The Faces and Lives in Gaza: part two…

imag0313Gaza, Palestine, an oceanic jewel of the Mediterranean.  Once a thriving, industrious, prospering and beautiful sea port; one that welcomed the world.  Now, Gaza is a place that possesses remnants of its former self, a paradise now in a surreal existence between living and hell.  An open air prison and active practice target range for IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces).

The people of Gaza continue to impress me, amaze me, inspire and humble me.  Gazans are so strong, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually; forever holding onto and believing that Palestine will be free.  A people that in spite of incredible odds, challenges and despair strive to better themselves, educate themselves, and preparing themselves for a better future.

For some that means leaving the land they love so dear to pursue better opportunities for higher education and employment.  This is easier said than done for many, but the ones who do make it out, do so with every intention and purpose of making their way back home to help others, to help their families and build a better future for Palestine.

What I find frustrating on behalf of those who have honored me with their individual stories of their lives in Gaza, is that Occupation goes to extremes to exterminate the Palestinian people at every turn, and yet, when those fortunate enough to be accepted into Universities outside of Gaza, outside of Palestine all together, or are granted international Visas, are often denied exit from Gaza to pursue these opportunities.  This is a living contradiction of what the Zionist Occupation desires most.

12107046_758686997577013_5556221131851724603_nOngoing strife and conflict, hardship and for many displaced still after aggressive IOF action in the last four years, the choices to be made are difficult at best; people being forced to choose alliances in order to survive, something that is directly unspoken, but indirectly implied.  Forever cautious of what they speak and how they speak, especially to outsiders, I have come to gain greater respect for the Palestinian people.  Trust has been betrayed all to often, and broken beyond repair in many cases.  It is not easy for Palestinians and those especially living in Gaza to speak freely about their lives and existence.  Especially with ever-increasing threats from the Zionist Occupation Regime to control and eliminate those that speak out against occupation and its actions against Palestine and her people.

12096576_761478657297847_8423740922874530974_nI am ever protective of those with whom I have the honor to speak with, whose trust I have earned and been granted with great care.   These are amazing people, from those with families to those still hoping to one day have families of their own; the level of ambition, dignity, integrity and pride are qualities they all possess and ones I admire and look up to.  People who have so little, yet give of themselves so much to those who have even less is commendable and speaks to the true human spirit of compassion.

Gazans are happy, strong and dignified people, that in spite of tremendous loss, tragedy, ongoing daily conflict and intimidation at the hands of IOF, they still find reason to be grateful and to smile.  The more I get to know the Palestinian people, and those specifically in Gaza, the more I am deeply touched emotionally.

10432532_4855501202416_8886210532923147255_nIt is quite a surreal existence to live in such a compacted, high density population and yet, not have hatred and bitterness, at least not on the scale we on the outside would assume they should have.  This is the very nature of a peaceful people and the Palestinians are a peaceful people at the core of their being.

The conflict and resistance actions that most of us see in mainstream media, when put into perspective really forces you think.  You too would fight back when you and your entire existence has been controlled and dictated to brink of breaking your very will to live.  One point I continue to try to make for you the reader, is to put yourself, allow yourself, to actually think and feel what these people have had to live with and against now for three generations and beyond.  To have your every move, every action, thought, effort to be controlled.  Occupation in Palestine is occupation not only of land, but of the people themselves, every aspect of their day-to-day life existence is at the hands of their oppressor, the Zionist Occupation Government of Israel.

10276060_10153358175693325_998773002538043109_nImagine also the dire circumstances of living with government factions of Palestine who cannot agree among each other how to rule fairly and justly.  This creates a triangulation of control with the Palestinian people caught and trapped in the middle.  Professionals that work within Gaza, and in the West Bank, some who have not been paid regular wages and salaries for two years and beyond; why? because one faction insists the other is responsible.  It is common sense knowledge that a house divided surely falls; but it is obvious that common sense in government and governance is not a common occurrence.  Who suffers then?  the citizens, the innocent people of Palestine.

Is it not enough to suffer under Occupation?  let alone suffer at the hands of your own leaders who cannot agree on how to best help to unite and strengthen their own country.  Yet, Palestinians strive to unite, to become one, of like mind and purpose and as long as these efforts are continually made, Palestine will be free and strong.

*Photo credit:  M. Baroud

*Photo credit: I. Abu Hewella

 

 

 

 

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”.