Eyes Wide Shut: Blogging Through Genocide

Kyle Turner
12 min readDec 15, 2023


Every morning the last two months I have woken up with my heart feeling like molten steel, hardening from the inside but white hot and searing on the exterior. I try not to look at my phone too long, and I deleted Twitter from it ages ago, but even if I manage to turn my eyes away directly from more photographic or video or whatever evidence of more death in Gaza, its stench has polluted my every waking thought. I feel crazy and sad all the time. I am not fun to be around anymore. (Like I was to begin with, HAHA.)

I am blogging because Bess Kalb is blogging, and I think she’s funny and empathetic.

I keep getting into tiff or mild spats with people, and I keep bringing up how the “genocide is getting me down”, and I won’t stop mentioning it because I am still in such shock and horror that it has been going on for over 65 days. All I ever do now is either go to protests or go to see movies, two activities which seem in slight opposition to one another. One is surrounded by community and bursting with confrontation of the matter and direct action, the other alone in the dark, escaping the world.

On the second part, a little bit yes, a little bit no. Cinema has always been an educational form for me. Yes, I’ve been reading Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe. But, however truthful or otherwise those images may be, the very uncertainty of their veracity was always useful as a way to negotiate the nature of truth. After the tragic events of October 7, I rushed to watch Park Chan-wook’s The Little Drummer Girl and Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms and Ahed’s Knee. As much as I sought out literature to explain the moment to me, it’ll always be something cinematic that will speak a language I feel comfortable with.

Well the other thing is I spend time with friends. My community is important to me. A salve in these times. My friends have the same weary look in their eyes. Drained, bloodshot. Or maybe I’m projecting.

The Little Drummer Girl, based on the novel by John le Carre, is not the first time that Park has engaged with ideas of colonial power and geopolitical shadow play. He took Sarah Waters’ Victorian-set sapphic con romance Fingersmith and relocated it to Japanese occupied Korea in The Handmaiden, playing with language, gesture, and ritual, illustrating the way colonialism seeps into culture as a means of trying to destroy indigeneity. In The Little Drummer Girl, about a Mossad spymaster (Michael Shannon) who hires an actress named Charlie (Florence Pugh) with radical politics to infiltrate a Palestinian resistance/terrorist group, Park’s attention to detail with regard to the fake letters “composed” by revolutionary Michel (Amir Khoury) (really composed by the Mossad agents) appears to lay out his own feelings about invasion and occupation.

“How do you feel about freedom?” he writes. “The rule over the occupied territories has social repercussions. After a few years there would be no working farmers, no Jewish workers. The Arabs would be the only working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials and police. Mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret police state with all that this implies for education, free speech, and democratic institutions. The corruption of every colonial regime would also prevail in the state of Israel.”

Cleverly, Park has Michel, already somewhat ventriloquized by Mossad agents, voice the opinions of orthodox philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who himself warned against occupation over the Arab people and its possible, even likely disastrous effects. Park has quoted cinematically enough times, from Hitchcock to Bresson, but that he visualizes these thoughts, Michel speaking to Charlie via direct address offers the viewer the experience of being told explicitly the fallout of Zionism’s failings.

There’s another version of The Little Drummer Girl that George Roy Hill, the director of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, made in 1984, with Diane Keaton in the role of Charlie. If Park’s at times ethereal and glistening mini series production allowed the slickness of espionage to take precedence, Hill’s adaptation is more matter of fact, grittier. The airstrikes made on a Lebanon based training camp really explode, there is no insinuation of the fact. They have the budget. And the switching back and forth between alliances such that Charlie’s sense of self begins to deteriorate is less ornamented with the posh Britishness of Pugh’s performance and instead grounded by Keaton’s way of portraying Charlie’s shallowness. She doesn’t not have Palestinian sympathies, but her commitment to the cause comes into conflict with her desire to “do something with her life”. She learns the hard way that politics is not an acting gig when people are occupied.

And Synonyms features an Israeli expat (Tom Mercier) desperately trying to escape his Israeli-ness in Paris. It’s not too different from the premise of Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven, where the Palestinian filmmaker learns there is no escape. But Lapid’s film is filled with anger and fury and humiliation, the camera whipping all around as we hear Yoav try to learn all the words that describe his feelings of betrayal at the Israeli state.

