Tribute to Robert Fisk


Dear Robert Fisk,

At first I called it Recovery Jelly, and I wrote a short little poem, attaching it to the lids of each jar. I kept it this way for several years writing new poems with each year’s harvest. The grapes are Foch, small, tiny, nearly black, like a Pinot Noir. When I planted them on one side of the back garden they were to be for wine-making. That was before everything changed and it became Recovery Jelly. I later changed the name of the jelly to The Jelly of Memory and Forgetting, which it remains today. I tell you this as a begin this letter, because of your words at the end of the book, “I will try to emulate the advice of the only poem that always moves me to tears. Christina Rosetti’s “Birthday,” Better by far you should forget and smile.” Dear Robert Fisk, this jelly, The Jelly of Memory and Forgetting is for you. It is for your work in journalism, sacred vocation, called, in Lebanon and the Mideast during the last 29 years, a thank you.


For your study in terror, praise.
And for your notebooks.

For I took notes on every passage on terror in your Lebanon book.
And underlined the word notebook each time you wrote the word in each book.
He knew women, beautiful women, but no other family that I could see.
There’s the life long search for the father’s story. With the reporter’s rigor.
There were reporters, too, who loved him. I could tell by the way they called his name.
And he would love how he was called, and write these names in his notebooks,
and that is how I knew. But he was only committed to one. He called Her, his Notebook,
That is what I told my friends of your personal life.

For you worked on that word terror, and you worked on defining it.
I collected notes from your notes. You really got it down in the new book.

For “terrorists,” read “guerillas” or—as President Ronald Reagan would
call them in the years to come—“freedom fighters.” Terrorists, terrorists,
terrorists. In the Middle East, in the entire Muslim world, this word would become a plague, a meaningless punctuation mark in our lives, a full
stop erected to finish all discussion of injustice, constructed as a wall
by Russians, Americans, Israelis, British, Pakistanis, Turks, to shut us up.

For this is your mantra: Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists.

For you will repeat, and add to, and the definition will be your word:
For here you will add the fourth terror, arriving frighteningly close to Shakespeare’s
fifth Never, in Lear, the breaking point:

            It is a sonata, a symphony, an orchestra tuned to every television
            and radio station and news agency report, the soap-opera of the
            Devil, served up on prime time or distilled in wearyingly dull
            and mendacious form by the right-wing “commentators” of the
            American east coast or the Jerusalem Post or the intellectuals of
            Europe. Strike against Terror, Victory over Terror. War on Terror.
Everlasting War on Terror. Rarely in history have soldiers and
journalists and presidents and kings aligned themselves in such
thoughtless, unquestioning ranks….Finally…linked by his
Israeli enemies to the terror-Meister of them all, the one who
lived in the Afghan cave.

For this, praise.


When have I been rocked like this by other writers?
I asked myself early on in The Great War.
These two books by Robert Fisk: Pity the Nation: Conquest of Lebanon, 1990.
and The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, 2005.
And I started a list opposite Chapter One: One of Our Brothers Had a Dream…

Here’s when. Here’s who you’re with, with me:

This Great Stage: Image and Structure in King Lear, Robert B. Heilman
The Pound Era, Hugh Kenner
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Wishes, Lies and Dreams, Adrienne Rich
Demythologizing Christianity, Rudolf Bultmann
The Things They Carried, Tim O’brien
Paterson, William Carlos Williams
The Life of Poetry, Muriel Rukeyser
Memory of Fire/Memoria del Fuego, Eduardo Galeano
Thomas Merton, Seven Story Mountain, poems & journals
The King Years, Vol. I. & II. Taylor Branch
Where is God? Jon Sobrino
Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz
Love and Will, Rollo May
The White Goddess, Robert Graves
Collected Poems of Cold Mountain, Red Pine
The Bicameral Mind, Julienne James
Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt

That’s it. Where I put the works of Robert Fisk.

With the poets. With Homer. With Rumi & Hafiz.


