I have a lot of creative downpours in my head, but have a hard time getting them on “paper” due to unexplained phenomena!
I sure would like to get there directly, but sometimes a lot of screwing around has to come first…
Images make words so much more powerful. But when choosing those images, sometimes less is more.
Consider these images below, posted by so many Palestinians on Facebook and blogs during the recent “8-day war” in Gaza:
I recoiled when I saw these pictures. Instead of pondering what was happening, including the role of my own government and its allies, my instinctive reaction was to “click away” as soon as possible. And if my reaction was such, imagine that of the many Americans or other Westerners who are not committed activists for Palestinian rights?
In my opinion, the images below are so much more powerful, inviting engagement and further introspection:
This photo taken by a BBC reporter, showing one of his colleagues in Gaza whose son was killed during the war, spread like wildfire across mainstream media. Why? Every parent in the world can relate to the raw pain on this father’s face. No one can condone the murder of a child, and immediately, it creates a common bond. There is no need to show this child’s bloody, broken face.
I took this photo in a home in Deir al-Balah. Sometime the imagination is more compelling than the literal image. This picture invites viewers to begin imagining the person who not long before had been asleep in bed…And then to want to know more about what happened next.
There is perhaps nothing more universally compelling than the face of an innocent child. And more startling than to see this same child living - as if it’s normal — among the ravages of the war.
Another powerful effect in photos is the contrast between ordinary objects — such as this chair in what used to be a barber shop — and the destruction from Israeli F-16s.
What do you think? Which images are most effective in motivating people to care and to act?
In Gaza, the continuing extended power outages are one of the most trying aspects of daily life for residents and internationals who choose to live in homes (like me) rather than a hotel. While the blackouts seem to be a bit shorter than during my last stay earlier this year, they continue nonetheless, and are particularly crippling for families who cannot afford to switch on a generator every time they hit.
For the last several days, I have been staying with one such family in Deir al-Balah, a town in the central part of the Strip with a population of about 54,000. They were at the “eye of the storm” during the recent “8-day attack,” with several homes just a couple of buildings away bombed totally out of existence or damaged beyond repair. The two youngest boys, say their mom, were crying almost non-stop.
Damage to a house in Ahmed’s neighborhood
Last night, the power shut off at around 9:30 p.m. – too soon to go to sleep, but what to do? It was pitch black and the flashlight was broken. All we had for light was the dim glow from our mobile phones. So…Ahmed, the oldest son still in the family house, and I did what Gazawis usually do in these situations: talk (a pastime many American families have forgotten how to enjoy!)
As we stretched out on the sofas in the living room in the dark, our faces hidden in the inkiness, the conversation eventually made its way to the subject that was always on his mind and that I had been avoiding because I didn’t know how to “fix” it: his desperate desire to escape Gaza just for a little bit and earn his undergraduate degree in the UK or US. Ahmed’s older brother is already in the United States on scholarship, and even his oldest sister is abroad, for a year of high school. Unfortunately, scholarships for under-grad degrees are harder to come by than for master’s, and the program for which his brother qualified has a “one-per-family” rule. His efforts to find another route have failed to date, and he feels left behind and hopeless.
I have been struggling to find a way to both get him to envision all of the positive things he could do for himself and his people if the “worst case” occurred and he has to wait for his master’s to go abroad, and to confront him with the fact that he is sabotaging any chances he does still have by frittering his time away being bored, when he should be studying for his TOEFL re-take. It was time for some tough talk, and we had nothing else to do.
Something interesting happened on the way to getting to the root of Ahmed’s problems, however. I confronted my own. Those of you who have been following my blog posts for a while know that three years ago, I found myself in the middle of a major “mid-life crisis” (that’s what men call it, right?) and left behind a six-figure corporate career and marriage to a politically conservative man to “find myself.” I have spent much of that time in Gaza, where I have made incredibly rich human connections and broadened my horizons immeasurably. I write extensively on social justice in Palestine and elsewhere, and frequently teach workshops on topics that range from “influencing the media discourse on Palestinian political prisoners” to “social media for citizen journalists.”
But..most of this work has been pro bono or for slim pay, and my savings are only able to go so far. My need for an inner journey coincided with one of the worst economic slumps in U.S. (and global) history. It is now well past time to secure a more regular stream of income, but it’s clear from dialogue on LinkedIn forums that the chances of getting a “real” job are next to non-existent for someone who is over 50 and has been unemployed for more than a year (not to mention doing something “odd” like living off and on in Gaza!).
I have realized for a while now that my best bet is likely to try to build my own freelance business. But that requires going out of my comfort zone. I love marketing other people and causes, but “selling” myself is hard. And thus, like Ahmed and the TOEFL test, I have been avoiding the very activity I need to succeed at what I want. Just as Ahmed needs to take responsibility for his own destiny and just do it, so must I.
I decided that was enough introspection for the night. It was time to give in to the dark and go to sleep. It was still early, but why fight it?
Two hours later, after I had finally drifted off into a bottomless dreamland, my eyes were yanked open. The power had come back on, with lights now blazing everywhere —just when I really should be going to sleep. Ahhhh Gaza!
With the news that the UN General Assembly has voted 138-9 to accept Palestine as a “non-member observer state,” fireworks erupted and horns honked in Gaza. Finally, Palestinians were feeling as if they were having their day in the sun.
First, Israel ended its latest attack – which some believe should be re-named “Operation Pillar of Shame” – just eight days after it began, agreeing to a ceasefire that actually offered some concessions and to continue negotiating in the coming weeks.
