Northern wall, border with Israel
Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.
December 15, 2010, Wednesday, Gaza City, my apartment in the Rimal neighborhood
I worried about my participation at the buffer zone demonstration that I’d agree to photograph and Adham and crew would video. I recalled the incident 3 weeks earlier that both Inge Neefs and Adie Mormech told me about, that Ken O’Keefe had videoed and uploaded—the whizzing bullet incident, when the group, as they left the area, was shot at.
Yesterday about 15 of us, mostly males, with 2 Gazan females, and about 5 International Solidarity Movement (ISM) participants, male and female, marched to the zone, marched thru a garbage area adjoining a stone recovery area filled with young men desperately trying to earn money by picking thru garbage, and collecting old concrete from demolished walls and roads to refashion into building materials, marched thru a shrubbed area which was once an orange grove, past destroyed homes, one remaining occupied, marched past what I think someone called tank tracks, and finally stopped. We were very close to the Erez crossing into Israel and the separation or apartheid or security wall (depending on one’s politics), much closer than I’d anticipated. Adham, Hesham, and Josef, the video crew, were exemplary, never once complaining about the danger.
Salvaging construction materials from buildings demolished by Israel
We planted a Palestinian flag, made a few pronouncements, heard a helicopter (I never saw it), discussed going, and turned around. While we were leaving I heard voices from near the watchtower that to me were indecipherable. As we walked back, interviewing Adie and Inge, she reminded us that during a similar phase of a demonstration 3 weeks earlier, without warning, at least one bullet slammed right thru the group, narrowly missing all, less than 1 meter from Inge.
The bravery of the Palestinians and their friends the ISMers amazed me. I asked Adham, my Gaza movie director, to interview Adie and Inge about safety and courage. Inge’s response was, I’m cautious, but willing to take the risk. Very simple and clear, and plain and stalwart and laudable. I might say the same but unlike Inge, Adie and the others, I’m not willing to attend every buffer zone demonstration and vigil while I’m in Gaza, partly because I have other things to do and partly because I wish not to press my luck.
Saber Al Za’anin, coordinator of the Local Initiative group
Inge Neefs, ISM
Adie Mormech, ISM
ISMers were often in the lead, not from the impulse to take leadership away from the Palestinians—at least this is how I read the move—but perhaps to shield them. In front they’d be the most likely victims of any attacks. I found myself alternating between hanging back where I might be safer and rushing forward where the risk is greater but the photos better. On our way in, talking with Hesham, who was operating the sound boom, I told him the story of Robert Capa’s last days, walking thru a mine field during the end of the Indochinese War the French were waging on and losing to Vietnam, perhaps to get a better photo—we may never know what went thru Capa’s mind when he decided to accompany the French soldiers thru a very dangerous zone.
I was surprised by the decision to leave after hearing the helicopter. I overhead some discussion that in the past such a presence led to rocket attacks. A few people claimed to have heard the words, get out, shouted. Those words also were yelled just prior to the whizzing bullet incident 3 weeks ago—first the command, then turning around to leave the zone, and finally the bullet. We ended our demonstration with a rousing chant about boycott Israel or end the buffer zone, I forget the words. The chant brought life and energy into faces, and I hope I showed this.
I was overjoyed that we were leaving, that we had emerged intact, but also disappointed that there’d been little action. The photos are bland.
The light for that entire day was usually a big problem—harsh overhead light for most of the day, except for the morning demonstration at around 10:30 (when the sun shone on the backs of the marchers, rendering their front sides in deep shadow), and the setting sun effects later around 4. Plus being with others and not having much time, despite their patience, to thoroughly explore a scene. I might have chosen my lenses better, using my normal zoom for the moving car photos later rather than the telephoto and the wide angle. We’ll see. I often wrongly evaluate my photos, judging them better than they become, or worse.
Having a video crew with me changed everything. From time to time at Adham’s urging we resorted to setting up scenes. For instance, later in the day at Erez crossing I pretended to be leaving (carrying Josef’s camera bag and wearing my backpack), speaking about how Palestine continues past the so-called border of Erez into the West Bank and perhaps into the Diaspora. We then turned around and I “entered,” announcing how joyous I always feel when finally in Gaza. Thru Erez—big accomplishment. About to meet friends—another big accomplishment. And further exploration with photography.
Throughout most of the day I felt more than my customary agility. I’ve been feeling creaky and slow lately, a product of aging. Yesterday, perhaps because of the video crew, I jumped around and felt about 10 years younger.
The day’s Hamas anniversary celebration hovered over everything for the entire day of photography and video. Traffic around katiba, the site of the celebration and near my home, was dense. Hesham met me in front of my building and we walked to the Metro Market to meet Josef and the taxi. Periodically as we traveled we ran into crowds assembling in conjunction with the celebration (there was only one anniversary site, the katiba; people were bussed in). The main impact on our work was security—it was tightened. We were stopped several times and interrogated about who we were, what we were doing. One man took down information after checking my passport number. Luckily I’m not yet on a Hamas enemy’s list.
~~As I write electricity went off 30 minutes ago, at 6:15 am, and is not yet returned. We are 6 days from winter solstice, so it is dark late in the morning and early in the evening. Sunlight is just beginning now at 6:45. Power was off when I returned from the day’s work yesterday. Bumping into Hassan [the owner of my building] on the patio, I thought I asked about an electric heater to warm my chill. He seemed to understand, said the word electricity, and then turned on the feeble cranky generator outside my unit. I thought that noisy smelly device was of the past. Not so. Apparently the alternate power supply to our building was not available. Ah well, at least my candle provides a little heat along with its tiny light. I may have to mention my need for heat again to Hassan.~~
TO BE CONTINUED
Video of whizzing bullet incident (because I was recently in the Tel Aviv airport overnight waiting for an early morning flight home I discovered accidentally that the version made and posted by Ken O’Keefe is blocked on the airport’s wireless system)
International Solidarity Movement (also blocked at the Israeli airport)