from their homes to be executed..
Because the British handed a group of soldiers over to angry villagers, a train transporting British troops was bombed.
Because two Israeli soldiers were found decapitated, fifty unarmed men were machine-gunned to their death.
Because Bernadotte on a United Nations mission wanted peace, he was assassinated by Israeli terrorists.
Because Arabs attacked Jews, Jewish extremists threw bombs into Arab crowds.
Because of perceived threats, women and children died.
Because of an attack in one area, fire bombs were thrown into another.
Because of the King David Hotel.
Because of a shooting on a bus.
Because of a thrown rock.
Because of a curse.
Because of a shaking of a fist.
Because of a fear.
The Christian village of Biram.
Deir Yasin.
One hundred villages.
Two hundred.
Four hundred fifty.
A mother and her baby.
Terrorism begets terrorism.
We were the first, said Ben-Gurion, the leader of new Israel. The Jews were the first.
Terrorists beget terrorists.
Tit for tat.
Today’s terrorist learned everything from the best, their Israeli mentors.



Too many bullets, Deir Yasin, have nothing to do with a broken guitar string,
a crack in the handle,
the snap of bone in hands no longer capable of lifting a pick.
We did not pull the triggers,
but we were there,
five thousand, ten thousand, miles away,
each bullet,
each vote,
each piece of apathy.

The first hundred bullets the too bright sun when you step outside the theater,
the second hundred
cauliflower trees and an Antigua sky.

How do you silence a man? Three hundred bullets? Four?

Five hundred bullets tore away the chords,
Six hundred, harmony,
seven hundred, eight.

Can you break a wrist with butter?
Cross your arms over your chest to keep blemishes inside?
Seek the embryo inside the acorn?

The voice no longer carries fire,
the acoustic guitar, nine hundred bullets, crushed to the side
and the light it used to help you carry in the palm of your hands,
a thousand bullets, too dim to engage the shadows.
eleven hundred bullets, twelve and thirteen.


Then there is a wonderful silence
and a great richness in smoke.

The mind fills itself with apple slices, fourteen hundred bullets,
cinnamon and curry, fifteen hundred,
ripe pears and huckleberry juice, sixteen hundred,
and the color of leaves,
the color of wool,
the color of snow, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, dripping down to the valley.

The soldiers cannot stop themselves
glazed with blood and flesh, their hearts and eyes wide open.

Two thousand bullets.
Twenty-one hundred.
On and on like rain.


At the Inquisition men said they saw rainbows.


The songs that once were,
the way they sang to the skin,
melodies of good health and good times,
knowledge, self-esteem,
twenty-six hundred bullets.

This is not our life.


This is not our time.


The songs no longer know lovemaking.


Passion is in blood
and blood is everywhere.

Three thousand.


We were complicit.
I do not know if they could bury all of the dead in Safsaf.
I do not know if they did.
The soldiers were ordered to do a job and they did it.

Thirty-one hundred.

Gunpowder and fog, thick and grand, the noise, thirty-five,
cracks in the bones, thirty-six, tears in flesh, thirty-seven,
concrete and cell blocks, thirty-eight,
the bars vibrating, thirty-nine, with the singing of gunfire.

Four thousand.
Forty-one hundred.


Your heart is one, perhaps two, bullets strong.

Forty-three hundred.

One times two bullets can kill a man.

Forty-four hundred.

Inspiration is five by nine hundred bullets strong.

The military did its job and did it well.
We left it alone in our bedrooms watching late night television.
Someone else cleaned the oil cloth covering the concrete.
Someone else repaired the walls.
Someone else hummed the tune
and gave it to another who passed it on.
Forty-four hundred bullets cannot kill a spirit.

Forty-four hundred bullets,
a broken guitar,
the first steps of spring,
the smell of cooked chicken.

Five times nine hundred bullets are needed to kill all of the village of Hule.
They were one hundred short.


You bundle your words into growls
and pitch them against the scars of others.
Aren't you the grand one able to build
bonfires and lightning storms and one time
a great tornado. It is no wonder
plagues move away from you, history
repeats itself.