I could never get it, the Mideast, it never made narrative sense.
Newsweek or Time would come out with a cover story—
I cancelled Time when they made George W. Bush Man of the Year—
and I’d say to myself, I’m going to read slow, and get it this time,
underlining, going back when I got lost, trying to keep the names straight,
but it never worked. I learned about sanctions in Iraq.
late, not early. I didn’t know I couldn’t believe the writers.
I did understand sanctions in Iraq.
I couldn’t see through to the point of view.
Or the point of view behind the point of view.


For the courage of neutrality to get the truth,
For the courage of not taking sides at the expense of truth.
For crossing over to the side of the poor.
For writing the names in your notebook, everytime.
For this, praise.
For taking me with you in your notebooks.


I am still in Lebanon when the new book arrives,
and I read The Preface in tears. Fisk tries to say
what journalists try to be—the first impartial witnesses
to history—so that no one can say: ‘We didn’t know—
no one told us—and comes up short.
                                                            Amira Hass,
journalist with Ha’aretz,
corrects, and strengthens: No, Robert, you’re wrong.
Our job is to monitor the centres of power.
Amira Hass, I discover, writes an essay on despair everyday.
When her parents arrived in Israel, they turned down
the house offered them. They weren’t about to take
the home of someone who’d been turned out.
Hass crossed over to live with Palestinians—
to experience the sufferings of others. And Fisk
takes her definition as best: …in the end,
that is the best definition of journalism
I have heard: to challenge authority—
all authority—especially so when
governments and politicians take us to war,
when they have decided that they will kill
and others will die.



            —for Barry, November 8, 2005

“Through all these 13 years, however, I had exercised a journalist’s magpie-like instinct to hoard; not just the dispatches which I sent to The Times — sometimes three reports daily — but every computer message, memorandum and personal note which I wrote, even those scribbled on old copy paper and envelopes. The detritus of a journalist’s life — the angry telex demands for confirmation that reports have arrived safely at The Times, the infuriating requests from London for clarification of place names in the midst of battle, my own urgent pleas for advance expenses — were stuffed into unused laundry sacks and duty-free bags from Beirut airport. I kept mountains of notebooks and newspaper cuttings, of readers’ letters — both kind and insulting — of press statements and photographs.

Rummaging through them all, I found small brown and pink slips of paper printed in Arabic ordering the menfolk of Beirut to take their families and flee their homes if they valued the lives of their wives and children — the very leaflets that the Israeli jets dropped from the skies over the Lebanese capital in 1982. There were anonymous broadsheets from the fledgling Lebanese resistance movement in southern Lebanon warning informers of their imminent execution, even — in one battered shopping bag — a severed set of plastic and steel handcuffs that Israeli troops had used to bind the hands of a blindfolded prisoner in Tyre. I had kept pieces of Israel and Syrian shells, parts of an Israeli cluster bomb, a massive hunk of shrapnel from a shell fired into the Chouf mountains by the USS New Jersey, whose guns proved to be as ineffectual in the Lebanon war as the foreign policy of the government which sent it there.

Snapshots and photographs lay among all these files and notes,
pictures, some of them more than half a century old, which began to contain a message, as if in some strange way the images were telling their own special story about Lebanon’s history….As I wrote my book but without my at firs being aware of it, these pictures began to form a ghostly and tragic theme, as if they were themselves a witness to events, providing a permanency which the unfolding drama failed to retain, freezing for all time lives which had been mutilated or destroyed.

Many of the files cover the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran — Iraq war, school exercise books in which I had laboriously written out my dispatched in fountain-pen….These are the archives upon which I have principally drawn to write this book, which is why it is the work of a reporter rather than of a historian.

Robert Fisk
Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon,    678 pages

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
            Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.
            Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

                                    Khalil Gibran
                                    The Garden of the Prophet

Also by Robert Fisk:
The Point of No Return: The Strike which Broke the British in Ulster
In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the Price of Neutrality 1939-45

and released Nov 1, 2005:

The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

Happy Birthday,




Tribute is part cut and paste.
Stories crossed and re-crossed.
Barry and I keep notebooks.
Different kinds to the same ends.
Coming out of Lebanon
I had to put down what I’d learned,
what you’d told me,
to be kept in the poem.

