On Villanelles, Jigsaw Puzzles, and Covid-19

by Denise Low

Jigsaw puzzles occupied my husband and me as we outlasted the Covid-19 lockdown. The tidy, closed borders of the puzzle had a recursive quality that reminded me of poetry forms.

“Recursive” is a term I learned from the 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter. It was featured in bookstore displays for decades, but I was too broke to purchase it. So I read snippets as my kids perused Star Wars picture books. Hofstadter’s book has a section on puzzles, beyond my mathematical skills, in support of its main theme of recursiveness. I only understand the layperson’s understanding of the word “recursive,” but it was a potent concept. One example was the closed, repetitive form created by a Bach piano composition, with theme and countertheme structure. Another was Escher’s drawings that have no beginning and no end, like an ouroboros, or a serpent swallowing its own tail. The protocols of jigsaw puzzles require symmetries, or more correctly imperfect mirror images: not one bear in the pine tree, but also another across the forest. One set of gulls fly over an ocean and another flock hides in a corner beach. These are not exactly recursive, but they show the artifice of the genre. Also, the entire puzzle is a closed, self-contained world of its own.

Some poem forms interlock like jigsaw puzzles, with repeated lines that return to the first, like the sestina or the nineteen-line villanelle. A villanelle has two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with a set pattern until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. One of the best known is Dylan Thomas’s villanelle, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “House on the Hill” also shows the interlocking of repeated words from start to finish:

They are all gone away,
⁠The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
⁠The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
⁠To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
⁠Around that sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
⁠For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
⁠In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

The poem sets up a rhythmic spiral of expected repetitions with enough variation to create interest, so it becomes interesting to see how the poet will achieve each rung. Rhymes are still, shrill, ill, sill, skill, and hill. The final lines repeat both refrain lines and send readers back to the beginning in a perfect circle. The repeating rhyme and the repeating lines reinforce the thematic structure of the poem—isolation, circling of time—as well as the repeating nature of time itself. The poem is singular, self-contained.

My time studying poetic forms served me well when working on jigsaw puzzles. The poem creates its own vocabulary, players, tone (or color), and drama. I approached puzzles as I would a new poem, but one that unfolded slowly. Each puzzle, like a lyric, has a palette, a texture, even an emotion. These snapshots in time often preserve an implied story—picnickers on a lawn, for example, kite flyers on ashore, a distant country house covered with snow.

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The Medium Hotel

(A guest blog from Mr. Edward Goode, Chicago, Illinois)

When my telephone rang at 5am or so Tuesday, December 3, I was surprised to hear the caller tell me that Lewis Goode was unresponsive. She was calling from the Bay Area nursing home that his daughter found for him a couple of years earlier.

“Unresponsive”? I couldn’t imagine my brother being unresponsive; he was always “the life of the party”, the teen whose saxophone playing made his ambition to be “an entertainer” seem a reasonable ambition. Of the two of us, he was the one mastered the “Erector Set” challenge, painted by numbers, adopted gold fish, and persuaded our parents to get us puppies, a brown one for him and a black one for me. Lewis was my only brother, 15 months separated our birthdays, but though we were enough alike as boys to hear adults ask if we were twins;, he fat and me skinny, we were as different in character as our pets were in color.

Some might say our relationship was marred by “sibling rivalry”, I’d say, my jealousy. I envied him the spotlight he owned; the dance steps he commanded, and the friends he kept in his orbit. I had none of those qualities.

Though we slept in the same room, we went our separate ways when awake. I’d be the first to leave for school, so I’d get home early enough to see him dressed in a shirt, jacket or tie that was mine. So I’d attack saying, “Don’t wear my stuff!” We’d run through the apartment with Lewis tossing anything including chairs to prevent me from pummeling him hard and fast as punishment for wearing or using my stuff and though he always lost those fights, he’d wear or use something of mine whenever he wanted to.

Our family knew our fraternal connection wasn’t ideal. I remember our mother telling us not to fight and as we got older to remember to give each other birthday gifts. Thank God or Madeline Goode or both that we were faithful to each other on that score.

