The image of the Middle East in general and the Palestinian territories in particular is one of squalor and bloodshed. There has been plenty of the latter throughout the years, but anyone who visits the Palestinian areas knows how far from the truth is the commonly held assumption that the West Bank and Gaza in particular are awful places where the inhabitants are barely hanging on for dear life. There are plenty of poor Palestinians – and more than a few living in poverty across the border in Israel, too. But many of the towns and cities on the West Bank are bustling, prosperous, and largely middle-class. And while no one will mistake Gaza for the Cote d’Azure, the reality of even that unhappy place does not conform to the image of Israeli-imposed horror.
But don’t take my word for it; just read this week’s Sunday New York Times Week in Review section for a glimpse of “Gaza Through Fresh Eyes,” a photo essay by Katie Orlinsky with text by Ethan Bronner. What did Orlinsky find in Gaza? As Bronner writes:
For some, it’s the relative modernity — the jazzy cellphone stores and pricey restaurants. For others, it’s the endless beaches with children whooping it up. But for nearly everyone who visits Gaza, often with worry of danger and hostility, what’s surprising is the fact that daily life, while troubled, often has the staggering quality of the very ordinary.
The pictures show that life is going on in a very normal fashion. They depict a busy intersection in Rafah, a Gaza beach scene, shoppers in Gaza city where wedding dresses are on sale, and fishermen and farmers. Even the photos that show the less happy side of Gaza – a girl living in a tent, a crowded tenement, and a pregnant widow whose husband died of unspecified war-related injuries (had he been a truly innocent bystander who fell to Israeli fire, we probably would have been told as much, which means it’s just as likely as anything else that he was a Hamas terrorist who died in a “work accident” when explosives blew up prematurely or that he was killed while trying to kill Israelis) – show scenes that are not exactly depictions of the Israeli atrocities that so many around the world are so worked up about.
Even more interesting is what the pictures don’t show. None tell us about the Islamist government of the region, which is imposing on the people not only its vow of war to the death against Israel but also an extremist religion. None, not even the saddest picture, tells the reader the true context of life in Gaza: the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to make peace despite many offers of statehood and recognition from Israel. And none show the fact that the region was completely evacuated by Israel five years ago, but instead of using their independence to better their lives, the Palestinians have chosen more war.
While pictures can tell us a lot about Gaza and even make it plain that life there isn’t all that terrible, they can’t tell us why Hamas and its followers still prefer war to peace.