There, like this.
I don’t know if it got to you.
Then Karen and I put some of this
on a muslin banner
with ironed-on photos—
Witness on one side,
Testimony on the other.



            “…and crunched my way across the gravel of the permanent way…”
            —Robert Fisk, The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

Having gone where words die,
before your last sentence in Lebanon
with no answers, before the fragmented in fragments—
I’m with you, Robert Fisk,
another man carrying a notebook,
surprised to find myself in Lebanon.
I’m on deadline, kind of,
needing to return the abducted nation
to Interlibrary Loan,
Grandstaff Library at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Taking notes while reading,
I put each reference to terror on the page,
watch you mark a way for self and tribe:
I could transmit their knowledge only by reliving their fear.
Use of the word is a media crime.
Dangers of using words that are pejorative rather than descriptive.
I make a file for the taboo word terror,
word my country goes to war for,
add notes from your Preface for friends.
You gather what’s raw—and report from here.
Uncompromised questions aren’t safe for anybody.

…beyond obeying/
…Why did I write that/
…dead people would approve/

And the Simonov poem—wait for me—what Russian soldiers know,
written out by hand, for me, in a notebook—
mine only for the poem,
another form of travel, transportation.
Triage for the soul—I pick out your voice
from other singers on LINKS arriving daily
from a Taoist nun in Vancouver, B.C.
Pity the Nation arrives two weeks before your Great War.
I don’t know if I can do this, I tell the librarian.
Pencil marks in margins are witnesses at the Fort.
I read to my wife King Faud’s threat
to pull all investments from U.S. banks
unless Haig informs Reagan the Israelis
are on the way to Lebanon. Chatila.
This story’s not an easy read Robert Fisk—
Fisky, Fisker, Mr. Robert, Huntley Haverstock—
Trickster in a mad drive for truth.
I stay in Lebanon to stay with you.
Trust Me,Taoist friend and driver will appear
and be the guide. My friend says
she doesn’t always know how to navigate the external world.
But this journey’s not for those
hanging back in the Commodore Hotel.
Truth keeps our heads up to stand with the story.
Salaam aleikum.

Jim Bodeen
November 20-27, 2005
Yakima, Washington


And headed for the big book.
Great War—or memoir—search for the father—and truth—a pure witness.


Warming into Fisk’s Civilisation: Alternating Fisk and the Interviewed:

