Category Archives: Gaza

Celebrating Eid in Gaza amidst the rubble of war

I spent the Eid last year in Gaza, with families who experienced unimagineable horrors during the successive Gaza assaults. Today is 2 years since the 2014 Gaza war began. I re-post here what I wrote about Eid in Gaza last year for +972mag, holding in my mind and in my heart all who have been brutalized (in Gaza, in Minneapolis, in Baton Rouge, in Orlando, in Baghdad, in Istanbul, and in so many other places.)

Excerpt below:

Wafaa Awajah’s family had scarcely taken their seats in a circle of plastic chairs when her brother hitched up his pants to show me the scars on his leg from where he had been injured by an Israeli soldier. Another brother had also sustained injuries from the army; he, too, showed me his wounds. As Wafaa passed around a tray of chilled soft drinks and bowls of nuts and sweets (as is customary during the Eid celebration) a third brother told me of how years ago a settler had hit him with his car–intentionally, he believed–as he was riding his bike on the side of road. A fourth brother had been imprisoned on two occasions, not by the Israeli army, but by Hamas. “For speaking too much,” he told me with a grin, when I asked him why.

Read the rest HERE

Awajah kids on horse back

The Awajah children enjoying a horse and buggy ride during 2015 Eid in Gaza

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Bullet holes and grief

Dear friends,

Today marks 7 years since my dear friend (and Donkeysaddle Projects Project Manager) Amer Shurrab’s brothers were killed by the Israeli military in a military assault in Gaza the army termed “Operation Cast Lead.” Below, is what I wrote for WorldFocus.com after visiting his family in Gaza a few months later:

Bullet holes, grief remain for Gaza family after war (first published in Sept 2009)

 

Abu Absal Shurrab stood in front of his red jeep and waved energetically when he saw me. I walked towards him. “Salaam aleikum!” we greeted each other warmly, and Abu Absal indicated that I should get into the jeep.

My heart stopped momentarily as he stepped out of the way and the vehicle became fully

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Abu Absal stands next to the car that he and his sons were shot in.

visible. The windshield was splattered with bullet holes. This was the car Abu Absal was driving the day he was shot and his sons, Kassab and Ibrahim, were killed.

 

I climbed inside the passenger seat, trying to discreetly count the bullet holes as Abu Absal guided the car onto the road. Twenty that I could see, including the semi-shattered rear-view mirror. Abu Absal noticed my preoccupation.

Kassab was sitting exactly where you are now,” he told me. “Ibrahim was in the back seat, directly behind him. When the shooting started, I shouted for them to crouch down low. But the bullets went through the front of the car. I tried to replace the windshield, but because of the siege, there is no glass available anywhere in Gaza Strip.”

The final days of 2008 and the first weeks of 2009 saw a large-scale Israeli military bombardment and invasion of Gaza Strip. Israel termed the incursion “Operation Cast Lead,” saying it was intended to protect the citizens of the southern community of Sderot, 24 of whom had been killed by Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza over the past eight years.

According to a report released by the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed during the 22- day attack, over half of them civilians, including more than 300 children. Several thousand more innocent people were injured, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed and 20,000 were damaged. United Nations schools, clinics and other humanitarian facilities were bombed.

On January 16, 2009, towards the end of the onslaught, I received an email with the horrifying subject line: “Help me save my dad’s life.”

It was from Amer Shurrab. I’d known Amer for 10 years, since he was 14 years old. Amer is from Khan Yunis, Gaza, but had recently graduated from Middlebury College and had just moved to Washington, D.C.

With dread, I opened the email. Amer wrote:

“My father’s car was bombed today, he was in it with two of my brothers. My older brother 27 was killed while my dad 64 and my little brother 17 have been bleeding for over 14 hours and Israeli troops blocking ambulances access. Please contact any media outlets, your congressmen, senators, any international organizations and try to get them help.”

Several hours later, I got another email from Amer with more details about the incident and an update. The morning of the attack, his father and brothers had gone to check on their farm during the daily three-hour humanitarian “ceasefire.” On their way home, his father’s red jeep was bombarded by a hail of bullets from IDF troops who had commandeered a house approximately fifty meters away. Amer’s older brother, Kassab, was shot in the chest and stomach 18 times and died on the spot. His father was shot in the arm and his younger brother, Ibrahim, was shot below the knee.

