For 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, of whom over 1.2 million are refugees, the Israeli siege and cyclical violence are insufferable. And yet, in addition to spreading the stories about suffering, the local and independent media landscape in Gaza has taken to reflecting the area’s more multifaceted nature instead of the narrative we commonly see in the West. By alternating between beauty and sadness, journalists in Gaza are providing a jarring but honest representation of what living there really means.
The desperate situation in Gaza remains largely unchanged since August’s ceasefire. 600,000 Palestinians in Gaza remain homeless or in urgent need of humanitarian aid. 14 health facilities were completely obliterated, including the only rehabilitation hospital Al Wafa. Approximately 25% of medicines (such as antibiotics and cancer drugs) and 37% of medical supplies are at zero stocks, according to current Ministry of Health estimates.
Still only 26.8 percent of the $3.5 billion reconstruction aid pledged by donors around the world has been released. “While the world hasn’t forgotten Gaza, it has failed it so badly,” says Saed Bannoura, editor of Palestinian-international news agency IMEMC. “In my opinion it’s worse to see the ongoing situation and do nothing about it, to justify massacres in the name of security and defence.”
Despite the negligence of the international community, and perhaps even because of it, local reporters and photographers are reclaiming their homeland and challenging widespread beliefs and assumptions. Majed Abusalama, a journalist for Gaza Reporting, says, “I started to feel like a tool of fame for those foreign reporters who came over here to get big simply because Gaza is good subject to put in the media.
“I want to tell the world that my simple wish is to be able to wish, to plan life, to not simply exist and to be a normal human with challenges other than resilience and resistance. Yes, the majority of people are unhappy, but I want to post pictures of smiling people. Because we do as you do, dream as you dream and cry as you cry. We are tired of being the victims, tired of the international community and being the most famous oppressed and bloody city in the world. We didn’t choose to live here. We were born here.”
Rami Almeghari is an independent journalist and lecturer from Gaza City. Many of his articles focus on the beautiful, artistic side of Gaza life, covering such themes as music, visual art, pantomime, cinema, culture and history, to “reflect a Palestinian narrative that is somehow missing in mainstream media.” He recently wrote about a group of artists turning rubble of the homes destroyed in the war into art installations. “There is a normal people here, similar to other peoples around the world. It’s different from what’s widely reported in coverage of the conflict and easy to forget. But it’s crucial to remember.”
A reporter for a major news agency, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, “the palpable mood of positivity represents the other side to life in Gaza. The majority of people here suffer economically. In the end though, Gaza has life, though poverty, killings and destruction are dominant.” He reports on the many faces of Gaza, from the opening of fancy restaurants to Hamas crackdown on IS supporters.
“We love life despite all of our suffering,” says Lara Aburamadan, a journalist and photographer living in Gaza City. She recently wrote about the red carpet rolled out for the residents of the Shujaiya neighbourhood for the Karama Human Rights Film Festival and often uses Vine to post videos of life in Gaza, like a calm evening spent with friends, lush strawberry fields and a lively wedding party outside her home. “I want to show and share what’s going on around me and let the world see and hear what we’re going through. We see and feel beauty despite everything. The reaction I received was great; a lot of people had an image of Gaza as a horrible place, never imagining that we also enjoy the little, simple things.”
If there’s a soundtrack to Gaza, Mondoweiss correspondent and independent journalist Dan Cohen writes, “it is the incessant hum of drones and roar of F16s punctuated by Israeli gunfire and the laughter of children.” He has spent four months of the past year reporting from the coastal enclave, and said the effects of the blockade are major. “Electricity, water, 3G internet reception and equipment replacements are all in short supply or impossible to come by. And I can come and go freely; it’s much harder for those who can’t.”
IMEU photographer Jehad Saftawi, who Cohen says is doing “some of the best and most important work in Gaza”, is struggling to upgrade his camera equipment, despite raising enough money via a crowdfunding campaign to do just that. “Deliveries and packages simply aren’t allowed to enter, just like items brought through from the West Bank.”
There’s little obvious beauty inherent in the horror and difficulty of life in Gaza, but Jehad is keen to find it. While his city is broken and worn-out—“You can see how tired and destroyed everything has become here just by looking at the people’s faces”—his more recent photo essays show groups of boys playing football and men building wooden homes: “I became a war photographer by default, but I like capturing quiet daily life and the beautiful aspects of life in Gaza.”. After all, he says, “there are people making happiness from nothing, and who hold out hope for peace.”