Today, there are more than 6.5 million Palestinian refugees living mainly in refugee camps in the occupied territories (East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza), and in neighboring countries in the Middle East (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq), and more than 400,000 internally displaced Palestinians in the occupied territories and Israel. They are the survivors of the mass expulsion of Palestinians that accompanied Israel’s creation (the Nakba, “catastrophe” in Arabic), the descendants of these survivors, and those driven from their homes and lands in the intervening decades. Aurora Levins Morales’ “Questions for the Media” might also apply to Palestinian refugees – Editors.
If Beirut has been a city for 37 centuries and Paris for 20, why doesn’t anyone refer to explosions in Beirut as attacks on music, culture, civilization? Why don’t all the stories start with how ancient and rich with history it is, how in all those centuries of invasions, occupations, wars, it was never abandoned, how it keeps raising its head?
We know the name of the band and what song the band was playing in the concert hall in Paris when the gunmen opened fire. We know what teams were playing at the stadium, and how far along they were in the game. We know the names of the restaurants. What kind of food they served.
So why can’t you tell me what Adel Termos and his little girl were buying in the open air market in Beirut when he threw himself on the second bomber and saved hundreds of lives? Or who was buying bread at the bakery, or about the families walking home after work? What is the bakery called? Why haven’t you profiled the mosque, told us how long it’s been there, who goes there every Friday?
Why do you call that neighborhood of Bourj al-Barajneh, where people were filling bags with vegetables, walking hand in hand after a long day, thinking about dinner, “a Hezbollah stronghold” and describe the 10th arrondissement of Paris as “progressive, hip, diverse, vibrant?”
You tell us about a typical Friday night in Eastern Paris, of groups of friends sitting in cafés. How they sip coffee by day and dance in clubs at night. You tell us it’s a working class place, just regular folks, about the Turkish kebab place and Vietnamese restaurant, the newly arrived and long established immigrants. You don’t mention the rise in anti-immigrant racism. You don’t mention French colonialism. Its part in this. You tell us about the bullets in the pizzeria window.
You interview residents by name. They say they were targeted for their civilized values. You tell us about innocence.
When it comes to Beirut, you go on and on about factions and offensives, and who claimed responsibility, and who is retaliating for what, and who swears revenge. You say the people there are Shia, as if that is enough, as if that’s an explanation. You don’t tell us what they do for a living, how they feel about their city. You don’t tell us who has always shopped at that market, who sells the best tomatoes, which businesses lost their windows, who lives just down the street, about the groups of friends sitting together, talking and laughing, about a typical Thursday evening, about neighbors, about long established and newly arrived immigrants, about shellshocked Syrian refugees, about the music, the flowers, the smell of cooking. You just repeat “stronghold,” so we will stop thinking civilian, family, shopkeeper, innocent. So we’ll think casualties and not people.
This is what I want to know: can you tell me the names of the people? I need to know their names.
Aurora Levins Morales is a Puerto Rican Jewish writer, poet and Latina feminist living in Cambridge, MA.