Trust Me steered the car carefully around the boulders and I admired the way…3
He wanted to know how bin Laden would respond to an infidel. So did I. 5
The Taliban had arrived not to rebuild a country they did not remember, but to rebuild
            their refugee camps on a larger scale. 27
It was both a trap and an invitation. 29
The Russians were coming to liberate Afghanistan. 43
All my life in the Middle East, people have ordered me to trust them. And almost always
I did and they were worth of that trust. 51
But I had not volunteered to travel with the Soviet army. I was not—as that repulsive
expression would have it in later wars—“embedded.” 68
In wars, I only travel with those I trust. Reporters who panic don’t get second chances. 46
For a journalist, nothing can beat that moment when a great story beckons…42
There’s an odd, unnerving sensation about trying to cross a border without the consent of
the authorities. 73
I even lowered myself into his solid gold bath and turned on the solid gold taps. 101
And from that moment, I decided to read Khomeini, to read every speech he made…125
But I was seeking some other way of reporting Iran…136
In all, Britain lost 40,00 men in the Mesopotamian campaign. 142
The British now realized that they had made one major political mistake. They had
alienated a major political group in Iraq. 145
In Iraq, Churchill urged the use of mustard gas. 146
…almost all the oil of the Middle East lies beneath lands where Shia Muslims live. 161
Iraw was already using gas to kill thousands of Iranian soldiers when Donald Rumsfeld
            made his notorious 1983 visit to Baghdad to shake Saddam’s hand…166
After all, we helped to create him. 170
I have a fascination for the documents that blow through the ruins of war… 182
We looked into their eyes, the eyes of children who were, in their way, already
            dead. They had started on their journey. 204
The nerve gas would paralyse their bodies so they would all piss in their pants
            and the mustard gas would drown them in their own lungs. 211
So where did the “pesticides” come from? Partly from Germany (of course). 211
Under the occupation of the Americans and its puppet government, Baghdad
            has become the most dangerous city on earth.216
Reagan pretended that the Americans were in the Gulf as peacemakers. 221
America’s mission in the Gulf was to protect only one side’s ship—Iraq’s…222
In July, Iraw began to take delivery of forty-five twenty-seater helicopters from the
            United States… 230
For quite by chance, I had stumbled onto the first evidence of the arms-for-hostages Iran-
Contra scandal in September 1985 when— 242
And then there was Oliver North the thug, drafting directives that authorized CIA
            operatives “to ‘neutralise’ terrorists,” supporting ‘pre-emptive strikes”…245
I told him that if it transpired that the cuts were political, I would resign. 269
But the Vincennes attack finally convinced most of the Iranian leadership that the United States had joined the war on Iraq’s side. 273
I always go back to old wars and talk to old soldiers. 279
Today we have seen through this martyrocracy: dictatorship—as opposed to
 government—by the dead. We think now of waste rather than responsibility. 289
…the hill of Margada is a place of eradicated memory… 316
But here is his story, just as he told it to me. 318
Tatooed identities. 323
The principles of technological genocide began here in the Syrian desert…324
…but the first serious attempt to deal with crimes against humanity. 325
On 7 October the paper’s headline ran “800,000 Armenians counted destroyed…
            10,000 at once.” 326
—hands up, readers of this book, if you already know…336
Catch-22 is a cliché compared to this. 354
Merely to discuss his life [Haj Amin] is to be caught up in the Arab-Israeli
            propaganda war. 358.
…linked by his Israeli enemies to the terror-Meister of them all, the one who lived in the
Afghan cave. 379
Beards have something to do with orthodoxy, with fundamentalism in the most literal
            sense of the word….Why did Christ, in all those Bible pictures, always have a
            beard?” 430
Salem didn’t want to join Clinton’s merry reunion of youth. He wanted to go to
paradise. 446
Like it or not, that’s how most wars end. There’s a kind of crossing off of sin. 460
My use of the word “evil”—before its meaning had been contaminated by George W.
Bush—had riled Hindawi. 461
Now Israel’s murder squads come cheaper: a computer chip that activates a bomb in a
mobile telephone. 464
Once an occupied people have lost their fear of death, the occupier is doomed. Once a
man or woman stops being afraid, he or she cannot be made to fear again.  Fear is not a product that can be re-injected into a population through re-invasion or harsher treatment or air attacks or walls or torture. 481


“When you believe in Jihad it is easy...” 4
“Go to Jalalabad. You will be contacted.” 12
“Mr. Robert, one of our brothers had a dream. He dreamed that you came to us one day
            on a horse…” 29
“For us there is no difference between the American and Israeli governments…”31
“I was always fascinated by the danger and fascinated by the discoveries that come
            out of being in danger.” 97
“Imagine that one carpet, worked on by scores of people, takes about ten years to
 complete. A people who spend years in manufacturing just a single carpet
will wait many more years to achieve victory in war.” 101
“Martyrdom brings us closer to God. We do not seek death—but we regard death as a
journey from one form of life to another, and to be martyred while opposing God’s enemies brings us… 203
“Robert, the Americans knew at once that they’d hit a passenger airliner”…263
“Martyrdom is not a rank that everyone deserves…” 286
“It was cheap that way. It cost only one bullet.” 318
“But I know why I went blind. It was not the bath. It was because my father changed
            his religion. God took his revenge on me…” 319
“My father heard terrible stories of families being murdered together so he tattooed our
initials in the Armenian alphabet on our wrists so that we could find each other later.” 323
“They had been eaten b wild animals and dogs. I don’t even know why you bother to come
 here with your notebook and take down what I say.” 323
“What is 242?” 448
“One of the editors said: ’We don’t want you to live in Gaza.’ And I knew at once that I
            wanted to live there.” 455
“But I really wanted to taste what it means to live under occupation—what it is like to
live under curfew, to live in fear of a soldier. I wanted to know what it was like to be an Israeli under Israeli occupation.” 456
“What I am doing is not courageous. It is the decent thing to do.” 458



