“Under the Rubble” by Mona El-Bayoumi.

The cover image for MER issue 309 features “Under the Rubble, Gaza”—a print designed by Washington, DC-based visual artist Mona El-Bayoumi.

The work’s title brings to mind the casualties of Israel’s war on Gaza, which continue to mount daily. At the time of publication, the war has reached its 117th day. More than 26,000 are confirmed dead, and several thousand remain missing, presumed dead, under the rubble. The rubble also speaks to the totalizing nature of destruction in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023 and the machinery required to enact it. In her article for this issue, “Gaza Is a Crime Scene,” Lisa Hajjar discusses the 2,000-pound US-made “bunker busters” that Israel’s army has used to level Gaza’s infrastructure. Two thirds of built structures in the north of Gaza have been demolished and more than half of all buildings throughout the enclave destroyed or damaged, many of them reduced to rubble. 

The image itself, though, rejects the reduction of lost Palestinian lives to passive statistics testifying to Israel’s violence. Over the past 117 days, these death tolls have been publicly disputed by US President Biden and qualified by some western media through the continued framing of Gaza’s health ministry as “Hamas-run.” They have been cited by aid agencies, commentators and human rights organizations in their appeals for a ceasefire and by South Africa’s legal team in their genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. These numbers have captioned countless images, TikToks and reels documenting the war and its devastating effects to a watching world. Depicting them with one eye open, the artist transforms the dead from the witnessed into expectant observers. As El-Bayoumi wrote to MERIP, their gaze is on the viewer, “watching the fight for Liberation.” 

El-Bayoumi, who drew the image in October of 2023, wrote that the work is equal parts memorialization and a call to action. This framing fits with the perspective of many of our contributors, Palestinian activists and others who are struggling to bear witness and build in the face of ongoing destruction. El-Bayoumi noted, for example, the prominence of children in the image, holding Palestinian flags and rising to the surface. “This is a piece to give respect for those ‘Under the Rubble’—but, just as importantly, to represent the struggle for a Free Palestine will go on.”


Read the first article in MER issue 309 “Palestine—Before and After October 7.”

How to cite this article:

"A Note on the Cover Image," Middle East Report 309 (Winter 2023).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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