Listen to how you walk, my child,
words have nations behind them,
a cruelty that comes of guns and roses.
Listen to when you run, my child,
words are warlords, thick walls spiked into soil,
hard rock, cavities.

You hold a mustard gas strength,
a calcium storm, an ability to break breath,
but someone will end the horror, remove the fracture,
and, yes, child, let your words scamper like light
in soft drizzle, like light in translucent clouds,
like the butterfly awakening on the leaf,
the wind still, its cocoon empty,
every anger in voice someplace else.


  1. Camel Saloon--This took guts to publish. Wait until the Palestinians get ahold of these poems. There is a power in them that cannot be denied.


  2. It has been a long, long time since I have read anything that moved me so much.
    There is truth after truth... The poetry deserves comment, accolades, appreciation...
    and I bow to it with a huge respect for your mastery of the art and craft of poetry,


    it was the truths that dizzied me. Because Of, is a great eye opener as to how we think
    But the greatest truth of all is:


    Because we were not better than this.

    That is the answer.
    When we quit blaming others and start wearing the yoke of blame, there is hope we can accomplish
    something that will make the world better.
    To kill because someone else has killed is still the way of the world, and it will never lead to peace.
    I think of going through the 'Shoe Museum' and how the bitterness welled up in my mouth, and I don't know
    how we are ever going to outgrow the accumulated pain of centuries. Pieces like this are such a giant step forward.

  3. A response to my friend, the author, on FIRESTORM:

    Dear Michael,

    Why would you think I might dislike Firestorm?

    Because of the indictment of Jews? the defense of Palestinians?

    Do you think I believe the Israelis incapable of wrongdoing -- massive, even heinous wrongdoing?


    Your words, and the way you turn them, choose them, draw them, have a way of evoking emotion with substance -- feeling with fact. (I can't describe this well. You could.)

    War is a hell I've never known -- only read, heard (and once dreamt) about.

    I could tell you of things dredged up while reading Firestorm -- old memories and old dreams -- but will spare you that.

    Your writings have a tendency to do that. Maybe much of it is me being too focused on me.

    One thing I know and cannot equivocate about -- the Jews, the sons of Israel, are the apple of God's eye. ("For thus saith the Lord of hosts: After the glory he hath sent me to the nations that have robbed you: for he that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of my eye:" Zechariah 2:8 DR) Not guiltless (no one, no group, no nation is).

    God Himself, incarnate in Christ Jesus, came to the Jews first, as a Jew.

    I cannot completely explain or defend war, or especially the inevitable awful terrifying excesses that come with it, and won't try to.

    So -- what were you trying to do? Can you tell me? Were you successful? or can you know yet?

    Are you distressed about many things? or just a few? or about anything? Your poetry often shows a deepseated grieving. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. You are not the first "man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3)


  4. Israel and Gaza are now at war--but what if the individuals--and/or nations--read this first--a brilliant poem of why we are seeing a five-six decade war. Bravo Michael H. Brownstein and bravo Russell of Books on Blogs---


    On April 9, 1948, one hundred to two hundred fifty villagers (depending on the source)—men, women and children—were massacred in Deir Yasin by the Irggun led my Menachem Begin (who later became Israel’s sixth prime minister).
    Fifty-three orphaned children were dumped at the wall of the old city and abandoned.

    When Golda Meir visited Abdullah, the King of Jordan, shortly after the massacre, instead of coming out of the meeting with the agreement of peace they had previously forged, she discovered the king could no longer commit to anything but war—due to Deir Yasin. He told her because of the massacre, the situation had changed and now his hands were tied.

    Israeli officials apologized for the massacre sending a personal envoy to Jordan. Later these same officials organized Plan D and used the massacre as a rallying point ordering their soldiers to enter village after village crying: “Remember Deir Yassin!”

    In the history of “ifs,” there might never have been a greater war between the Arab nations and Israel if Deir Yassin had not occurred.



    How do you question
    one so young sobbing against brick
    and mortar, blood licking
    their skin, the scent of gunpowder
    and bone fragments in the dust
    on their hands and faces.
    Have you ever looked in the eye
    of the dead who go on living?


    So let me create a refrain:

    They dumped the children
    before the western wall
    and that is how it got its name.

