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Tragedy and transformation: Visuals of violence in Palestine

Violence and grief in Palestine
This picture was taken in Ramallah in the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield in April, 2002.  The curfew was lifted for a few hours while the city was under control of the Israeli military. Photo by Peter Shafer.   Photo: Peter Shafer / Peter Shafer

The number of dead and injured in Israel and the Palestinian terrorites continues to grow in recent weeks. The violence is the result of brutal force used to maintain the occupation. In this piece Mike Merryman-Lotze reflects on the violence and the videos and images of that violence being circulated. He asks why such images are necessary for outrage and compassion to address the roots of the problem. Read more in AFSC's recent statement about the current situation. - Lucy

On October 11th a two year old child, Rahaf Hassan, and her mother were killed in Gaza when Israel dropped a bomb on their home. A video is going around of Rahaf being cradled in her distraught father's arms as he begs her to wake up. I have seen the first few seconds of the video as it automatically plays on my Facebook feed, and the grief is unbearable. I can't bring myself to watch the full video.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the video, feelings that are similar to my feelings about the publication of photos of Alyan Kurdi's body lying on a Turkish beach. There is something voyeuristic about watching grief and tragedy play out. I understand that these videos and pictures are shared because of their emotional impact and with a hope that they will change opinions and spur action. But what is wrong with us that we need a video of grief or a picture of tragedy to recognize that the killing of children is wrong? Nearly half of the 25 people killed in Palestine during the last week have been children. Each of those lost lives should lead to outrage and questions.

That said, I hope that this video will help some move past the racist position which says that Palestinians/Arabs do not love their children. This is something I hear expressed often. Can you watch this video and not recognize deep love and loss? We must recognize the real loss that each death brings, even when grief is not this obvious.

I remember visiting with the father of two Palestinian men who were executed by Israeli soldiers during the second Intifada. I visited several weeks after the two young men were killed. The father of the two young men who had been killed and I talked for nearly an hour, and I only heard expressions of praise for the sons and "pride" for their "sacrifice". As we were leaving I wished the man happy holidays because the Eid was near. He bitterly spat out, "there will be no holidays without my sons". His grief breaking through.

On our return trip to Ramallah we stopped at the home of another family whose young teenage son had been killed by the Israeli military. Again we heard strong words and expressions of pride. Yet when the boy’s mother was not in the room other relatives spoke of their worry, of how she would sneak out of the house each night to sleep at her son’s grave, about how grief was overwhelming her. Again, grief had no public face but was ever present. The grief shown in the video from Gaza is not exceptional, overwhelming grief is felt by the families and friends of every person killed in this conflict.

So much oppression in Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere is justified and allowed to continue because of our dehumanization of those who are suffering and dying. We justify killing by saying that those dying do not value life. Yet the reality is that people are risking their lives precisely because they value their lives and are striving for freedom.

I hope this video will challenge the racism that under girds so much of the public U.S. discourse on Palestine and the Middle East, but I also wish that voyeuristic viewing of suffering was not needed to push forward transformation.

Related content:

Address root causes to end violence and bring justice in Israel and the Palestinian territories

Gaza one year on: Does the world wake up?

An unnatural disaster: What I saw in Gaza

U.S. must aid Syrians, help end causes of their plight

About the Author

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle East Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US.