‘Any words of consolation or press interviews with family members seem nothing more than an intrusion on their deep sadness and great pain,’ writes Asma Al-Ghoul, a Gaza-based columnist for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse, upon summing up her report about the tragedy of the Hamad family. This sentence tells much more about the reality of (post)modern conflicts than updates in newspapers, human rights reports, political analyses, twitter feeds, facebook shares, blog posts or even articles in referred journals will ever be able to reveal.
Let us see the supply side first. What does the press do? It sends its journalist and photographers to the region to report on the events, daily life and daily death, among others. Sometimes it pays for the information, other times it ‘just’ reports. What does the academia do? It provides lengthy explanations about international humanitarian law, reminds to the importance of human rights law, summarizes briefly the historical context, and tries to analyze the contemporary events. What does the activist do? Raises funds to save lives, organizes demonstrations and distributes as many pieces of information about brutality as possible. The supply side of the play called ‘understanding’ is performed by various artists: journalists and photographers, university professors and researchers, political analysts and political activists. We are confined to explain what is going on in the Middle East – in any other parts of the world – but we are unable to prevent suffering, to ease the pain of the individual or to bring back a father to his son. We can produce tons of pages with reports and explanations, but still, we are unable to prevent the son to repeat the mistakes of his father. Let this mistake be about having a coffee at a wrong place in a wrong time, firing rockets or bombing as response to rockets.
And the demand side? The audience? We readers – sometimes simultaneously writers/authors – are sitting in comfortable armchairs buying stories of sufferings without risking our daily routine or lives. We not only watch and monitor what is going on, we not only prosecute, sentence, judge or acquit people living far from us. We are also consumers, rational decision makers. We can choose between channels and websites based on our prompt preferences. And today’s choice does not influence tomorrow’s decisions. Depending on our ‘tastes’ we can prefer a burning fuel station in Ashdod or a mourning family in Gaza over sports today, while opt for the world cup final over Palestinian rockets and Israeli bombings the day after. We can choose and we, indeed, choose. We pay for the ‘adventure’ let it be a football match or the suffering of a family in the Middle East. But even the globally conscious – showing solidarity with a Palestinian child losing his father, a Palestinian mother losing her child or an Israeli family being affected by unpredictable rockets – will never be able to give them back their prior lives. Only those, living in close proximity, Israelis and Palestinians, will be able to find solutions for their problems and find ways for consolation, provided that they choose living together, at least, next to each other.
Norwegian version was posted in Aftenposten (July 18 2014): Forklaring uten å kunne gjøre noe.