“Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death had been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we could talk about ‘target-rich environments’ and ‘collateral damage’—that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crime of killing—and report the victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the importance of peace.
Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, ‘them’ and ‘us,’ victory or defeat. But war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents a total failure of the human spirit.”- Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation
We now can witness the world for all its horrors and beauty with instantaneous, voyeuristic delight. Live streams and social media accounts allow us to witness war and tragedy unfiltered, at times without narrative. But that does not mean that such instant imagery is free of manipulation. We are after all seeing the world through a digital keyhole, often flickers of minutes or even seconds of gory and desperate violence that will invoke helpless numbness or every other emotion possible.
The recent Hamas terror attacks on Israel were bold, ambitious, and bloody. From near and afar they caused a sense of fear and dread. Those sympathetic to Hamas’s ideology and methods expressed support and perhaps inspiration. The immediate response to the terror attack will be the blunt hammer of Israeli military violence, blasting buildings and homes in Gaza to rubble.
Witnessing families and festival goers fleeing armed men, the dead and frightened fall to the wayside as terrorists invade their world of peace leaves the wider world’s audience feeling immense empathy. The victim’s normality of life was savagely interrupted by men of violence. Seemingly from nowhere, like an alien invasion they attacked to rape, torture, kidnap, and murder. Many professional media outlets and meme accounts are doing their best to convey the message that this was unprovoked. For digital clout the disingenuous dig up older footage to be misattributed, just like they did in previous wars. Even if the mislabled families, children and dead happen to be Palestinians and the gunmen Israeli military and police, the deception only needs seconds to invigorate bias. In moments of outrage a lot of viewers can’t comprehend nuance, only the binary. Right now, Israel and it’s innocent are victims. They are relatable.
As a contrast, the desperate mega-prison of Gaza and other occupied zones are a dystopian misery, a population of prisoners trapped in limbo where no escape appears possible. The Israeli government’s immediate response has been to blow up buildings and homes with a public warning to escape. But the people in the occupied territories can’t escape; they are prisoners at the mercy of the Israeli government and its proxy, the Palestinian Authority. Water and food are controlled and limited by the Israeli government. The Palestinians are a desperate population. Just like before, reprisals will kill the innocent and end with the recruitment of more insurgents. Those who support the terrorists, no matter how bloody they are, see this reality. They see the history of occupation and Israeli government tyranny.
So we are left with two narratives; the civilized, orderly, ‘western’ Israel, a shining example of harmony in the otherwise barbaric, oriental Middle East. And on the other hand are those without a land, the victims of 1948, 1967 and each subsequent Israeli victory, betrayal by Arab governments, blindness by the international community, and corruption by their own authorities. Pride and love for ones family and people are marred by the experience of injustice from those who would impose, take, rape, and murder. Hatred and a need for revenge becomes the instinct and impulse. When mentalities are boiled into a blood lust, revenge is fixated on the collective.
It is complicated to see the killers as individuals. Instead they must belong to a blob or hive. As a member of a unit or defender of a nation or ideal, they lose individualism. This mindset allows them to act in such a manner that they are not personally responsible. They can do horrible things, up to and including genocide, so long as a greater good or justice is being sought. The repercussion to this is that their actions as individuals reflect upon the group that they claim to champion, and those who had nothing to do with acts of murder are also condemned as being guilty.
Twitter (now known as X) has become a dumpster fire of opinions, distant witnesses that cling to simplified viewpoints of the world or even those who are excited by human peril. Supposedly anti-war voices are now calling for the destruction of Gaza, to turn it into a parking lot. America First conservatives are yearning for a crusade. Anti-Semites are cheering for death to all Jews, while anti-Zionists are being called anti-Semites and many sympathetic to the Palestinian cause are blind to the actions of the Hamas killers. Desperation can justify many things, though it has a tendency to lead to generational hatred.
We see that war brings out the worst in humanity, though our myths like to remind us that it brings forth the best. Modern technology allows us that digital window to peer in as we please, to share the violence experienced by others. From a digital distance strangers watch on, speculating, picking sides, using the unfolding horror to confirm their biases, whatever they happen to be.
Now we are told that the Iranian government is responsible. Somehow, Hamas and Hezbollah sources are meant to have leaked such information. The attacks were conjured up by or with the assistance of the Iranian state, claims the official narrative™. So, the missiles are now pointed at Tehran. History began yesterday, as it once did on September 11, 2001. Nothing before mattered and whoever decides what moments matter most can determine the narrative for the course of action. If war does come, the facts about the deception and scapegoating will follow long after and by then won’t matter. The public, the cheerleaders, and bobbling heads of expertise never feel ashamed or complicit. “Baghdad did 9/11,” “They have WMDs,” “Viagra for Libyan rapist militias,” each time the lies precede the missiles and invasion. History rhymes and it did not start yesterday for Israel, Palestine, or anywhere else.
We will hear those who try to find balance, who say that both sides have lost innocents and are responsible for horrible things. But perhaps seeing the situation as “sides” is the problem. Right now, inside of Gaza, there are families desperately hungry and frightened. They have no power over what is being done to them or who speaks for them. Just as the fleeing victims of the Hamas para glider attack are not privy to Israeli policy on the occupied zones, they may themselves not be settlers and are innocent to the disharmony around them. To compress thousands of human beings into one side or the other defies their agency and empowers those who have taken it upon themselves to be king, to rule, to murder. Robert Fisk was once asked whose side he was on. He responded, “The side of the innocent.”
Right now, in the midst of turmoil, that is a privileged take. Right now, in the heat of geopolitics, conflict binaries become fortresses. But human beings embrace one another. They make connections. To piss on the corpse of a foe is as much a step in a direction as offering a bottle of water. The great irony is that those who often cheer for war romance it, and uphold the myths of the past. They fondly reminisce a period where livestreams and drone footage did not capture the terror and reckless waste, when a Pulitzer prize winning professional snapped moments for history. Now we can see the killers and their victims alike communicating from their smartphones to the wider world, with bluster, courage, fear, and helpless loss from Armenia to Yemen to Syria to Ukraine and to Gaza. This technology in the hands of the common person should allow us empathy and perspective. Instead it has only empowered hatred and a sense of righteousness, even the cry for genocide.
Maybe in the many tweets, media headlines, and acts of vengeance we can see how history’s greatest horror shows were possible as the contemporary uploads flicker down our feeds. They reveal the extent to which ordinary men who could execute thousands at a time or the zealots who would crash planes into buildings, the legal and illegal atrocities committed for faith or state alike. For justice, vengeance, or some fantastic utopia, the out group, them, the other are always evil, inhuman, and never innocent, the unarmed or child alike forever deserving of what they get. The in group, us, the familiar, are always righteous and no matter how bloody the hands, reason and rationale steer the necessity for such measures, at times even genocide.
And the voyeurs, are you not entertained?