    Slip a piece of paper
    in the wall for me
    for each of the children.

  5. I first read this in early October, and it's interesting to re-read after the latest flair up in the Middle East. The news coverage makes it feel like something that just happens without a sense of history that goes back beyond a month.

    I think this is a very powerful and important piece. I was able to read the beginning of Part 1 earlier in the year, and while I enjoyed it, I didn't know what direction the whole work would take. As an entire collection, the work is brutal -- in a way we all need to read.

  6. I feel very strongly if the governments of the region read this book, they would cease negative activities and work together to make a lasting peace.

  7. If people had read this book, Palestine would have been recognized sooner.

  8. To be Jewish and not pro Zion is not a contradiction in terms. You can be Jewish and against what the State of Israell is doing in the Middle East.

  9. So Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, wants to punish the Palestinians because of the recent United Nations vote to upgrade the Palestine people within the UN. Please, Mr. Netanyahu, read the above poems and commentary before you start building homes in the occupied territories.

    Do we never learn?

    Is war and punishment the only things we understand?

    Is murder justified?

    To quote the author of the above pieces, "I thought we better than this," but you, Mr. Netanyahu and your government, show that, no, we are not.

  10. In response to assertions that Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel, all I have ever read is his call for the destruction of the “Zionist regime.” Now, If by Zionist he means essentially, Israel, all of Israel, regardless of any possible regime,
    then I am willing to concede the point that the Iranian president has called for the destruction of Israel. Language can become quite muddy sometimes. If Ahmadinejad wanted Israel destroyed why does he always call for the “regime” to go and not the actual state itself?

    There are segments of Arab, Palestinian groups and anti-Semites who do refer to Israel as “the Zionist entity.” They refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israeli statehood. In this case the use of the word
    “Zion” and “Israel” are identical. Is this the meaning Ahmadinejad is intending when he calls repeatedly for the destruction of the “Zionist
    regime”? Some prefer to see this as the only possible meaning.

    I will not go into all the different meanings and intentions that have existed under the term Zionist since the Holocaust. I think that for the purposes of this discussion we must strongly equate Zionism with, in the words of the 1975 UN resolution (now repealed), "a form of racism and racial discrimination." In light of their long history of atrocity within its own borders as well as in Lebanon and Palestine, one has to define Zionism as a system that fosters apartheid and racism. I do not equate Zion and all its fascist, fundamentalist, racist, imperialist obsessions as necessarily being the mindset of all the people of Israel. There is far more criticism of Zionism and Palestinian apartheid within Israel than within the US where even
    President Obama proclaims he is a Zionist.

    I do understand the longstanding hatred by Arabs and Muslims of the existence of Israel. Of all the stupidities committed by the Allied
    nations, the creation of the State of Israel has to top the list. It was like putting a hornet into the heart of a bees’ nest. It was done with violence and the dispossession of the people living in Palestine and has been an unremitting source of all the troubles in what has become probably the most volatile place on earth. It would be one thing if Israel were run by a government possessed of some shred of
    peaceful or humanitarian intentions. Unfortunately our daily headlines (at least in the European and the US alternate press) declare a litany of atrocity, brutality and duplicity by one Israeli regime after
    another. The recent criminal assault on Gaza is only the latest, although one of the worst examples of the illegitimacy of this Zionist
    regime and the necessity of it’s condemnation by the community of nations.

    The IAPAC brainwashed Congress, the President and a majority of Americans continue to support these atrocities morally and financially. It would be different if Israel were an African, Asian or S.American country not dependent on the US for aid and support. Israel would cease to exist without US aid. And yet they dictate to us our own foreign policy specifically in these most recent examples of Iraq and Iran to our own detriment and disgrace. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

  11. I didn’t mean to hide my name under anonymous. It’s just that was the only posting venue I was familiar with. My name is Bob Boldt and I am a friend and neighbor of Michael Brownstein.

    Another friend had a couple of relevant questions after reading my original post.

    Bob, Why are the so-called Christians so supportive of Israel? And why has the US been supportive of the Israelis??

