Mareeg.com-On the afternoon of July 16th, at exactly 2:28p.m, the New York Times published an article titled “Four Boys Killed Playing on Gaza Beach”. By 11:50p.m the article had gone through 7 published drafts and was retitled “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife”. Amongst the final changes is the complete deletion of a sentence that states that the “Israeli Defense Forces acknowledged later that it was responsible for the ‘tragic outcome’ and had intended to hit Hamas militants”. The current sentence reads “The Israeli military acknowledge later that it has launched the strike, which it said was aimed at Hamas militants, and called the civilian deaths “a tragic outcome”. Comparing these strategically different drafts is an exercise in one-sided coverage.
Unlike these semantic edits meant to ease the burden of responsibility, the photograph accompanying the article expressed in an instant the depths of the tragedy; a trauma that could not be softened by edits. Perhaps it was the man running across a deserted beach clutching desperately onto the body of murdered child. Perhaps it was the other child pictured lying limply in the foreground, covered in blood, dead from the blast, positioned with his face in the sand. Perhaps it is the knowledge that these boys and two others were playing carelessly on a warm day as children do before they were killed. But in that moment, I was sure. I was sure that the manner in which we speak is critical to preserving the victim’s humanity as well as our own. I am sure that the deaths of Ismail Bakr, 9, Ahed Bakr, 10, Zakaria Bakr, both 10, and Mohammed Bakr, 11, were not just “tragic casualties”. Their deaths were senseless. I am sure that they will not be the last. I am sure that we are bearing witness to the dispossession of the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, ‘secondly’. Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.” Chimamanda Adichie, the Nigerian writer, spoke these words in the context of power. If a people are stripped of the ability to speak for themselves, to make their truths known and to craft their own history, someone else will do it for them. When our news sources demonstrate timidity in the face of a child’s death, we become observers to the dispossession of a people. We become accomplices to their dehumanization, we become in one way or another, culpable.
As the violence escalates in the region, these numbers change with chilling frequency. They worsen. In the midst of this violence, reports become simultaneously more harrowing and hollow. The number of Palestinian deaths increases at an aggressive rate each day while conflict reports continue to force an erroneous perspective of equitable damage. Hardly anything can be heard over the mantra of “both are to blame”.
The conflict has become a deluge of false equivalences. However, the insidiousness of these comparisons lies in the instances in which they are employed. When measuring the level of violence enacted within the conflict, Hamas and the IDF are put on equal footing. The violence, considered in rockets fired or bombs deployed, is said to be coming from both sides with similar frequency and force. It is only when the casualties of this violence are reported on that the balances tip. Here there is no comparison to be made, no grand discussions of the value of every human life. Only Palestinian civilian deaths listed coldly off as casualties and Israeli civilian safety listed as the ultimate priority. Imagine for a moment that over 500 Israeli civilians were killed within 14 days as a result of Hamas’s actions. What would be the appropriate response from the IDF? Would those deaths be discussed with the gravity that they deserve or would they disappear into the list of casualties for that day? There is no equity between discussion of Palestinian and Israeli lives and not even those who claim equivalence in all else will argue that point.
There are constant speculations about the impossibility and inevitability of violence in the region. This overly simplistic notion encourages the question of final responsibility. Which side perpetuates the problem and which side is in a constant state of defense? And although it’s tempting to engage in this conversation, it is not beneficial. Indeed, the question itself was built to be answered in only one way, “If Palestine were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israel were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel.” This fallacy originally credited to Prime Minister Netanyahu, but perpetually spoken by many simultaneously exonerates the stronger Israelis and paints all Palestinian resistance as unnecessary belligerence. The world is demanding peace from the occupied.
While the large-scale question of culpability is examined, even the discourse surrounding deaths has become increasingly political. Almost any coverage of the conflict lists Palestinian casualties and swiftly moves into analysis on Hamas’s tactics in the region. Effectively trivializing the lives of the Palestinians, but also exonerating Israel in the process. The death toll is conveyed with a proverbial asterisk, shrouded in insinuations of justified retaliation. I have seen those statistics rattled off until the last bit of humanity is squeezed out of them. And in time between reports those numbers enter our collective consciousness like data entering a machine. The process through which desensitization is so quiet, so innocuous that we fail to notice it while it’s happening. It appears to us in re-edited articles, meant to draw the humanity out of a humanitarian crisis.
It is imperative on us to hear those statistics in order to testify to the depths of this destruction. In Gaza: over 2000 targets struck by Israel, over 500 overwhelmely civilian dead. In Israel: 1,241 rockets launched from Gaza, one civilian dead. Since Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge,” over 500 (369 Civilian Palestinians) and 26 (25 IDF and one civilian Israelis) have been killed. With Iron Dome defense system most of the Hamas rockets were intercepted. Since, then IDF succeeded in bombing eight mosques, three hospitals and Al-Mezan Association for Human Rights has reported more than 850 houses have been either completely destroyed or partly devastated throughout the operation. Among the 500 dead, most of the victims are civilian women and children. Israel’s announcement that they will continue to their invasion will dramatically escalate casualties on both sides, marking the first ground invasion since 2008-09 when 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
These are today’s numbers. I shudder to think of tomorrow’s.