Like Poland, like Gaza: Through the eyes of Joseph Conrad, by Usman Sarki


“My practice of reflection had also convinced me that there is nothing on earth that turns quicker on its pivot than political idealism when touched by the breath of practical politics” – Joseph Conrad

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MEMORIES are the greatest

assets in the survival of nations. Poland was kept alive in the minds of Poles for a better part of two centuries before it came into being as a modern independent state. The memories of the “Nakba” and the trauma of 1947 and other disappointments still keep the Palestinian nation alive in the minds of its people. These two nations faced the possibility of total extinction from the face of the earth, but with tenacity of their memories and the desperate attachment to their sense of nationhood, they both survived and thrived in the lands that were once denied to them by their powerful neighbours.

When Adolf Hitler and his hordes finished with Poland at the end of September 1939, the country was cut into pieces and it suddenly ceased to exist. Warsaw, the capital, was left in utter ruins and devastation, and over 70,000 Poles were left dead, never to see the rising Sun over the horizon of their beloved country again. The sense of despair that the Jews in Poland felt when they were herded into the confinement of the Warsaw Ghetto, is what the Palestinians in Gaza are feeling today. “Why is nobody coming to our aid”? “When will this nightmare end”? These were the questions the Jews asked in their moments of despair and desperation. These are the questions that the people of Gaza are asking today.

There is an uncanny resemblance between Poland and Palestine in the nature of their being subjugated and trodden upon to bring about their ultimate extinction. The Polish question from the late eighteenth century to the end of World War II, as well as the Palestinian question from 1947 to 7th October, 2023, have remained two parallel tendencies that have haunted the corridors of world powers and defied the nefarious plans of their oppressors – to make them cease to be!

Both nations were seized by usurpers and carved up to be rendered the properties of intruders who had no rights or titles to the real estate that they represented. The novelist and essayist, Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), wrote with cold, almost clinical detachment and dispassion, about the spoliation of his native country, Poland, after its partition at the end of the eighteenth century by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poland also witnessed a second partition between Germany and the USSR, after its destruction by Hitler’s Nazi hordes and Stalin’s NKVD-led troops in September 1939.

With the precision of a wordsmith, Joseph Conrad wrote in his notes and letters, the story of the “untold sufferings of a nation which would not die”, in spite of all efforts by the perpetrators of the crime against his homeland to bring Poland to extinction as quickly as possible. He noted the indomitable spirit of the Poles and the tenacious clinging to life by that prostrate nation, until salvation and succour would come to them.

Likewise, in the case of Palestine after 75 years of efforts supported by wars, mass evacuations, forced relocations, expulsions and evictions, imprisonment, seizures of lands, destruction of heritages and erasures of identities, demolition of homes, neighbourhoods and villages, desecration of places of worship, construction of Apartheid walls, uprooting of vegetation and running over of farms, appropriation of water and what not, Palestine would just not go away quietly, to save the perpetrators of these deeds and their international backers, the embarrassment of justifying the termination of a nation.

Just as Poland would not yield or die quietly despite being cut into pieces with its pulsating body made prostrate, Palestine also remained undefeated although battered and beaten down by the inexorable forces of reaction and global oppression. Palestine cannot be just done away with or wished away by cynical indifference and cold, contemptuous treatment through clandestine disinformation and the pandering of manifest falsehoods about its relevance, its history and its identity.

Just as Poland rose from near oblivion during the Napoleonic era and the unlamented Nazi episode both of which were the less-than-admirable products of European minds and cultures, Palestine also has remained alive and kicking, despite the preponderant amounts of destructive ordinance that have been dropped on its spaces over 70 years of struggle and disappointment.

Palestine would not die a quite death and save everyone the embarrassment and inconvenience of its being alive. All attempts to suffocate it and bring about its untimely death have failed woefully and the emaciated body of that pitiable entity still lives both in the physical and idealistic senses, to haunt the corridors of power in the region and the rest of the world, as testament to their complicity and connivance in its destruction and oblivion.

The greatest injustice to the Palestinians is, of course, the murder of truth in the narratives about their being and the justice of their struggle. Joseph Conrad noted thus, in passing although in respect of Poland: “And even that, itself, seemed strangely vague, had lost its definite character, was rendered doubtful by the theories and the claims of the spoliators who, by a strange effect of uneasy conscience, while strenuously denying the moral guilt of the transaction, were always trying to throw a veil of high rectitude over the Crime.”

The “veil of high rectitude” that was thrown over the crimes of Israel, including the bombing of hospitals and places of worship in Gaza, has not duped the discerning world. Rather, the recent war of aggression against that open air prison, that wounded conscience of the world, that blight on the complacency of “civilised” nations, that picture of ravished innocence, that laboratory of scientific brutality, that victim of clandestine policy of expedience and tyrannical racism, still refuses to yield to the seemingly inexorable force of attrition and grinding power of the occupiers and their international accomplices.

Like Poland, so it is like Palestine, both indomitable nations of peoples with tender sensitivities and humanistic outlooks about life, that experienced the cold despair of alienation, arbitrary despotism, haughty imperialistic culture of dominance, subjugation and partition. Like Poland where these nefarious plans failed to succeed ultimately, Palestine too will rise from the ashes and rubble of Gaza, to become a free and proud nation to lead the Middle East and neighbouring lands towards a glorious future of humanising culture and principles.


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