Mr Joris Luyendijk has been a correspondent in the Middle East from 1998 to 2003 (he is now in London reporting on the banking world of the City) and he has written a book about how he thinks that reporting accurately is hardly possible in the region — due to the repressive regimes and highly organised propaganda machinery in the different countries.
With the tragic events that are unfolding in Syria, I recently recalled a part somewhere in the end of Luyendijk’s book which painfully well shows the human side of war. Even though his experiences were in Gaza, the psychological impact war has on humans is universal, in any country (also the constant threat of rocket firing in the case of Israel, for that matter), in any setting. Luyendijk painfully well illustrates the point he is trying to make and I cannot help but think of the extremely disturbing, and somewhat hopeless, nature of the events unfolding in the Arab Syrian Republic.
The below text is from the Dutch version of Luyendijk’s book, which I translated.
Joris Luyendijk – Het Zijn Net Mensen, pp 210-212
I’ve experienced a bombardment myself, and these days I often think back to it. It was in Gaza, and in size, it was not comparable to what the people in Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrik had been undergoing already. But I do think there are parallels. You always hear of civilian deaths and wounded, and if that body count doesn’t rise too much, one speaks of a ‘clean war’. What madness.
If you are somewhere where bombs are thrown on, you feel a lot of things, but mostly powerlessness. Your life is in the hands of someone with a joystick or in a cockpit. He can make the decision which would lead to your death or you becoming handicapped. In Gaza I felt a fear so nauseating that I immediately had to add other emotions over it. The Palestinians around me seemed to do the same thing, and together we were staging a play: O, there another bomb just exploded, hahaha. In front of the camera we could have done the dance you see the Iraqis now making in front of their state television: ‘Defiant Iraqi’s after last night’s bombing’. At times CNN would copy these pictures, adding: ‘Iraqis headstrong after last night’s bombings’.
Forget it. In Gaza Palestinian social workers told about explosive increases in domestic violence, spontaneous abortions, heart attacks. Young children whose first words were not baba or mama but ‘bomb’, ‘martyr’, ‘airplane’. Drawings of jet fighters and bullets and blood, children who rather want to be soldiers than soccer players or actors and who don’t play tag but soldier or funeral director. In the words of a local psychologist: ‘In front of the camera they scream “Allah akbar”, at night they pee in their beds.’ Parents no longer dare to make love because they are scared that during the act a bombardment might start, and then they immediately would have to run to their children. A father in Gaza told me that at nights his eight year old daughter secretly took off her pyjama and went to lay in bed with her regular clothes, so that in case of a bombardment she could directly run to the shelter.
Then the hysteric phone calls after the network is restored: is everybody all right? Is the family business still standing? Has there been plundering? Insurance companies do not reimburse damage occurred through warfare, and most people of course don’t even have an insurance. If bombs are dropping you can’t go outside. That is also the case for the ambulance and the fire fighters; so if you fall from the stairs or have another kind of accident, you have to wait until the all-clear. This makes parents even more nervous, because during bombardments the children run all around. They hide in the bathroom or try to run unto the streets. And of course they ask when it will stop. Social workers told that Palestinian parents are so desperate to comfort their children, that they say: tomorrow. Or: in an hour. But those bombardments continue and the children lose their trust in their parents, their last hiding place.
This what I miss the most in the media. Pictures of young children hiding in a corner, and hysterical partners kicking and screaming because they are completely confused. Stories about girls in puberty who mutilate themselves so they can feel pain that they can control themselves. How during these bombardments out of the loudspeakers of the mosque Quran verses are recited to pull the people through their agony. You never see that, not on Al Jazeera either. They stick to the Arab taboo of showing one’s vulnerability and sadness, and accompany their horrific pictures of death and wounded with texts about the ‘courageous determination of the Iraqi people.’ This is what I’ve had already learned from the bombardments in Gaza: the term ‘clean war’ belongs in the group of pregnant virgin and democratic dictator.