Palestinians in Gaza are making one request of civilians in the West: share their stories.
There can be no misunderstanding. What is happening in Palestine — the forced displacement of over 1 million families; the shutting off of water, electricity, fuel, and international humanitarian aid; the more than 600 bombs dropped in one week; the bombing of hospitals, schools, and evacuation routes; over 4,000 civilians dead, over 1,000 of which are children with the youngest among them being just a few days old, and the over 10,000 injured — is a genocide.
And the genocide is being televised.
On the morning of October 20, 14 days after the first rockets were fired, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres stood at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, which in its entirety spans 25 miles long by about seven miles wide. Behind him were dozens of trucks filled with medical supplies, water, and food. Their movements have been stalled because their safe passage had not been guaranteed. And as Guterres said, “These trucks are not just trucks, they are a lifeline.”
I struggle now to describe to you what exists just a few miles past where Guterres stood. I struggle because the capacity of the English language to describe the horrors unfolding in Gaza is insufficient. And while the West is no stranger to the filmography of war, our typical myopic enjoyment of the Avengers does not allow us to witness the aftermath of Captain America’s actions, which often result in broken buildings, flipped cars, and streets that have caved.
Our eyes are pulled from the scenes of devastation, which are always positioned as justified in the pursuit of evil, and onto the next. We are not given time to think, “Who fixes that road? Was anyone in that building? Who are the first responders on the scene? Who documents the fallout? Who holds Captain America accountable?”
From the big screen to the screen we hold in our hands, we are conditioned to treat all content the same: for our viewing pleasure. We view conflicts, regardless of how layered they may be, as team sports. Holy vs evil. Good vs bad. Light vs dark. Islam vs Christianity and Judaism. This response is so ingrained in our ability to relate ideas that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even tweeted, “This is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.”
He has since deleted the tweet but not before thousands of people, journalists, and institutions saw it. As the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention said on Instagram: “The deleted tweet contains language that the Lemkin Institute believes is an expression of genocidal intent. Discussing an opposing side as bestial and evil, and comparing it with a human and holy self, has been used by perpetrators throughout history to dehumanize and otherize communities targeted with genocide. Due to Israel’s siege and bombardment of Gaza, multiple war crimes, and repeated use of genocidal language, the Lemkin Institute calls on the International Criminal Court to indict Netanyahu for the crime of genocide.”
And while pundits and academics, politicians and comedians, debate the hither and thither of just how many innocent Palestinian civilians warrant a measured response, Gazans are fighting their way not just to tomorrow but to their own survival as prisoners in an apartheid state, which many are now referring to as the largest internment camp in history, whose bloody history dates back to the first Nekba of 1948.
And it is alongside this context that we, viewers in the West, must realize what our role in this genocide is. While President Biden sends $14.3 billion taxpayer dollars to Israel, which is intended “funding for air and missile defense, military financing, and embassy support,” our duty is perhaps one of the most sacred and solemn.
We must bear witness to this genocide.
If bearing witness to the suffering of others places a weight around one’s soul, then bearing witness to the genocide of the Palestinian people, through the first-hand accounts of many Palestinian social media pages, feels as though a mountain sits on our hearts. Because it does.
For the past two weeks, I have been watching and listening to Palestinians in Gaza and those with family in Gaza as they capture on film their immense suffering. Civilians across occupied Palestine document the carnage, the lives lost, the attempts at life-saving surgeries on babies, children, and adults. I have lost count of the horrors. I have lost count of the screams. I have lost count of the times I have put down my phone and cried, unable to contain the grief within the confines of my heart. The pain of the Palestinian people shatters through my composure.
But bearing witness means that we cannot look away. No matter how deeply we may feel the suffering of the Palestinians, we do so from the safety of our homes. While we tap away on our glass screens and keyboards, doctors are disinfecting wounds with vinegar because they have run out of alcohol. Children wrap their parents in dirty bed sheets because they have run out of body bags. Survivors divide a bag of dates among a dozen people over days because the bakeries and grocery stores have been bombed.
And so those of us in support of a free Palestine — free from harm, free from terror, free from occupation — share posts and articles, images and videos in the hopes that the Western memory can help shoulder the weight. We answer questions that belie the asker’s intentions of “just trying to understand” by positioning support for Palestine as in some way related to opinions on Judaism, a false equivalency given the tens of thousands of Jewish people who fight for a free Palestine. We are constantly affirming and reaffirming the rights of the Palestinian people against backlash and malicious misunderstanding because we understand that while the Palestinian people are fighting for their survival, we must help to carry their truth.
It is, quite literally, the least we could do.
Bilal Tajildeen was born and has lived in Waterbury all his life. He holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Lebanon.