Posts Tagged ‘cast lead’

My message is to show as much love as you can to your parents, because I lost my parents and I am not able to care for them anymore.

—Mona Samouni, age 11 years

Mona Samouni with the identity cards of her mother and father soon after they were both killed during the 2009 bombings (Thanks to Adie Mormech)

Kanaan Samouni

Part of the Samouni family

Kanaan Samouni

Missile damage to a home

Excerpts from my journal during a 6 week journey to Gaza.

December 19, 2010, Sunday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal


(Note: BDS = Boycott, Divest, Sanction, a growing international movement, requested by much of Palestinian civil society, intended to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine; and ISM = International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led, non violent movement providing international support to end the occupation and Gazan siege)

2 signal events from yesterday, both connected to ISM, (which I’m much more in contact with than on any other visit to Gaza, thanks in large part to the friendliness and accessibility of Inge Neefs and Adie Mormech) and both surprising. The first was a meeting of local university age BDS activists, a group that has recently formed.

Haidar Eid

We heard from Dr. Haidar Eid, an articulate and powerful speaker and organizer. He reported about a recent Israel-Palestine conference he attended in Stuttgart Germany. Illustrating with examples—such as the authorities not readily granting permission for a meeting site—he demonstrated the reluctance of the German government to criticize Israel. He attributes this to the guilt many Germans feel about the holocaust. Hearing him I recalled the reaction of CW, formerly of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (my Quaker community), who seemed dumbfounded by my stance as a German about Israel-Palestine. Don’t you feel shame at being German when considering the plight of the Israelis?

No, sorry, Chris, I don’t. Perhaps the opposite. I identify with the silent Germans who lived during the Nazi period, unwilling to see and speak out about the truth. That is my legacy.

From the conference report to business for our group about who’s doing what about BDS—website makers, bloggers, letter writers, video makers, connectors with the international community, etc. I suggested the tactic of culture jamming (see link below). Haidar thought it would be premature for Gaza, later maybe. I also suggested hosting a showing of the Itisapartheid contest videos that Rick had suggested I do. This caught fire and we might see some action before I leave. Israel Apartheid Week was also on the agenda.

I felt tremendous excitement during this meeting, the fact of so many that seem so energized working in Gaza to boycott Israeli products, especially when there are so few alternatives here. Some discussion about this, identifying Israel products—apparently a popular one is a fruit drink—and alternatives—fruit drinks are locally manufactured. I think I’m drinking a Gazan product this morning, an overly sweet orange confection.

Adie co-led this meeting, and the team of Haidar and Adie is strong. I also felt synergy in the room, people’s energy bouncing off each other, lighting each other’s fire. My photo student Rana attended and contributed forcefully. As did Inge and S from ISM. The group is definitely Gaza-based, Gaza-led, Gaza-inspired, and Gaza-focused. My dear buddy back home, Rick, will be very happy to learn about all this.

Thinking I was done when the meeting ended, I hung around to see if I might visit with Inge and Adie, maybe a falafel in the park in Soldiers’ Square. This notion turned out to be eating falafel on the run, stopping by their flat (not far from my house) to pick up about 5 large bags of winter coats, and deliver them to the Samouni family that 2 years ago had been herded into one building under the promise of safety and then many of them shot. I’d heard about this incident—the horror of it, the duplicity, the savagery, the senseless killing, usually of male family members and including innocent children, before the eyes of the family.

The Zeitoun neighborhood in January 2009
(last photo courtesy of the

The Samouni family lives in an outlying region of Gaza city called Zeitoun (Arabic for olive) and indeed I saw many olive trees as well as other cultivated plants. My first impression was about all the rebuilding I observed. How much was destroyed? How did people live during the immediate aftermath of the attacks during Operation Cast Lead? Why did the Israelis attack? Where’d the money for rebuilding come from? What do the survivors experience now? How deep is the suffering? How are the children doing?

Zeitoun in January 2009

To some extent I was able to begin answering these questions in a few ways: wandering around, observing, photographing what appeared to my eyes and lens; a formal interview with 2 boys about 10 years old (movie forthcoming); and a long discussion later with Adie who’s done extensive reporting on this affair and promised to send me information (linked below). I expect to research it as well, and perhaps blog and post photos about it, maybe even—because I used the video capability of my still photo camera—insert something into the main movie Tom and I are making. A pity we didn’t have our video team with us.

