It is difficult to throw off the sense of being trapped in a recurring nightmare, the same feeling of paralysis and powerlessness to prevent this happening again. If this is how I feel, far away and safe in the UK, how does it feel to be a Palestinian in Gaza? Reporting the number of dead – at least 232 Palestinians in Gaza, including 65 children, as well as 27 in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and twelve in Israel, including two children, two Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and three migrant workers – does not cut it. Even reciting the names of the dead who I do not know leaves me numb. I clutch at some words from amid the ruins and graves. Someone called Ismail writes:
I’ve noticed a new phenomenon on social media in Gaza: people are sending their loved ones farewell messages before their death… I cannot accept that you will see all the blood and cruelty in Gaza and will not care. That you are not willing to do a thing beyond settling for justifications that protect your military actions… I am writing to tell you that this struggle, before it is a political or historical or ideological struggle, is our human struggle. A struggle for our humanityIsmail, “Here in Gaza, people are sending farewell messages to their loved ones” +972 Magazine, 17 may 2021
Gazan lawyer and activist Fatima Ashour wrote on her Facebook page in Arabic:
I lost my home yesterday. And when I went there today, all was already destroyed…. I rescued whatever I was able to from there, but I left my spirit there, behind. We’re doomed to be exiled a thousand times, inside our country and outside of it… These are their memories that were also bombed, clothes, books, pictures, tears, laughter and dreams… all these were bombed and disappeared in a second, before your eyes, and there is nothing you can do but flee, with a naked spirit and bereft of everything.Quoted by Ahmed on the אנחנו שמעבר לגדר (We who are on the other side of the wall) Facebook page, May 12, 2021
As I listen closely, I begin to feel something. I can also feel something of the anxiety that the Indian migrant care worker who looks after my father in Karmiel has, even though they are beyond the range of Hamas rockets. I can also feel the mixture of apathy and disappointment of the residents of the area in Israel bordering Gaza, a third of whom have left for safer locations, that their government that their government has not put an evacuation plan into action, so they rely on their own resources of mutual aid instead. Like the citizens in Gaza, they are pawns in someone else’s deadly game.
I can remind myself of what I wrote when this happened before, in 2014, in 2012 ( was not writing in 2008-9). At least in 2014, although the misery and injury lasted seven weeks and interrupted my summer research, I diverted my energy into collating a special issue of the academic journal Theory and Event about the Israeli war on Gaza. I was coherent enough to write what I thought were seven insightful blogs about topics such as “This is what conflict management looks like,” and about how asymmetrical warfare, as between Israel and Hamas, is inevitably punctuated by moments in which civilian casualties capture public and political attention. But my earnest posts have not stopped the cynical Israeli practice of “mowing the grass” and shrugging off the public relations cost of cutting down all the flowers – all the Palestinian lives – that grow in it.
I also wrote in 2014 about the Israeli dissenters to their country’s war on Gaza, including the creative intervention of the Bereaved Families Forum to beg to end the flow of bereavement. I found hope in the slogan chanted at anti-war demonstrations, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” claiming it is a radical chant, refusing the the ethno-national-religious grounds on which the conflict is conducted. But the cycle of bereavement has not stopped and the slogan is once again being chanted at anti-war demonstrations, this time against the background of ethnic-inter-communal violence within Israel. Now the slogan seems more like a leap of faith then ever. A ceasefire has been announced and I hope it holds, even though I know it is unlikely to be more than that – a ceasefire – a respite before the next round. Somewhere in the rubble there is some hope, but today it is still buried. It is a time for mourning.