Unprecedented Beauty… the life, faces and true side of Gaza

12715741_600786150077582_1541146658767962665_nWhat do we see when we think of Gaza?  The majority of the world sees only the bleak side of Gaza, Palestine.  The side of it that has and is under constant conflict and war; an ongoing Intifada from one degree to another.

But there is a side of Gaza, Palestine that not many see or appreciate and it is this side of Gaza I write about in this article.  Specifically from the perspective and through the lens of my esteemed friend and partner in this project, Fadi Thabet (pictured).  Fadi was born, raised and lives in Gaza, Palestine.  A brilliant teacher, loving and devoted husband and father, and one of the most talented Palestinian photographers I have the honor to know.

12359979_580168558806008_6629681144378964015_nFadi has an exceptional gift for capturing the beauty, humanity, strength, resilience and dignity of Gazans in their day-to-day lives.  What Fadi does not say in commentary, he speaks volumes through his photography.  His photos provoke emotion, thought and show us the side of the Palestinian people we all need to see and know.

Gazans are diverse in their heritage and this makes the people of Gaza exceptional.  Every photo has its own story, never just random pictures and most caught in the moment, bring us the viewer into the lives of the Palestinian people of Gaza.  People who forever find reason to smile, to hope, to resist and believe that Gaza will be free again, that Palestine will be free.

12417938_589442587878605_2439505561062160326_nI am most inspired by the inner spirit of the Palestinian people.  Their struggle and sense of hope is something I personally relate to on intimate level.  There is ongoing conflict throughout the world, and especially in the middle-east, but there is something so distinctly different about the Palestinian people and how they face these ongoing conflicts with a level of hope and endurance that surpasses so many others.  That even through the worst humanity can experience, Palestinians still smile.  A genuine inner joy they find in the darkest of hours.  We, the rest of the world have much to learn from the Palestinian people.

It is so easy for us who live outside of the middle-east, especially in the western world, to find things in our day-to-day lives to complain about and be unhappy about.  Personally I am not one like this, but I, like the Palestinian people am unique this way.  I always find the good even in the worst, and still I smile.

12321235_591562684333262_6628143658417444079_nWhat touches the emotions so deeply is what is seen in the eyes of the children of Palestine.  Especially in Gaza, and Fadi captures these emotions in the moment so profoundly.

There is an innocence that survives the brutality of humanity, but an innocence that is wise before its time.  No child in the world should have to ever experience conflict, war, and destruction; or oppression like the children of Palestine do living under Occupation.

Denied basic human rights, denied the right to human existence, persecuted at every turn, for no other reason than they are Palestinian.

12715767_602266879929509_6123170059249478549_nWe the world, the citizens of the world with social conscience cannot continue to be complacent about what is happening in Palestine to the Palestinian people.  The world’s media works very hard to keep the spotlight off of Palestine, in the hope that we will forget about Palestinian people.  But this will not happen, because of brilliant photographers like Fadi Thabet and others who continue to share their work with the outside world through sites and collaboration like this project, and through the power of social media.

The reality of how some Gazans are forced to live is subhuman at best.  Like what you see in this photo of a man and his children.  The shipping containers you see in the background are salvaged and used as what was supposed to be emergency, temporary shelter for those Gazaz displace due to the wars and conflicts.  But these have now become the only shelter for those lucky enough to have them, because many still live in displacement camps within tents and little to no protection from the elements.

12745566_601859696636894_844800832238474259_nEven among the devastation and destruction, Gazans still find reason to remain strong and to strive to live as normal a life as possible, including celebrations of accomplishments of students (pictured).  A stark contrast of the darkness and despair of war and the hope and determination for a better future with the newest generation of Palestinians.

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I cannot express enough how much respect and admiration I hold for the Palestinian people.  I learn from each of them so much each day, my life forever changed.  The unrelenting perseverance of the Palestinian people puts life into perspective. For example, this young boy continuing his studies boldly in the face of adversity.

This article is just one of more to come featuring Fadi’s work.  It is the hope that you will catch a glimpse of the real side of Palestine, of her people, and begin to question preconceived ideas and misinformed knowledge you may have of Palestine.

10384587_601804506642413_1286857031052484437_nThe Palestinian people are proud, rich in culture, from a long lineage and heritage in this land, on this land, and nothing can or will ever change this.

The children pictured here are one of many groups of Palestinian children and youth proudly demonstrating the beautiful dance of Dabke.  A music style and dance full of energy, joy and strength.

12376395_583647205124810_2919244015084276930_nAnother wonderful quality of Fadi’s is his love for the children of Palestine, his heart is big for the coming generation, and his encouragement of them and for them through his teaching and his photography is something quite special and can be tangibly felt through the faces captured in his photographs.

