Omar Mishrawi’s death and his photo, like so many incidents before it, are treated as a microcosm of the much larger conflict that took his life. But, as I wrote in November when reports suggested that an Israeli strike had killed Mishrawi, does knowing which military’s errant round happened to have landed on this civilian home really determine the larger narrative of one of the world’s thorniest and most complicated conflicts? Does assigning blame for Mishrawi’s tragic death, awful as it may be, offer us any real insight into who holds the blame for 60 years of fighting? And is partitioning blame really going to serve either side particularly well?
It’s difficult to see how knowing whose rocket or missile killed Mishrawi would resolve the larger questions for which that debate is a proxy: responsibility for continuing the long-term conflict, for sparking the latest round of fighting in November, and for the Israeli and Palestinian civilians who suffer as a result. But these are notoriously thorny debates. As with so many protracted geopolitical conflicts, neither side comes out looking as angelic or demonic as its partisans might wish. In many ways, something as isolated as a single photo of a wounded or killed child offers a purer, cleaner, lower-risk way to talk about issues too messy to engage with directly. They’re a great way to win arguments, but not necessarily to end them.
Well, yes, it does matter. Because one side – Israel – does all it can to avoid civilian casualties, while the other – Hamas – seeks to place civilians, including children, in the line of fire in the hope of creating precisely the kind of news story that Mishrawi’s death created. Fisher’s and other mainstream media reporters’ refusal to acknowledge that reality ensures that Israel will continue to have to fight a biased media in addition to murderous terrorists.