When we see their faces, Gaza's dead are harder to ignore
Published 23/07/2014 | 02:30
The young man in the green t-shirt was gingerly picking his way through the rubble caused by the latest missile strike, searching for survivors, when the first bullet hit him.
"Can you move?" asked a panicked voice, narrating the footage, as the injured man lay sprawled on the ground, shot in the hand. Crying out in pain, he tried to lift himself up. The air crackled with the sound of more shots and he was struck again. His right arm reached out towards the people filming him, imploring them for help, but they could not risk emerging from their hiding place to drag him to safety.
Then, he was shot again. His leg jerked and his head flopped to the side. He stopped moving.
Released on Monday by a pro-Palestinian activist group, International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the three-minute clip purports to show a war crime.
According to ISM, an Israeli sniper shot and killed the unarmed civilian as he searched for survivors amid the ruins of the east Gaza neighbourhood of Shujaiya, which was razed to the ground during 12-hours of incessant Israeli shelling on Sunday night. If true, I, and tens of thousands of other people who have watched the viral video online, have witnessed a cold-blooded murder.
It's just one of many horrific videos and images that have emerged from Gaza, where people remain trapped, but social media allows the world to glimpse the horrors unfolding inside. In this war, you don't need to be on the ground to bear witness to the savagery and the suffering. All you need is Twitter.
There you will find gruesome images of dead children, their bodies torn to shreds by shrapnel; of dust-covered corpses peeking out of the ruins of residential buildings, and of blood-soaked hospital gurneys where doctors try to treat the disfigured and the dying.
The current conflict in Gaza is the third time in just six years that the tiny strip of land, measuring 25 miles long and five miles wide, has been ravaged by the full might of the Israeli military but this time something is different.
This time Israel has been unable to manage the news agenda or to excuse the enormous number of civilian deaths by claiming that they were being used as human shields by Hamas. When the lives of four Palestinian boys were snuffed out on a beach by an Israeli shell last week, the social media accounts of international journalists relayed their final moments to the world.
We saw images of them running for their lives after an initial missile strike and then the aftermath of the second shell – tiny bodies face down on the sand, clothes torn off them from the strength of the blast, limbs splayed at unnatural angles.
There are some who say that we don't need to see these graphic images of what Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has grotesquely called, the "telegenically dead Palestinians" because they dehumanise the victims and disrespect the dead. But why should Western nations, whose governments facilitate the Israeli bombardment of Gaza by giving its government billions of dollars in aid and buying its "field-tested" weapons, be spared from witnessing the full extent of its horrors?
The most powerful weapon the Palestinians have is their ability to communicate to the world the carnage that surrounds them.
Before the ubiquity of smart phones, this was not an issue. All I can remember about the coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 is images of missiles lighting up the night sky over Baghdad. Today, maybe, that is different. When we see the faces of the dead, they're harder to ignore.
Perhaps this is the reason that 3,000 people marched in Dublin, and 100,000 in London, at the weekend demanding an end to the conflict. If nothing else, it should give us pause to think about our perverse notions of respect.
Because, if we cared as much about respect for the living as we do about respect for the dead, then the war would already be over.