[News] Palestinians are not numbers: On the future of the Palestinian discourse

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 21 17:53:12 EDT 2020

are not numbers: On the future of the Palestinian discourse
Ramzy Baroud - September 21, 2020

Palestine can never be truly understood through numbers, because numbers
are dehumanising, impersonal, and, when necessary, can also be contrived to
mean something else entirely. Numbers are not meant to tell the story of
the human condition, nor should they ever serve as a substitute for

Indeed, the stories of life, death – and everything in-between – cannot be
truly and fully appreciated through charts, figures, and numbers.  The
latter, although useful for many purposes, is a mere numerical depository
of data. Anguish, joy, aspirations, defiance, courage, loss, collective
struggle, and so on, however, can only be genuinely expressed through the
people who lived through these experiences.

Numbers, for example, tell us that over 2,200 Palestinians were killed
<https://www.ochaopt.org/content/key-figures-2014-hostilities> during the
Israeli war on the Gaza Strip between July 8 and August 27, 2014, over 500
of them being children. Over 17,000 homes were completely destroyed
and thousands of other buildings, including hospitals, schools, and
factories were either destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli

The Israeli constant attack on Gaza – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

This is all true, the kind of truth that is summarised into a neat
infographic, updated occasionally, in case, inevitably, some of the
critically wounded eventually lose their lives.

But a single chart, or a thousand, can never truly describe the actual
terror felt by a million children who feared for their lives during those
horrific days; or transport us to a bedroom where a family of ten huddled
in the dark, praying for God’s mercy as the earth shook, concrete collapsed
and the glass shattered all around them; or convey the anguish of a mother
holding the lifeless body of her child.

*OPINION: We Are the Children of Gaza, the Poet, the Fashionista and the

It is easy – and justifiable – to hold the media accountable for the
dehumanisation of the Palestinians or, sometimes, ignoring them altogether.
However, if blame must be apportioned, then others too, including those who
consider themselves ‘pro-Palestine’, must reconsider their own position. We
are all, to an extent, collectively guilty of seeing Palestinians as sheer
victims, hapless, passive, intellectually stunted, and ill-fated people,
desperate to be ‘saved.’

When numbers monopolise the limelight in a people’s narrative, they do more
damage than merely reduce complex human beings to data; they erase the
living, too. Regarding Palestine, Palestinians are rarely engaged as
equals; they persist at the receiving end of charity, political
expectations, and unsolicited instructions on what to say and how to
resist. They are often the fodder for political bargains by factions or
governments but, rarely, the initiative takers and the shapers of their own
political discourse.

The Palestinian political discourse has, for years, vacillated between one
constructed around the subject of victimhood – which is often satisfied by
numbers of dead and wounded – and another pertaining to the elusive
Fatah-Hamas unity. The former only surfaces whenever Israel decides to bomb
Gaza under any convenient pretext at the time and the latter was a response
to western accusations that Palestinian political elites are too fractured
to constitute a potential ‘peace partner’ for Israeli rightwing Prime
Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Many around the world can only understand –
or relate to – Palestinians through their victimisation or factional
affiliation – which, themselves, carry subsidiary meanings relevant to
‘terrorism’, ‘radicalism’, among others.

[image: Palestinian Fatah movement leader Azzam Al-Ahmad (R) and Deputy
Chairman of the Movement's Political Bureau Saleh Al-Arouri (L) shake hands
after signing the reconciliation agreement to build a consensus in Cairo,
Egypt on 12 October 2017 [Ahmed Gamil/Anadolu Agency]]

Palestinian Fatah movement leader Azzam Al-Ahmad (R) and Deputy Chairman of
the Movement’s Political Bureau Saleh Al-Arouri (L) in Cairo, Egypt on 12
October 2017 [Ahmed Gamil/Anadolu Agency]

The reality is, however, often different from reductionist political and
media discourses. Palestinians are not just numbers. They are not
spectators either, in a political game that insists on marginalising them.
Soon after the 2014 war, a group of Palestinian youth, together with
supporters from around the world, launched an important initiative that
aimed to liberate the Palestinian discourse, at least in Gaza, from the
confines of numbers and other belittling interpretations.

‘We Are Not Numbers’ was launched <https://wearenotnumbers.org/home/About>
in early 2015. The group’s ‘About Us’ page reads: “numbers don’t convey  …
the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the
aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they
would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.”

Recently, I spoke to several members of the group, including the Gaza
Project Manager, Issam Adwan. It was, indeed, inspiring to hear young,
articulate, and profoundly resolute Palestinians speaking a language that
transcends all the stereotypical discourses on Palestine. They were neither
victims nor factional and were hardly consumed by the pathological need to
satisfy western demands and expectations.

“We have talents – we are writers, we are novelists, we are poets, and we
have so much potential that the world knows little about,” Adwan told me.

*OPINION: Time to end Israel’s impunity

Khalid Dader, one of the Organisation’s nearly 60 active writers and
bloggers in Gaza, contends with the designation that they are
‘storytellers.’ “We don’t tell stories, rather stories tell us  … stories
make us,” he told me. For Dader, it is not about numbers or words, but the
lives that are lived, and the legacies that often go untold.

Somaia Abu Nada wants the world to know her uncle, because “he was a person
with a family and people who loved him.” He was killed in the 2008 Israeli
war on Gaza, and his death has profoundly impacted his family and
community. Over 1,300 people were also killed
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28252155> in that war. Each one
of them was someone’s uncle, aunt, son, daughter, husband, or wife. None of
them was just a number.

[image: Road to Peace - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]]

Road to Peace – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

“‘We Are Not Numbers’ made me realise how necessary our voices are,”
Mohammed Rafik told me. This assertion cannot be overstated. So many speak
on behalf of Palestinians but rarely do Palestinians speak for themselves.
“These are unprecedented times of fear when our land appears to be broken
and sad,” Rafik said, “but we never abandon our sense of community.”

Adwan reminded us of Arundhati Roy’s famous quote
“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the
deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

It was refreshing to talk to Palestinians who are taking the decisive step
of declaring that they are not numbers, because it is only through this
realisation and resolve that Palestinian youth can challenge all of us and
assert their own collective identity as a people.

Indeed, Palestinians do have a voice, and a strong, resonating one at that.

*OPINION: Israel wants to control all of Palestine, with as few
Palestinians there as possible

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not
necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.
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