Your Jabalia Could Have Been Our Jambalaya

Joye Vailes Shepperd–Vailes to me since we were teenagers–is my best friend. We met in high school when I joined Holton-Arms in my junior year. She was an old timer and a senior, with all the comforts and familiarities that come with that; I was new, with all the discomforts and unease that attach to this.

Ever since those early days, she and I have been each other’s whisperers, editors, advocates, and critics–constant conversationalists across the spectrum of time and life.  

Joye’s métier is the stuff of fiction. It’s her passion, but, as I often tell her, she is perhaps at her most stunning when she is analyzing the vagaries and paradoxes of the human condition, here, in the real world. She has never been a news junkie, has fought ferociously every effort to put her on social media, and has never wasted any time on the frivolities of politics.

But of course, much like all thoughtful people, she cares deeply about the planet and all its wondrous creatures. I don’t know if the Arab world’s predicaments would have been especially concerning to her had we not been friends, but I imagine they have truly mattered to her because they have really mattered to me. Because they have affected my life, my wellbeing, my family, whom she also counts among her circle of close friends.

And yes, Vailes has always been very supportive of the Palestinian cause, not because of our friendship but because hers have always been superb instincts. It’s in her nature to be knowing and wise, even when she is somewhat vague on the details.

It strikes me now as strange that we have never discussed the roots of her empathy, but it could be that Vailes’ heritage and lived experience as an African American have made her susceptible to the Palestinian plight. And ever since October 7, she has been furious–and silent. It’s been one of those rare moments when her eloquence has declined all invitations to make itself present.

For release, this dear friend has had my bi-weekly posts. One of her vocations is as my first reader. I know that I have done well, when she tells me so.

Sensing her need to let go of her silence, I invited Vailes to offer that perspective of hers that reaches beyond the hectic headlines and deep beneath the surface of the war of emotions and words.


I don’t look at the news. I read it. My preference is to not be bombarded with visuals that will remain as stains on my psyche, inuring me to awfulness.  I can do that on my own, and there is enough damage in the words one must read to know the world that we live in.  Occasionally, I pretend that I’m reading someone’s fictional horror because that’s what it feels like to me. Maybe that’s more wishful thinking.

Where I live it has been raining for days, the hard dull, thudding rain in a darkened sky with no promise of easing. Makes one think of Noah and hope for something biblical, and if it can’t be sense in the heads of all, maybe the storm of righteousness, like in animated movies when all the bad guys inexplicably drop dead. That’s what living in our world does to reasonable people because otherwise it is too much like a constant nightmare that we keep waking up to, over again. 

Yet, how foolishly sympathetic I feel because I’m so saddened by events taking place on the other side of the world as I sit in my space with the ability of tuning in or out, knowing the only thing that I could do is nothing but watch which is why I don’t. It’s the only power that I possess.

So what do people like me do? Become ridiculous. Reach for allegories and fairytales.

In this one, men are stupid, and it is the only conclusion.

First, you are victimized in your former homes and feel no choice but to flee, but not to an uninhabited land, to an inhabited one. Determined to stay, you build walls, make laws, justify your existence by pretending that others don’t. You build your society with walls that represent your back to the things that you’d like to ignore. But it is a society, nevertheless. Strangely, the men who built these walled cities are surprised by their ugliness, which elucidates another measure of ignorance because beauty would never come to life in a cauldron of enmity. 

There are many failures but one of the first is that the possibility of a fun-filled musical evening isn’t an invitation to something else. It’s like dancing on top of graves that you wish into existence. The mistake was believing that you were safe while you did your best to squeeze the people that you pretend don’t exist into a porous circle. Still, you attempt to wall them in with shacks of your own making filled with people like you, perhaps figuring that the more the merrier might come true. Indeed.

Surprise! The circle, of course, has come apart because it was so poorly built. The main materials being the thin façade of pretense that the “others” can stay as long as they understand that nothing that used to be–is still theirs. This is no equitable transaction. 

Next, ignorance. Kill them all, but pretend we’re not. And while we’re at it, let’s have more young Israeli women on the streets of Jerusalem, symbols of your culture in a most sacred city, the holiest of all places, calling for death to all “others.”

And therein lies the fruit of your society. Victim to victimizer. Israelis unraveled and left with an unabated appetite for violence and hate. Keep pretending that all the Palestinians could disappear, and then the Israelis will have no one to act upon except each other.

And corollaries...

Once upon a time, was there a possibility of embracing difference for the sake of it? The offer of togetherness, building a place for every kind of man to live, each with a moral heart code and the freedom to be different. The society could share in the equal love of a god, or not, a temple, the dusty, sandy rock-strewn place no matter the name.

Fear could have long been vanquished by collaboration. Olives for shared expertise. Barn and brain raising in the service to all. Your Jabalia could have been our jambalaya, yet I am the one who seems simpleminded.

And finally, the little boys and girls with the brain, aptitude, desire, skill, and commitment to cure disease and contribute to the world wouldn’t be lying dead. We didn’t just kill them yesterday or a couple of weeks ago, we have killed them a thousand times, in a thousand places at what sacrifice for reasons we can’t quite remember: a “so called” people’s love of a different deity, greed, coveting, and mostly, the unavoidable conclusion – the stupidity of men.

Vailes-Shepperd is the author of Good Ending to Bad Memories.


On Another Note

When talking about the mad Israeli bombing of Gaza, I’ve heard us often evoke the mad Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany, in world War II. But on April 8, 1945, from the air, the Allies also rained hell on a city called Halberstadt. Their original target hid under thick clouds that day, and so, they intsead aimed for the hometown of writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge, 13 years old then.

Perhaps to my shame, I had never heard of Kluge or Halberstadt before reading Katie Trumpener’s review of Air Raid, his recently translated book about the “city’s amnesia as a defense against terror.” I found this passage particularly resonant:

After portraying individual townspeople on April 8, Kluge turns to the American pilots dropping the bombs and the ways they avoid registering the raid’s effects. Aerial war abstracts. As the planes approach Halberstadt, their crews briefly see the ground not only through their maps and charts but as a specific landscape, somewhat reminiscent of home. “For a second, ”the scholar David Roberts has argued, “another dimension opens up, which momentarily dissolves the two-dimensional gaze from above.”

Despite potential moments of insight, however, the airman remains, in Kluge’s words, a “trained air-war expert” whose “analytical terminology; deductive stringency…technical know-how; etc.” are marks of professionalism. His training ensures a cognitive disconnect that removes all sense of personal responsibility. For Kluge, he may somewhat resemble the Third Reich functionary who helped implement the Nazi T4 euthanasia campaign and the Final Solution, or the “desk murderer” (Schreibtischtäter) who planned them.

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