 

Abu Absal shouted to the soldiers that he and his sons needed medical attention. They shouted back for him to call an ambulance. He did, via cell phone, but was told by the Red Crescent that the Israeli army would not permit them access. Abu Absal managed to contact media and human rights groups, who launched an immediate campaign to pressure the army to allow medical care to reach the wounded civilians. Nearly 24 hours later, the IDF permitted an ambulance to reach Abu Absal and his sons. By then it was too late for Amer’s younger brother. Ibrahim had already bled to death.

 

Abu Absal parked the jeep outside an apartment building in Khan Yunis. “Here’s where we live,” he told me. “Any time you are in Gaza, you should make this your home!” We climbed the steps and entered. Abu Absal introduced me cheerfully to his wife and his two daughters. Heaviness and grief was palpable in the home, especially in the eyes of Amer’s mother and sisters. Nevertheless, Abu Absal was determined that my visit be an occasion for happiness. He instructed me to sit in an easy chair, next to his.

“We must speak of many things!” Abu Absal said brightly. “Your visit is like a breeze of fresh air to the family. Only…” He leaned towards me and adopted the tone of a fatherly scolding. “You are not staying long enough! So early tomorrow morning we will visit the farm, before you have to return to Gaza City!”

“Do you go to the farm often?” I asked his university-aged daughter, hoping to engage her in the conversation. “Not really,” she replied, barely making eye contact.

“The girls no longer like the farm,” Abu Absal explained. “They blame the farm for the death of their brothers. After all, if we hadn’t gone that morning…” He didn’t complete the sentence.

The sun was just beginning to rise the next morning when Abu Absal and I climbed back into his battered jeep. The sandy roads of Khan Yunis were bathed in golden light and early morning silence. We turned off the main road after passing the European Hospital. Less than a minute later, we approached an intersection. Abu Absal slowed down. “This was where they were killed,” he said. “You see that brown house?” he pointed. “That’s where the soldiers shot from. I didn’t know they were there. If I had known, I could have taken another route…”

Amer had told me how close the hospital was to the scene of the killings, but seeing it for myself felt like a punch in my gut. Kassab could not have been helped, but Abu Absal and Ibrahim, even with their injuries, could have made it there, walking or crawling or both. But the soldiers had threatened to shoot them if they moved.

Ten minutes later, Abu Absal was giving me a tour of the farm, pointing out with love and devotion each fig and citrus tree, every pepper, the collection of bee hives. From the window of the elevated farm house, he asked me if I could see the fence and the military tower in the distance. I could. “That’s the border with Israel,” he told me. “I watched dozens of tanks roll into Gaza from there. I must guard the farm every day to make sure no one uses it to launch rockets. I don’t want the Israelis to have any excuse to destroy my farm.”

The destruction was not always related to rocket fire. The day before, I had filmed the remains of a school bombed by fighter jets, a clinic that had been shelled and a residential neighborhood reduced to rubble. I had also seen a mosque sprayed with bullets from a recent shootout between Hamas and an Islamic militant group. But in the midst of this destruction, I also witnessed resilience and ingenuity. I saw tent-dwellers whose homes were destroyed tap into a main power line, providing their families with electricity. I watched a youth soccer tournament and broke the Ramadan fast with families at sundown. Though people were going about their daily lives, loss and pain in Gaza still run very deep.

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Abu Absal shows off his farm

Abu Absal tenderly showed me his baby eggplants nestled in rich soil. He offered me a ripe pomegranate dangling temptingly off a tree. A warm light glowed in his eyes.

“Your farm is beautiful,” I said, hoping my appreciation would further boost his spirits.

A cloud passed over Abu Absal’s face. He fingered the rubbery leaves of his olive tree silently. Finally he spoke, echoing, it seemed to me, the sentiment of thousands of Gazan civilians. Those who lost loved ones, their homes, their schools. Those who saw crushed in front of their eyes whatever hope they still nurtured, whatever shards of a normal life they had managed to preserve throughout decades of occupation and years of escalating violence.

 

“It is very beautiful here indeed. But the beauty means nothing since my sons are gone.”

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Waging life in a war zone: art as resistance in Gaza

“[My art] is community resistance and political resistance—resistance by insisting on life.”  Thus says Gazan theatre artist Ali Abu Yassin in my new piece for Yes! Magazine, looking at art as a powerful form of resistance in Gaza. An excerpt of the article is below and the full article can be read here.

