Friday, March 1, 2024

Who Are We If We Look Away? Why Gaza Should Be In Our Thoughts (and in Our Actions!)

For three months now, Gaza has been under attack – a brutal, relentless onslaught that has killed “record-breaking” numbers of innocent children and civilians. So where is the news coverage? Where is the outrage? Where is the action? And what can we actually do to make a difference?

As we trickle back to work after the Christmas/NY break and try to remember our computer logins through our foggy holiday brains, it’s also normally a time that I’m actually at my most creative. It’s typically when my folder of story ideas is overflowing, having had the chance to recharge my batteries.

But this year, there’s one story that has been occupying my thoughts, leaving little space for much else.

It’s an image I see in my mind most nights while I put my toddler down to sleep in his cot. Some nights, my eyes prick with tears as I kiss him goodnight, because while I am focused on him, I’m also thinking of a little boy on the other side of the earth.

I tried to quickly skip over the photo of this little boy the first time I saw it online – the brief glimpse made my stomach clench. But, an hour later, I felt a duty to go back and look. This little boy was lying on the floor of a hospital, blood pooled in several spots around him. He was crying. Crying in pain, because he no longer had a knee. Crying in pain, because he also no longer had a mother. 

Miraculously – a word that should never belong in this sentence – he was in a hospital that still had the resources available to give him a blood transfusion. A little cannula ran from one of his tiny, twisted hands. 

My son is nearly two and this little boy looked like he couldn’t be too much older. Perhaps only by a year or so.

In the weeks since, I have thought about that little boy and what he’s been through, often. I wonder what has become of him, what has become of his family. I think of his mother. I wonder if she had time to know what was happening.

And then, I think of how this little boy is just the very tip of the iceberg.

At the time of writing this – January 8 – at least 22,835 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip since October 7 2023.

At least 9,280 amongst the dead are children.

A further 58,416 Palestinians, like that little boy, have been injured in the ongoing attacks, which have now damaged or destroyed 60% of the enclave’s infrastructure. Nearly two million residents are now displaced amid increasingly acute shortages of food, gas, clean water and medicines due to a continuing blockade.

It is truly the stuff of nightmares.

I know many of us were haunted by these images over the break. I’ve spoken with many people who felt guilty for celebrating at Christmas, or guilty for complaining about the rain, or guilty when we caught a cold… and then thought of what was happening in Gaza and felt ashamed for being annoyed about something so ultimately trivial.

But I also know it’s been easy to ignore – or not even hear about what is continuing to happen in Gaza.  I follow several journalists in Gaza on my Instagram and have been horrified by their reports. I’ve been more horrified to find it’s scarcely in regular news feeds.

Over the Christmas break we’ve heard plenty about shark sightings, random murders in the States, Australia and France – but very little about the murders of thousands of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Today has been one of the rare days that a story has made it into our headlines in NZ – the death of another two journalists in Gaza: Mustafa Thuraya and Hamza Dahdouh. Mustafa and Hamza were traveling in an area in southwest Gaza that Israel had designated as safe, when an Israeli missile directly hit the car they were travelling in.

The death of Hamza was a particularly cruel blow, as he is the son of Wael Dahdouh, a fellow journalist who is currently the Arabic bureau chief in Gaza for Al-Jazeera. Since October 7 Wael has already lost his wife, Amna, his 15-year-old son Mahmoud, his 7-year-old daughter, Sham and his grandson, Adam. Last month, he was injured himself, in an attack that killed his cameraman, Samer Abudaqa. He has now lost his eldest son – a young 27-year-old who had recently got married. He now has just one daughter – she has lost every immediate member of her family, apart from her father.

Horrifically, stories like this are unfolding every day, every hour and every minute – yet news stories covering these events in NZ continue to be slim.

Has the news cycle moved on? Has the horror gone on for too long now? Is it too much to bear thinking about?

Because Gaza should be on our minds. 

It should be in our headlines. in our Instagram feeds and driving us to attend rallies and protests, and email our MPs and PMs to demand a ceasefire (not just the joint statement our PM released along with Canada and Australia that merely danced around the subject).

When I’ve brought up writing about Gaza with people I know over the last few weeks, I’ve had some interesting responses:

Why now? Why this war? There has been conflict for many, many decades – why are we – and so much of Instagram – suddenly interested now? What about what’s happening in Congo right now? In Ukraine? What’s been happening in the Middle East for eons?

Personally, I feel there’s two parts to this. One: I whole-heartedly believe it should never be too late for humans to become aware of the suffering of others and want to act. If we criticise everyone for not caring soon enough, not educating themselves earlier, or not apologising sooner – we run the risk of shaming people to a degree that they simply never engage, never look, never learn.

