Almost twenty years ago I went to the Gaza Strip for the first time with my sister, Carol Spencer Mitchell. From 1984 to 1994 she worked as a photojournalist for Newsweek whose beat was the Arab world ,and her ongoing assignment was to focus on the terrorism happening in that part of the world.
At that time, terror certainly wasn't a household phrase in the United States. In fact, terror seemed to have little to do with us here in the U.S. It was something that happened elsewhere, unexpectedly, leaving casualties who seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If you remember the hijackings of the cruise ship Achille Lauro or TWA Flight #847, the simultaneous bombings at the Vienna and Rome airports that killed and wounded hundreds of people, then you understand. That was my sister's world.
Meetings with Yasser Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, the Fatah founder Khalil al-Wazir and many more only cemented Carol's view that children were the real casualties of the various Middle Eastern conflicts. And when she moved back to the United States with her husband and young son in 2001, she was not surprised by the events of 9/11. In fact, she expected it.
When Carol took Newsweek's cover picture in April 1986 for a story titled, "The War on Terror: America is our Target," she had already risked her life in January of that year by entering Lebanon to film at the PLO terrorist training camps for children. Horrified by what she saw, she was forever dismayed that instead of the children, the editors had chosen for the cover her photo of a young turbaned man with his ammunition draped casually around his shoulders as he cradled his PK machine gun. Afterwards she wondered if he managed to stay alive after his picture was published. But what stayed with and haunted her were the children.Carol wrote this in the prologue to her book, Danger Pay: Memoir of a Photojournalist in the Middle East, 1984-1994:
What the editors didn't realize is that they chose the wrong picture. Despite her captions, they identified "the terrorist" as the young bearded man. The image they should have chosen was the group of six and seven year olds in camouflaged battle fatigues, carrying Soviet made AK-47's, marching in formation. These children, each of whom wears a dog tag containing a picture of a brother, or a father, a sister or an uncle who died when their refugee homes were strafed or bombed. They are the ones we have to worry about. The young girls and boys who have learned to kill and who want to die in a suicide mission. Where will they be in seventeen years' time? That time is now.
Yes, the events of 9/11 saw the beginning of my sister's greatest fears; that the children of 1986 were now adults had a far more unforgiving and worldwide agenda. Those of the Gaza Strip did not know what life was like before occupation, as many of their family did. They had no relationship with a beautiful land and old holy cities. They were born in a fetid place with closed borders and the 7th highest population rate on the planet, unable to sustain themselves or learn a trade, with no work, no passport, indeed, no place in the world.
As I watch the news, ever mindful of the fact that the media distorts, and images are often not what they appear to be, one thing is very clear.
My sister would be horrified, but not surprised, that 8 years after her death, and despite talk of ceasefire, things on the Strip remain much the same.
Ellen Susman brings more than three decades of experience as a reporter and journalist to the role of producer and moderator of "Balancing Your Life" a program that invites women to share their choices, challenges and solutions. Her contributions to Huffington Post offer additional insights into the world of working mothers, who still struggle for equality in a corporate environment designed and dominated by men. Balancing Your Life was produced for public television in 2006 and broadcast on over 90 stations throughout the country.
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