 

 

 

 

 

The Faces and Lives In Gaza… part one

_78161886_bcb93f9e-d92a-4ea5-bf96-f1f13121b96aThis is a brief introduction, a first in a series of pieces I will be writing specifically about Gaza, Palestine.  There is ongoing conflict and genocide committed against Palestinians throughout the country daily, but Gaza has been hit particularly hard by serious war efforts led by the Israeli Occupation Forces.  Two *Intifadas, the first being between 1987 – 1993, the second being between 2000 – 2003 and the three conflicts between Israeli Occupation Forces and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory in the Gaza Strip: Gaza War (2008–09), also known as Operation Cast Lead. 2012 conflict, also known as Operation Pillar of Defense. 2014 Israeli Occupation – Gaza conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

The sole objective of the of these conflicts between Occupation and Gaza have been to isolate, control and imprison the Palestinian people along the Gaza strip.  Ongoing hostile actions, conflicts, and brutality prove this.  Gaza is under complete siege, surrounded, cut off from major supplies of food, water, fuel and other necessities of life, electricity, humanitarian aid, medical care and intervention.  Sewage, clean water supply and infrastructure has been drastically compromised and destroyed.

12342557_574282929394571_6864647132469184041_nApproximately 60% of all Gazans are under the age of 16 years.  The unemployment rate is nearly 50%.  The people of Gaza are held in precarious limbo, forced to choose from choices no one should have to choose.  To struggle to survive and work wherever they can find work, to fully submit to the barbaric brutality of Occupation’s continuous efforts to exterminate the Palestinian people, or to take an assertive stand in resistance; some joining Izz ad-Din al-Qassam to fight to protect Gaza and the people of Gaza against Occupation forces.

This is an entire population of people who have know nothing other than extreme conflict, loss, tragedy and torment.  More than two generations of people.  The most amazing observation for me has been in the incredible capacity of the Gazans to survive with strength, dignity, determination, undying resistance and hope that they will see Palestine free and Gaza once again open to thrive as a sea port and entry for the world.

Abdul KarimI have spoken for many hours to an amazing Gazans, Abdul Karim, one who I consider a dear a friend, who managed to get out of Gaza, out of Palestine, to study Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter in the UK and has in the face of so much inhumane adversity made a success of his life through higher education and hard work.

He lives and works abroad still, but his family remains in Gaza under siege.  He spoke of living through the Intifadas, and additional war conflict, of walking and running through the streets of Gaza while bombs were exploding around him.  The traumatic experiences of seeing friends, neighbors and families killed, shot, burned and blown to pieces; of being part of recovery teams to collect the dead.  In the face of all of this, he never once gave up hope for his future and has never given up hope that Palestine will be free so he can one day come and go freely to see his family and his dearest friends.

Abdul’s story is but one of so many.  It is humbling to speak to Gazans that have managed to find success, some more so than others, in the midst of utter inhumanity, against insurmountable odds.  I speak of those who I have the honor to know, teachers, photographers, journalists, university students, and humanitarian workers.

Iyad AbuHewella3I have learned and seen first hand that those who have the least, work to give the most to those who suffer greater than themselves throughout Gaza. Such as Iyad Abu Hewella, another content contributor to this site and ongoing project, who strives to help through humanitarian efforts and donations to help the displaced children and families in Gaza.  Iyad is a recent graduate of Al-Hazar University in Gaza earning a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Education and did so within four years during the last two major war conflicts in Gaza at times where he had little to no resources.  During this time Iyad also worked to help support his family and volunteer many hours to humanitarian aid efforts and press agencies.

Ahmad HasaballahThere is a spirit of resilience that words alone do not do justice in describing when speaking of the Palestinian people.  Young photographers, like Ahmad Hasaballah (pictured), who is a content contributor to this site, who risks his life to document through his photography the ongoing, constant conflict in Gaza along the Apartheid wall and fences that serve to enclose the population in what is internationally known as the world’s largest open air prison; as well as journalists that put their lives on the line in Gaza to capture ongoing conflict and share their work, photos and videos with the outside world via social media and writers, and activists like myself, in the hope of continuing to keep the plight and suffering of the Palestinians in the eyes of the world.

12717654_597912320364965_8392424495705107041_nTo put life into perspective through the eyes of Gazans, that even in such horrific existence, they all still find reasons to smile, to exude great dignity, pride, and to live, to love, to resist occupation and hold on to hope for the future of a free Palestine.  I see this side of Gaza most through the photography of my partner in this project, Fadi Thabet.  Fadi is both a skilled and experienced professional photographer and teacher in Gaza.  Fadi strives to keep the true inner beauty and spirit of Gaza and her citizens alive and shining bright.  Fadi’s spirit and energy expressed in his work is compelling and moving, drawing the viewer closer into the lives of his subjects.  Fadi’s photos draw us, the viewer, to want to know more about the people, their lives and their hope for the future.

