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ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR
Columns
Opinion articles written in the style of their author. These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. All opinion articles written by individuals from outside the staff of EL PAÍS shall feature, along with the author’s name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

When does compassion expire?

We told ourselves that we would not fall into the indifference of all those other times until one day, with the slip of a finger, we suddenly stop looking into the eyes of terror and focus on the next video that jumps out at us: it is more pleasant, without so much death

Israel-Hamas war
A Palestinian woman and her children, after the Israeli bombings on Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, on December 15.MOHAMMED ABED (AFP)
José Luis Sastre

We no longer look, we find the pain exhausting and unbearable. Maintaining an unwavering gaze, such a simple act, becomes such a difficult thing to do. We told ourselves that we would not fall into the indifference of all those other times until one day, with the slip of a finger, we suddenly stop looking into the eyes of terror and focus on the next video that jumps out at us: it is more pleasant, without so much death. That video leads us to another one and another one and in the end, it is impossible to remember what the first one was about, because the algorithm knows what it is doing. Attention is the new drug.

We told ourselves that, since we can hardly do anything against the war — maybe a few tweets, maybe a few articles, as ridiculous as that is — we would at least commit to keeping up our interest in the matter, which is the most human and the most basic thing to do: looking and wanting to know. But looking is no longer possible, because dead, orphaned and injured children continue to show up under the rubble. And there comes a time when, without knowing why, you swipe and look away. In reality, we do know why: because we can, because the reality of others is just an image to us. And if it is not seen, it does not exist.

Audience ratings have taught us the difference between what we say we watch and what we really watch. They have taught us that news programs cannot broadcast very harsh images for a long time, because that pain ends up anesthetizing or tiring viewers, as if our capacity to be moved, or to be outraged, had a limit, which perhaps it does: the question is how long that is. A couple of days? Three? One week?

The other day I saw how a child arrived at the hospital after one of the bombings and in the image, which was taken from afar, there was also a man recording with his phone. He ran just like the paramedics, close to them, and brought his cell phone as close to the scene as he could. He then continued recording, with a frightening coolness, as soon as more children began to be brought in with open wounds. That man was recording so he could show the world. For the record. That man recorded it because he couldn’t do anything else. He will never know how many people will watch his videos or how many, watching them, will wonder how this all ends and if anything can be done. One can, at least, want to look in order to know. Everything else remains a mystery: it is a mystery when empathy and solidarity expire. Or compassion, so often mentioned now during Christmas.

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