They cry to be seen, heard


Published: 10-29-2023 12:50 PM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at

It’s so hard to write: If I didn’t have deadlines I might never start.

Writing often starts with prayer, coffee, and Wordle, and is occasionally followed by a man’oushe, a Lebanese flatbread made with olive oil and za’atar.

Today – as in most days this month – it starts with tears. It starts with reading obituaries of children who died in Gaza while I slept, starts with seeing a picture on a friend’s Facebook page of a father with a dead child in his arms patiently waiting for a shroud so he can bury his baby.

Starts with an inbox filled with links sent by a dear friend who aggregates, then shares, news reports from across a diverse spectrum of interests and perspectives.

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Starts with being angry at the ongoing erasure of Palestinians not only by Israelis but globally by pundits, journalists, clergy, and politicians – especially in America – whose power, privilege and comforts align with the discriminatory and exclusionary rhetoric of Israel’s extremist, often messianic, right-wing government.

Starts with most of those commentators, almost exclusively white, not willing to accept that Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel all live under various forms of organized discrimination, occupation and oppression designed to make their lives nearly unlivable.

It starts with drawing my keffiyeh closer, with letting the loose ends dangle freely so that the tears you’ve wiped from your eyes can drop free and nourish the earth.

There is so little nourishment these days: when violence, racism, hatred, and fear of the Other are spawned out of injustice, poverty, and oppression no space is safe, no relationship untouched, no nation unchanged.

When Winston Churchill, who for decades embraced and acted upon his racist and white supremacist impulses, wrote that in defense of the United Kingdom “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender” he was lauded and praised.

When Palestinians rise against oppression and resist “whatever the cost may be” they are reviled, dehumanized, scorned, and further marginalized, described as “human animals” worthy of extinction.

Worthy of extinction – including the extinction of innocent civilians – in the minds of many Christian and Jewish messianics; extinction in the manner, as Samuel instructed Saul: “Now go and attack Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” 1 Samuel 15:3

Draw your keffiyeh closer.

This week it was reported that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told American Jewish leaders that when he was in Doha he asked the Qataristo “turn down the volume on Al Jazeera’s coverage because it is full of anti-Israel incitement.”

Just days later the family of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief, Wael al-Dahbouh, were killed at Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp where they had been sheltering. The bodies of his wife, son, daughter and infant grandson have been recovered; the bodies of other family members remain “missing” under the rubble.

Is Al Jazeera Amalek?

Are Palestinians Amalek?

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong,” Franz Fanon wrote. “When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

“We are indifferent to the fate of Palestinian children, hungry and humiliated; so why are we surprised when they blow us up in our restaurants,” Avraham Burg, once president of Israel’s Knesset, once wrote. “Even if we killed 1,000 terrorists a day it would change nothing.”

It would change nothing.

I could go on with links and quotes, present incontrovertible evidence of ongoing genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes against the Palestinian people.

It would change nothing.

I could again eulogize Rachel Corrie, Shireen Abu Akleh and other victims of state sponsored terrorism and occupation. I could argue, as I have in weeks past, about history, humanity and context. I could call for a ceasefire.

But that, too, would change nothing.

Last night, at a gathering of mostly old friends, many of various faith traditions, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the pandemic – and new friends to be embraced – I spoke of anguish and loss, of disappointments and expectations. It was personal, intense, reflective, and in conclusion, when asked, I answered I had no hope.

I could feel the tears welling within me.

Together, we drew our keffiyeh closer.