These movies have not been the comfort I was hoping for exactly. A high task to put onto random cultural artifacts, maybe. Writing about them now doesn’t offer me so much solace as it does minor distraction. And yet distractions feel irresponsible in this moment. And “in this moment” feels so shitty to say, so small and impossibly pathetic and useless to describe 18,000 deaths and a city of rubble destroyed by bombs.

I keep thinking about the collapse of my belief in political representatives to actually represent the people. I keep thinking about how we’re trapped moving viciously forward in time and modernity and Empire and I’m not sure what to do about it.

My therapist hasn’t been much help either. He keeps telling me to basically just surrender to the helplessness. But what’s insane about that to me is that, for all the helplessness in the world at larger powers or institutions or whatever the fuck, this, and by this i mean the siege on Gaza, or even further back the occupation of Palestine, feels so much more preventable than some of the more random cause and effects of modernity.

Yes, yes, I condemn the terrorist actions that happened on October 7.

But I also condemn the actions of the IDF who, in its 75 year history, has used force and violence against the Palestinian people.

It is strange and depressing and craze making that it is so difficult for some to hold these two truths. And to not recognize that Palestinian non-violent resistance has been met with tanks and guns and dehumanization and dispossession. Holding two or more truths is not the same thing as justification. It is interrogation and contextualization.

I am sad for my Arab and Palestinian friends, I am sad for my Jewish friends, I am sad all the time. I worry about taking up too much space. I want to do right by them. I love my Jewish and Arab and Palestinian and Israeli and Muslim friends. I want to do right by them. I worry about offense. I don’t want this to be about me, but maybe it’s too late.

I had a fraught conversation with a former friend towards the earlier part of October about the use of the word “genocide”. He had sent me an article he wrote debating the term and I’m not sure what felt more insane: debating the semantics of genocide (this, when the death toll was “only” 7,000) or feeling the guilt of worrying I would be upsetting someone who wanted to debate the semantics of genocide. He no longer wants to be friends with me, because I cast off a snide tweet about how I was exhausted during the conversation but grateful to become more educated about the issue. Doing my reading, my homework. That was a brief comfort, I guess.

I feel extremely grateful to be in a community of people who are thoughtful and politically engaged. That is my queer community. Every time I go to a protest, I bump into a friend, and that keeps my dwindling hope alive.

When I landed in New York, it was in 2016 and literally immediately after Trump was elected. So I’ve been staring at the wall some kind of existentially morose for seven years. But, whatever the material effects, I went to protest. And I went to protest during 2020. I went to DC in November. And I’ll be there again tomorrow.

I do feel sincerely sorry for the civilians harmed in the Oct 7 attacks. And I am sorry for not allocating proper public time to saying that. And I do know that a people is not their political representation.

This is all also colliding with the feeling that I am aging. I know I’m 29, but my joints are making crackling noises. I’m thinking less about my taut, unstretched muscles and more about my mother. She used to tell me about how she would be out protesting the Vietnam War. She told me about the chant she would say, “Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” The modern permutations of that are a little less elegant; “Israel bombs, USA pays, how many kids did you kill today” just doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way. But, however dysfunctional our relationship is, I feel grateful that she raised me with values of standing up against war and oppression, and that the seeds of those beliefs continued to grow and bloom as I came into my queerness and recognize that being queer means, for me, using what freedom i have to fight for the freedom of others.

I entered the dumbest skirmish with an unhinged neighbor, which is my own fault. Hostage posters popped up in my neighborhood in Park Slope. I don’t believe in tearing them down because I recognize that, while I know they’re literally propaganda, they are also (for better or worse) expressions of grief and sadness.

The assassination of Refaat Alareer was a brick on my heart. Not to discount the other horrific deaths that have happened, but Alareer’s death crystallized or cemented something. Genocide was not just a word used to describe what was happening but a full blown reality: the killing of a writer, historian, and teacher. There was already proof of ethnic cleansing, I am aware. Yet Alareer’s forceful removal from this world was in direct, violent dialogue with his desire to share the stories, lives, dreams, etc. of Palestinian people.

Art and culture are how I make sense of the world and communicate with it. To have an entire people’s culture, expressions of life and love and banalities, erased breaks my heart every day. If part of my career has been built on the notion of sharing culture and sharing the existence of queer people, or other oppressed groups, the erasure and destruction of Palestinian art and life is unconscionable to me. And yet it is happening. Every day.

