There is a kind of tourism that has benefited the Gaza Strip greatly. The kind of dark, voyeuristic tourism where people get to gape at the aftermath of tragedies and think they’d done the world a service by such fine and grueling humanitarian work.
I have heard of groups who spend as little as 24 hours on a guided tour of Gaza and then leave, having quickly become experts on what is going on there.
The advantage of such “tours” is that most of the participants are from North America and therefore, accustomed to a certain standard of living, whether they live it themselves or at least see it around them. I’m not talking about an economic standard per se; I’m talking about the standard of having all the buildings in their neighborhoods whole. We are not in a warzone so many of us have no reference point for what we are seeing.
When the group is in and out in 24 hours or 3 days or a week (usually they are not longer than a week) then it is really impossible to process what you see because it is so shocking and unfamiliar to the senses.
I was the same way. When I saw huge buildings that were completely reduced to rubble, it took my breath away. All I could imagine was the massive violence that could be responsible for such a thing.
Even as I looked at the pile of demolished concrete with high-rises standing around, all I could see was destruction.
In the months I was there in 2009 and 2010, I saw many such places and asked about all of them “What was this building?” Every single time, without fail, the answer was that it has been some government building or specifically a Hamas facility.
As I reflected on the site, I was amazed that with such a large building completely demolished, how was it that all the high-rises immediately around the hole in the ground were relatively unharmed?
In 2009, I was there 6 months after Operation Cast Lead. Many of the tourist stops had been maintained as they had been the day they were hit.
On one stop, as I got out of the bus, I had to hold my breath – even 6 months later the stench of death was still in the air. I didn’t see how this was even possible, and yet, there it was, greatly adding to the drama of the moment.
I couldn’t reconcile all the images in my head because there were too many, coming too fast – and it was all horrible.
When you are only in Gaza for a short time, you don’t have time to ask yourself questions, much less ask anyone else.
When you are only shown such horrible things in such rapid succession, there simply is not time to point to the surrounding building and ask “Why are they all still standing?”
Your mind is shocked into a numbness that is hard to shake and when it does, the only things remaining are the terrible images of destruction and no answers for unasked questions.
Many people who stay in Gaza longer seem to get a different kind of mental numbness, one that simply does not ask questions anymore but instead, just joins the party of victim-hood.
Why did I ever come to start asking questions of what I was seeing and had seen? I have no idea actually, but I am so relieved that I did.
There is no easy answer for me either, but one thing that is obvious is that Israel does not do anything close to “carpet bombing” in Gaza. Quite the contrary. Yes, places get destroyed, which injures and kills people, but I have to ask myself, with such overwhelming evidence of successful attempts at this kind of accuracy, what must have been contained or believed to have been contained in other buildings whose destruction I might not understand. Using basic logic suggests that the level of accuracy that Israel strives for, it strives for every time it finds it necessary to destroy a structure.