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  • Ariel Wills RISD MFA ‘24

Time Through Screenshots

Author’s note: I wrote this when the war had been going on for around 100 days, and now it has been that much longer. I have adjusted a couple sections of the text to reflect the updated timeline. 

Time and space bring intimacy into the everyday, yet we experience these two ideas in our own way, subjectively. Every day, I listen to the daily news briefing, and I go through my emails and my social media. Every day, I’m frustrated by what I see. This whole phenomenon appears temporally disparate to me. Time feels like it is splitting apart and moving at different rates for different individuals. Public misunderstanding and cognitive dissonance are at work. Based on the timelines and propaganda I see being regurgitated in visual media, it seems like peoples’ sense of time isn’t matching up with itself or with reality. Temporal dissonance.

Imagine that time is something we can see with our eyes; I don’t mean the traces that time has passed, like laugh lines. Time is visible because of its mass. Imagine that time has volume and is in constant flow like a river, and when time encounters something it the way, it splits as it rolls along, just as a river navigates around the mass of an island or a rock. The present moment exists along every inch of the river, and yet, along each fork of the river different things are taking place at different paces. 

Imagine you are floating downstream along a peaceful stretch of the river. Partially shaded by a tree canopy stretching out over the water, the moment seems to stretch out forever. 

Now, please imagine how it might feel to steer a raft over white-water rapids, the urgency of the moment and the vigilance that action requires. The space that certain events need to unfold might be different than others. Some situations or experiences need to unfold in their own kind of space at their own pace, especially trauma- and violence-based events that require great emotional upheaval and labor. Time doesn’t always pass at the same speed. Whether we hear it or not, a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest: the correlation between events and the consequences of those events happens whether we are aware of them or not. 

Noa Argamani was kidnapped, and we saw her video circulating as she called for help and begged not to be killed. She was calling to her boyfriend, who was about to be murdered. People around the world watch this video and other terrible videos from the pogrom, again and again. Maybe for her that moment in time plays out again and again too, but not in the same way. 

Taking screenshots on my phone serves to archive an image, along with the time and some interesting context: battery life and keyboard language. In screenshots from an Instagram Live you see how many people were watching the live event, in a little eye icon, right at that moment. 

In mid-January Hamas announced online that Noa Argamani, Yossi Sharabi, and Itai Svirsky were in danger and that only one of them was still alive. As I read through articles online I saw the frame that had been published was from the livestream from the kidnapping. The shrieking face of Noa Argamani, eyes wide in terror. Over and over, frozen into a photograph, in the midst of being kidnapped and assaulted. I scroll down the page and see her again, before October 7th. I took a screenshot of the photo of this smiling Noa, wishing I could tell her I was thinking about her. I close my eyes and whisper a prayer in my heart, that she will be free again, like in the photo before. 

I imagine the ensuing psychological torture of the families of the hostages having to wait to find out the truth, not even knowing if anything they say is true or not. How is a person supposed to survive this kind of malice? CBS reporter Haley Ott said,

“After saying the fate of all three hostages would be announced later, Hamas released a video Monday showing Argamani saying that her fellow captives, 53-year-old Yossi Sharabi and 38-year-old Itai Svirsky, had been killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.”

The layers of cruelty in this claim and accusation are insidious. The families know that hostages are filmed under duress, and that the Hamas operatives are thought to provide false information, both about hostages and about war casualties. Blaming the deaths of the hostages on Israel conveniently takes the blame off of Hamas, even though they were only hostages in the first place because they were kidnapped by Hamas from their homes.

Sometimes I save images about the war in my phone, photographs of the hostages, a screenshot of an astounding post or of an article I want to remember. 

When I scroll through the photos in my phone, they fly by, mostly blips of memory from my life, but sprinkled through the albums are the photos from the war. Of Noa and all the hostages still in Gaza. What happens to your sense of time when you are abused and trapped in a tunnel for over 200 days?

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