Our pledge to the next generation of Palestinians and Israelis

What actual change will look like is not for journalists to decide. What we can do, however, is invite those who care about this land and its people to reckon with the inconvenient questions before us.

Boys line up in the morning to practice daily exercises an UNRWA school in Shujayea neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. The school year has started with a three-week delay, due to the latest Israeli offensive during which 29 schools have been totally destroyed, and around 190 damaged. The first weeks are dedicated to recreational activities to help children to overcome the trauma due the the seven-week Israeli military offensive. 2,131 Palestinians were killed, including 501 children, and an estimated 18,000 housing units have been either destroyed or severely damaged, leaving more than 108,000 people homeless.
Boys line up in the morning at an UNRWA school in Shujayea neighborhood, Gaza City, September 15, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The night before I traveled to Gaza to cover the 2014 war for +972 Magazine, I received a call from Noam Sheizaf, +972’s executive director at the time. “I want you to know we are all behind you,” he said.

“We” were the collective of mostly Jewish-Israeli bloggers that, six months prior, had invited me to become a regular contributor to the site. By the time I’d had my first conversation with Noam, I had only ever met one of them in person, but I felt a deep and mutual kinship with each and every one of my fellow writers.

To understand why, one need only read Lisa Goldman’s open-hearted reflections about Nabi Saleh published this week, in which she describes her experience as the lone Israeli journalist covering the weekly protests there. As Lisa’s piece demonstrates, +972 is not only challenging Israel’s official narratives about the occupation, it is doing so through the kind of writing that goes beyond platitude to evoke empathy and reflection.

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Anything less would disrespect you, our readers, and—more to the point—do little to generate new ways of thinking. The brutal truth is that bravado is too much with us in this conflict, and so much of what we read or hear leads to further entrenchment, not change.

Of course, what actual change will look like is not for the blogger or social media personality to decide. I, for example, am in no position to barter my Palestinian mother’s right of return for a few bylines, especially in a language that is not her own. Neither can I presume to speak on behalf of the Palestinians I met in Gaza three years ago.

What I and my fellow contributors to +972 can do, however, is invite those who care about this land and its people to reckon with the inconvenient questions before us: how is it that, in Gaza, the killing of more than 500 children in 50 days could not prevent the faceless execution of Ibrahim Abu Thuraya? Why, after the violent detention of more than 10,000 children in the years since she was born, must 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi stand shackled before a military court? What about the ways in which we have protested these wrongs has failed, for so many years, to right them?

After that fateful Gaza summer, many of us had hoped that something about the sheer weight of the suffering there might prompt an end to the siege or, at least, a clearer path to its undoing. Among the ideas being considered seriously, for example, was re-opening the Gaza port. But almost as soon as the bombs stopped falling, the ideas stopped, too.

That stasis, above all, is what we must guard against, resist, and topple. Viewing Gaza—or anywhere, really—as more than its casualty counts is not just a journalistic mission. It is an ethical imperative. And doing so means giving agency and voice to the living.

That, precisely, is what +972 wants to do more of with your support.

We want to be a platform, not just for our volunteer roster of bloggers, but also for younger Palestinian voices who can infuse the conversation with new, creative ideas. And we want these ideas to be about more than “likes” and retweets; we want them to rouse the conscience of those who might otherwise be tempted to surrender to the status quo.

Shortly after I hung up the phone with Noam, I boarded a taxi and made my way from Jerusalem to the Erez crossing with Gaza. A veteran journalist had told me to bring plenty of water and some snacks, as the wait to enter could be long. Anticipating this, I asked the driver to stop at a convenience store somewhere close to our destination.

That place, it turned out, was a small filling station within earshot of the border, where tank regiments were kicking up dust on their way to shell the northern Gaza refugee camp of Jabaliya. At the station, an adjoining café and bar pulsed with the sound of laughter, clanking beer mugs, and a language I couldn’t understand.

Writing, alone, will not end the suffering of people like 17-year-old Alaa Balata, who lost all 11 members of his immediate family in an Israeli attack on Jabaliya that summer, or one-year-old Muhammad Wahdan, whose face was singed of expression by another.

But by insisting that these stories be heard, especially in Israel, and by deferring to Palestinians to tell their stories themselves, perhaps our humble collective can reach beyond these pages and make of our writing a pledge—a way to say to the next generation: We are all behind you.

Please help us keep this pledge. Make a donation today.