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We are not Ready for the Ramifications of this Retribution

From our homes, surrounded by people and the places we associate with home, we (fortunate ones) have watched the violence of the Israel- Gaza conflict unfold daily. No doubt shocked, frustrated and angered at what has/is happening in Gaza as Israel seeks vengeance following the Hama attack on Oct 7th.

(Although the text is about Gaza, I feel that is very important to recognise that many more conflicts are happening at the same time and require expert humanitarian action)

Now that there is a temporary truce (which has just been extended by two days). Let us dare to talk about precarious times ahead and what that might mean for millions of dislocated and traumatised people with the idea and the presence of a home torn from them.

Strange as it may seem to some it is important to acknowledge that Gaza and many of the people contained within it survived daily torment, oppression, discrimination, and trauma, yet Gaza was their home, a place filled with people, things, practices and representations of belonging somewhere. It shaped a fabric of places that held plenty of social significance and important memories (individual and collective), creating spaces that helped validate and sustain everyday life.

Gaza like any other region, had an order of places which gave its population reasons to feel connected and feel a sense of self and cultural ownership. Locally there were the combinations of space that informed neighbourhood characteristics, culture and traditions. Gaza provided a sense of place (albeit a precarious one) from which its inhabitants drew a broader orientation and built relationships far and wide.

I have always understood that one's identity is connected to a particular place by a feeling that you belong to that place. It’s a place where you feel comfortable, or at home because part of how you define yourself is symbolised by certain qualities of that place.

When those places that define a people are erased, when a population is traumatised by war, suffering the loss of the people they love and places that were once part of their subconscious, how, why and where would they hope to rebuild and to what end? 

There are millions of people suffering the countless permutations of trauma displacement and loss, all trying to understand deep emotional entanglements in an area cut off from, yet watched by the rest of the world as they struggle with poor living conditions, little to no services (medical, sanitary, light, security….) and the fear of more violence 

Israel has created an unfamiliar, fractured and frightening region where nowhere is understood as safe, and where the line between death and extreme suffering on the one hand and ordinary living on the other has been obliterated.

Given my experiences in Iraq and my knowledge about place and memory, I have to state that we are not ready for the ramifications of this retribution.

Not only has the violence created an uninhabitable region where social fabrics, structures and institutions are unrecognisable and norms, values and principles are but memories. The extreme nature of the violence will alter individual and social meaning systems, as well as social relations and ways of life. This has been described as a process whereby the habitual order of a society is overturned, and social relations and meaning systems are profoundly altered (Humphrey 2002). At a social level, trust and a sense of connection between groups, normally a key part of well-being, are destroyed, and the concept of the negative “other” emerges or hardens (Beneduce et al. 2006; Williamson/Robinson 2006; Staub 2006).

The Past is a timebomb, and its fuse burns brightest in the half-light of competing versions’ of founding myths of national identity. We inherit the obsessions of the dead, ‘assume their burdens; carry on their causes; promote their mentalities, ideologies and …superstitions, and often we die trying to vindicate their humiliations’. Alan Cowell

Martha Minow asks, “When is the language of healing itself an insult to those whose devastation is inconsolable, untellable, unassimilable?” Between Vengeance and Forgiveness 1998. p22

The image is by the amazing artist Pam Hallandal and is titled: Uncertainty and trauma (1962)


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