Trampling on the bedding of the family whose house these soldiers confiscated

Col. Ilan Malka, under investigation for ordering the Samouni massacre
(Photo by Dudu Azoulay)

The boys were very eager to use my camera. Inge had warned me about this. I’d forgotten until a boy appeared with a beautiful Canon Powershot SX 20, a recent model of what I have, the SX 3. Is this his family’s camera? was my first thought. Then I recalled seeing it with Inge, asked her, she confirmed, hers, lent to the boy who was unwilling to share it with others. We photographed each other. Eventually some boys used my camera so the photos from this session are of mixed origin. I noticed an extraordinary one of Inge that I know I didn’t make—I’m still too shy to come in too close, but one of the boys has passed thru that stage.

Kanaan in a tent some of the family lived in
while rebuilding their homes

Inge Neefs, photo by Kanaan Samouni

Adie gave an English lesson, the girls seemed very involved. Inge and I sat with one of the families outside a tent they’d used while rebuilding their home. The woman was especially gracious. She witnessed her husband’s execution, as did her children.

Adie Mochmeh giving an English lesson (while learning Arabic)

I asked Adie, what do you think the Israeli logic was that led to this killing? Hard to know. Some of the men were affiliated with Islamic Jihad but that’s true of every neighborhood. The Israelis systematically bombed, routed families, shot men and kids, destroyed buildings, prohibited emergency services from entering, left people bleeding to death, and commandeered a house and left it with shit on the floor [the mark of the most moral army in the world?] and graffiti promising to return and kill more [I’ve photographed this, heard about it, now witnessed it, assuming it was not implanted by Palestinians hoping to garner support].

Any accountability? I asked. Some very slight, he answered, one court case, probably against a soldier, not an officer.

Israeli soldiers murdered this man in front of his family

Later, reading Adie’s article, thinking about what I’d seen and who I’d met, considering the wanton, heedless, insane brutality by the Israelis, I felt deep outrage—and sorrow. Why this killing and destruction? What effect on the men who perpetrated this massacre, and on the population that supported it, the leaders that inspired and condoned it, the rabbis who blessed it? The city on a hill, a model of a democracy in the Middle East? When I’m home I plan to continue my research and advocacy, in large part, using the Goldstone report.

I was well aware that each person I met and observed had been stricken by the attacks of January 3 thru 5, 2009. What was I doing at that moment, where was I, how aware was I of what was happening in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza city?

I learned someone who’d traveled thru with a circus from the UK had raised money to purchase winter clothing for the children. Some $4000, and Adie and ISM bought the coats, all new, locally at a discount. They were of different sizes, one man with a list distributed them, one woman who’d come with us and who’d translated the interview for me aided the distribution. As we left a woman complained that the coat given her child had a broken zipper. Adie promised to replace the jacket.

The money for reconstruction had come from private Islamic agencies. And perhaps the UN had a role. I assume most of the building material comes thru the tunnels since this is not an official UN project. From what Adie told me I estimate about half the houses originally in the neighborhood were destroyed. Some 5 new ones were going up.


Unknown are the after effects of this violence. How do the kids feel about Jews, Israelis, foreigners, Arabs from other lands? I don’t have much insight into this. Perhaps the faces I show will reveal answers. Always faces, especially eyes.

Conclude with 3 dreams: in one I was with others examining the interior of a destroyed house (looking much like ones I’ve seen in Gaza, but in the dream the location was not Gaza), we decided to leave. I believe we’d entered thru a small opening in the ceiling, a few of us managed to get out thru it, but I was stuck inside. I had no idea where to place my feet. I began to panic. I felt the house might imminently collapse on me.

In another I carried a toddler on my back, old enough to talk to me, mature enough to tease me by tickling my neck. We had to cross a street with heavy traffic. I worried.

And in a third I attended a meeting or film showing about an ex soldier who’d been heroized for his bravery—not in combat but in refusing to wage war. The movie turned into the real thing, him demonstrating his bravery. The audience rose to give him a standing ovation.

So goes my dream report from last night.

Graffiti left by Isareli soldiers

“I speak English”


From Adie Mormech: Fida Qishta, an independent Gazan documentary maker made a short and very moving film “Where Should the Birds Fly?” from footage she shot during Operation Cast Lead about Mona Samouni and what happened to her family. In it, while walking through the ruins of her home, Mona recited a verse by the Palestinian writer, Lutfi Yassini:

I’m the Palestinian child,

I carried the grief early,

All the world forgot me,

They closed their eyes [to] my oppression,

I’m steadfast,

I’m steadfast.


