A security guard refuses to allow a customer to enter a supermarket. A small group clings to the individualistic rights that the overwhelming majority have agreed to forego. A government crashes its own economy.
Those stories only make sense if you know that a pandemic has overturned normal life. Covid is the lede, the indispensable point which inverts the apparent rights and wrongs of these stories. Without the lede, you would draw the wrong conclusion from each of the stories.
So it is with these recent headlines, Israel Strikes Hamas Targets After Rocket Launches or Israel hits Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire
There goes Hamas again, disturbing a quiet morning and provoking the Israeli military for no apparent reason.
Israel’s occupation and illegal blockade of Gaza is the lede, the sine qua non that makes sense of the story. Again this morning, Gazans woke up with countless weapons of aggression pointing at them, with concrete walls and fences and drones and warships surrounding them, with technology and scarcity and deprivation combining to diminish their life chances. They woke up trapped on a firing range.
Try writing the story that way.
“Still dispossessed, illegally blockaded and deprived of their basic human rights, Gazan Palestinians continue to resist. Fighters fired a number of rockets which landed in an Israeli field. Israel, still flaunting international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dispatched warplanes to fire grossly larger explosive missiles into Gazan cities. They claim to have blown up something that was in some way related to the governing authority, but they provided no evidence.”
Given all that; given an occupied people’s legal right to armed resistance (which the International Criminal Court must weigh against the illegality of firing rockets that cannot be aimed); given that the casualties and rubble of this occupation have been overwhelmingly Palestinian; and given the wildly different realities of threat arising from the exchange of fire being reported … why does the media begin with, and implicitly blame the whole mess on, a rocket?
There would be no rocket if there were no occupation and blockade. To start the story with the rocket is to have normalised all the generations and tonnage of damage done to date. Gazan resistance is a response to Israel’s occupation. Why not start there, by asking why Israel maintains the abysmal conditions which give rise to armed resistance?
To be clear, I regard Hamas as an unpleasant product of Israel’s occupation. Having lived under their rule for four years, I believe that they constitute a secondary oppression for Gazans. As a peace-loving, life-loving person, I regard every exchange of fire as a failure of human reason and empathy. However, responsibility for those failures is not equally shared. Neither are the harms, and neither are the threats implied by these exchanges of fire. Stand next to the hole made by a rocket and the crater left by a one-ton bomb. Neither one is nice but you would never, ever mistake one for the other.
Yet, again and again, the media treats Israel as a normal society while treating resistance as the disturbance of normalcy. Why not take law basic human equality as the norm, and challenge Israel’s deviation from that standard?
What’s wrong with us, that we think ‘normal’ can or should consist of Gazans accepting life prospects and living conditions that we, ourselves, would never tolerate for our children?
The current normalcy is predicated on Gazans being jolted awake by bombs and missiles landing in crowded neighbourhoods. Have you ever heard a good-sized bomb explode near enough to make your building shudder, make the doors leap inward from their hinges and turn the windows to spiderwebs? Gazans wake up this way, times beyond counting.
In the mornings after those nights, we used to gather at the desks of colleagues who lived near the sites of missile attacks, bringing cups of strong Turkish coffee and whatever chocolate was at hand. We would ask if they still had windows, and whether their children had gotten back to sleep. After each shock, recovery was measured by the number of children who were willing to sleep in their beds, and the number who would only sleep beneath their beds for safety in case the planes came back. Thunderstorms were an agony for children and their sleep-deprived parents.
The Israeli air force’s ability and willingness to fire into Gazan homes and streets keeps the violence far from Israeli children’s beds or Tel Aviv beaches, while ensuring that there is no square inch of safe civilian space in the Gaza Strip. Nowhere is not dangerous. To be in Gaza is to be hypervigilant because the car in front of you, the apartment down the hall, the road beneath your feet, or your neighbour’s son may be targeted without warning, in the next minute. Most young Gazan adults have never been free to leave the Strip. They have lived every minute on this firing range.
That is the lived ‘normal’ which our media declines to mention. And it is the normalcy that proponents of Israel’s occupation are keen to elide by speaking only of Hamas rather than the whole human community of the Gaza Strip. Gaza is not Hamas, and Hamas is not Gaza.
When the story begins with that rocket, it asks Gaza, ‘Why do you disturb the peace?’ With its lede, the story would ask why Israel perpetuates these unforgivable conditions.
But why resist that way? Why poke the Israeli bear? When I asked them, my Palestinian colleagues sighed that the world only notices Gazans when they fight. As soon as there is quiet, the rest of us turn quickly away until Gazans find some way to remind us, “We’re still here.”
I wonder if they are right. Is it our quiet morning that the rocket unsettled – is that why our media seems more ready to condemn the resistance than the injustice?