12647508_595618550594342_3097947244721155719_nThe history and heritage of Gaza is rich in culture and diversity of race, faith and beliefs.  Once a major thoroughfare of trade and commerce, one can still observe the remnants of this once thriving and successful city in the beautiful people of Gaza.

These are the faces you will not see on the nightly news of mainstream media, especially media in the Western world.  The Palestinian people are alive, strong, and are struggling every day to exist, and they do so with an unprecedented level of dignity, warmth, pride, and indestructible resistance against the illegal occupation of their lands and over their people, believing that Palestine will know freedom and gain independence.

*Intifada (انتفاضة intifāḍah) is an Arabic word literally meaning, as a noun, “tremor”, “shivering”, “shuddering”.

 

 

The Beauty of Palestine in the Midst of Adversity

10399930_10207287576040650_2724086413947299816_nThere is so much beauty in Palestine; in the land, historical sites, the people and their lives. (picture of Bil’in)

What I find incredibly inspiring and deeply moving about the Palestinian people is their level of resilience and love of life, family, culture and rich heritage.  Most of all the people still smile, still laugh, even when there is much sorrow, challenge and adversity.  I believe this is just a few of the reasons why I am so drawn to Palestine and the Palestinian people.  I can relate to their lives on deeply, personal levels.

In communicating and speaking with more Palestinian people within Palestine, I am constantly humbled, impressed and in awe of their inner strengths, positive attitudes, hopes and ambitions for their futures.  Even in the most dire of circumstances, they find within themselves a joy for life, eager to talk with me and share their lives with me.

12391873_10207140420841862_6367682972143767518_nThere are many losses daily in Palestine; loss of land, homes, and lives.  The struggle never ends and the uncertainties are forever present, and yet the Palestinian people stand strong, with great dignity and humility, genuine grace and integrity.  They are a proud yet humble people, examples for the world to take note and follow.

I think the wisest comment I have heard is from my project partner, Haitham Khatib, when talking about resistance to oppression and the fight for freedom.  Haitham said to me, “the best way to fight is to stay alive to fight”, this comment is more profound than it seems on the surface.  It is easy to fight an enemy or government with force, but it is quite another to fight with intelligence, strength, honor and grace.  Some may think that unless you physically fight, you cannot fight strong, but I believe the best way to fight is choosing not to engage on the level of your oppressor, but instead by example.  Setting the example that life is worth something, that national pride runs deep with roots so deep that no bulldozer or bomb can uproot.

12592683_10207380116034092_8130824517245051477_nJust like the beautiful, ancient olive trees that blanket Palestine, nourishing her people and being a living reminder of strength and beauty, the Palestinian people strive to continue to live, grow and hold hope for their future, for a free Palestine.

This beautiful tree sits on Haitham’s land in Bil’in and Haitham describes her best “This old and elegant olive tree sits patiently and proudly on my family land. She gives us fruit faithfully and I admire and look after her. I will always cherish and protect this beautiful tree…for she holds the memories of my family’s past, is a witness to our present, and gives us strength and hope for the future!”

I cannot begin to explain how much I have and continue to learn from Haitham, not only about the history, culture and heritage of Palestine, but a wisdom he has and continues to impart that most surely has changed my life.

11406852_503481033141428_2842954878522085789_nMy other partner on this project is Fadi Thabet; like Haitham, Fadi is also a gifted photographer and what Fadi does not say in words, he speaks volumes through his amazing photography.

Through the lenses of both of these brave, strong and persevering men, we can glimpse into the lives of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Social Media is such an amazing tool, and an equally powerful weapon.  It draws the world closer together.  What I have found so amazing, is that Haitham and Fadi are good friends, but have never actually met face-to-face because of the restrictions imposed on Palestinian people by the Israeli government.  Haitham lives in the West Bank and Fadi lives in Gaza, but they both share the same passion and the same hopes.  Both showing the world the truth about Palestine and her people through their photography and videos.  I am so honored and feel so privileged to know and work with these two men.

The written word is also powerful and most effective when it reaches into the hearts and minds of the reader, provoking thought, emotion and question.  It is our hope that my writing and Haitham’s and Fadi’s photography, the message we bring about Palestine, the Palestinian people and the truth about their lives under occupation will bring greater awareness and spark positive change for a free Palestine.

12647068_590645524424978_4682047169581463836_nGaza is one of the most drastically affected areas of Palestine, but home to some of the most beautiful Palestinian people, some I have begun to get to know.