Two Palestinian Stories: Mona Samouni and Dr Mona El Farra by Adie Mormech

Goldstone report (Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict) about the Samouni attacks, executive summary

Jeremy Bowen around the ruins of her house in his BBC documentary “Gaza, Out of the Ruins”

“Amid dust and death, a family’s story speaks for the terror of war,” by Rory McCarthy in Zeitoun, 19 January 2009 21.26 GMT

“IDF Investigates Commander in al-Samouni Gaza Massacre” Tikkun Magazine, October 2010

Culture jamming

Culture jamming applied to Israel-Palestine


Israel Apartheid Week

Rana Baker’s blog: “Palestine: Memory Drafts and Future Alleys”

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In Gaza for 6 weeks, November 17 – December 28, 2010,  to photograph and make a movie, I write the following as my personal assessment, checked with local people.

Dedicated to Anne R and Louise D

…Five months [after Israel promised to ease the siege in June 2010], there are few signs of real improvement on the ground as the ‘ease’ has left foundations of the illegal blockade policy intact. In order to have a positive impact on the daily lives of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children, Israel must fully lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

—”Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade,” a report by a group of humanitarian aid and human rights organizations

The claims of the organizations, as they appear in the [Dashed Hopes] report, are biased and distorted and therefore mislead the public…

—Major Guy Inbar, spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (quoted in “Report: Israel’s easing of blockade has had ‘limited effect’” by Kareem Khadder, CNN)

Ban Al Ghussain



The Gaza Strip lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, the Levant, Egypt on the south, Israel on the north. For most of recorded history, 5000 years, various people have occupied the region. All the occupations but one have ended. For most of those 5000 years, despite periodic violence, a variety of people coexisted in the Strip, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Philistines, Assyrians, and others. Some say China may be the next to occupy.

Approximately 1.5 million now people live in Gaza, more than three quarters of them refugees. The majority are descendants of refugees who were driven from or left their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Children comprise roughly half the population. Rhode Island, the smallest of the New England states, is 7 times larger than Gaza (with a population of roughly 1 million). The camps are among the most densely populated regions in the world. Israel controls all the borders, land, sea, and air.

In January 2006 Israel imposed a siege after Hamas won a general election in Gaza and the West Bank; observers including former President Jimmy Carter monitored the election and declared it free and open. In June 2006 militants attacked an Israeli military base near Gaza, killing 2 soldiers and capturing Gilad Shalit, in captivity in Gaza since then, perhaps around the corner from my home. On December 27, 2008, purportedly to stop the firing of homemade, poorly targetable rockets by Gazan militants into civilian areas of Israel, Israel, using weapons provided by the US, pounded Gaza for 22 days—Operation Cast Lead. This killed approximately 1,400 people, injured another 5,000, more than 75% of them civilians. Thousands were rendered homeless and because the siege blocks most construction materials many people remain without permanent homes.

The UN’s Human Rights Council commissioned an investigation led by the eminent South African jurist, Richard Goldstone. Israel refused to cooperate. The Commission found that Israel and Hamas—Israel by far the greater perpetrator—committed probable war crimes and called for credible investigations by both parties. Neither has responded adequately. Failing to conduct those investigations, the Commission recommended bringing the case to the International Criminal Court.

The United States congress and administration and Israel, along with some other nations, condemned the report as one-sided. The story of the investigation has not yet concluded.

In 2008 international activists began organizing boat convoys to break the siege and bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza, the Free Gaza Movement. Several boats landed in Gaza City carrying supplies and brought out Gazans needing special medical treatment. All subsequent convoys have been attacked in international waters: boats rammed and boarded, personal belongings stolen, media confiscated, people detained, and in May 2010, Israel murdered 9 Turkish people attempting to arrive on the cargo ship, Mavi Marmara. Investigations are underway about possible war crimes committed by Israel.

The purported easing of the siege

Since Israel claimed to relieve the pressure on Gazans following international condemnation of its attack on the humanitarian aid ships on May 31, 2010, more food is in the stores, there is some new construction (usually floors added to existing buildings—many buildings remain unfinished, languishing for years), people are not openly starving, many beg and sell small items on the street, many storefronts are shuttered. I’m told there are items to buy but little money to buy with. Power outages are frequent; people then use generators which are costly to run because of fuel and effects on the environment. There are many cars in the streets, but most are old. (I’m told new cars imported from Israel are suspicious: they could contain surveillance equipment.)