We both moved away from Boston after graduating high school. Lewis entered the Air Force and afterwards came back as damaged goods. Alcohol was a crutch and unpaid loans as well as larceny a source of cash.I don’t remember when we actually stopped fighting, but we never connected as I imagine other siblings connect, but we always, always remembered each other’s birthday. He had a knack for selecting just the card whose humorous message communicated a truth so profound that absorbing it would cause my heart to skip a beat and my breathing to deepen.

Our parents divorced before I began first grade and though we boys were required visit our father and our paternal grandparents on Sundays, Daddy never paid any real attention to us except for the time he gave us a significant portion of his model railroad setup. Francis Goode wasn’t a good Dad..

It turns out Lewis was a model Dad. His daughter, Rima, was so much a “Daddy’s girl” that after she found him living in Kansas City in squalor that broke her heart, she found a Bay Area nursing home near enough to where she lived in Berkley to enable twice a week visits. There were days when he was so desperate for his drinking buddies that he accused Rima of kidnapping him, but Rima wasn’t intimidated; she wanted the best for her father and provided him with accommodation in the nursing home, along with treats for his sweet tooth , and day trips to spice up his life.

There was no funeral; his body was cremated and then buried. I’ve kept many of his birthday cards and will sigh a special sigh when I get no birthday card from my brother and again on September 13 when I will send no birthday card to Lewis.

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Today was beautiful here in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sunny and not too cold. Classes went well. I’ve done some writing of poems. I love my students, they are great. (I don’t know what the “poet” and the “professor” are doing. We don’t see each other too often although we are taking a Bosanski jezik – Bosnian language – course together). I want to continue briefly with the ICTY verdicts of the past couple of weeks.


During the readings of the verdicts for Mladic and Pradjlak, I missed some specific wording that was a crucial part of the genocide that took place here in the wars of the early 1990’s. Maybe somewhere in the thousand page documents or even in the sentencing read aloud the word was used and even if it was most of the world was not paying attention. In the reading of the verdicts, among the words:  Murder, crimes against humanity, genocide, extermination, ethnic cleansing, I did not hear rape in the cascade of charges. It is important because the violence of rape was an important, and planned, element of the policy of cleansing. I believe, and again I may be wrong, that it was because of the prevalence of that form of sexual violence during the Bosnian wars, that the U.N. declared formally that rape, in and of itself, a war crime. Over 50,000 women and over 3,000 men were raped. The scars are visible and have left a lasting, horrific pain across this country. As I have seen with some of my students, the #metoo movement has just begun.

