The Story of the Week
So this is the story of the week, the fact that an elderly woman blew herself up in Gaza on November 23. That women need to blow themselves up in order to get the attention we deserve is widely symptomatic of a global culture that ignores the drudgery women have to endure day in and day out in order to keep food on the table, in order to educate their children, in order to keep their children safe and sound, despite the repeated Israeli onslaught on towns and villages across the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Only when there is a blast that the media remembers to put a human face to the suffering of the Palestinian people, but the reverse should be true. Instead of singing the praises of women going about their daily life under exceptionally hard conditions, Western media and journalists, even those living amongst us, surprisingly justify horrific acts of violence and qualify them by insinuating that the fact that a woman who was bereaved and living under extreme conditions has warranted such an act. Such a gut reaction should be expected from a people who have to endure daily Israeli violence. Nonetheless, it should never be justified because it becomes a trend; these women (and the men before them) become negative heroines, instead of becoming positive role models among their peers.
So is it fair that the millions of women many of whom are bereaved or endure hardships, and who chose not to use violence to express themselves, are denied their say in the story because they decide that the true act of self-sacrifice is finding ways of staying alive despite an oppressive regime? This society needs to find creative, constructive ways of resistance, but its various attempts are hijacked by those who choose violence as a means of resisting the occupation. The more the media stresses these desperate acts and the more it ignores the stories of ordinary Palestinian women doing extraordinary things, the more they become complicit in an occupation that denies our humanity.
Where are the stories of the inspirational teacher encouraging her students to find their talents; or the visually impaired elderly woman intent on building the confidence of young visually impaired women in a society that is harsh to those with any kind of impairment; or the lobbyist working on abolishing violence against women? Are these stories not worth air time or print space?
The frustration that I face when I try to submit such a piece to a Western media outlet is that because it is a story of the ordinary it is always turned away, cloaked in some obscure thank you. Is it because it does not bleed that this story is not printed? Or is there a more underlying cause in having my pieces cast off? I would not say I am a brilliantly adept writer, but I do have something to say and want people in the West to hear it. Yet, when my story is rejected, I get the feeling, and I could be wrong, that it is not “good enough,” not on the grounds of style or language, but because it does not suffer enough. What kind of warped policy is Western media pushing?
While I admire many journalists, who have supported our cause, and their media that print or broadcast stories of Palestinians, I also feel that there is a hint of an unconscious and unintentional racism in their attitude; that it is only they that can best articulate our suffering. There are many Palestinians, who can express themselves clearly and succinctly, addressing the reason of a Western audience, without being overly emotional or unfeeling either way, but they are not considered credible or impartial because they have a stake in the story. But that is precisely why they should be considered credible.
We are all trying to move away from factional hegemony, but instead of finding support among the liberal media in the West at the very least, they are quite willing to publish op-eds by the rising stars of an abhorrent political party. The falling stars of Palestinian political history also get print space because they are recognizable names, if no longer with the Western public, then at least within the tiers of governing elites. It is quite strange to read their articles knowing that at home, they have lost much of their standing, whereas the West is still intent on giving them trust.
When our voice is drowned out by such power-hungry politicians, by irrelevant has-beens, when the pain of losing a child, a fiancé or a sibling is too much to bear for some women, they blow themselves up. I do not lay blanket blame on the media, but I do feel that they have a role in perpetuating certain ideas and ideals that are counterproductive to our national struggle and political aspirations, simply by ignoring the voices of the majority and willingly handing the platform to the perverse. The media has far more influence than it realizes even in the face of government and public antagonism, but it has failed to be courageous enough to change perceptions and instead continues to push the tired old labels that we have been fighting to eliminate; that “Palestinians are corrupt terrorist monsters and the only language we know and understand is violence and killing,” when the opposite is true.
It is extremely sad that the only way a young woman’s (and indeed and elderly woman’s) life story can be told, is through her acting out in a most tragic manner, taking not only hers, but the lives of others and extinguishing any promise that her life might have held. If the story of each Palestinian woman living in a camp, a village, a town in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can be told honestly and with human dignity, then perhaps something will snap in people of moral conscious to actually seek to address the core issues that cause so much anguish among women that it drives some to become suicide bombers. As long as the media goes after a story like a wolf after its prey, then the struggling voices of millions of people going about their daily business on Palestinian streets will continue to be muffled. And as long as those stories are not being told, the sound of violence will be the only one that resonates.
Margo Sabella is a member of the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org