An Unmissable Gaza Documentary

Al-Jazeera's 'Fault Lines' program has put together a crucial report called "The Night Won't End." PLUS: Hanging at Guantanamo with a future Trump national security adviser

An Unmissable Gaza Documentary
Gaza, 2023. Tasnim News Agency, via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Edited by Sam Thielman

SO THIS I CAN'T SHOW YOU, because it doesn't air until Friday, and I am not looking to violate any embargoes or otherwise upstage it. But al-Jazeera's Fault Lines documentary show has put together one of the most important pieces of journalism of the Gaza genocide. It's an eighty-minute documentary called "The Night Won't End." If you're in the United States, you can watch it starting on Friday on al-Jazeera's English-language YouTube channel. Look for it there using search terms like "Fault Lines—The Night Won't End."

I think all I should say about "The Night Won't End" is it tells the story of the past nine months of hell through three families, and it's unforgettable. So I'm just going to say something about the eyes of the people interviewed.

I can't speak for anyone else who's done war reporting and I don't want to pretend like I've done all that much of it. I never lived in a war zone for months or years, unlike many of my colleagues. I would go for about a month at a time to Iraq and Afghanistan, on trips embedded and unembedded, and the last time I did any of that was 14 years ago. Details from there can melt away in your mind over the years, until they come flooding back unbidden—probably a bad idea to write a book about the War on Terror if you don't want those memories—and suddenly you're confronted by simulacra of sights, smells and sensations of heat. 

One of the things that I struggle not to forget, and which came back to me as I watched this documentary, are people's eyes. 

It's tempting as a reporter in an unfamiliar place to read too closely into the expressions of unfamiliar people, people you might only encounter for a few minutes, if at all. You're trying to convey something to an audience unlikely ever to go to the place where you are, and when you consider the size of the task of portraying life during wartime, it makes you feel like you can't possibly do justice to the horrors in which those unfamiliar people are trapped. The shortcut, an inherent and distorting pressure of deadline journalism, is to overgeneralize from a sliver of experience.

When you can leave and the people you are writing about can't, you face an unbridgeable gulf of understanding, no matter how aware of it you try to be. Reality is like that sometimes.

But there are some unignorable truths found in people's eyes. Certain expressions are immediately recognizable, and relatable, across boundaries of culture and circumstance. Fear. Exhaustion. Anxiety. Suspicion. Endurance and its costs. Anger that spans those conditions and mixes with them all. A despair deeper than language. I saw all those on the faces of men, women and children in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't think I read too much into those faces, because I saw their eyes. 

Through screens, because Israel has kept journalists out of Gaza except for propaganda tours, we have seen for nine horrific months the eyes of men, women and children trying to survive a genocide. The nature of social media is such that we see them for a few minutes—sometimes less than that—before moving on. If those moments are raindrops, "The Night Won't End" is a flood. We are caught in its uncontrollable waters with the families whom the documentary follows. In moments of peril, we, particularly those of us who don't speak more than a few words of Arabic, naturally look to what the eyes are trying to communicate. And I recognize the looks in the eyes of Gazans today.

I'm really not trying to make any comparison, moral or otherwise, nor even any strategy continuum on the part of the combatant parties, when I say that. There are all sorts of reasons why Gaza is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan—someone in the documentary brings up Raqqa and Mosul as points of comparison, and I won't spoil what they say about that—as well as uncomfortable similarities that thread through the U.S. and Israeli wars. What I'm trying to say is that people trying to survive war are people trying to survive war, no matter what the war is and how it might be different from prior wars. I don't know how to unsee the eyes of people trying to survive. I do know that we shouldn't try. And something inside is telling me that when we recognize those similarities, we have to testify to them. 

Again, for American viewers, "The Night Won't End" will be available on al-Jazeera's English-language YouTube channel starting on Friday. There are unbearable moments in this documentary. Sit with them. Don't look away. 

I am grateful for the work of Gaza reporters/photographers/crew Hussein Jaber, Motasem Abu Aser, Bilal Salem, Soliman Alfarra, Jihad Naser, Yousef Saleem, Selin Khaled, Abdel Qader Sabbah and Yousef Bassem; director and co-writer Kavitha Chekuru; executive producer and co-writer Laila al-Arian; correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous; and everyone else involved in "The Night Won't End."

More after the paywall, so, you know, pay if you'd like to read on.