“It’s incredibly distressing . . . But I make myself look. In a way, I feel it’s the least I can do. To look, to see, to bear witness.” — Moana Maniapoto. Pictured, a rally at Aotea Square, Auckland, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. (Photo: Moana Maniapoto)

Moana Maniapoto writes about why she makes herself confront the complexity of what’s happening in Gaza.

 

I sat in the special chair. Waiting, bracing myself as the orthodontist prepared his tools. The lovely dental assistant, Nada, commented on what I was wearing.

“I love your dress,” she said. “It reminds me of the clothes we wear.” I told her that I bought it in Istanbul. Then I asked her: “What do you mean ‘the clothes we wear’?” “Who’s ‘we’?

“I’m Palestinian,” she said.

“Oh God,” I mumbled. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I mean, what do you say? What can you say?

I’d like to say that I can imagine how she feels. But I can’t. I really can’t. To be honest, I don’t want to imagine how it must be for her given the horror that’s been unfolding for days. Weeks. Months. Decades.

It’s complex, some say. It’s simple, say others.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t condemn the terrible massacre and kidnappings of October 7. It’s heartbreaking. I feel for those families.

Equally, I don’t understand anyone who fails to condemn the indiscriminate mass killings and targeted strikes by the state of Israel since October 7. It’s heartbreaking. To not condemn Israel’s attacks represents a kind of moral bankruptcy to me.

Things don’t come out of nowhere either. Context and history is everything. The longstanding military occupation is a violence itself. And the cycle continues.

“It’s time to rehumanise the discourse,” urged Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur to the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Her role is to monitor the situation of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and report to the United Nations.

I was one of several journalists who met Francesca in Auckland during her fleeting visit to Aotearoa New Zealand, hosted by the Palestinians in Aotearoa Co-ordinating Committee and the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa.

As she explained: “Since the beginning of this crisis, which has thrown us into the ground zero of humanity, it is a moment for the international community to play wisely and even-handedly with the Palestinians and Israelis. To be in solidarity with them.

“Because what the Israelis suffer is truly horrible, and surely it has brought back memories that it shouldn’t have. But at the same time, what the Palestinians have been suffering prior to October 7, and what they are going through, deserves condemnation, solidarity, and action.

“It’s important to rehumanise the discourse, because this has gone too far.”

Francesca was critical of the role some media play in not taking a “principled, objective and impartial stand” in the reporting of subsequent war crimes after October 7. She criticised the way language framed the discussion and dehumanised Palestinians.

“It’s time to rehumanise the discourse, because this has gone too far,” says Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories. She’s pictured here with Moana Maniapoto and Te Rina Kōwhai, a reporter for Te Ao with Moana. (Photo supplied)

Francesca had barely left Aotearoa when an opinion piece appeared in The Post.

“It is understandable that real time explosions, collapsed buildings, and injured or displaced Palestinians will attract photo-journalists, audience interest and media coverage resulting in sympathy for pummelled Gazans,” wrote Dr Steven Hoadley.

“In contrast, the deliberate murder or kidnapping one by one of over 1000 Israelis by Hamas gunmen offers fewer media opportunities.”

No mention of what caused these “explosions and collapsed buildings”. No mention that these were the result of Israeli military strikes on densely populated areas. Areas where hundreds of people, including children, had been living.

As for the impact? Gazans are “pummelled”. Palestinians are “injured” or “displaced”. Israelis, however, are victims of “deliberate murder or kidnapping”.

Hamas are clearly identified as perpetrators of atrocities on October 7. Statistics are included (over “1000 Israelis”).

But there is no mention of the more than 14,000 Palestinians (including 6,000 children) killed during weeks of Israeli bombs and military activity, atrocities which included strikes on the homes of dozens of journalists. As of November 24, the Committee to Protect Journalists recorded that 53 journalists and media workers had been reported killed including 4 Israeli, 3 Lebanese and 46 Palestinians. Eighteen have been reported arrested.

So an opinion piece which urged a “more balanced assessment of the aims and actions of the two sides” ends up being a case study itself.

Steven Hoadley was right, though, when he said the prevailing narrative is changing. Some journalists are challenging their own media platforms for their bias and dehumanising coverage.