And secondly, the numbers of this genocide speak for themselves. James Denslow of Save the Children, in an interview last month with The Independent, said that the speed and intensity of the killings – particularly those of children – has been “record-breaking”.

“This is the highest number of children killed and maimed in one conflict since 2006 when United Nations records began,” he said.

“This is also 21 times higher than the number of children killed and maimed in Ukraine last year,” he added.

While electricity is scarce in Gaza, many journalists – and civilians – have continued to document the day-to-day realities. Social media has given many a window into the atrocities that are occurring.

“Oh really? That doesn’t seem very Capsule to write about.”

It’s true – Capsule is more a women’s lifestyle site. But… who is talking about what is happening in Gaza? If we leave these sorts of stories to hard news outlets and they don’t pick them up in NZ, it’s hard not to feel a responsibility to alert people.

I didn’t pick you as a Hamas Supporter.

Ok, so this one didn’t come from a conversation with a friend – but from a DM from someone I didn’t realise was following me on Insta (I have a private account). Last month I posted a story – a video of Succession actor Brian Cox movingly reading the last poem ever written by Palestinian poet, Refaat Alareer.

Titled ‘If I Must Die’ Alareer wrote the poem on Nov 1 2023, shortly before he was killed by an Israeli airstrike. I still can’t get through that video without crying.

But after I posted it I received a DM saying, ‘Funny. I didn’t pick you as a Hamas supporter. Shame on you’.

This. This right here is one of the roots of the entire issue of discussing what is occurring. It seems that many people cannot hold the idea that two things can be true: that you can be whole-heartedly against the actions of Hamas and the cruelty of the Oct 7 attacks, but you can also be against the retaliation of the IDF and senseless killings of tens and thousands of innocent Palestinians.

I’m against the slaughter of children – the idea that holding that belief automatically puts me in the fan group of a terrorist organisation is utterly absurd.

People don’t want to hear about that. 

People don’t. It’s true. Look, I don’t. But who are we if we look away?

Yes, it sucks seeing images of people trapped under rubble, of people carrying their badly injured children and running into a hospital with severely limited resources (often this includes no clean water) or, even worse, sobbing over the bodies of their children.

But do you know what sucks more? Being trapped under rubble. Carrying your badly injured children as you run into a hospital with severely limited resources. Sobbing over the bodies of your children. 

Who are we if we look away?

Okay, so what can we actually do?

Write an email to the PM.

Seriously. Putting pressure on our leaders to act, can make a difference. After many New Zealanders voiced their horror at seeing what was happening in Gaza, Christopher Hipkins, who was at the time our acting PM, issued a statement in his capacity as Labour Leader, demanding a ceasefire. Our new PM Christopher Luxon later released a joint-statement with Australia and Canada, which fell short of condemning the actions of the IDF and calling for a ceasefire.

Now is the time to email him if you support NZ calling for an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians in Gaza.

The South African government has lodged a case to the International Court of Justice (the UN’s highest court, based in the Hague) calling for an investigation of genocide by Israeli forces in Gaza. The case is due to be heard on Jan 11 and 12. Other countries have now supported South Africa – including the likes of Bolivia, Malaysia, Turkey and Jordan.

The PSNA (Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa) has written an email letter to our PM Christopher Luxon and provided the template here online and is encouraging all kiwis to also send it to our PM and ask that NZ demand a ceasefire, and to support the South African government’s case.

Follow reporters and journalists in Gaza on social media.

Give them a follow, leave a comment, share a post – by interacting with their accounts you give them the ability to be seen by more people and amplify their voices.

Here are a few:

Turn up to a rally / protest

Every weekend, groups are gathering around NZ to march and meet in support of the Palestinian people, and, in support of a ceasefire.

These rallies are full of hope, kindness and optimism. There are people from all walks of life – from every race, from the elderly in wheelchairs to newborns in prams. Protests can often sound as though they’re full of anger and danger – they’re often the angles that get news coverage, but from what we’ve seen, these rallies have been mostly peaceful, empathetic and powerful.

Show the people of Palestine that they are not alone. The world has not deserted them.

Donate

Getting aid into Gaza is currently one of the biggest challenges. There’s also plenty of scams online – be careful where you send your money. If you are making a donation, make it count! Often that means donating to organisations that have long histories working in these environments of conflict, particularly in Gaza itself: organisations like MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians), Save the Children, UNICEF, or UN Crisis Relief.

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