    I don't fully understand the Christian angle. Not that I haven't studied it but because it makes no sense--rationally. What else is new
    with fundamentalists?

    The Christians think that by hiding their
    anti-Semitism, getting all the Jews back to the homeland, reestablishing the original borders of the old kingdom of Israel and
    rebuilding the Temple that will bring about the second coming of JC.

    Of course the Christians don't tell the Jews that they will all have to convert or be cast into the lake of fire along with the heathens,
    atheists and Unitarians. The Jews are just playing along laughing at the stupid Christians -- the way they laughed at the Cossacks and their pogroms.

    The requirement is that every US Senator, the President and every other office in the land right down to the local dogcatcher must pass
    the Israel purity test. It's something the Israel American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) and other prominent pro-Israel attack dogs like Alan Dershowitz. enforce with an iron hand. Jews (most of them)exert a profound influence in this country through the press, powerful civic and social organizations and contributions to the political parties. Anyone who dares to stand up to them by questioning Israel is automatically labeled anti-Semitic and subjected to public scorn and humiliation. Most public figures are just not willing to put up with this kind of punishment and so profess support for everything Israel does, even if they have strong personal reservations. That's just the way it is, was and always will be in this home of the brave.

    They were even able to get Oliver Stone to publicaly apologize for remarks critical of Israel recently--Oliver Stone!


    Bob Boldt

  12. After reading these powerful poems and the commentaries, I'm not sure we ever learn. The dust bowl people were treated horribly by the natives of California, for example, when they came to California during the depression and their grandchildren treated the Mexican migrants perhaps even worse two generations later. The Holocaust was horrendous, and though the treatment of the Palestinians was not nearly as bad, what was so hard about working together, solving problems peacefully, not with violence and threats.

    A great book of poems.

  13. I do not understand how the government and/or the people of Israel do not get it. Peace with the Palestinians is most important--not continuing a conflict that ends up nowhere.

    To the leaders of Isreal:

    Do not build in their territory. It's as simple as that.

  14. Mr. Boldt,

    Over the past few weeks I’ve debated on whether to reply, but have decided to. While I’ve composed several pages of response in my mind, I will try here to keep it concise and, hopefully, inoffensive.

    Please don’t get ideas about what Christians believe from what you see and hear on much of television (“Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake” Titus 1:11). I’m not sure what definition you put on “fundamentalists” – but if fundamentalists believe as you wrote, then it would not describe any Christian I know personally (and, being one, I know a lot of Christians).

    Oh, I could write pages! The most offensive thing to me is the assertion that Christians are anti-Semitic – and don’t even have honesty enough to admit it. How does one respond to that?? A Christian can repeatedly declare no anti-Semitism – or even profess love for the Apple of God’s eye – yet, will there only be suspicion that we are hiding our carefully guarded hatred for Jews??

    What can I say?

    Send your questioning friend to the Internet to (the late) J. Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible Archives ( and look for the sermon “The Antidote to Anti-Semitism” in print, or listen to his sermon aired on December 16, 2012, “The Church and Israel.” These sermons originate from years ago, but are still true and relevant. If sermons don’t suit your friend, have him / her read about the ten Boom family of WWII Holland in the autobiographical books “The Hiding Place” and “In My Father’s House” – both in the local library. The library also has the movie version of “The Hiding Place” on DVD.

    If your friend is actually, honestly seeking to KNOW what perspective true Christians have toward Jews and Israel, these sources are a good start. If not, then I hope somehow your friend gets to know at least one solid, Bible-believing Christian enough to understand.


  15. From Dan: I agree with you that Israel should not always be able to get away with playing the "victim" in the Palestine conflict, and you are to be applauded for not simply jumping on that bandwagon, as so many Jews and others, including Americans, do. Even some of my friends were railing against Jimmy Carter's comments on the matter, in a recent conversation I had with them. Somebody said, not long ago, that one can find more criticism of Israel in a Jerusalem paper than one can find in any US mainstream media. I blame AIPAC and others for this, but I don't claim to be an expert on the subject matter. I rarely argue with Jews about anything to do with Israel, partly due to the fact that I know how limited my knowledge is of the treaties, provocations etc. And I also get annoyed by how ( often times ) people who criticize factions within Israel are painted as broadly "anti-Semitic" . Even Jews are given a hard time about this and described as "self-hating" if they dare to question the mainstream stance.

