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Jan
12
2024

The Work of the Witness
Essay
The Work of the Witness
Three months into a livestreamed genocide, we must ask—what does all this looking do?
Sarah Aziza

In the mornings, as others stumble toward their coffee, I wake and gather news of the dead. First, I check WhatsApp, where, on the best days, I will receive a picture of bread—my family has eaten today. On the worst days, I learn of relatives starving, sick, or killed. Next, I turn with loathing to social media. Too weary, anymore, to brace myself, I compel my thumbs to scroll (could there be a more banal verb for this, the perusing of atrocities?). Horror follows abomination follows tragedy, a gliding series of symmetrical tiles, each one smaller than my hand.

Watch, I tell myself. I see what must have been a building, though all that remains is a smoking hill of sharp debris. Watch, I tell myself, as thin men in sandaled feet rush into the frame. They begin pawing at the slabs of cement, rebar, brick. Shouts ricochet. The camera moves closer. My ears begin to ring. I long to click away. Watch. These are your people. I force my eyes to stay.

Bear witness. This, an admonition often repeated through these killing weeks. Bear witness, a cry against the fierce, orchestrated attempts to deny the devastation wrought in Gaza and the West Bank. Bear witness, we tell ourselves as helplessness threatens to engulf us on our far end of the telescope. Bear witness, we say, yet three months into a livestreamed genocide, we must ask—what does all this looking do?

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