Stories from Gaza

on 11 Comments

The Western view of Gaza is of a desperate and violent place. Terrorism, extremism, Jew-hatred and poverty merge to create a dangerous brew. The Hamas-controlled territory poses a supposedly existential threat to Israel (and Jews everywhere.) But this is only one side of the besieged Strip. And much of it is blatantly untrue.

This video is an attempt to paint an alternative Gaza. Hatred exists there – I saw and heard it and challenged the conflation of Israel with Judaism – but what I found was something else entirely. Entire neighbourhoods flattened by Israeli missiles. Destroyed buildings with families living inside them. Refugee camps caused by IDF incursions. Beautiful singing and poetry sung by eager men. A will to survive and thrive despite the belief that the world, including the Arab neighbours, have forgotten their plight. Rappers desperate to tell the Palestinian narrative to the world and reflect a Gazan sensibility.

Take my interview with Fatah-aligned militants. I was taken to an unfinished house on the outskirts of Gaza City. The room was nearly bare, with a bed and mattress and web-enabled computer. The militant, an 18-year-old, whose father sat near us proudly and explained why he supported his son’s actions, was circumspect. He said he fired rockets into Israel and monitored Israeli troop positions. I asked whether he regarded IDF and civilian targets in the same way. He did. “Every Israeli serves in the army”, he said. I told him that some Israelis opposed the occupation, the war against Palestinians and actively helped Palestinians protect their lands. Did he care, I wondered, that he might kill these Jews, as well? He paused and reflected and finally said that it would be a shame, but he was fighting occupation.

Desperate times cause desperate actions. I met countless generous individuals who wanted me to share their stories with the outside. I lectured at the Islamic University earlier this week to a group of English and journalism students. I explained my work, the realities and failures of the Western media and my own impressions of Gaza. They all wanted to know why Palestinians were dehumanised and how their image could be improved. Jamil Al Asmar, a professor of English at the university, reminded me that the Israelis bombed the facility during the recent war. “Anybody who bombs institutions are not human”, he said. “Tell the world that we are human, just like they [the Israelis] are human.” His voice quivered when he spoke.

I’ve written recently about the overwhelming issues in the Strip. The growing Islamisation causes concern. It’s both visible and worrying. Hamas is now distributing posters that warn of the dangers of smoking, internet usage, television and drugs. The group is circulating a list that urges parents not to allow children to wear t-shirts that contain words such as, “Madonna” and “Flirt”. Journalist Fares Akram told me that he worried many Gazans were too pre-occupied with their own problems that they wouldn’t complain that Hamas was demanding female mannequins be removed from shop windows. It is a slow but deliberate implementation of sharia.

But this film isn’t a political statement; it documents some of what I saw and experienced in July 2009. I carried a small camera to take pictures of those I interviewed but I was also able to capture some video. These are short vignettes that aim to paint a moment, a feeling of a state under siege. People were angry, resilient and despondent. I didn’t feel threatened during my visit and welcomed the warm embrace that nearly everybody showered in my direction. A friendly Western face that wants to listen is hard to find in Gaza.

Nafez Abu Shaban, head of the burns unit at Al Shifa Hospital, nearly choked on his own words when describing what his people went through in the December/January onslaught. “It was not a war, it was a Holocaust”, he said. Palestinian doctors were faced with burns and injuries they had never seen before, such as the use of white phosphorous, and had to rely on foreigners and the web to discover how to treat them. “We felt alone.”

They are not.

11 Responses

  1. James
    July 31, 2009, 12:20 pm

    thanks for this post… i really enjoyed the musical components with the man singing at the start and the rapper group later on in the video.. the destruction of buildings in pretty appalling, but the damage at the hospital is every more disturbing… it is strange to see a 7 minute video of a different country which shows many people moving around, but only once at about 6:10 into the video does on see a ‘women’.. it would tend to support the quote from your post “Journalist Fares Akram told me that he worried many Gazans were too pre-occupied with their own problems that they wouldn’t complain that Hamas was demanding female mannequins be removed from shop windows. It is a slow but deliberate implementation of sharia.” i probably find this the most disturbing feature of the video… not sure what can be said about this other then that they need to be brought into the world community as opposed to being treated inhumanly and being cut off… thanks again for the post…

  2. Citizen
    July 31, 2009, 2:34 pm

    What is most striking is that the Zionist Jews have, thanks to their Diaspora and long
    integration (a people alone but using the goy culture and words), an overwhelmingly
    advantage in PR. If I sent this video clip to everybody I have contact with, starting with my own family, it would not register. The language alone would be off-putting. I see from this, a depiction of rubble, and foreign singing, that Rachel Corrie is real dynamite, as the Zionists know. No wonder she has been buried both literally and figuratively.

    • pineywoodslim
      July 31, 2009, 3:00 pm

      I’m not sure how many American jews are dyed in the wool zionists. Maybe because I grew up in the south–where most jews had long American roots, probably going back to the 1850’s or so. There just wasn’t the eastern european 1900-era Yiddish immigration down there, and by far most jews were either reform or relentlessly secular.

      Most jews I know were just part of the larger culture–they were pro-Israel and unaware of Palestinian suffering, but only in the sense that most Americans are, viewing the situation through the lens of the mass media.

      • pineywoodslim
        July 31, 2009, 3:03 pm

        In direct response to the video–I should have added that for me the singing and poetry were beautiful and, if I had the time, could write a little bit more about the juxtaposition of the Palestinian music with that of the recent Jerusalem street scene with American-Israelis doing their sad knock-off of American blues.

        There’s an essay in there somewhere.

    • syvanen
      July 31, 2009, 3:13 pm

      an overwhelmingly advantage in PR

      Still true today but not as bad as before. Remember Abba Eban with his beautiful Oxford accent compared to Arafat with his fractured English that grated on the nerve endings. Netanyahu’s English is also pleasing to an American’s ear.

      One thing I have noticed in recent years is large number of young Palestinians studying in this country that speak English well and can debate effectively with Israelis. I think this might be one of the reasons that Israel is restricting Palestinian students from studying abroad.

      • pineywoodslim
        July 31, 2009, 3:33 pm

        You gave me an excellent idea–it’s the obvious staring me in the face.

        I’m an instructor at a small midwestern public community college which recruits international students. I have had Australian, Kenyan, German, British, Irish, and Israeli students, yet no Palestinians.

        Something I should get to work on.

  3. syvanen
    July 31, 2009, 7:29 pm

    Pinewood More power to you. I became aware of these Palestinian students during a city wide hearing on Jan 20 of this year in a debate over the question whether or not our city (which is home to a large state universtiy) should endorse a resolution calling on Israel to stop its assault on Gaza. There were about 50 people who argued this issue, each given 2 minutes. The local temple mobilized its supporters (the J street types in that temple didn’t show). It was an amazing show. About 15 Moslem students, another 10 or so peace activists and 25 proIsraeli advocates made presentations. I was really impressed with the Palestian students presentations. Impassioned, well argued and completely reasonable. All of them under the age of 30. The proIsraeli arguments were the predictable arguments about poor Israel under consistant attack from antisemitic forces, and so on, some more sophisticated than others. None of them under the age of 45. The local peace activists that argued that night were mostly senior, but they were former professionals that were now retired or tenured and felt they could be public without jepordizing their careers.

    What really struck me was that time is not on Israel’s side (at least amoung the people in this one small town).

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