The UN claims little has changed, as do most other international organizations that have researched this topic. Israel alone, probably backed by the USA, claims there is no humanitarian crisis. I believe the crisis is severe.

Israel controls the northern border into Israel, called Erez. My most recent passage was the smoothest yet (of 5), which means little for Gazans wishing to leave for medical treatment in Israel, or for many internationals, especially those with Arabic names, who wish to contribute humanitarian services and are blocked. I ask, what right does Israel have to control entry? What if Canada demanded the right to control entry to the United States?

Egypt, with the participation of the USA and Israel, controls the southern border, Rafah, into Egypt. This has been open more reliably since the humanitarian convoy debacle. How long no one knows.

Hamas is rebuilding its security forces, which include civilian police. I see them training in the street and in open fields.

Aftermath of the assault of 2008-2009, Operation Cast Lead, which itself followed regular attacks at least since 2000, the beginning of the Second Intifada (uprising or shaking off)

Many are still sharing homes with family, unable to rebuild after their homes were demolished. Many are still suffering major injuries, with little opportunity to leave the region for more specialized treatment. A major share of the children—and many adults—experiences some form of post traumatic stress disorder.

The medical services suffer: exhausted supply of medicines, no cure for cancer in Gaza, no spare parts, no new equipment, no chemicals for machines like blood testers, irregular power so dialysis machines might quit, and little opportunity for advanced training for staff either because of Israeli entry restrictions or Israel  won’t allow exit. No humanitarian crisis?

Mesleh Al Ashram

Internal political divisions

Hamas, controlling Gaza, and Fatah, controlling the West Bank, continue their adversarial relationship. As if mortally locked in conflict, lunging and clawing at each other, they seem unable to reach concord. Many Gazans believe this fighting is foolish, and tho perhaps favoring one party or the other, advocate unity. My good friend Ibrahim was seriously wounded in 2007 when with friends he was trying to nonviolently stop the violence.


A remarkable feature of the Gazan dynamic is the absence of a moderate voice. One is expected to take sides, and those who are openly critical of Hamas risk ostracism, at least. More severe punishment could include imprisonment or execution.

Women suffer, not only from strictures invoked by Hamas but from the generally very conservative atmosphere. Most cover their hair with the hijab; many shroud their entire body, tip of head to ankle; some wear the burka, the face covering.  To refuse is to risk punishment. Unmarried couples may not appear together in public. I observed couples along the beach and in parks sitting quietly together in guarded moments, isolated from others. In the summer of 2009, Adham, another good friend, was detained when discovered on the beach with a woman not his wife. They were dressed in their street clothes.

Emigration and immigration

Many of my younger friends have left the country, usually for higher education. These tend to be the most educated, with the most skills, and the youngest of the adult population. Some say they will return when and if conditions improve. Some will never. Others are returning, often from Arabic countries, but they tend to be older, with fewer skills, retired, and often needing support, rather than able to offer support.

Expectations about Israel

Little hope for a bright future. More violence, continuing siege, more clever manipulation by Israeli media, with little challenge or questioning by international agencies, countries, or leaders.

Expectations about the USA

Dismal, to say the least. Viewing the Obama presidency, at least regarding Palestine, as a failure. More words than actions, big promises and a recent bizarre offer of massive military aid, allegedly some of it newly developed F-35 fighter jets (20 of them valued at $3 billion) that have not even entered the US arsenal and blocking all UN resolutions critical of Israel, in exchange for Israel extending the settlement freeze for 90 days, one time only. Thank god this was withdrawn.

Work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Named the Quaker Palestine Youth Program (the word America notably missing), they work in one primary area, teaching college age youth leadership and community building skills using highly interactive methods. Then requiring each graduate or coach to recruit a group of high school age youth to offer the same training. With the requirement that each group decide on a community service project and implement it, each project in turn requiring contributions from the community. Examples are a founding a library, landscaping a desolate area, offering first aid training. The program is called Popular Achievement and it is very popular, now in its 6th cycle.

