In the last few weeks, horrific viral pictures and videos from Palestine flooded social media. The internet brought the untold sufferings inflicted on the people of Palestine by Israel into every home around the world. People perhaps uploaded these pictures on social media to make the world aware of Israel’s crimes in Palestine. They also amplified the pain that the Palestinians have been suffering from the last more than 7 decades.
Visuals from Palestine: The Element of Shock
The visuals coming out of Palestine are shocking. They have an element of shock in them. They contain pain in them. Israeli forces are shooting some Palestinian, they are beating and kicking another person. Someone’s house is being bulldozed and NGO offices are being raided. Some Israeli soldiers are ordering a few Palestinian kids to say “cheese” in the middle of the night while photographing them.
An average social media user consumes such horrific pictures from Palestine every day. All those people around the world, suffering from any kind of oppression, can understand the pain of the Palestinians in these visuals. For others, who do not have a sense of the tragic, it ought to teach them the meaning of tragedy.
The Meaning of Tragedy for Palestinians
There were times when America waged wars around the world and called them “invisible wars” or “forgotten wars”. These wars were invisible to the world because no information came out of these places. However, these invisible wars were invisible only to the world outside. They were pretty visible to the people on whom the war was being waged. The war in Laos was not invisible to Laotians.
The invisible wars provoked a need to teach the Americans and the people around the world the meaning of tragedy. America’s education system has resisted teaching the meaning of tragedy to students. The recent opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory in American schools endorses this point.
The CNN Effect
It was the Vietnam War that taught some Americans the meaning of tragedy. The media played a huge role in this teaching. The television brought the pain of Vietnamese people into every American home. This phenomenon is widely known as CNN Effect. The CNN Effect provoked unprecedented protests in the US, forcing the government to end the war in Vietnam.
Susan Sontag writes in her book Regarding The Pain of Others (2003), about the impact of photographs of the Vietnam War and Bosnia war on public opinion. She writes, “The first idea is that public attention is steered by the attentions of the media—which means, most decisively, images. When there are photographs, a war becomes “real”. Thus, the protest against the Vietnam War was mobilized by images”. While war photographs make war real for the spectator, protest photographs make protests real for the spectator by bringing images of the protests into their homes through daily newspapers or TV news. Having fed the spectators with the shocking photographs and having made the protest real for them, the media certainly does incite a spectator to think at least a little and dig deeper into the images.
Palestine’s CNN Effect
Palestine also had its CNN Effect moment. When Israel waged war on Gaza from December 2007- January 2008, Kashmir had just started using the social media widely. It was perhaps the first time that Kashmiris were watching Israel’s crimes live on social media. One of the most widely circulated pictures those days was the picture of Israeli kids writing messages on rockets that Israel was launching against Palestinians.
These pictures were shocking. Entire Kashmir was on the streets to express their solidarity with Palestinians and protest the war on Palestine. A lot of people were injured in these protests. It is not that Kashmiris had not expressed their solidarity with Palestinians before but for the younger generation, it was the pictures that made them aware of the pain of Palestinians. There have been protests many times after the 2007-2008 war on Gaza also. However, it would be safe to assume that with more visuals coming out of Palestine, the intensity of protests has decreased over time. At some point, Kashmiris became numb and insensitive.
Earlier, Friday sermons or Eid prayers would not go without the mention of Palestine. There was always a special mention of Palestine in almost all mosques across Kashmir but now one rarely finds Palestine being mentioned in mosques or Kashmir’s local newspapers.
Overexposure to the pain of Palestinians
The insensitiveness is brought about by overexposure to the visuals from Palestine. The overexposure seems to take the element of shock out of these pictures and videos. As Susan Sontag writes, “the hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise”. It is “part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and source of value”. About the need for a shock in photography, Sontag asks “how else to make a dent when there is incessant exposure to images, and overexposure to a handful of images seen again and again”?
This phenomenon has normalized the oppression or pain of Palestinians. The visuals that should normally give goosebumps to one no longer do that. Its ability to provoke solidarity or protests is gone. The pain of Palestinians is no more worthy of shock because they are perhaps made for it. We see them being killed live and hence they have become killable bodies. Their killing has been normalized.