Photo by AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, via Yahoo! News
A news article published on Yahoo on July 18, 2014 had an image of a little girl of about one year old. She was naked and was lying on a diaper which seemed to have just come undone. She was being held by eight to ten caring hands clad in white gloves. She had visible wounds and blood stains on her body. Her little face was turned upward and was seemingly focused on the face of a person to whom two of those hands clad in white gloves belonged. She had an expression on her face which I, as a father of another little girl of her age, am still trying to decipher.
The caption identified her as a wounded Palestinian girl who was being treated at the emergency room of a hospital in Gaza City in the northern Gaza strip. The title of the article read “Israel launches military offensive against Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.” I quickly glanced through the article to learn more about the little girl, but there was no mention of her in the article. So, all I could find about her was what the image and the caption presented.
Who could this girl be? Could she be a commanding officer, or at least, a soldier, of the Hamas? I don’t think so because she looks a little too young for that. In that case, could she be the daughter of a commanding officer of the Hamas? Well, I don’t think so either, because had that been the case, that would have been mentioned in the title of the article itself and a significant portion of the article would have been devoted to the specific details of, or at least, speculations about, a possible retaliation by the Hamas. Could she be a special child who appears on the face of the earth every five-hundred years or so and who is prophesied to be the saviour of the community she is part of? I don’t think she has been specifically identified as a future saviour of the affected party, as had that been the case the discourse created by the article would have been an entirely different one. I mean, there is definitely a chance of the little girl being a potential saviour of the community that she is part of, but that chance is not different from the chance of any child born on the face of this earth being a potential saviour of a group of human beings or the entire human kind. Then who is she? Well, the only answer that I can think of is she is nobody. At the most, she is just a human being who is presumably unaware of what is going on around her and who is smaller in size in comparison to her fellow human beings who act like they have every right to determine her future.
One could argue that I’m overemphasising an isolated tragic event and that I need to, instead, look at the broader picture that this tragic event is part of. One could argue that I need to look at broader questions: What is the root of the Israel-Palestine problem? To whom should the Gaza strip belong? What are the factors that gave rise to the latest confrontations in the Gaza strip? Who has what sort of support from whom in the international community? Does Israel have a right to exist? Does Palestine have a right to exist? Who wants war? Who wants peace? Who is right? Who is wrong? I’m sure that these are very important questions that need to be answered in the best possible manner, but I’m not sure if they beat the single question that I think is of central importance. That question, which I have not been able to put into words, is the one that the baffled expression of this little girl poses. The exclusive attention that society pays to what it considers the “broader questions,” in my view, only results in this other question being completely ignored and creating a space in which the kind of treatment that this little girl has received could be justified in some way or another.
This other question is arguably one that is clearest and most obvious only to those human beings who are of the same “calibre” as this little girl. But, alas, we the grownups do not speak their language, and as a result, we do not have access to the clearest version of the question. However, this should not prevent us from trying to understand what the question is. In my view, we can begin to understand this central question by asking a couple of simple questions: What has this little girl done to deserve the kind of treatment that she has received? Can she tell a Palestinian from an Israeli, or an Israeli from a Palestinian? Can she tell an Islamic from a Christian, or a Christian from an Islamic? Does she deserve to have any stains of blood on her other than those she had when she came out of her mother’s womb? Does she have any clue as to what the political and/or religious beliefs and aspirations of the people around her are? Are her little body and mind strong enough to withstand the kind of pressure that she has been subject to? Is she at least old enough to stand on her feet, let alone fight for the cause that the leaders of her community are committed to?
The fact that these simple questions are not even raised in a significant manner in the current global discourse on political violence indicates the extent to which we as a global human society have become anesthetised to political violence in general. For a majority of the readers of the concerned news article, the image would represent yet another tragic incident that is part of a broader political conflict. The absence of a special discourse on what the image in question represents shows that to many, the incident is nothing more than a usual case of political violence. The fact that there was no mention of this little girl within the news article indicates the assumption that she is merely yet another victim of the conflict. Of the 46 reader comments listed for the image, some comments had referenced the little girl in the image, but the majority of the comments had no mention of her. Those comments that had completely ignored her were mainly personal opinions regarding the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The recurring keywords in those comments were Israel, Hamas, and the USA. An extremely disturbing comment among them read, “It would really be better if the picture of the kid above had more blood on her. Alot [sic] more blood. And maybe a missing arm or leg. Boy, that would be a hoot. Hahaha!!!”
The sense of indifference, even insensitivity, with which the image seems to have been received by the readership indicates a collapse of the distinction between the victimisation of a thinking individual (either civilian or military) and the victimisation of the little girl in the image. In the current discourse on the Israeli-Palestine conflict in particular and political violence in general, the little girl is first and foremost a member of a particular camp, a status that immediately qualifies her as a potential victim of the longest standing conflict of human history. She has absolutely no idea as to what is going on around her simply because she is new to the world. She is at the heart of the conflict because she was born to parents who happen to be in the area affected by the conflict. This little girl who cannot even properly stand on her feet clearly “stands” in the line of potential victims of the conflict. In this sense, there is no distinction between an individual who is experienced in the conflict and this little girl who is fresh not only to the conflict but to the world. There is something clearly wrong here.
This nuanced nature of the conflict that the concerned image brings into light, on the one hand, reiterates the call for the protection of human rights. On the other hand, it points to the urgent need to develop an approach that goes beyond the conventional human rights approach and provides special protection to children like the little girl in the image who are right at the heart of a given conflict but who have no stake whatsoever in that conflict. In my view, such an approach is absolutely necessary not only to ensure the protection of the children caught up in a conflict but also to try to break the vicious cycle of hatred behind a given conflict and start to develop a lasting solution to it.