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War: A Study of Silence

by Bhavika Malik

"...silence is never neutral, and only rarely is it silent."

Opening Instagram, a feeling lingers. It is not guilt because that implies admitting our mistake. We are yet to admit our mistake. We wash our hands by reposting a genocide with a euphemistic grey blur, maintaining a safe distance from the images capturing the bombed neighborhoods and jagged journalist vests in Palestine. But all those emotions fold over and collapse into a 180x180 pixel icon as soon as you swipe out of the app. We do this every day.

The images and news circulating our feeds bring us closer to atrocities committed in Palestine. Yet, we cannot keep up with it. We seek distance, days off from the dead bodies, hoping that switching off our phones would pause it entirely. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that it doesn’t work like that.

But where do we situate our complacency in this genocide? How do we explain the order of our Instagram stories, which range from war images captured in Gaza to those about our morning coffees? This is not a call to action for adults, it is a call to action for teenagers. Within Utah, politicians blatantly back this atrocity. Meanwhile, educational institutions retract their support for organizations that have been working tirelessly to confront the colonial and imperial dynamics this bloodshed permits. 

Our futures are permanently marked by a U.S. blank check which emboldens the violence in Palestine.

This is a war of attrition, and we are a part of it. It is easy to discount our voice as teenagers, but can we justify our silence when a war is waged on children who make up nearly half of Gaza’s population? How can we relieve ourselves from the responsibility of documenting their stories?

"...human life has yet again become a spectacle."

"Remember that we’re not content to be shared, we are a nation that is getting killed and we’re trying not to be ethnically cleansed," said Motaz Azaiza, a Palestinian photographer documenting the war. Palestinian journalists are shadow banned (the act of muting users online without informing them) on social media, or their account reach is restricted due to the “sensitive content.” The onus is on us to re-share the information coming out of Gaza to make up for what is lacking in the algorithm.

Even though there are mostly social media posts in support of Palestine, that doesn’t mean there is meaningful engagement with that content.  “How long someone spends on a video, they argue, is arguably more important than how many overall posts were created. It doesn’t matter if there are 20 times more pro-Palestinian posts, for instance, if pro-Israeli counter-messaging is getting more eyeballs,” explained Mark Scott in an article for Politico. 

With endless access to the Israel–Palestine war, human life has yet again become a spectacle. We replace humans with statistics larger than life. And don't get me wrong, they are inhumanely large numbers. But they are also more digestible and impersonal ways of reckoning with lost lives. We find safety in numbers.

These past months have been destabilizing both in geopolitics and in our personal lives. The prolonged exposure to the war has stirred a sort of apathy. The war of attrition is meant to wear down the morale. Today it has gone global and we are all experiencing it. We are fatigued. Or so we are told.

It is hard to view the violence unfolding in Palestine. So, it is rational to experience apathy or burnout, but the solution is not individualistic. We cannot fix it by retreating from the world. Compassion and solidarity are the answer. Several neuroscientific studies show we can counter this empathy fatigue by acting on it. Focusing on community-building and preserving Palestinian culture are some ways to help out while also improving our mental health.

"Complacency is the biggest epidemic."

The decreasing engagement with Palestinian content is not a coincidence. That is our mistake. Watching Palestinian voices muffle and slip from the profit-driven social media algorithms is not a coincidence. Our complacency enables it. Sustaining and cultivating conversations about the conflict is essential. By ignoring it, we reduce accountability for our leaders. Our silence fosters unwarranted credibility and confidence for politicians, who use it to unleash mass destruction.

And the same silence patrols the streets of Palestine, armed with 14.5 billion dollars to fight a region where 2 million people lived below the poverty line in 2022. And today, whose economy will be pushed back by a decade. While the bombardment campaign persists, we seek to relieve our pain from witnessing this catastrophe by not engaging with it. Complacency is the biggest epidemic.

The antidote is simple — we need to keep talking, keep caring. Public policy and legislative pressure are the only ways to push for the desperately needed ceasefire. There have been some improvements. UN aid is finally reaching Palestinians. However, the UN resolution that permitted aid to Palestine is insufficient. It does not propose meaningful ways to end hostilities.

Mirna Khaled Sayed describes our disengagement perfectly, “suffering is not a story.” As viewers of this atrocity, we regard its magnitude as a spectacle delivered to us through bite-sized social media posts. And so we remit any responsibilities we owe to Palestinians because their suffering is mythologized in our eyes. We don’t treat it as an active genocide, but rather a distant cause we can infrequently post on our social media. Educating ourselves on the destructive political and imperial dynamics that exist in the West — ones that make us complicit in this atrocity — is essential. We should have been doing that long before October 7th.

So what does all of this mean? Accept your discomfort. Use it to help the movement. Our actions don’t need to be exceptional to be meaningful. We just need to never stop engaging with the pictures, stories, and news coming out of Palestine. Read, write, cook, and watch movies as you do, but try incorporating Palestinian voices into your daily life. Not just for a week or a month, but at the very least, as long as the violence persists. Hopefully after too. Lastly, amplify Palestinian journalists (a list is included below). They have been working tirelessly to bridge the gaps in the media regarding the war. We must listen.

When we ignore Palestinian voices, our humanity is not coexisting with the violence, it is encroaching on them. Our complacency is parasitic — it slowly chips away at hope and peace. We need to fight the “collective punishment of Palestinians with collective action. Do not let your discontent leave you. Sit with it, love, pray, and cook with it. Scream with it. Use it for good because silence is never neutral, and only rarely is it silent.

Palestinian journalists and youth coalitions:

-Bhavika Malik is a senior at Herriman High School. She emigrated from India in 2021. She has works published in Brown Girl Magazine, Polyester Zine, Wear Your Voice, The Teen Magazine and more.

2024 Letters To Utah All Rights Reserved

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