Garth Strange

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Happy Advent from Bosnia and Herzegoviina!!  Last night, walking through downtown Mostar after taking the Bosnian language course exam (I was the last one to finish out of about 20 others – all 40 – 50 years younger than me!!), I saw a sign:  EXPERIENCE ADVENT IN ZAGREB. I will miss Advent at Lorraine Ave. but will try to follow the scriptures with the congregation. Many European cities have “Christmas Markets” such as in Dubrovnik, Croatia. But Croatia is a “Christian”(Catholic) country (and Zagreb is the capitol). Mostar, in a predominately Muslim country, does not have a “Christmas Market” although I saw a few artificial Christmas trees in one of the main grocery stores here. We are trying to figure out how to decorate, celebrate, even acknowledge Advent/Christmas this year. We get one day off from teaching at Dzemal Bijedic Univerzitet u Mostaru. In the past week the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia brought convictions and verdicts for several “war criminals.” The most well-known, General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader of the genocidal campaign for a Greater Serbia (of course, some of this depends on who you talk to but the court, after 377 witnesses presented convicted him), interrupted the reading of his verdict by standing up and yelling at the court and presiding judge with “vile curses in Serbian.” He was removed from the court and was not present in person to hear the guilty on 10 of 11 counts and his sentence of life in prison. A few days later, during the final stages of an appeals court ruling, the 72 year old Bosnian Croat military leader, Slobodan Praljak, similarly interrupted the reading of the court’s sentencing of 20 years in prison for him by standing up (a major insult to the court) and drank a small cup of poison. He announced what he was doing to the court in front of television cameras and other journalists and this complicated and beautiful country. He died shortly after taking the poison. Of course, now there is a major review as to how Praljak got the deadly drink into the courtroom!!  There has been some tension in the air during the past two weeks surrounding these verdicts…or at least curiosity. People came up to me and almost whispered the news of the coming verdicts although no one was engaged in open demonstrations or public protests that I know of (maybe a few in Republika Srpska). There is also anger. Avoidance of the issue. And deep, unimaginable grief at many levels, twenty-two years on. I’ve always thought that Advent was a complicated season between the Christmas music in the stores (ADVENT IS NOT CHRISTMAS!!!), the various and interesting scriptures we read and proclaim as GOOD NEWS!! But mostly I think about the angels and their words: DO NOT BE AFRAID. Yet, I am a little afraid, not sure of what. And I think of Madeline L’Engle’s words: THIS IS THE IRRATIONAL SEASON, WHEN LOVE BLOOMS BRIGHT AND WILD. HAD MARY BEEN FILLED WITH REASON, THERE’D HAVE BEEN NO ROOM FOR THE CHILD. And, finally, I think of Billie Holiday’s song:  GOD BLESS THE CHILD WHO’S GOT HIS (OR HER) OWN.

From one delicate and complicated country to another (!!!!),

happy Advent,

Garth Strange

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BLOG FROM GARTH STRANGE: What happened to count one?

BLOG FROM GARTH STRANGE: What happened to the first count?


It has been a mostly gray day here in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Thanksgiving eve in the U.S. But something very interesting and important took place regarding this beautiful, Balkan country (I haven’t seen the couple I came to BiH with – I think maybe they took a bus someplace. The last trip we made together in a car the “poet” rented and we [substitute “I”] drove the three of us to Split, Croatia, on a Saturday, returned the next evening). But more on that later.


A few hours ago, The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia announced the judgment in the criminal case of General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb’s top military leader during the 1992 – 1995 war. He was found guilty of all but one of the eleven counts, and that count, the first one, was an egregious one:  The first count was genocide for the overall conduct of the war, especially in municipalities/provinces such as Foca, Kljuc, Kotor Varos, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Vlasenica (Reinventing Peace, sites.tufts.edu). Look at that, I even cited a source!!!


If Gen. Mladic would have been convicted on that first count, it would have announced a major change in the legal path of the ICTY and the International Court of Justice. It would have – in my non-legal language – expanded the parameters of the guilt of “genocide” to include the plans, strategies, decision-making, the lethal and non-lethal policies, even the conspiracy to commit genocide, that led to the devastation of a people. I believe we are not going to see the end of genocides, war crimes or attempted extermination of “the other.” It will not magically disappear. So, I wish the ICTY, which will disband it’s work soon, would have found Gen. Mladic guilty on count one, I believe the evidence was there but the “political” and “legal” will was not present. Mladic obviously was part of the extermination policy-making that led to the genocide of the communities mentioned above. I know that many people in the U.S. and around the world say that ‘those people have been fighting for centuries’ and describe the Bosnian war as ‘tribal violence’ or ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’ as if it was all a part of a natural process. There is a second reason I wish Mr. Mladic would have been found guilty on count one:  People in the municipalities mentioned above suffered unimaginable violence, including genocide. Mladic was a part of the planning and the execution. How do the families of the dead feel, how do the survivors in those communities cope….one count and your out?

Close to 200,000 people died from 1992 – 1995, 10,000 died in the siege of Sarajevo, 1,500 children, 8,000 died at Srebrenica, 12,000 people are still missing. Now, the work of reconciliation…how will that policy be planned and executed? Can we count on it taking place, with tears and a new peace?

