On the morning of July 18, 2014 the slide show of photos on the Haaretz Hebrew online version’s front page included a couple of typical photographic representations of war. Perhaps they are unremarkable in themselves, among the daily flow of images of the current armed conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. But perhaps the way the two photos could regard each other, or what they might want of each other, is remarkable.
One is a picture of how mainstream Israeli society sees itself in this war. The reserve soldier is a citizen reporting for duty, ready to serve his country, to protect it. He is there to be the “protective edge.” There is no celebration in the picture, no excitement, no loud hurrah, no waving flags, no parade. Other than the couple in the foreground, and the military fatigues and T-shirts worn by three of the group of men, they look as if they could be heading off on a job together. That is how Israel sees itself going off to war, somberly, reluctantly, only because it is necessary. Only because of them, their rockets, their refusal to accept a cease fire, their refusal to let us live in peace.
These are men gathering for war, but the face that is turned towards us is not the soldier in the foreground, but his girlfriend’s. Her expression is partly obscured by her sunglasses, so we don’t see her eyes, but we can see the anxiety and concern in her face as she embraces him. This too is part of the way Israel (and other countries) go to war, the men leaving the women behind. He puts himself in danger to protect her. Yet in this war (as in many other wars) as the soldier goes off to the front while the home front is left exposed to their rockets. In this case, as the girlfriend and other friends and relatives in the picture are in Haifa, they are beyond the range of all but a few rockets. But still, it makes sense that we see her face, because in this kind of war, she is as much a protagonist as her boyfriend. All civilians are human shields in this war, including Uda Al- Wadj, the Israeli Bedouin killed by a rocket that hit his community, Qasr al-Sir, close to the Israeli nuclear reactor in Dimona.
In another picture the face that is most visible to us is also a girl’s, in this case an injured, infant girl, in the arms not of a soldier but a man wearing surgical gloves and a face mask. Other than the mark on her head and what might be a bandage on her foot, it’s hard to make out the extent of her injuries. Her eyes are mostly closed, but we see the distress on her face and the concern on the man’s as he moves to rest her on a bed. Behind them, we see a group of men in the uniforms of medical staff. Unable to protect the girl – and themselves – from the missiles and shells that the Israeli military rain down on Gaza, these men’s duty is to treat the wounded. Here there is no difference between the front and the home front. The girl is on the front line, along with the men.
This is how most Palestinians experience the war with Israelis, with the reservists quietly going to the front. They shoot at us and bomb us. They drive us from our land. They make war on all of us, fighters and civilians, men and women, adults and children, young and old. They turn us into refugees. The choice is to remain steadfast and risk death, or flee. In Gaza, there is nowhere safe to flee to that is safe from their missiles and bombs. We are in the hands of God.
If the eyes of the injured Palestinian girl would open and the young Israeli woman would take off her sunglasses, and their eyes should meet, would the killing and maiming stop, would the men be able to stop doing their duty? Is this what the two pictures want from each other? Is this what all the human shields, Israeli and Palestinian alike, want from each other?