  16. A powerful and often disturbing collection with so many haunting and memorable images. The feeling I get from just one reading is great sadness.

  17. I just learned that in many places in the world Israel is called Occupied Palestine on maps.

  18. This is an amazing collection. At once, both naked and ripe with imagery that is both disturbing and captivating. I was journeying with you through life and history, and while at moments I wanted to turn away, I would not dream of tearing my eyes away. I left your words touched by a great sadness and an even greater talent. I look forward to the next great work you, undoubtedly, will produce.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. (I deleted the comment above because it was meant to be a fresh comment, and not a reply to A.J. Huffman's post)

      However, I would like to say that I second those sentiments shared by Huffman. This collection reads book end to book end. Once you begin, you will no doubt reach the NOISE AND THE PHOENIX OF HOPE.

  19. This is indeed an impassioned and poignant work--I would have expected nothing less from the poet, whose other works I have found to be equally relevant and thought-provoking discourse for our day. This collection incites conversation, as is demonstrated by those comments that have come before mine, and those that will continue to come, challenging us all to learn from the past, to cultivate an improved-upon future. Like others, I found TOO MANY BULLETS particularly compelling, as was FOLLOWING ORDERS. Michael, your poetry is eloquent and striking, courageous and heartfelt. I thank you so much for sharing this important work.


  20. Here's a review of the book:

  21. You can view another review of the chapbook here:

    Thank you, Michael for the opportunity.

  22. Thanks for sharing, Brownstein! These are ridiculously powerful, as always.

  23. Your poetry book has piqued my research hound, and I am eager to learn the history of which you speak. I tried to use some of its style in the way I structured Ex Gratia. I don't normally do direct address in my poetry, but your use of it was on my mind. Reading "Too Many Bullets" encouraged me to try a variation of your thematic advancement style by including a floating, evolving stanza and then signposting its iterations to the end in order to wrap it all up. I look forward to learning and creating more because of your work.

  24. Jon, thanks for the huge compliment.

    You can see Jon's poem here:

  25. Perhaps because my father fought for the Irish Republican Army and was expelled from Ireland by the English, I have always had an immense interest, from afar, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Although I have always been pro-Israeli, I have hoped Palestine would one day have a land of its own and some kind of piece could be realized. The media (that word again) has led me to believe over many years that the Palestinians are at fault, with Hamas lobbing missiles into Tel Aviv for “no apparent reason.”

    This is a chapbook I will read carefully, and it is a credit to Russell Streur for publishing it here and for Devlin De La Chapa for reviewing it in BoySlut, especially at the start of Passover 2013.

    Like the author Michael Brownstein, I too have my roots in Chicago and happenstance had me, an “Irisher,” living for 10 happy years in a Jewish neighborhood on Morse Avenue. I don’t know how welcome Michael would be on that street today if the population is still Jewish. I never tasted anything elsewhere as good as the hot pastrami on rye at Ashkenaz’s Restaurant. But I doubt the Jews on Morse Avenue would be too pleased today with Michael’s findings. But many of them may have lived as I have without the facts.

  26. Beautiful piece of writing in the chapbook…some of my favorite lines are “To the victor goes the writing of history” and “There are people visiting this world who came here to die.
    These are the angels of our lives.” Thank you,

  27. I like the use of side-notes in "Firestorm." Since poetry may mix the real with the imagined, a poet has a responsibility when dealing with controversial historical events to make clear what are actual documental events and what are imagined. The side-notes help in making that determination, but are not clear enough for such a weighty subject.

  28. Brilliant book! Nothing more to say!

  29. I really enjoyed reading this book. It opened my mind and I learned a lot.

    I am now reconsidering my previous ideas on this subject.

    Thank you.


  30. I enjoyed reading this a lot. It articulated a number of points that need to be made about the 1948 war--and it's relevant today too. If only the governments involved would read this book.