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FROM GARTH STRANGE October 30, 2017


I have a few moments to write my blog this evening from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a lot of mixed thoughts. Over a week ago I went with the poet and his wife (and a great cab driver who stayed with us) from Mostar to Blagaj – about a 20 minute or so drive. Blagaj is the site of a 15th century Dervish retreat and monastery. It is built at the base of amazing rock cliffs and sometimes holds the nests of eagles. The Buna River flows out from the base of the cliff beside the Dervish buildings. This is a very sacred (and tourist-filled in the spring and summer) place. We learned a lot from our cab driver as we sat at one of the many restaurants and had kafa and a snack. Learned about the corruption (political and business) that kept the country – in many ways – from moving forward. Making unemployment for 18 – 24 year olds 50 – 60%. Making pensions very low and delivered very inconsistently to all including veterans. Making getting a job dependent on who you know or how much you can pay to the “right” person. I’ve heard all this before, have heard it many times in the six weeks we’ve been in BiH and heard it last Saturday when we took a cab to Medugorje – about a 30 minute drive to the west of Mostar. The cab driver was good at his English and talked about the same issues of corruption – political and economic – and how they are linked. He dropped us off in front of St. Jacob’s Church in time for the 10 a.m. mass in English which we were wanting to attend. I paid him (I seem to pay the bills often when I am with these two colleagues from America!!). HaHa!!


We found a pew, sat down and soon, to a very full church (unusual around the world except for the miracles that draw the pilgrims and the curious here, a million a year!). The main priest, from Canada, gave a long homily about the fires of hell that are waiting for gays and lesbians. He talked about the evils of liberation theology which are the basis for much of my own theological thinking and life (Yes, I do “got religion”). I found myself with tears rolling down my cheeks. Is there no cleft in the rock for me? Then came the celebration of communion which, of course, the three of us could not “celebrate.” Because of the size of the crowd there were a dozen priests carrying the wafers to believers up each of the aisles. A couple of pews in front of me, I noticed a non-white young woman, indeed a black African young woman, as it turned out. She stood at the edge of the aisle as one of the priests came along with his basket of wafers. He dutifully gave a wafer to each person except when he came to the black young woman – her hands raised in praise to her God. The priest looked at her, LOOKED at her, but did not give her the bread of communion (or as I call it, community). Here in St. Jacob’s Church – patron saint of lost causes (?), the needy, I saw what seemed to me like discrimination because of skin color. All of a sudden, I became needy, a seriously lost cause, and did not know what to do. I could see the disappointed face of this black young woman. I became agitated thinking I must do something. In front of all these priests and hundreds of believers (or the curious). Everyone sat down, I excused myself past a couple of people, got to the aisle and went to the young black woman. Quietly, I asked her if she did receive the bread. She said no – her face was hurting. I asked why? She said, I don’t know. Looking down the aisle, I noticed a different priest coming down the aisle with his basket of wafers. I whispered to him that this young black woman did not receive the bread. He gave her a wafer. I returned to my place in the pews. I think it was all done with a minimum of disruption, although sometimes disruption (turning over the temple tables???) is needed in the church – even one named after Jacob, who wrestled someone, maybe an angel, apparently came away with a limp, but also a new name, Israel, now illegally occupying Palestinian land. God, does it never end????)


The rest of the day was very nice, although I felt like I was suffering with irritable bowel syndrome, without the bowel part. I was disturbed, upset, thinking, my spiritual spine crunching and twisting and turning into question marks and exclamation marks. I felt the need to go off by myself for a while but I stuck with my traveling companions. Today I find myself looking for some form of gentleness, kindness, a repair of the physical and emotional self. The spiritual self will squeeze in there, too, seeking its own relief from desolation and fear. But those angels – maybe the same one that wrestled Jacob (!!), thankfully urges me – all of us – not to be afraid. See you soon.

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This is Garth Strange, rubbing my eyes in the morning, a beautiful morning here in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I look out the window each morning, I am still surprised to see mountains out the window, they are beautiful and mysterious. Especially at sunset when the mountains to the west of the city become very dark black as the sun sets behind them. I am loving those mountains. I am including at least one recent poem in this blog, maybe more, as I get ready to take the 5 minute walk to the campus of Dzemal Bijedic University. My two companions from the states (the “other” poet and the history prof) are probably already at their offices!!  I took some photos of where we live and work and will post them soon, here is a poem or two:




all things


I never



my heart




the problem.




