- By Mohamed El DahshanMohamed El Dahshan is a development economist and a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
Gaza resident Asem Alnabeh posted a photo of his little sister Nesma earlier tonight in their home. Her name means breeze. "But she really isn’t," her brother writes me. "she’s very impish!"
Nesma’s house has lost electric power. There are fighter jets roaring over the house, and there are explosions never too far away — not sufficiently far for the worried parents to attempt to calm their kids by lying to them that "oh, that was nothing."
And yet there she sat, by the light of a neon lamp, scribbling in a notebook.
She’s doing her homework. And she’s smiling.
Gaza poses a serious difficulty to journalists. With wars waged against it in a near-metronomic rhythm in the weeks prior to Israeli elections, journalists run out of fresh angles to present.
What could I write for this article?
I could, of course, recap a timeline of events that brought us to today, attempting to debunk the ludicrous notion that the Israeli onslaught is but retaliation after long-held self-control. I could tell you about the victims, show you pictures. Don’t worry, not the graphic kind, not the broken bodies of children that their parents will have to pick up and bury. This is the mainstream media, after all.
Perhaps I could write about how the IDF is making a game out of the war, giving points and virtual badges (30 different kinds!) the way social media websites do, to encourage people to read and spread its version of reality. I could write about how the army spokesperson and the prime minister are waging a Twitter war, mostly against facts and reason and occasionally against the Hamas social media avatars. ("Hamas social media avatars," incidentally, is not a sentence I expected I would ever write).
Or how the religious undertones of this war, named after a divine act of terror, point to the entrenched intractability of the conflict as the parties become increasingly religiously stubborn and divinely driven to kill.
I could write about how the propaganda war and distorted metrics. It is the nature of headlines to rely on a sordid body count. (50 to 3! Hey, one more dead here! Oh, but is she a civilian, does she count?) CBC news reports the victims in different font sizes, depending on citizenship. Reuters headlines give precedence to the number of rockets launched over Palestinians killed.
Then there’s the misinterpretation of numbers, the comparison of oranges and apples, if you will. The media endlessly parrot the Israeli-supplied numbers of rockets launched by Hamas — a little over 800 so far, we are told — letting the big number go by undisputed without pointing out that the vast majority of rockets miss their targets, given that Hamas’ kitchen rockets are by-and-large so ridiculous it’s almost doubtful they will launch to begin with. More importantly, the media fails to report the converse figure of Israeli rockets launched on Gaza. I could not find any tally of missiles launched. By the IDF’s own figures, though, it has fired at almost a thousand targets already, meaning that the rockets expended were several multiples of that. So it’s been thousands altogether. Fired from the ground, the air, and the sea with all the accuracy the American taxpayer’s annual gift of $3 billion can buy.
Many journalists are also reporting — and rightly so, I might add — about Israeli citizens terrified by the alert sirens and running into shelters. It is a horrible situation, and a horror no one should have to endure. Palestinian parents are as afraid for their children’s lives as Israelis are, but I see far fewer reports that point out that Palestinians have no alert sirens, no shelters, and no way to escape Gaza if they so desired, since Israel enforces a tight ground and naval blockade on the occupied territory (with the active complicity of Egypt, I might add). I could write about that too, I suppose.
Or, invoking earlier wars in 2006 and 2008, I could embark on a lengthy commentary attempting to explore Israel’s motives for launching this new war. I could make the argument that, as in the previous wars it launched with equally unclear goals, Israel’s strategy will have to be to keep bombing Gazans until it reaches what the military leadership and the public opinion deem an acceptable outcome, namely a sufficiently high body count to assist prime minister Netanyahu’s reelection.
I could write any of those articles, but I will not. I will deliberately be uncreative. Because at the end of the day, this war is about this lovely little girl, who’s probably gotten acquainted to the sound of explosions — a horrible thing for a child to be acquainted with, but consider that most of Gaza’s children already suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder — and who is just doing her homework, and probably just wants this noise to stop and the streets to be safe so she can play with her friends outside.
The war is about little Nesma doing her homework, and about the country with its advanced army and its fighter jets, willing to kill her for electoral polls results.