I am sitting in Ramallah reading this article about the controversy surrounding the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers, shot by Israeli bullets (one through the back) last week at a protest commemorating the Nakba. CCTV footage of the incident has been circulated over the past week; meanwhile the media quotes Israeli army sources claiming the footage was faked, and also, in some cases, that a Palestinian gunman is responsible for the boys’ deaths.
Their names were Mohamed and Nadim, 16 and 17 years old.
I recall the death of a different Mohamed; Mohamed Reda, shot by Egyptian security forces on the campus of Cairo University last November. His death unleashed a wave of anger by students and faculty. The public prosecutor’s office later claimed that he was killed by gunfire on the students’ side.
Two killings, each holding up a mirror image of the other, an image surrounded by violence and obfuscation.
We had been in the north, “fil dakhel” (meaning “inside 1948,” “inside Israel”) that day. We drove back from Akka and Haifa to Ramallah to find shops and restaurants shuttered, either out of respect for the lives taken, or out of fear of angry mobs of youth. The solemn atmosphere hung over the hilly city for the next few days.
Since Mohamed Reda’s death in Cairo, students have continued to die throughout the Egypt’s campuses. Claims and counter-claims, of whether the brotherhood was present, whether the students were armed, create an ugly noise often louder than the basic facts each time. Too often no one is interested in listening, anyway.
Even in writing this I feel like I am using their teenage lives, their deaths in order to understand the violence that seems inescapable. Is that selfish? Is it insulting to those who loved them? Is it disrespectful to a memory of their lives before they became part of this ongoing, sick story?
“The Nakba is ongoing” is a popular slogan here. That moment in history which changed everything for so many who were still unborn, is stretched out and iterated over and over again: when youth are killed or arrested, when houses are demolished, when land is eaten up, renamed, re-landscaped, by a highly mechanized occupying machine. A catastrophic history – both crystallized in a moment and brought to life repeatedly, generations later and decades later.
Can we see the same canvas in Egypt? When we raise flags with the faces of the fallen from our own catastrophes, from the bullets and the torture and Maspero and Port Said, when new faces are spray-painted onto walls to join this cemetery made of stencils, when we insist that their deaths are not in vain and that the revolution continues, even as the chants grow fainter. Is this all a way to stretch out a moment of change that occurred in 2011, to unfurl it beyond our memory so that it can cover our ongoing crises, our ongoing disasters?
In a piece about Mohamed and Nadim, the Guardian provides a quote from a public opinion analyst in Tel Aviv, commenting on the response: “Public figures are well aware that the postmodern mindset makes it hard to pin down facts.” The implications are sinister, especially in a region where accountability for crimes committed against the poor, the occupied, or, in Egypt, the whole general citizenry, is completely absent.
Tomorrow Egyptians go to vote in the second presidential election in as many years. Under the care of the General slated to win with no contest, the Egyptian state has charged or imprisoned 41,000 people for political dissent in less than a year, according to WikiThawra. The facts, the past, pin us down whether we leave them in their moment or draw them into life.