I am from here, Mostar.

I have two pets,

a cat and a bunny

but I can’t give

them names. If I do

I will get too close

to them, have many

feelings for them. I may

come home some day

and my mom will have

done something with them.

I hide them in my

bedroom. This is one

of the things in my life.

— Garth Strange

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Welcome back. Today, my friend, Garth Strange, stopped by my office on the campus of Dzemal Bijedic University here in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. His computer was not working so he borrowed mine to write his second blog. I’m surprised he is actually writing another one. I thought his lack of a “normal” attention span would mean one blog and he’d be on to something else. However, he seems to have written something, good luck!!


Ok, I’m putting my blog in bold print so you know the difference between my personal stuff and anything my friend (the poet) might write. He says above that I dropped by his office when, actually, he and his wife (the academic Fulbright scholar!!) share an office WITH ME! I’m just not glued to office hours like they are and I don’t require some “official” space to work. My name isn’t even on the door but, come to think of it, neither is theirs. So it’s really nobody’s office with four desks, four or five chairs, one desk top computer, one window looking out on a bombed out building from the Bosnian war of the early 1990’s and remember, if you come to the office, there is a one inch step up from the hall into the office that I forget every time as I trip my way into the space reserved for those “Americans.” And there is nothing hanging on the white walls which is fine with me.


I hear students out in the hallway, they are speaking Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian to each other, they are loud – or the sound just carries well between the narrow space outside our office. The sound which I think is beautiful is seen as an angry clash by my office mates. I explain that it is a little like Chinese or Vietnamese speaking to each other and sounding like a fight is about to break out!!


This morning my Phonology I class met. Their assignment was to research at least four sites, newspapers, online, etc., on the gun culture of the U.S., inspired (if you can call it that!) by the Las Vegas shooting of over 550 people, with at this time 58 dead, by Mr. Paddock. (I can’t remember his first name) I had my class of about twenty students break into groups of 3 or 4 to discuss among themselves what they found. They each have a journal where they write their responses, reactions and questions. Then we discussed as a class their small group conversations. The main questions:  Why is it so easy to get a gun in the U.S.? Why do so many people need so many guns? Why is the U.S. such a violent culture? So, if you were me, how would you answer those questions? Questions from mostly students from Bosnia and Herzegovina? Mostly very young students who are starting their university education. The 2nd Amendment should be correctly interpreted or even repealed? Instead of talking about “reasonable” gun control, talk about what some would call “unreasonable” gun safety regulations? (I like the repeal idea – IT MAKES SENSE!) And I like gathering 9/10ths of the guns and melting them down to make jungle gym equipment or cars that get 100 miles to the gallon or electrical charge. It was a good class.


I want to rent a car and drive around BiH sometime soon, to Stolac or Bihac or maybe out of the country to Croatia – to Split or down to Dubrovnik. Maybe this weekend. I need a break. I love my students and my colleagues (except the two I share an office with – they are boring Americans!!) are great. I want to write more poems and work on my novel. No one has seen the first 50 pages – and I’ve been stalled at the first 50 pages for months! Sometimes my attention span just derails me from projects. You might have heard that from my American friend, the poet, he should talk!!!

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Welcome to the first installment of my blog (where did that word come from??) from Bosnia and Herzegovina. My name is Garth Strange. I came here with two friends of mine, a husband (the poet) and wife (the academic and Fulbright teaching fellow, her third!). I was able to afford to make the trip on my own and I have been here several times since 2000 and I wanted to return – for various reasons, none of them involving the would-be interesting secret lover scenario! I too am a writer, mostly poetry, so this “blog thing” is very new to me. I have been appointed Poet-in-Residence at Dzemal Bijedic University here in Mostar. I am very excited and happy to be back in BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) since my last visit was in 2010 and much has changed (and much has stayed the same, I am told) so I am anxious to find out on my own and report back to you (who are you?) if you are interested.


