Look away from Gaza, but only so you can look back

When we choose to look away for good, we are as complicit as those at the helm of this atrocity

By Ghenwa Yehia

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Palestinians walk on the rubble of a building following Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. Photo: AFP
Palestinians walk on the rubble of a building following Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. Photo: AFP

Published: Sun 3 Dec 2023, 9:20 PM

I write this from the comfort of my home. I write this as my children are tucked safely in their beds. At the end of this day that I’ve moved through with ease, after a few good meals and time to connect with those I love.

I write this from a place called privilege.

As the world grapples with the reality that a genocide is unfolding right before our eyes, all around me normal people are saying to themselves: “But what can I do?”

Do I donate to charity? Do I participate in the boycott? Do I post constantly on social media to voice my outrage? Do I watch and share horrendous videos – of premature babies taken off incubators; children declaring they welcome death; of mass graves, unexplainable suffering, and ignorant rhetoric?

These are all valid options, but what it all comes down to is this: We must bear witness.

From this place called privilege, it may seem like the hardest thing to do and yet it is the most important place to start.

When we have the choice, it’s easy to justify looking away. We can disconnect from social media, put our phones away, turn the TV off, and go outside to breathe fresh air, numb ourselves to reality, and move on. It’s far less painful to take the easy way out.

But a genocide is not supposed to be less painful for anyone. You’re supposed to feel sickened, shocked, and outraged. You’re supposed to feel the burden of those suffering. When thousands of ordinary men, women, and children are indiscriminately bombed out of their homeland and massacred as a form of collective punishment while some world leaders continue to vote against permanent ceasefire, you’re supposed to think the world has gone mad.

When we choose to look away for good, we are as complicit as those at the helm of this atrocity.

As an ardent advocate of mental health, I realise this message may seem contradictory to my core belief that mental health needs to be prioritised at the individual level and normalised in all aspects of society.

But when we break it down, taking care of your own mental health is necessary so that when we are well we can turn around and lift those around us up.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten this essential caveat that mental health matters insomuch as it helps people help themselves – and then help others. The individualistic nature of mental health practices and commercialisation of wellbeing practices only serve to separate us more – they teach us to put ourselves first and use band-aid solutions to numb the pain. But we can’t isolate ourselves from everything that hurts us.

In the current climate, we can’t self-care away our discomfort with a bubble bath and aromatherapy candles. Just like we can’t self-care away an apartheid state and genocide.

Mental wellbeing lies in healthy boundaries, connecting with our community, so we can reach out to others and pay it forward. Mental wellbeing is about meaningful connections – talking, sharing, connecting to belong to and supporting something greater than ourselves.

It’s true that studies have documented that people who continuously watch the news featuring traumatic experiences can then suffer from PTSD and secondary trauma, compromising their mental wellbeing.

For me, one of the most traumatising experiences of this entire war is how Palestinians have had to show the world their dead, their assaulted, their most intimate moments of grief, agony, and desperation over and over to get the world to believe the truth.

It can be a lot to take in.

It is even more to live through.

But if I look away for good because this unnecessary suffering makes me feel uncomfortable, what does that say about my humanity?

I am not ashamed to say I periodically look away. I look away to remember there is good in this world. There can still be beauty, love, and hope. I look away to clear my head. But I look away so I can can look back longer.

Heal yourself as needed, so you can help those whose trauma we are witnessing from afar is a lived reality.

Do not go far – do not become numb or be lulled into complacency because the slaughter of the Palestinian people has been going on for nearly 60 days now, plus 75 years.

Look away … so you can look back longer and bear witness. Come back louder, stronger, and in earnest to fight the fight for those who cannot do so for themselves.

(Ghenwa Yehia is an editor and a freelance content development specialist. The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer.)


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