Friday, December 11, 2015
I Saw a Man Beheaded
"I want to share this account* as a small intervention to re-frame ideas and experiences of violence and terror.
I was an ambulance volunteer during Israel's Operation Cast Lead. It was a 22 day war on the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 that killed 1409 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. It was the heaviest Israeli attack on Palestinian territory since 1967. The 2014 Gaza War has since eclipsed this in terms of deaths, injury and destruction in Gaza.
On the afternoon of Friday the 16th of January we picked up the body of a man who had just been decapitated by an Israeli air strike.
Dominant cultural narratives on violence in the global north now only see beheading as a terrorist act by ISIS or Al Qaeda or similar groups. The perpetrator is a Muslim. The colonial fantasy of the savage is coming back in to focus.
The role of the state, armed with heavy aerial power – drones, F16s, Apache Helicopters, MIG jets – is not part of the story of beheading. I think it's important to bring the role of states back in to the story, all the more so given that UK air strikes on Syria could be about to intensify.
Violent deaths and their invisibilisation, as routinely experienced by marginalised and demonised populations, represent a form of collective punishment and a wielded amnesia, which can dismember communities and families as well as individuals.
The following account is about trying to find out who the headless man was, to try and piece him back together, and recover a sense of who he was.
*The account is a chapter in my book Podpalic Gaze (Raze Gaza) published by WAB Warsaw, 2011. Only available in Polish. The original is written in English and was translated into Polish.