Photographing in Gaza

Because Hamas controls all its rivals, and they were the ones kidnapping foreigners like me, I feel reasonably safe walking the streets of Gaza City alone. However, unlike during my visit one year ago, I notice more people seem suspicious of me when I try to photograph. A friend confirmed that using the smaller of my two cameras is wise—ah, he’s just a tourist. Being a tourist or foreigner itself is conspicuous. There are very few tourists. I am stared at constantly. When with a Gazan, like the voluble Ibrahem who attached himself to me recently while I was out strolling, I often have more access to people. In fact, with children it can be a problem. They all want their photos made, and often ask me to send them by email (which I dutifully do)

Photographing any military, security, or even governmental structures is forbidden. One must obtain a permit from the municipality, i.e. Hamas. A few weeks ago I was walking with Mona al Farra, an activist, physician, and project director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance  in Gaza. I began photographing a former ministry building destroyed 2 years ago by Israel in Cast Lead. A security fellow stopped me. Mona told him, what are you doing? This man is going to show the world what the Israelis have done to us. She persisted, he relented, walked off. I photographed. Later she confided to me, Palestinians are not very smart when it comes to media. We tend to be stupid, paranoiac, and self destructive.

Mina, the Old Port

The role of non-governmental agencies (NGO’s)

Needed of course, like the AFSC but I ask, do they foster the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank? Shouldn’t the perpetrators of illegal activities be required to recompense their victims? Possibly Israel and Hamas will be brought to international courts and if they are found culpable—Israel disproportionally more than Hamas I’d wager—shouldn’t they be required to compensate their victims? In many parts of the world this would be required. Not so in this region. Why not?

Spirit, endurance, despair, sumud (steadfastness)

Endurance is high, tho it could decline. Despair is present, but I have little insight into this. I suspect the line between hope and despair is very slender. It might be shriveling. I’ve noticed that people such as the Gazans and oppressed people generally tend to be the most hospitable, appreciative, and with the most fortitude. I speculate that this is because such attitudes are survival mechanisms. Someone has noted that most of us no longer must concern ourselves with predator-prey relationships. A relative first in human history. That earlier concern may have contributed to awareness—avoid being eaten and search for the next meal. However, in Gaza one never knows when the next drone will fire a missile, when the next machine gun will target farmers in the buffer zone, when the next bout of water-induced disease will strike. One must be alert to all possibilities. And I believe this creates endurance. I feel it myself. The excitement of living in Gaza is dangerously intoxicating and infectious.

Further information:

United Nations Refugee and Works Administration (UNRWA), general description of Gaza

UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Protection of Civilians Weekly Reports

Gaza Community Mental Health Program, accounts of conditions and nonviolent resistance

Palestinian Center for Human Rights, protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law and upholding democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

“Gaza closure: not another year!” International Committee of the Red Cross

“Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade.”

“Independent journalists dismantling Israel’s hold on media narrative,” by Abraham Greenhouse, Nora Barrows-Friedman

Checkpoints and Barriers: Searching for Livelihoods in the West Bank and Gaza & Gender Dimensions of Economic Collapse

Real Hope Is About Doing Something,” by Chris Hedges

My photos and blog

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Excerpts from my journal during a 6 week journey to Gaza.


Unless the whole aim of Zionism is changed, there will never be peace….Palestine does not belong to the Jews and it does not belong to the Arabs, nor to Judaism or Christianity or Islam.  It belongs to all of them together; it is the Holy Land…. We must once and for all give up the idea of a ‘Jewish Palestine’ in the sense that a Jewish Palestine is to exclude and do away with an Arab Palestine….Moslems, Christians, and Jews have each as much right there, no more and no less, than the other: equal rights and equal privileges and equal duties. . . .Judaism did not begin with Zionism, and if Zionism is ethically not in accord with Judaism, so much the worse for Zionism.

(Written in 1929 by Judah Magnes in a letter to Felix Warburg.  Magnes was an American Reform rabbi and leader within the American Jewish community.  He moved to Palestine in 1922, where he became the first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, serving from 1925-1948. Warburg was a successful banker and philanthropist, who was instrumental in the founding of the Jewish Agency, initially a joint venture between Zionists and non-Zionists.  Taken from Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon.)

(Thanks to Dorinda Moreno)


At the Orient House restaurant along the Mediterranean Sea coast, Noor, Ahmed (as I’ve renamed them both to maintain their privacy) and I had our long evening together, me sitting next to Noor so we could converse. We’d intended to dine at the seaside Crazy Waters Park but it was jammed with people celebrating the end of the Muslim holiday Eid Al Adha. The park had recently reopened after being attacked by extremist elements and Noor and Ahmed wished to support it. Here’s what I learned about some marriage customs in Gaza—and about Noor and Ahmed.