And then, a Palestinian state received overwhelming recognition and acceptance from virtually the entire rest of the world, with the United States, Israel and Canada now clearly alone and anachronistic. Yes, the U.S. is still able to limit that status to a symbolic one, but the writing is on the wall.
The surprise dividend from these two victories – however small — is a spirit of genuine unity not seen for years between the once-warring political parties – with Fatah cheering on Hamas while it launched a surprisingly strong show of resistance against Israeli drones and F-16s, and Hamas dropping its opposition to Fatah’s bid for UN observer status.
“A huge victory for Palestine, after a big victory for Gaza! We are all one..our time is now!” wrote one young Gazan on his Facebook wall.
Americans may be surprised to learn that Palestinians here in Gaza believe they scored a significant “win” in the most recent war with Israel. After all, the casualties were once again so very lopsided: 167 Palestinians killed and 1,269 wounded (more than three-quarters of whom were non-combatants), compared to 6 Israelis killed and 224 injured. However, the way Palestinians see it, this time – compared to the “massacre” of 2008/9 — they were able to fight back, surprising Israel and demonstrating that its aggression would come at a price.
“During the last assault (of 2008/9), we were very weak. We felt useless. When Israel finally ended its 22 days of slaughter, we got nothing but a ceasefire,” explains Shahd Abusalama, a university English student in Gaza, blogger and activist for political prisoners. “Now we are stronger. We still can’t compare to the fourth largest military in the world, but we were able to fight back more strongly this time. It ended after eight days, and we got concessions in return. It wasn’t just on (Israeli) terms but on ours too.” (I will write more later on the growing conviction here that armed resistance is the only type of protest that actually produces some measure of results…)
One of the most dramatic concessions from Israel as a result of the agreement brokered by Egypt is greater access to the “buffer zone” along Gaza’s border with Israel. The 1.5-kilometer swath of land includes more than a third of the territory’s most fertile soil, and farmers have been unable to plant their crops there – forcing them to rely on charity and NGO handouts to support their extended families. Israel shot or burned the crops of those who ventured into this “no-go zone.”
On Nov. 30, however, a week and a half after the signing of the ceasefire, I found farmers in the border area in the Khan Younis district planting wheat, tending tomatoes and even partying with shisha within sight of the Israeli watch towers. Abu Raeid Kudiyeh and his cousins, for example, own 40 dunums (9.8 acres) along the border, but hadn’t been able to farm it for seven years. Since the ceasefire, he now has cultivated his property up to 100 meters from the border fence – and would have gone further if soldiers in the watch tower hadn’t started firing warning shots. [Abu Raeid invited me to walk with him towards the border fence on the evening I visited. We got within 40 meters or so before the Israelis began shooting – perhaps because of the presence of an international woman.]
The strawberry farmers of Beit Lahia in the north are even happier. They sent their first shipment of 20 tons of strawberries to the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel today, on the way to Europe. And for the first time, they carry a “Palestine Crops” logo.
Despite this plucky spirit, however, the news is not all good. According to the Ma’an news service, two Palestinians have been killed and at least 40 injured after entering the buffer zone during the days after the ceasefire was announced on Nov. 21. Hamas has shown admirable restraint, and rather than escalating the tit for tat, registered a complaint with its Egyptian interlocutors.
Fishermen are facing far greater challenges. Although Israel has reportedly agreed to allow boats to sail six miles out instead of just three, Ma’an reports more than 30 fishermen have been detained since the ceasefire, frequently confiscating their boats and/or equipment. Some had (whether they admit it or not) attempted to sail beyond the new six-mile limit, protesting that they need to go out 12 miles to get to the good fish. Others insist they had complied with the new regulations, or say it is often hard to tell just where the new “border” lies.
These young fishermen are afraid now to sail out past 3 miles, after being shot at by the Israelis.
Mahfouz Kabariti, coordinator of the Fishermen’s Solidarity Campaign in Gaza, thinks there are a few reasons why Israel is so intent on cracking down on fishermen: 1) It helps keep the Gaza Strip dependent on Israeli imports, including frozen and farm-raised fish; 2) Detained fishermen are a good source of intelligence if they “crack” under pressure; 3) It’s a form of collective punishment; and 4) An extensive offshore gas field was discovered in 2000, and Israel wants to retain control (although it is much further out than 12 miles).
Mafouz is interviewed by Ma’an.
What does all of this mean for the future? Tamer Mansour, senior editor at Al Arabiya in Gaza, says that Egypt continues to bring both Hamas and Israeli officials together in talks to focus on the tunnels, exports and further lifting of restrictions on movement. Egypt wants the tunnels closed, which would mean expanding the Rafah crossing to allow exports as well as human traffic. In fact, Ma’an reported yesterday that the Hamas-led government in Gaza will sign an agreement with Egypt next week for construction materials to enter via the Rafah crossing to help rebuild after the last Israeli assault.
That’s good news on the one hand. But on the other, Mansour says it strikes fear into his heart. He suspects that Israel’s grand strategy is to push Gaza closer and closer into Egypt’s arms, while doing the same between the West Bank and Jordan. The ultimate choice Palestinians may have to make is between greater self-sufficiency in the near future, and holding out for a united Palestine.
“That could mean we would lose a Palestinian state in the true sense of the word,” says Mansour. “This is the bad side of the story. For me, I refuse this. But will we have a choice?”