One of the most startling and, if true, depressing anecdotes I have heard about life in Gaza is that living under constant threat of death destroys the human imagination. It has been documented that Palestinian children suffer trauma-related sleep disorders, but the anecdote suggests something more horrific. If all you have ever known is being in a condition of constantly trying to reach a safe place, of being unable to go to school or work with any degree of safety, of having to find food and water each day, then the brain becomes exclusively focused on the present. It must, for survival. At this point, neurologically, a person stops having dreams, and stops being able to hope, because hope implies a future, which is literally unthinkable.
Elaine Scarry has written about the annihilation of the mind during torture, which also breaks down a person’s connection to time. ‘It is commonplace that at the moment when a dentist’s drill hits and holds an exposed nerve,’ she writes, ‘a person sees stars. What is meant be “seeing stars” is that the contents of consciousness are, during those moments, obliterated, that the name of one’s child, the memory of a friend’s face, are all absent.’ After a certain amount or intensity of torture, the brain just goes.
The Guardian published an essay by Karma Nabulsi last week claiming to ‘reveal the reality of life under daily attack’. She writes: READ ON