They are engaged. They signed a contract with lawyer participation. It states that Ahmed gave something of value to Noor’s family, the so-called bride price. Which in fact didn’t happen, Noor explained, because we don’t believe in it.

Furthermore we are now legally married. So now Ahmed can view my hair.

To signify their relationship they each wear rings—on their right hand ring fingers. They’ll shift the rings, beautiful thick bands, to their left hand after they’ve married. Contrasting with Christian tradition, the marriage ceremony itself is secular, more a festival than a ritual or sacred event.

The contract includes clauses about rights of separation. If Ahmed were to leave Noor—which he can do without her permission—and she withholds permission, he must pay a penalty of some astronomical size, stated in dinars (Jordanian currency for some reason, rather than shekels, Palestinian). If she gives permission, there is no penalty. Noor does not have the right to leave Ahmed without his permission. Divorce is rare in this society. At the Palestinian entry point, meeting with the official, when he asked me if I was married, and I said divorced, he looked crestfallen, said, I’m so sorry. Yeah, well…

In Gaza many engagements lead quickly to marriage. In their case, Noor explained, they wanted to assure that they’d have enough money to live together. Prolonging the engagements period they’ve set the date for February and invited me to attend, since I had a small role in them finding each other.

The father of the prospective bride must give permission for marriage. Noor’s father demurred until he knew Ahmed well enough. I assume this was before the engagement. Noor’s father, perhaps the entire family, is of the liberated ilk. Father would never force his daughter to marry someone.

Noor worked as a photographer after completing a photographic workshop. She photographed respiratory victims, mostly children, often in their homes. She’s shown me her photos, very well seen and made (as my mentor Minor White would say). I plan to invite her to present her work at the photo workshop I’m now leading. She is a model of what might happen if one pursues her bliss. However, now she works in administration at a medical center. She doesn’t like the job.

Some of Noor’s photos from a photo workshop I taught

Noor lived many years with her family outside Gaza in Arabic and western countries. She was born in Kuwait after her family moved there from Gaza about 20 years ago for work. The first United States-Iraq war precipitated their move in 1993 to Canada. After one year they moved to Jordan. She told me that her parents wished the children to be raised in an Arabic country. The family moved back to Gaza in 2000 where they’ve lived since then. Her father reopened his insurance business.

My account of marriage in Gaza is probably in part motivated by my own experience with marriage and near marriage, 25 years with P and 20 with Y, and also projections into my own future. What I might wish for, wish to avoid. Marriage for me? Doubtful. I’m against the institution as constituted in the west. Love for me, deep love? Maybe yes, maybe no.


Recently I visited Mona (she allowed me to use her real name), one of Gaza’s heroes, for much of the afternoon. We met near her office and walked to her home about 2 km further. She felt her office would be too chaotic. We passed a crumpled building. I asked to make photos. She OKed it. A security official tried to stop me. Mona intervened, told me later, that he had told her your friend will have to get a permit from the Hamas government. She said that’s absurd, he’s going to show the world what the Israelis did to us. He then allowed me to photograph and walked off. The building had been the Ministry of the Interior, connected with Hamas, therefore part of the enemy entity, as defined by Israel, and thus worthy of destruction.

In conversation later with Dr. Mona, as she’s lovingly called by many, a medical doctor trained in dermatology, and her friend Alexia, the first female pharmacist in Gaza, we decided several factors had manifested when the security official tried to block me from photographing the building, besides the apparent ignorance of many Palestinians generally regarding public relations: his wish to exert authority and his wish to cover his ass, not be reprimanded later by even higher authority figures. Mona is good at contravening such misuse of authority. I joked that she should accompany me on more of my photo walks. Needless to say, she is very critical of Hamas. As are many, I’m picking up, which is no surprise.

Generally—and these are not necessarily all shared by Mona—reasons range from the belief that Hamas precipitated the bombardment of 2008-2009, known as Operation Cast Lead; its restrictions on social life, like forbidding relations between unmarried men and women in public; demanding women wear the hijab or head covering; dismissing and sometimes attacking anything Western, such as the UN’s Summer Games programs for children and the water park known as Crazy Waters which was nearly burnt to the ground; its rigid and often violent positions against its main political rival Fatah; and its wish as expressed in its covenant to destroy Israel. Furthermore, people are critical of creeping corruption and inefficiency in Hamas. Yet many are proud that it stood up to Israel during the assault and continuing invasions, and compared with Fatah is more effective and trustable.

