Image of a hand forming a peace sign on fire.Watching the riots at the American consulate in Libya brings back memories of when I was caught in similar circumstances during my reporting experiences in Israel. That was already 20 years ago but the visceral memory of being amid a mob bent on killing has stayed with me. It was during the first Palestinian intifada and I had gone to a hospital in East Jerusalem following a particularly violent day in which many Palestinians had been killed and dozens wounded.

At the entrance to Makassed Hospital, I watched as dusty station wagons pulled up with injured Palestinians who were lined up in the hallways on stretchers, one after the other. I had to find out how many people had come in, who they were and where they had come from. But I couldn’t ask for a person’s name because Israel was using journalist reports to identify those who had been involved in demonstrations and tracking them down.

So, I had to get a story but any attempt to obtain the slightest information was met with suspicion that I was an Israeli Mossad agent posing as a journalist. After talking with the director of the hospital and interviewing a few people in semi-private rooms upstairs, where tempers had cooled down, I returned to the main floor of the hospital where I heard loud chants coming from the central courtyard. When I went out there, a mass of young Palestinians had gathered together, a flowing, undulating mass of humanity carrying masked shibab on their shoulders, waving large Palestinian flags and shouting in Arabic, “Slaughter the Jews, Slaughter the Jews!”

I stayed to the side, watching as the impromptu protest grew in volume and strength, wondering how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would ever get resolved. After a while I realized that someone would figure out that I was an American Jew, so I left quietly and walked back through East Jerusalem to get to the Associated Press offices.

I am no longer working as a reporter; I have covered too many wars, too many violent clashes and demonstrations. Instead, I have turned to making books and writing poetry in order to come to grips with everything and, in my own small way, to try to bring solace to others. A year after 9/11, I found myself sitting at Penn Station in New York City, listening to the announcements and watching passersby — and that’s where I wrote the outlines of  this poem…

If You See Something, Say Something By Rick Black

At Penn Station in New York City,

a public address announcement warns:

“If you see something, say something.”


And I think to myself: if you see a bomb, say bomb;

and if you see a dog, say dog;

and if you see a flower,

say flower.


A black dog sniffs people’s luggage,

then moves on. A symphony of people –

like a Vivaldi waterfall – rushes

to catch a train.


I am alone with my aloneness,

but I am not alone in this train station,

watching all of the passengers.


So, if you see a bomb, say bomb;

and if you see a dog, say dog;

and if you see a flower,

say flower.


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