In 2006, the Lebanese novelist Hassan Daoud reflected on how some friends, visiting Lebanon in the aftermath of the July war, insisted on inspecting the destruction in Beirut’s southern suburb.1 He declared that he was not capable of accompanying them on these visits—he had experienced the destruction firsthand and saw no need to inspect the damage himself. Such inspection would only complicate an already troubled existence.
In all probability, Daoud was not expressing sentiments unique to him. During those dark days in Beirut, it appeared that comprehending the meaning of the war and coming to terms with its material and cultural consequences rendered the act of inspecting the destruction unbearable. Such inspection would only serve to document a catastrophe that one had already lived through and experienced fully.
To me, this suggests a disparity between the concerns of those of us who live in our part of the world and those of others enthusiastic to our causes. We, in Lebanon and Palestine, in Iraq and Iran, shoulder the burden of dealing with the aftermath of our catastrophes. This disparity is primarily geographic in nature and manifests itself on two different levels.
Witnessing the full impact of the 2006 July War in Beirut, or the 2008–2009 Israeli invasion in Gaza, is a very different sensory experience to that of following it from afar in New York or London. The edited scenes that are broadcast in New York or London are replays of the protracted events to which war subjected Beirut and Gaza. The reverberation of shelling is evidence in itself of death and destruction, yet the lengthy process of establishing the extent of the damage and the identities of the victims delays the broadcast of that event by several hours. Because of this interval, the residents of Beirut–Gaza experience the attacks as two distinct events, one vague and obscure and the other clear and documented. Of the two, the obscure event is undoubtedly the one experienced more sorrowfully.
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