    Eric Brewton

  31. Very insightful, more people should be aware of this

  32. We are surely ONE ...
    perhaps all that is left is forgiveness, love and letting go...

  33. Dear Michael, 3rd day of Oct 2013
    Long ago I taught next door to a Bilingual classroom. The teacher was outside my door with his class. I said “Hi! How come my kids think you are speaking Spanish? What language are you speaking?” He looked at me and said “That is because they think ALL foreigners are the SAME!” I burst out laughing and replied, “How long have you been here? We are ALL foreigners unless you are Native American. Why don't YOU tell them what language you are speaking?” So began the friendship that introduced me to Middle Eastern food, languages, music and family.”

    1992 – Old City Jerusalem – taking cabs with Musa from Tel Aviv (Palestinian driver) and then to Mt Scopus, Hebrew University (Israeli driver). Musa saying “Listen ! See how NOTHING has changed!” (He had taught Hebrew and Arabic at the University)

    Both cab drivers blamed the OTHER...for the current state of affairs.

    Musa “passed” as both Israeli and Palestinian! ( We were treated well by both sides everywhere we went! East Jerusalem, Old City, the Wailing Wall, the Mosque, Sea of Galilee, Gaza, West Jerusalem, King David Hotel, YMCA, Tel Aviv)

    At the hospital 4 months earlier, when he couldn't walk and was catheterized in bed, I had asked if I could feed him and wash his face and hands – if that would be “doing too much” - and he said “Of course you can...can't you see I can't even get my hand to my mouth to feed myself? I pulled out this catheter 3 times today before I even realized I was one person! This is ME!”

    We are ONE … what we do here, there, wherever we are – affects all of us!

    Five months after the trip to Jerusalem and Gaza, Musa could no longer speak – he had been silent for 3 wks – in bed at Hospice in Chicago. I went to stay with him the last day. As I held him in my arms I said “Musa, it's Dad's birthday today and everyone is praying for you – Muslims, Jews, Christians! He opened his eyes and shed one tear and said “I love...” with his last breath here and then he was gone to wherever we go next.
    Maybe the answer really is -forgiveness, love, letting go...

  34. Israel has suspended its affiliation with the UN's Human Rights Council:

    I feel the poems above tell us why.

  35. Michael,
    Stunning work. It's amazing to see how much you've grown. I could hear your voice as I read this work. Reminds me of the chap book days so many years ago.
    Paul S. Walaszek

  36. Paul,

    It's been a long time. Thanks for the great comment. How can I get in touch with you?

    My email address is on the site:




  39. Palestinians Flee Northern Gaza as a Cease-Fire Appears Elusive

    Mr. Sultan looked over at the young woman next to him and said: “I don’t need another tragedy. This is the fiancée of my son.” Three days ago, the son, Odai, 21, was killed in an Israeli rocket strike on the taxi he was driving. Mr. Sultan said that he had no idea why it had been attacked, and that it must have been the wrong car.

    Isra Abbas, the fiancée, 17, was to marry Odai in September. “The 1948 Nakba is now happening every four years,” she said angrily, referring to the Palestinian exodus, known as “the catastrophe,” during the Arab-Israeli war.

  40. Personally, I loved most of your poems, not because I am from the Arab World, but because it really touches me and it tells the truth.
    That's why I took three of your poems as my graduation research Mr.Brownstien.
    I hope that Palestinians could reach their freedom and this will happen only if we support their rights. We are all humans after all.
    I hope also that every Palestinian can see your poems to feel proud and positive and not to give up.

    Thank you.

  41. I want to thank you for your moist kind words.

    Michael H. Brownstein

  42. Dear friends,

    "Burn them. Shoot them. Kill them."

    This is what Israeli settlers chanted as the military shot Palestinians protesting the opening of the US embassy in the contested heart of Jerusalem.

    The snipers hit thousands with live fire, killing 59, including eight children, from the safety of their perch over a mile away.

    In response, South Africa has pulled their ambassador to Israel, a powerful move that could end the violence if it’s echoed by other nations fast. And as the outcry grows, Europe could soon be following suit.

    Emma, Christoph, Alice, Pascal, Antonia, Fatima, Martyna, Ricken and the entire Avaaz team