We don’t need to be asked on television about the deaths of our families. We don’t need to be talked about in clinical terms. We just need to be allowed to tell our stories.
As the number of dead, injured and homeless in Gaza rises, surpassing all previous wars against this small strip of land, we can sense a kind of collective numbness beginning to set in among the media, the public and government leaders.
When you reach tens of thousands, you lose the humanity of each tragedy behind those numbers – the individuality that makes each death, each injury and each destroyed house a source of trauma will reverberate for years.
And for us, the feeling of déjà vu is overwhelming.
About nine years ago, during a previous Israeli war on Gaza, Ahmed’s older brother, Ayman, was killed by an Israeli missile.
Petrified by grief, Ahmed then withdrew into himself. Pam, who had known Ahmed since moving to Gaza, noticed that his profile Facebook had gone out.
” How are you doing? » she shyly asked him via Messenger. At first, he replied, “It’s okay,” and she replied, “No, tell me the truth.”
Pam knew that Ahmed was working hard to improve his English. So, instead of avoiding the subject of Ayman, she invited him to celebrate his brother’s life, and together they worked on an essay paying tribute to him while serving as an outlet for his immense grief. Ahmed.
The experience was so beneficial – not only for Ahmed but also for Western readers who read his story – that we wanted to replicate it for others.
This is how the project we founded in early 2015 was born: We Are Not Numbers.
Today, this project has mobilized more than 350 young Palestinians, mentored by nearly 130 professional English-speaking writers from around the world, and has published 1,280 personal stories that bring news figures to life.
And then suddenly, we are back where we started. But this time it’s much worse. The murder of a brother is devastating. But what adjective can attempt to describe the simultaneous murder of 21 loved ones?
On October 22 at 4:30 a.m., 20 members of Ahmed’s immediate family – his father, two brothers, three sisters, 14 nieces and nephews and a cousin – were murdered by a distant Israeli soldier who fired a missile.
Four days later, another niece died from her burns due to a lack of intensive care unit beds. In addition, the wife and daughter of his now deceased cousin were killed in another bombing.
It seems to be endless.
A few days after this tragedy that neither of us could put a name to, we sat together in London – where Ahmed now lives – and reflected on everything that has and hasn’t changed since our partnership saw the day following a great loss.
Ahmed’s experience with We Are Not Numbers enabled him to secure a scholarship to study and live in the UK, where he is now dedicated to fulfilling his family’s hopes and dreams of a life without closed borders , nor limits to their projects.
And We Are Not Numbers he himself has changed the conversation about Gaza, giving many young people living there a voice they did not have in 2014.
Despite the challenges posed by Israel’s internet blockade, media outlets ranging from BBC At Washington Post and the New York Times turned to project members to tell the stories behind the numbers.
However, in other respects the situation is sadly the same.
For example, the instrumentalization of language to dehumanize the Palestinian people and separate immediate events from historical context, set the stage for this latest tragedy.
When discussing the deaths of Israelis in the Hamas attacks of October 7, the words “massacre” and “killing” are commonly used – and, we should say, accurately. But when Ahmed went on British television to talk about his family’s massacre, it was said he had “lost”moving from accuracy and clarity to vague euphemism.
He was also asked how close he was to his family and whether they were an “important part” in his life, as if he was trying to magnify the experience of losing so many loved ones. .
Ahmed did not lose his family. They were killed as part of a deliberately indiscriminate bombing campaign that targeted every person in Gaza.
The Israeli army asked everyone to evacuate the northern Gaza Strip, then bombed the center and the south. “The Israeli army is breaking records in terms of the level of precision of the munitions it uses in the Gaza Strip,” reports the Defense Israel website. “In fact, this war is one of the first in history in which one side uses only precision munitions, with an accuracy of one or two meters. »
If this is the case, we should say that Ahmed’s family was murdered (or even massacred).
Another ongoing burden is imposed by the media and others on Palestinians alone. That burden is the obligation to repudiate Hamas – who were elected to government before most of them were even old enough to vote – to prove that they deserve help and sympathy.
In that same British television interview, Ahmed was told that “Israel is very clear that this is against Hamas” after describing the atrocities committed against his family, none of whom had anything to do with it. Hamas.
Such questions are almost never asked of Israelis, although their government’s acts of terrorism against Palestinians are well documented (the indiscriminate killing of civilians and destruction of homes in the current assault are just one example). last example). What is it about Palestinians that causes such a lack of empathy?
But perhaps most damaging is the omission of context. If readers and viewers rely solely on “mainstream” television and newspapers, they will think that the Hamas attack came out of nowhere.
But if they had followed We Are Not Numbers over the past nine years, they would have known that Gaza’s 2 million residents face high unemployment, deep poverty and extreme shortages of electricity and clean water all day, every day – and that only a few -some were allowed to travel, because of the Israeli blockade.
When we recently began preparing a book on the trends revealed by the stories of We Are Not Numbers, “depression” and “despair” emerged as predominant themes. It is this kind of environment, without the prospect of positive change, that breeds radical activism. This is not a justification. It’s an explanation.
“Anger, frustration and sadness strain every nerve in my body,” writes Roaa Aladdin Missmeh, member of We Are Not Numbers. “It’s normal for adults to remember their childhood, smile and wish they could go back to those simpler, more innocent times. But what will Gazans remember? »
A question that should make the whole world think even more is: “What are the consequences of a life of misery, without hope?” » The Hamas attacks of October 7 gave us an answer. Could there be another one? Yes, but then the United States and other powerful backers of Israel must demonstrate to the Palestinians that violence is not the only way to force the world to pay attention to their plight.
In the days following the Israeli counterattack on Gaza, the number of visits to the site of We Are Not Numbers increased by 342%. And since his family was killed, the number of subscribers X of Ahmed (formerly Twitter) increased by 35,000.
Meanwhile, around the world, tens of thousands of supporters took to the streets to protest what some are now calling the genocide in Gaza.
However, it was the massive violence that inspired this outpouring of attention and support.
To arrive at another answer to Roaa’s question, and to ours, the daily oppression of Palestinians must be given the same attention. The young members of We Are Not Numbers write daily about it, such as Mahmoud Mushtaha on the inability to find a job, Haytham Abusenjar on the lack of basic care for cancer patients and Arwa Abudahrouj on the inability to travel.
One of the objectives of our project is to show these young people – who represent more than half of the population and who will undoubtedly determine the future of the region – that there are other means than violent resistance to bring to change. But proof still needs to be provided.
Ultimately, this means that bodies like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (both of which have ruled in favor of Palestinian independence in the past but have been ignored) must finally be empowered to demand change or to impose a cost. Otherwise, we fear that in three, five or perhaps ten years – no matter how much Israel thinks it has decimated Hamas – we will once again be faced with an experience of déjà vu.
Chronicle of Palestine