Perhaps I should explain my name as there might be a couple of questions about it. My first name was given to me by a much older sister since, again as I am told, my parents whom I never knew, more on that later, could not decide – the word is their alcoholism got in the way, for some reason (!). This older sister loved the name Garth – long before the singer, Garth Brooks, was on the scene. The family story tells me that my sister, obviously I don’t remember her name or I would tell you (maybe something like Thyra), had a boyfriend who had a brother who had a cousin named Garth somewhere near Beaumont, Texas. She had a crush on him and even though the crush developed into nothing, she remembered “Garth” for life. My last name was already set, Strange, as it was my parent’s name. By the way, I may be related to Luther Strange, the Alabama politician who just lost the Alabama Republican primary to replace Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat and was Trump’s man! Too bad…sad. However, I did not vote for Trump, have worked actively to resist his presidency and have been in Alabama only a few times, once in 1965 while driving my black VW 1959 bug with California plates (the summer of Watts) and being followed across the state by some ol’ Bama KKK’ers protecting their confederate rights. They didn’t seem interested in just talking over a beer and working things out!!  (Attention:  As you can see, I am often given to verbal wandering when writing, but it is just the way my mind works perhaps with the help of Klonopin and Cymbalta. I also claim the right to be inconsistent with my “facts” although regarding my life, the people I meet and events taking place in BiH, I will be as focused and clear as possible).


Speaking of BiH…after flying from Wichita (yes, that’s right, the largest city in Kansas, about the population of Sarajevo), through Chicago and Munich we landed about noon in Sarajevo on September 14. It was timed to be a birthday gift from the wife I am traveling with to her husband. A very perfect gift for him and, and as it turns out, for me as well. Yes, I have the same birthday as the other poet. Coincidence? We spent four days in Sarajevo, a beautiful city with incredible – in all senses of that word – new glass front buildings housing shopping malls and car dealerships like “Sarajevo Porsche.” We were sitting in a taxi and driving the street from the airport in Butmir, a neighborhood/suburb of this capital city, into downtown. What was known as “sniper alley” during the tragically brutal wars of the early 1990’s, was now a boulevard shared with the familiar tram, with new carriages, some donated by the international community and others built in BiH and thousands of cars and buses. The taxi driver turned right off of Obala Kulina bana, crossed the Skenderija most (bridge) and took us to our hotel in the Skenderija neighborhood across the Miljacka River from the city center.

Ok, my attention span has reached its end so I am going to stop writing for now. Next time I will spend a little time on our four days in Sarajevo, my good friend D. whom I met on my first trip to BiH in 2000 and the beautiful and funny young woman working at the café where I went several times for kafa Bosanski…#1 Bascarsija…if you want to know the address. I welcome feedback and creative (or non-creative, whose to judge?) responses to Garth Strange’s blog. Hvala (thank you). There’s a story there, too!  www.michaelpoage.com

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According to the United Nations, one-third of the Gazans killed are children.

Some in the international community are beginning to admit that the Israeli

military is committing genocide and infanticide.  Every day, and sometimes

hourly, Israel commits horrific violations of international and moral law.  I can’t

help but believe that the heart of Israel is weeping, even breaking, as this nation,

holding itself up as a model of democracy, commits violent atrocities against the

innocent.  Rabbi Henry Siegman, former Executive Director of the American

Jewish Congress, said recently, responding to a question about what Israel

could have done to avoid the carnage:  “Sure, they could have ended the

occupation.”  I say, now, end the occupation of Palestinian lands, remove the

settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, end the siege of Gaza,

re-establish the 1967 borders, establish a just peace for all and hold Israel

accountable at the International Criminal Court.  Just as no nation would stand

to have rockets fired at it from another nation, neither do the people of Gaza

chose to live as they are forced to live, in a prison, with every movement restricted

and every life oppressed by brutal power.


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