The children here in one of Fadi’s photos smile, and exude strength, embody everything that is Palestine.  To the outside world, this photo may seem playful and innocent.  What is underlying this innocence is the fact that these children are standing around an outdoor fire, not because they are camping like many of us in the west do, nor are they playing.  They are trying desperately to keep warm because Gaza is under continuous siege by Israel, a lot of the people in Gaza are living in under inhumane conditions, with tremendous shortages of heating fuel and gas to cook, they are forced to build fires to keep from freezing.

12359979_580168558806008_6629681144378964015_nIn the face of this adversity, of these daily struggles, the children still smile and a smile is worth a thousand words.

This inner strength is born from generations of Palestinians who have throughout history been a people who overcome great odds, and when all seems destroyed and where others would give up, the Palestinians remain forever strong, beautiful, dignified and hopeful for their future and the future of a free Palestine.

The Fishermen of Gaza

PalestineFishermenOfGaza-600x600The Fishermen of Gaza… once a thriving, prosperous industry in Palestine, fishing has now become a life threatening effort for fishermen who now struggle to catch enough to feed their families.  In this book – The Fisherman of Gaza, by photographer Fadi Thabet, a joint partner with the Faces of Palestine project, their story is boldly told through his pictures.  “The fishermen of Gaza are under a strict blockade policed by the Israeli Navy to keep within 3 Nautical miles, if they are allowed to leave the shore in the first place. Any violations by Gazan fishermen is punishable by violent and swift harassment, boat seizures, the destroying of fishing nets, arrests and even death.”  Learn more about their lives through the vibrant, compelling and provocative pictures.  You can purchase Fadi Thabet’s book through this link – Fisherman of Gaza

 

2016 Another Year of Hope for Palestine

1170723_10207199263912902_6965094478210071624_n 2016 is here.  It represents another year of hope for the Palestinian people; hope for peace, hope for change, most of all hope for freedom.

I say goodbye to 2015 feeling a sense of gratitude so great and unlike other years.  In just a short time at the end of 2015, I have been blessed to meet and work with some very incredible people in my own country, my own city here in Canada.  What started for me as an opportunity to help incoming refugees from the Middle East resettle in my city an opportunity that is ongoing for sure into this new year, has led my heart, ambition and abilities to Palestine.

The Faces of Palestine project is in its infancy, but I have great hope that this year will bring much success for this project, for my partners Haitham Khatib and Fadi Thabet, and collaborator Sary Baraka, without them, their help, their knowledge, experiences, and their eyes and ears on the ground in Palestine on my behalf, this project would not continue to progress or succeed.

As we bid farewell to 2015 the beautiful Faces of Palestine welcome with hope 2016 ~

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The light of Palestine shines bright in the eyes of her children and every child in Palestine is like every child in the world, filled with hope and dreams for their future!10250258_10207148634927209_8588347955187711560_n

In spite of continued challenges, conflicts and darkness, the light that is the soul of Palestine shines on unfailingly so.

May humanity take note that the resiliency of the human spirit is unsurpassed by any other.

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The pride of Palestine lives strong in her children, the future of a strong and free Palestine will be reality because the coming generation is striving to live, be educated and make a better country.

 

 

 

 

 

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The handsome faces of two generations of strength, resistance, resiliency and great hope for the future of Palestine!

 

 

 

12366322_577208325768698_3095207307809717800_n The life joy of children in Palestine is no different from any other place.  They love to laugh and play and forget the ongoing conflict around them.  In the midst of the worst circumstances, children only want to be children.  The humanity of the world owes this to the children of Palestine.  Let us all work toward peace and freedom.

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Together we can all make a difference.  Like a stone dropped into still water, the ripples become endless and the water will never be the same again.  Let us stand and work together to be the stone that leaves in its wake ripples of change, strength, peace and a better Palestine.

12346398_958616560884035_3914899219623339068_n New Public Relations and Media graduates of Al Aqsa University.  The greatest force against the occupation of Palestine is the use of technology, social media, and photo journalism.

Instead of guns, these strong young graduates are armed with education, knowledge, cameras and a bold unwavering determination to show the world the true faces of Palestine!

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Every Palestinian is fighting for what so many in the world take for granted – a normal life, a life of peaceful co-existence with the greater world around them.

In spite of deep wounds to mind, body and spirit, the soul of Palestine remains strong, determined, filled with ongoing hope and dreams for a future without conflict, without killing, and a future of freedom and peace.  Together we can make this a reality.  Just as war begins in a day, freedom can also come in a day.  No one human being has a right to life greater than any other human being.  When one is killed we kill also a part of ourselves, it is only when humanity sees this, accepts this, and works together to keep humanity whole that peace will be realized.