The recent publication of a ‘fictional’ short story published in the New Yorker has struck a raw nerve and it’s guaranteed to reverberate for a long time into the future.
Shani Boianjiu, author of “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations” opens her story replicating a highly publicized, brutal massacre on June 9th, 2006. The event broke a 16-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, setting off a summer of death (Operation Summer Rains) which resulted in over 400 dead human beings. Boianjiu described a famous photo in her fictional story, which matched a real life photo that McClatchy described as “an icon of the Arab-Israeli conflict” and “a potent symbol in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that could embolden Palestinian resistance and erode international support for Israel.”
She named the character in her ‘fictional’ account Huda, the very same name as Huda Ghaliya, the Gazan child who lost her family on the beach that fateful day, a day that will never ever be forgotten by Palestinians and people in our movement. Reports of the broken ceasefire were reported here, here, and the media spin blamed Hamas, who responded by firing 15 Qassam rockets into Israel on June 10th. The New York Times blamed Hamas for breaking the truce (“Hamas Fires Rockets Into Israel, Ending 16-Month Truce“), never mentioning that it was the Israeli attack that precipitated the violence. Even still, the Times reported on Huda:
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, thousands of Palestinians mourned the death of most of the Ghaliya family and wept as Huda Ghaliya, 7, kneeled to kiss her dead father before he, her mother and four siblings were buried. All were killed when the Israeli shell struck the beach where they were having a picnic. Huda had been playing nearby on the beach at the time. On Saturday, she asked mourners, “Please do not leave me alone.”
The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, who called the incident “a war crime,” said he would adopt the girl. Later, Mr. Abbas, who called the incident “a dangerous, horrible, ugly crime against civilians,” issued a presidential order adopting her.
The dead included Ali Ghaliya, 49, and his wife, Raisa, 35, and their children Ilham, 15, Sabreen, 7, Hanadi, 1, and Haihsam, 4 months. Mr. Ghaliya’s first wife survived, said Ayyam Ghaliya, 20, one of Mr. Ghaliya’s surviving children.
A cousin, Adham Ghaliya, 9, was seriously wounded. He was taken to an Israeli hospital for an operation and was listed in serious condition.
On Friday, there were reports of a second woman killed at the beach. The body of an eighth victim washed ashore on Saturday.
The Ghaliya family lost four members less than two years ago when an Israeli Army shell hit their farm in Beit Lahiya. Then, as now, the army said it was shelling to try to stop Palestinian fire into Israel.
Israeli officials said they regretted any casualties among the innocent as Israel tried to stop the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel by shelling the areas from which they were launched. Defense Minister Amir Peretz sent a message expressing regret to Mr. Abbas, who called the incident “a bloody massacre” and declared three days of mourning.
The moment I read Boianjiu’s story I knew exactly the attack she was referencing; there was no mistaking it. Except, in her fictional version the responsibility of Israel’s military for the unconscionable brutal massacre of an innocent family picnicking on the beach in Gaza was erased completely, pawned off as “a dormant shell that Palestinian militants had left by the sea”. Not only that, the photograph was referenced as “manipulation”, and it was anything but. These are real people living through this hell day in and day out in a real place the Israeli military treats as a petri dish for exercises in inflicting pain and suffering.
The attack occurred less than 6 months after Hamas won the January 2006 legislative elections and the Quartet imposed harsh economic sanctions against the Palestinian territories, a precursor of the current blockade of Gaza still in effect today. Later that month, after the attack on the Ghaliya Family, after the abduction on the 24th of Osama and Mustafa Muamar, Gilad Shalit was captured and held as a hostage. Shortly thereafter, on June 28th, Israel officially launched its summer operation, and the next day abducted numerous Hamas officials, 8 ministers, and 26 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
‘How could the New Yorker be so blind to history? Is that even possible?’ was my first thought. It was the magazine’s choice to publish a story that replicates the impenetrable cloak of lies pumped out by Israel’s robust hasbara emissaries. But for a respected publication like the New Yorker to publish a “fictional” story which replicates the horrible death of a family of 7, thus beginning a summer of violence and clearly recorded as resulting in innumerable attacks…I still find this inconceivable and unconscionable.
We cannot forget. We cannot blind ourselves through time nor insensitivity. We won’t let that happen. Unknowingly or not Shani, you’ve picked a scab and opened a wound that will only fully heal when Palestine is free. We will use your ‘fiction’ at the New Yorker to teach a lesson in truth. A lesson about dismissing Palestinian suffering, pain, death; dismissing Israeli collective punishment of Palestinians; dismissing the fact that escalations of violence are almost always initiated by Israel, (“In response, Israel is considering a large-scale assault on the coastal strip, short of the introduction of ground forces.”) which was exactly how this provocative attack was used.
We will never forget. You want to write a fantastical make believe story about Palestinians begging for your attention? Make it fictional. Leave their martyrs alone to rest in peace.
And to the New Yorker, you owe your readers an apology.