“…and I notice Labelle squatting beside me, notebook in hand. Notebook? I ask myself in my dream. He’s going to take notes on this suicide mission? 237

but I take notes on all the references about the notebooks.   



“I am neither a lion nor a mouse, but I can be a tough dog, and when I get a rope between my teeth I won’t let go until I shake it and tug it something rotten to see what lies at the other end. That, after all, is what journalists are supposed to do.” 270

“The answer is simple. When we journalists fail to get across the reality of events to our readers, we have not only failed in our job,; we have also become a party to the bloody events that we are supposed to be reporting. If we cannot tell the truth about the shooting down of a civilian airliner—because this will harm ‘our’ side in a war or because it will cast one of our ‘hate’ countries in the role of victim or because it might upset the owner of our newspaper—then we contribute to the very prejudices that provoke wars in the first place.” 271

“Most outrageous of all, however, has been The New York Times, which so bravely
recorded the truth—and scooped the world—with its coverage of the Armenian genocide in 1915. Its bravery has now turned to cowardice.” 340

“And then at the end, we have our old friend the ‘debate.’” 342

“What’s in a name? I asked in my paper. What’s in a capital letter?” 347

“Most of the last thirty years of my life have been spent cataloguing events that relate directly or indirectly to the battle for Palestine, to the unresolved injustices that have afflicted both Arabs and Jews since the 1920’s and earlier.” 365

“The more we wrote about the Palestinian dispossession, the less effect it seemed to have and the more we were abused as journalists.” 377

“I cornered Arafat later—his eyes would always follow me like a wolf when I prowled up to ask a question.” 381

“Well thanks Tom, I said to myself when I read this piece of lethal journalism a few days later. The Israelis certainly followed Friedman’s advice.” 500



How many copies of this book?
Who is reading it?
Who isn’t?
What are people saying to you?
Who do you have to be with? To talk to?
What is a common day like?
Have you had any full responses from critics? NYTimes?
What are the consequences to denying history?
How are you doing now?
What can you tell me about the first time you held this book in your hands?



“Karen, where is Algeria? I ask my wife.
Where in Africa? What do you know about Algeria?
Page 512. Starting over again.
Beginning each chapter in this book’s like
starting a new novel. Get your feet on the ground.
Where am I? When? Time and place.
“I didn’t sign up for Algeria,” I write in the margins.
Fisk is at a cemetery looking at the photograph
of Roger Tartouche on his gravestone.
Fisk loves cemeteries. He goes where others don’t
to get the story. Tartouche died in 1960.
This is the story of French colonialism.
I’m here on winter solstice.
My wife would like some help with Christmas.

France’s dream-turned nightmare, lasting 100 years,
beginning with the early promise:
the Arab will see you as liberators; he will beg to be our ally…
Algeria is a parable or a metaphor or an allegory.
You choose. 73 pages in Algeria.
Abdelkader and 50 years of resistance.
Algerians: worthy of dying for France—
not participating in its democracy.
I’m in Algiers for Christmas, surrounded by family.
They want me to pass the dressing, and the gravy.
“Some Algerians claim…a million and a half Algerians
may have been killed in the eight year war that ended in 1962—
500,000 of these slaughtered by their own comrades.”

The story of Mustafa Bouyali is here.
Born, January, 1940. Both a loyal guerilla
for liberation forces against the French,
and an Islamic guerilla against liberation forces.
It was a secret war that the world never heard of.
When the iron rusts, history picks up where it left off.

