An Unseen Death

Ahmed Dawabsha


The news that Riham Dawabsha had succumbed to her injuries in hospital two nights ago was not greeted with the type of nauseating moral outrage (Dacre, Murdoch, Desmond etc.) that was reserved for Aylan Kurdi the previous week. The heartrending iconography of the toddler lying face-down on a Turkish beach prompted – from a media in large sections apparently blissfully unaware until this point of the speedily unfolding tragedy – widespread revulsion and fury at the seeming incapacity of European governments to aid those in dire need of relief and safe-passage. Yet Dawabsha’s death was not met with the same resounding clamour for action, the same hastily-manufactured pious empathy from quarters hitherto callous, unfeeling and protectionist.

More than 40 days ago, the family home of the 26 year-old Dawabsha was firebombed with Molotov cocktails by extremists in the occupied West Bank, burning to death her young child, 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha, and leaving her husband in hospital alongside Riham, who had suffered third-degree burns to 80% of her body. He died eight days after the attack. Last night, Riham died as well. Her other son – Ahmed (pictured), now orphaned – remains in hospital.

One would ideally like to envision the British media as strident and vociferous enough to push for concerted government action long before the point at which a child’s dead body is graphically bandied across our collective conscious. However, it appears that an explicit and gory catalyst such as this is needed to perforate the overly-simplistic, binary narratives shorn of any complexity that are usually peddled by such righteous and venerable establishments such as The Daily Mail and The Sun. It regrettably sometimes requires an image of a dead infant for these rags to attach to the story a requisite degree of compassionate anger, enough to – with momentum – gradually rouse a somnolent government from their slumber. Some particularly inhumane regimes – such as that frostily uncaring Etonian camorra that rules this green and pleasant land – remained deeply reluctant even in the wake of such a harrowing visual call to action, as Cameron was, before being forced into an inevitable and embarrassing climb-down.

Yet we have seen similarly disturbing footage depicting the atrocities of Netanyahu’s government against Palestinians before. His ruling Likud party likes to paint Hamas as the aggressor, and Israel as merely having acted in self-defence. Traditionally, this alternative reality has been insatiably imbibed and regurgitated by large sections of the British media – for an assortment of nefarious reasons, including a strong pro-Israel lobby, and the historic role Britain took in the creation of the state of Israel. However, on-the-ground footage from the siege on Gaza last summer often exposed the lie of Israel as a Zen-like haven of pacifist tranquillity. Pictures from Gaza were lucid, emotive and deeply troubling enough to force Cameron, a staunch ally of Israel, into condemning air strikes on a Gazan school as a ‘moral outrage’. Yet we heard nothing approaching the frenzied indignation from the tabloids, Sky or even the BBC that is currently en vogue.

It is not ‘conspiratorial’ to assume that this is part of a pretext for Western intervention in the region; the beat of the war-drums were distinctly audible in yesterday’s headline in The Sun claiming 52% of its readers ‘say bomb Syria now… for Aylan’. One must question Murdoch’s hawkishness in light of the despicable eagerness with which Aylan Kurdi’s tragic death can be used to justify increasing inflammation of the war-torn country. Amongst other malevolent motives, one worthy of further investigation is the winning of the right to conduct exploratory oil drilling in the occupied Golan Heights (internationally recognized as Syrian land) by a company, Genie Energy, in which Murdoch is a major stake-holder. This may in part illuminate the cause of his rush to further destabilize Syria. Whatever his reason for his bellicosity, it is clear that Israel demands a level of establishment-affection that Syria has never conventionally been afforded.

Consequently, the crimes of Zionist fundamentalists in the occupied West Bank, mostly go under our media’s radar. According to UN figures, in the years from 2006 to 2013 the annual recorded number of attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers more than tripled from 115 to 399. These crimes include harassment, takeover of private property, and attacks on Mosques, livestock and agricultural land. The nominal cause of the violent unrest in Gaza last July was the kidnapping, beating and burning to death of 16 year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir by settlers; itself a response to the murder of three Israeli teens. It was reported by Mondoweiss, an Israeli news website offering a ‘progressive Jewish perspective’, that Khdeir’s family was spat on by settlers outside the court. The suspects, one of whom proclaimed in court to be ‘the messiah’, are yet to be sentenced. In a similar case of justice being perverted or at least delayed, nobody has been arrested almost a month and a half after the Dawabsha household was irreversibly torn apart. Mustafa Bhargouti, General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative, criticized the reaction of the Israeli government, accusing them of ‘providing protection and support to the illegal settlers’, thereby in turn perpetuating settler crimes against Palestinians in the occupied territories. This despite a 2011 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which stated that ‘Under humanitarian… and international human rights law, Israel is obligated to prevent attacks against civilians or their property and ensure that all incidents of settler violence are investigated in a thorough, impartial and independent manner.’

However, although Netanyahu recently labelled firebombing ‘terrorism’ (a term employed usually to denote Palestinian violence), it is safe to assume that this is empty rhetoric. So long as the fundamentalist religious zealotry of the settlers is manifested in the construction and fortification of new illegal settlements, violent incidents are highly likely. Traditional implicit favouritism toward Israel from Western governments and their media cohorts provides the backdrop to the disparity in coverage and the resultant thirst for action regarding Syria as opposed to Palestine. However, the lack of an ‘Aylan Kurdi moment’ – a moment to spark momentum and halt the illegal settlement construction in West Bank and other areas – may in part be due, as alluded to earlier, the dualistic nature of the narrative means it is easier to over-simplify its telling.

We live in a Murdoch-Dacre controlled media landscape, which would presume to lecture us with moralistic fervour over the death of a human being whose parents the previous week would likely have been portrayed as scroungers and potential strains on the economy. This is a world in which superficiality and hypocrisy reign; a world of binary opposites: good and bad, light and dark, Israel and Palestine. Notions of colonialism or post-colonial humility do not exist in this world, and the emergence of nuance within a narrative – such as the fact that no side in Syria is comprised of particularly upstanding, virtuous, ethical people – is met by default with the immediate retreat into the comforting solution of indiscriminate inter-continental ballistic bombardment.

This is perhaps why the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict’ (or ‘occupation’ as we might otherwise term it) is less liable to sudden U-turns in the tone of its coverage: it is a more straightforward story, a black-and-white dichotomy. Whilst the post-apocalyptic nightmare that is the Syrian civil war (which includes Jabhat al-Nusra, Assad loyalists, ISIL and the Free Syrian Army, a Shia/Sunni divide), contains intrinsic ambiguities so convoluted Western governments have thus far have found it impossible to ascertain which side constitutes the lesser of two evils (first Cameron sought to bomb Assad, now he is pursuing airstrikes on ISIL), the inherent symmetry of the Israel/Palestine, Jew/Muslim, Good/Bad, Ally/Enemy makes it a story easily told and effortlessly understood. As such, far more exposure to the grizzly reality of the Palestinian situation is necessary to instigate a watershed moment in its coverage than was in the intricately complicated Syrian war and ensuing refugee crisis, which took just a single, vivid flashpoint. Only then will the media be forced to adopt an attitude likely to translate into governmental action.

Until midway through last week, the general populace had taken the ‘migrant’ crisis for granted. They were conscious of it, but it had not yet registered enough on an emotional level to have become significant: our capricious and reactionary media had not yet turned the tide. What will it take for the Palestinian issue to be brought properly into focus and, more specifically, the ever-expanding voracity with which Israeli settlers continue to violate the Geneva Convention and steal Palestinian land? The tactics of violent intimidation must be stopped. Will the image of a lifeless infant be that stimulus? Because it happened in July, we just did not see him.

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