I thought I could reach out to my neighbors through a little bit of empathy. I listened to the tiny voice in my head, which I don’t know if I should stop listening to or not. Last week I tried hanging The Guardian headline about civilian deaths and Alareer’s poem “If I Die” above and below the hostage posters. I was naive. The neighbor, who I had tried having a discussion with a few weeks earlier when I saw him hanging them up (he ended up calling me pro Hamas because i thought that it was bad to bomb hospitals and schools), came out and was screaming in my face. He snarled, “‘Kill the Jews! Kill the Jews!’ That’s what you wanna do, right???” He took the posters from my hand and whipped out his phone to film me, yelling, “He wants to genocide the Jews!” Some neighbors across the street came over to ask what was going on and I told them that I was hanging up a poster about civilian deaths and a poem. Another guy had to get this neighbor to back away from me and said, “Are you sure you want to be a role model for your family like this?” Said family was standing in the doorway of their brownstone. Everyone told me to walk away, and I did, saying before I left, “I thought it was fair game. You hung your posters and I was going to hang mine.”

The worst part of this interaction was not the screaming but the fact that I processed the absurdity of it all — a grown man yelling in my face — pretty quickly, but my cortisol levels were still up and it just made me feel nauseated the whole time. I went to a birthday party right after.

I feel constantly at a loss for words. I find it difficult to pretend to be okay. It is difficult also to reconcile the fact that viewing this through the remove of social media will have disastrous effects in the long run. A child whose skin is burnt, crusty and white. A meme about birds. A New Yorker cartoon. A mother weeping over her dead child, her testimonial about the dozens of IVF shots she took to have him. A hot guy doing a dance. Infographics about the number of people starving or displaced or killed. A flier for a comedy show hosted by a twink. A father holding his son whose brains have fallen out. A sponsored ad for Colon Broom. IDF soldiers rounding naked men up and humiliating them on camera. A sponsored ad for Sniffies.

How will we think about or engage with mass death in the future?

When I turn away, I turn towards cinema again. Friends, surely, and other art, of course. I saw The Rite of Spring choreographed by Pina Bausch the other day and that was magnificent. But that music and show also feels like it has some kind of resistance and fury built within it. Those feelings are everywhere I look. And yet it still doesn’t feel loud enough. I don’t understand why there are still so many people silent.

I rewatched Five Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, which I hadn’t seen since high school. I recall that one of the students in the grade above me had visited the West Bank and, upon his return, did a presentation for the whole school on what life was like there. His family was deeply embedded in the community in Hartford and came back with what I vaguely remember as sobering details. It left enough of an impression on me that I stored in the back of my 16 year old mind that perhaps what Israel was doing to Palestinian people was wrong and unfair, and to watch the documentary.

The camera is weapon and shield, father and son, god and devil. Emad watches as illegal settlements take over Bil’il and non violent protestors slowly get taken out or overpowered. He watches his son lose his innocence.

I went to see The Time That Remains by Elia Suleiman this week. (Spectacle is doing a series of films of Palestinian dignity.) It’s very Roy Andersson meets Buster Keaton meets Jacques Tati. It is droll and deadpan, the occupation in Nazareth a spectre over every action and brief moment of joy. As understatedly humorous as the film is, it is just as terrifying. A man tells his friend on the phone that there will be a party at a local club in Ramallah. While a tank aims its rocket launcher at his head five feet away.

I have been carrying Alareer’s poetry in my breast pocket since the vigil for him I attended in Washington Sq Park last week.

I am writing and blogging because I don’t know what else to do but at least try to process this grief, one that is something I am both not connected to and absolutely connected to, on the page. It’s the way to make sense of anything for myself.

I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know what else to do.

I hope change will be made through collective action. I hope we will reach liberation.

I cannot look away. I will not look away. As I have stated before, I feel it is my obligation as a queer person of color to speak up when I see people oppressed or harmed. I do not care about the professional repercussions. No one should be closing their eyes. For every person who looks away, Palestinians are telling us they will record proof of their history and lives and culture. Do not look away. Do not look away. I would rather be heartbroken and aware and trying to fight for change than to keep my eyes closed and pretend everything is fine.

Do not look away.



Kyle Turner

Snarkoleptic. Queer monster. Amateur critic. Professional snob. Writer person. I am relieved to know that I am not a golem. Words in Slate, GQ, the NYTimes, etc