Repetition is merely the sign for the oppressed to surrender to fate. Either you accept your suffering or you unleash more suffering. Only eventual freedom will give meaning to the deaths of Gazans.
At the moment of writing these lines, the BBC reports 100 deaths thus far in Gaza in the recent Israeli onslaught. As we have seen these scenes before, the invocation of repetition comes naturally. “Once again” is a commonly used word when it comes to death and suffering under occupation in Palestine and specifically Gaza.1 It can be a rhetorically deployed knee-jerk reaction (as in: once again Israel is killing Palestinians; or: once again Israel has to defend itself against Palestinian attacks). It can also be deployed by a well-meaning third party who perceives the rhetorical deployment of “once again” as a propaganda war between two parties involved in a tragic conflict. Repetition is equated with futile death.
Repetition outside contextBut “once again” is not a mere rhetorical gesture nor symptomatic of tragic despair. It connotes a recursive power dynamic and a structural relationship between an occupier and an occupied. It should be a reminder of context rather than an erasure of context. A recent example of this erasure of context is CNN’s Jake Tapper’s dismissal of Diana Buttu’s attempt to bring context into the discussion as mere “talking points”.2 Indeed, context is confusing and destabilizes the simplifications. The anchor proceeded in his questions to the representative of the “Palestinian view” to deploy his own (though unacknowledged as such) talking points by invoking the alleged culture of hate and martyrdom amongst Palestinians. The erasure of context makes Palestinian violence irrational and hence the need for an alternative context in which cultural and religious explanations are paramount. It does not scrutinize the Israeli side in a similar fashion, even though recent events like the kidnapping and the killing of a Palestinian minor could have provoked such reflections (as it did in some Israeli circles like Haaretz).3 It could have been linked to the settlers’ systematic and violent assault on the Palestinians in the West Bank and state’s legal and institutional complicity, as detailed in many reports, but it did not.4 It could have reminded the viewers of the rejectionism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s governments and their foot dragging from the peace process as part of the context, but it did not. It did not because context is abstract and remote (more than 60 years). Violence is concrete and immediate (the Hamas rockets).
There is nothing rhetorical or tragic about the recent 100 deaths in Gaza. In such rhetorical/tragic accounts the materiality of death and suffering is reduced to image production for political gains. More importantly, it distorts the political responsibility of the parties (including the absolution of third parties’ complicity in the continuation of oppression). Lacking context, the responsibility is either equally shared by two symmetrically opposed agents of violence or the stronger party bears no responsibility because it is merely responding to the irrational violence of the weak who bears the responsibility for death and suffering.