As Francesca told me, there’s been intense coverage of Hamas crimes in the west. “We know the names of persons killed or kidnapped, what they did, where they lived . . . while Palestinians are often just ‘numbers’,” she points out.

And those numbers keep growing. That’s the bit I don’t get. When will there be enough dead Palestinians for the strikes to stop? And what about the hostages being held by Hamas? What guarantee is there that they’ll survive the carpet bombing by the Israeli government?

And what happens after this ceasefire, given Netanyahu has clearly said: “We are at war, and we will continue the war?” What will the international community do?

And what about the children hearing and watching this genocide unfold around them? If they survive being forcibly expelled from their land, why wouldn’t they grow up to become militants themselves, and seek revenge? And what about Israeli children taught that every Palestinian is a potential threat?

My conversation with Francesca underscored that nothing is black and white.

Not all Palestinians are Hamas, just as not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Israelis support the actions of their government. There are many Jewish voices in Israel and beyond, calling for an end to the apartheid system and liberation for both Palestinians and Israelis. They are not self-hating, nor do they accept the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. “This is not a religious war,” emphasises Francesca.

In fact, Francesca says that this most recent escalation should not be described as a war at all. Under international law, she says, Israel can’t invoke self-defence because Gaza is not a state but a territory that Israel occupies. Nor can it legally invoke a call to war — and certainly not one that lacks proportionality and distinction.

Every week, New Zealanders march.

I’ve sung at a number of Kia Ora Gaza events over the years and attended two of the most recent rallies.

On my way to these rallies, I find myself driving on the motorway, wondering whether there’s a point, and feeling helpless. But I park up and walk to Aotea Square, just to be present, to listen, to show some form of solidarity. To let our politicians know.

Like many New Zealanders, I wake up each morning safe in my bed. I take a deep breath before scrolling through the news. I really don’t want to. It’s incredibly distressing. Babies, children, distraught parents, elders, and stressed-out medics and rescuers; so brave and compassionate.

But I make myself look. In a way, I feel it’s the least I can do. To look, to see, to bear witness.

A recent rally in Aotea Square, Auckland. (Photo: Moana Maniapoto)

I try to be careful, too, when researching news sources and sharing images because of the use of AI and the deliberate misuse of photographs and footage from other conflicts, even movies — to carefully construct propaganda for multiple parties in this terrible mess.

This Wednesay, on November 29, it’s the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. Thanks to a collaboration by Professor Nicholas Rowe (Auckland University) and Dr Rand Hazou (Massey University), I’ll join a number of artists, academics, activists and journalists onstage at Auckland University to read the Gaza Monologues. These brief pieces were written by young people just after the 2008-2009 military campaign by Israel, an escalation which killed 926 unarmed civilians, including 288 children.

There will be no speeches. No introductions to any of the speakers. One after one, we’ll each make our way to the microphone. When my turn comes, I’ll read out the name Muhammad Qasem. As a 15-year-old, Muhammad presented his own script in 2010 at the Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah.

Each of us will deliver “our” monologue. They’re moving and, in parts, surprisingly funny. I guess in the darkest hour, humanity and black humour will sometimes pierce the horror.

I hope Nada comes along. I’ll understand if she doesn’t. She and my dental specialist (who’s also Palestinian) say they appreciate the tautoko from Māori. They’ve attended the rallies and were pleased when Chris Hipkins announced his support for an immediate ceasefire last week, saying “the violence and killing must stop”.

Good on him. Others need to do the same. Some people aren’t used to speaking out. I wrote a song years ago, “Hands Up”, that might get a second wind this year, because it’s written to encourage those who aren’t used to making a stand. People power always makes a difference.

  • When will you
  • Put your hands up
  • And do something
  • Will you speak out
  • Or say nothing
  • There is so much we have to lose
  • So if you move like this
  • Take your time you’ll get used to it
  • There’s no good reason we can’t make a change
  • So get off the fence.
  • It’s far too crowded.
  • Take a chance now.
  • Scream and shout it.
  • Now’s the time
  • To put your hands up.

 

Moana Maniapoto (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa) is the host of the award-winning current affairs programme Te Ao with Moana which screens on Whakaata Māori (now on a summer hiatus).

© E-Tangata, 2023

Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.

If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.