Mona (right) with a friend (not Alexia)

She’s proven very helpful to me and my photo project already. She lined up photographing some of the projects of MECA, Middle East Children’s Alliance, where she is the Gaza project director, introducing me to one of the participants over the phone. MECA provides water purification units for schools. She might help me photograph people who are still suffering physically and medically from Operation Cast Lead. This thru a man she raves about who works with an international human rights organization. Too bad she’ll be out of Gaza for 15 days in Arabic countries, thru the southern border crossing of Rafah, flying out thru Cairo, to return with some of her children for the winter holidays.

Mona is truly an exceptional being. Gracious, kind, generous, she offered to wash the dishes with her cleaning lady (who refused). She served Alexia a meal (beef and potatoes, with frozen mixed veggies)  after she’d served me one (fish and salad, with pita). She informed me about 2 international women who had recently resided with her for 2 months. Living alone and divorced, a medical doctor, she is a person of service, a very compassionate soul. Additionally she makes very good salad. Here’s the recipe: cut up tomatoes, cucumbers, what have you. Make a sauce of tahini, lemon or lime, garlic, salt, water. Add parsley and dill and a touch of green chili. Very delicious. Better than the fish she served, tiny fish with lots of bones. Straight from the sea. She believes the sea is not polluted in this region, it is further south. I wonder.

The invitation impossible to resist: dance the debka, the Palestinian national dance

While visiting one of MECA’s project in collaboration with New Horizons

Living along the sea she often buys fish directly from the fishers, not using the market. She confirmed the restrictions: most fishers stay very near the shore. A few fish out to an Israeli imposed 3-mile limit. No one goes out further, even tho the Oslo Accords of 1993 grant rights to 20 miles. She also confirmed what I’d heard first from Noam Chomsky, disbelieving his claim, and then more recently from Palestinians, that the Israelis are pumping or drilling the natural gas deposits off the coast of Gaza. We could see the ships or rigs. She views their lights at night. I joshed about wishing to photograph them—maybe hire a boat, Mona, we could go together?

At her apartment window, looking out on a destroyed Hamas compound

Mona was outside the country during Cast Lead, but her friend Alexia, the first female pharmacist in Gaza, was home during the assault. Alexia lives in a building near a government center, the siarea. First a few rockets hit the center, then a bunch, some 14, rapid fire, feeling like an earthquake was hitting. She screamed, thought she’d die. Her building was damaged, windows blown out. She survived without injuries. Earlier, walking past the crumpled Hamas building I’d photographed with Mona’s help, she pointed out an adjacent building that had been damaged during the assault on the government building. Part of the home collapsed, trapping an old lady and others beneath the rubble. Miraculously, all were saved.


Ahmed confided to me that he truly loves Noor, and is confident she loves him. I see that in how they laugh together, touch each other, help each other tell a story of mutual interest and involvement. To some large extent they are examples of the story I’m reading in the novel by Daisy Newman, Indian Summer of the Heart, paralleling Oliver falling in love with Loveday, both in their 70s. Everything has changed since meeting Noor, Ahmed confided to me, exactly as Oliver says about meeting Loveday. What a powerful tonic love is, an ecstatic moment, short lived in many cases. So the task becomes how to transform that tonic into a life long devotion?

Counterpoised with love or falling in love, is death, or declining to death. Death also captures one’s attention, rivets the being on one state, dying. All else pales. I’ve yet to experience that, but I might, sooner than I expect. In Gaza death is ever-present, more so than usual, certainly more so than during my quotidian life in the United States—death an uninvited and persistent guest. Greetings death! Greetings life! Greetings love! Love can flourish even more powerfully in the midst of danger, suffering, and despair.

You don’t have to go looking for love when it’s where you come from.

—Werner Erhard



Mona’s blog

Middle East Children’s  Alliance & The Maia (Water) Project

“Palestine 2011,” by Jeff Halper

“Palestinian civil society reaffirms support for persecuted French BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement) activists”—statement by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee

Crazy Water Park

Creating the first “tourist” map of Gaza City

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