The second time through this chapter, everything fits.
Nothing is difficult except lies, war, betrayal, and death.
Democracy is suspended to protect democracy.
The word “dictocracy” is used.
Synesthesia of roles: martyr or terrorist?
And uniforms: By shaving the beard, Islam goes underground.
Fisk travels in fear, risking his life for the story.
No more than 4 minutes in a store.
Hiding behind newspapers in taxis.
Fact: Algeria produces oil.
Killing the devil one comes closer to God.
Throat slashing saves bullets.
Nakdoulou eslah—guest treatment—euphemism for torture.
When the UN looks into human rights abuse,
Fisk calls their work acts of moral cowardice
for hiding behind repeated use of the word terrorist.
The official world ignores the evidence again.



Hadn’t Kuwait funded Saddam’s war with Iran?
            Robert Fisk

You’re in the cockpit with the crew.
You’re climbing on the wrong chopper to Kurdistan.
You’re digging a notebook from sand in a killing field.
You’re with the bidoons—the withouts, being a voice.

This is why I trust you on every page.
You’re in solidarity with those in the margins.
“The bidoon can die here, but they will not be allowed
to live here.” For your question marks are hand grenades

of doubt in the propaganda machine of the war makers.
I did not understand the story of the Kurds,
even when I was paying attention in 1991.
Wars had caught up with me. I wrote daily

letters to Congressman Sid Morrison.
Fifteen years later you tell me that Bush
had urged Kurds in the North to rebel
and betrayed them when they did,

leaving them for Saddam to massacre.
I knew about sanctions before the 03 war,
but I had also used sanctions as argument
to say no. Depleted Uranium shell casings

were misunderstood words on protest signs
at rallies. What did they mean? Dying children,
Iraqi baby stories, cancer cluster maps,
50,000 pounds of DU, 500,000 potential

deaths. a tomato bush, small, poisoned,
bathed and grown in foetid water..
I go on scribbling the names of the soon-to-be-
dead in my notebook. Children with nosebleeds.

Made from waste products of the nuclear industry,
DU shells ignite into an aerosol uranium spray
after punching through steel of tanks.
“As the day warms up, a bullet flies faster,”

the man says. And you write his words
in your notebook. Arms makers at bullet
fairs with 4-color catalogs and foldout pages.
Your best work might be here, showing us

how sophisticated we are in ruining
this world. Each nation will need these weapons
to defend themselves against their neighbors.
We will take their oil, and their money for arms.

“You have to remember that a tank
is to kill tanks.” Even “war” is a banned word.
It’s defence.  “These equipments are not in any way
the creators of wars, or decision-makers of wars.”



Hellfire I
American-made Israeli Apache
Lebanese ambulance
13 April 1996
Four children, Two women
Najla Abujahjah
UN Checkpoint 123
Just say Allahu akbar
Back and forth against broken glass
Coded nameplate
AGM 114C
National Stock Number in a 42-34 digit sequence
The second section of the sequence—“01”
Rockwell International and Martin Marietta
Rockwell now taken over by Boeing
It was time to produce the missile fragment
Yes, but this is not a knife
Are you on some kind of a crusade?



Existing arms contracts
Outshafted Undershaft



…to walk in Bill’s footsteps. 302

“This is the medal that bears the legend ‘The Great War for Civilisation.’” 314
“But as I turned to leave, I caught my head a tremendous blow on a roof-beam.” 314

Carrying War: Trauma as war: personal letter: notebooks from Shay at Bumbershoot.
Things to talk about.




conversation at bbshoot panel  notebook

I copied a page on Notebooks for Barry’s birthday.
I catalogued definitions for Jody’s LINKS.
I wrote Fisk a poem finishing Lebanon.
The muslin banners
The poem written for Fisk after Pity the Nation
Fragments of Fisk

Statements/Quotations from Fisk

the brilliant Israeli journalist on Ha’aretz

the journalists themselves/the media/the new york times



Updated yesterday: Shock and Awe, Fire and Fury.

Writing for the Dawn.

What work. Thanks a bunch.

Jim Bodeen

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