I have been feeling numb for a while; the overwhelming news in the past few days has focused on the displaced, the searing stories of people who fled in fear and left all their possessions behind. Pleas on TV stations and on the radio of people who lost their loved ones … Stories of their anxiety about homes they left behind … Scenes of people murdered on the roads as they fled … And stories of the destruction they saw on those roads.
I get confused: Am I seeing and hearing the stories of Palestinians who fled their homes in fear in 1948?
No: I am in Beirut, it is 2006, and these are the stories of the Lebanese who have been rendered refugees, but by the same perpetrators of the 1948 displacement: the State of Israel.
I have been collapsing. I cannot even write, or talk … I’m sad for my niece and nephew who were dreaming of a summer in Lebanon, where they hoped to attend a performance of the legendary Fairuz singing in Baalbeck, of seeing the ancient ruins they’d read about in their school in France. My niece was anxiously waiting to visit.
I have been feeling imprisoned, in a jail cell that is getting smaller and smaller by the day. I miss strolling by the sea. I miss reading some news … I miss receiving good news …
Good news: Analysts are saying Israel lost the war! Israelis themselves are now claiming this. I never imagined in my life that I would hear of a defeat of the state of Israel without feeling victorious and elated.
Instead, I am scared to feel happy. Israel will never accept their loss … God save us from what they will do next.
We woke up this morning to the news of another massacre in Qana, the town that suffered so much in April 1996. Reporters are choking on dust while reporting on air from the scene of the crime. The bodies of children and women start to come out.
Ten bodies were removed. Twenty bodies were removed. Forty bodies were removed.
More than 50 bodies have now been removed.
Twenty-one children under ten women, and under them, more women and children.
The rescuers are people from the village, and the story as told by one of the lucky who survived to the Lebanese reporters is as follows:
We were 63 people from two families in that shelter. We came to this house because it is in the middle of Qana; our houses are mostly on the outskirts of the village and whenever Israel shells we get hit with shrapnel. We decided we needed to move to this house since it is in the middle and we will be safer. We have been staying here for more than fifteen days, we do not leave the house, and the Red Cross brings water and food for us. At 1:00 AM, after everyone was asleep, my cousin called me to have a cup of tea. I went to his room, and as we were just about to sip our tea, we heard a loud explosion and yaa Muhammad! Dust filled the air. My cousin started to cry, ‘My family, my children…they are gone!’ I started to comfort him. Then, a few minutes later, another Israeli missile hit the same building, and there was so much dust that we could not see. …We went to the center of the village and we started to yell for anyone who was still there and had refused to move to Beirut. We told them there is a massacre and we need help! They started to call for the Red Cross, for other rescue organizations, for the Lebanese Army. We kept crying for help. From 1 am until 8 am, the rescue team that you see, the very meager Red Cross, and a few Lebanese army soldiers, mostly people from the village, arrived to help us.An Al-Manar reporter, barely able to control himself, says “God is Great!” after each sentence. Scenes of horror: corpses of babies, one child, two children, three children. Fifty-seven murdered; half of them are children under 13.
With each body removed from under the rubble, journalists run to take photos.
Click! Flash! Click! Flash!
How can they do it? I am outraged on behalf of the dead, who are turned into objects for the camera to catch … objects for some photographers hoping for a “killer” shot to advance his or her career.
I am now at my computer, trying to tell my friends what I am watching on the screen; in other words, I am doing a body count.
I write to a friend, and get an email back from her: “I wish you could send me footage for people here to see in the US!”
I am not sure how much you need to see in order to feel outrage, in order to refuse wars, in order to denounce this murder and destruction.
Why should I send footage for you to see? If the eye sees while the brain is dead — dead from the bloody images you see so frequently that they get normalized — what then happens if you see? Maybe you’ll send me an apology? Write creatively about it? Try to aestheticize this? Call for a theater performance with eloquently spoken words in order to give people an incentive to come here, or to act? But they won’t come.
What happens if you see? You will cry a bit, like me, and then maybe you’ll go about your day as planned. What happens if you see? Will US public opinion change?
But can there be people who do not yet know what is happening here? Do they need to see the bodies in order to know who to vote for the next time, in a country where there is next to no difference between Republicans and Democrats?
Does it require much more knowledge for you to know that wars that kill innocents are unjustifiable? Do we need to see the dismembered bodies, the demolished houses, and the shattered dreams? Do we need to see “women and children weeping” in order to humanize those who are dying?
Is there not a danger that the result of repetitive viewing of these crimes and atrocities might result in amnesia and numbness? Is it simply knowledge that you lack? Or is it the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions that you lack?
Put our knowledge into your practice.
Integrate our minds into your emotions.
Be passionate about what we know.
That will give us, and you, the courage to act.
How many more massacres do you have to see to know that the state of Israel is brutal? Aren’t Deir Yassin, Kafar Qasem, Safsaf, Tantoura, Sabra and Shatila, Qana I, Marwaheen, Sour/Tyre, and now Qana II information enough for you to know the meaning of terrorism?
Just how many outcries do you need to hear before you act out of a commitment to humanity, a humanity that links you and me and so many beyond this sick consumerism of images?
To tell you the truth, my friend, we have lost faith in the idea that “public opinion” is capable of changing anything. We have lost faith in an international community that can back us and stop these massacres. The UN is now just another cold and unfeeling face of the United States.
Or it is simply an organization as helpless and powerless as we are here? Its representatives die under the bombs alongside us, and no one is allowed to condemn Israel. We have lost faith in you because we do not think you can act on your knowledge, or that your knowledge even matters anymore.
We have lost faith in you because we think your governments do not give a damn about how you think or what you think. We have lost faith in you because you do not live in democracies, and hence your opinion does not matter anyway — there or here!
We have lost faith in you because your democracy got exported to us with your missiles, and we are consuming them while you are consuming our news.
Mayssoun Sukarieh is a native of Beirut