Mohammed al-Saedi leads me through the densely populated Gaza City neighborhood of al-Zaitoun. Walls are painted in blues and pinks, with wooden shutters of purple and yellow. Plants are potted in colorful buckets at each corner.

“Color and flowers give the human positive energy, relax him, and provide much-needed comfort to the soul, heart, and mind,” says al-Saedi, a slender man of 57, wearing a paint-splattered shirt.

The initial idea had been small in scope: to beautify his home with flowers and paint. But neighbors took notice and encouraged al-Saedi to spread the beauty. Some donated funds, others labor or ideas. Abu Adnan Nayef was experienced with wood and iron and offered to partner with al-Saedi. “Our idea became bigger: to make all Gaza Strip as beautiful as possible.”

Nayef points to an overhead lattice with colorful bucket planters and lanterns dangling from hooks. “These are broomsticks. Don’t be surprised! We make beautiful things with simple materials.” Tires, wood, iron—all are salvaged and recycled to adorn al-Zaitoun.

“Paintings and flowers are psychological treatments to reduce the severity and pain of poverty. It brings self-reliance,” al-Saedi says. They believe the beautification project helps lessen the pain in Gaza from wars, siege, and destruction, especially for children.

Throughout Gaza Strip, painters, photographers, theater artists, musicians, and filmmakers are using their art not just as a form of therapy, but also as a tool of resistance.  (Read the rest of the article here!)

Colorful7

Al-Saedi and Nayef beautify their Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Zaitoun

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What I learned touring the rubble piles of Gaza

My latest piece (article + video) in +972mag on the physical, psychological and political challenges of defending human rights in Gaza during – and in the aftermath of – war. :

I crouched on the floor of the beat-up Mercedes yellow cab, so that I could film Yaser Abed Alkhafor at a better angle.  We were driving slowly through Khuza’a, a town near the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younes.

“We can see that the destruction in Khuza’a didn’t target only one place, but it is mass destruction targeting the whole area,” Alkhafor said, pointing to the destroyed homes lining the road.

Read the rest here!

And, watch the accompanying video below!

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Celebrating Eid in Gaza amidst the rubble of war

Wafaa Awajah’s family had scarcely taken their seats in a circle of plastic chairs when her brother hitched up his pants to show me the scars on his leg from where he had been injured by an Israeli soldier. Another brother had also sustained injuries from the army; he, too, showed me his wounds. As Wafaa passed around a tray of chilled soft drinks and bowls of nuts and sweets (as is customary during the Eid celebration) a third brother told me of how years ago a settler had hit him with his car–intentionally, he believed–as he was riding his bike on the side of road. A fourth brother had been imprisoned on two occasions, not by the Israeli army, but by Hamas. “For speaking too much,” he told me with a grin, when I asked him why.

I had arrived to the caravans where the Awajah family now lives in Beit Lahiya, Gaza a few hours earlier, in the midst of the flurry of excitement accompanying the preparation for Eid il-Fitr, the three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan. The children were running around, brushing their hair, putting on their new Eid clothes. Meters away from us was the rubble of their home, destroyed in the 2009 war, finally rebuilt in 2013, and destroyed again in the 2014 war.

The two days I spent with the family were joyful, yet still penetrated by the horror that this family (and so many families in Gaza) have experienced. Little Ibrahim, at the age of three, is obsessed with playing Hamas and soldiers. “Hold the fire! Hold the fire!” his battery operated toy gun barks in scratchy English as the little boy crouches in the sand, taking aim at imaginary Israeli soldiers. His sister pointed to the small statue mounted on the toy gun; it was a soldier in a tank. “That’s the Israelis, not Hamas,” she said. “Only the Israelis have those weapons.” But Ibrahim stubbornly insisted that, tank or no tank, he and his gun were Hamas.

That afternoon, 17-year-old Omsiyat and 13-year-old Hala and I lay on a mattress atop the rubble of their home. The caravans were stifling but here, under a cloth canopy, the breeze eased some of the punishing heat. I wished, not for the first time, that my Arabic was better.  I was able to get the gist of what Omsiyat and Hala were telling me, pointing out which section of the rubble represented their bedroom, what their experiences had been during the war, what they think will happen in the future… but so many important details were lost in my lack of Arabic fluency. I don’t know how often these girls process their experiences about the war aloud. I don’t know if there was some benefit to them of vocalizing it, regardless of whether or not I could understand all of it.

“Do you have the film of me crying on top of the wreckage of the home? Can I see it?” Wafaa asked me later that evening. I plugged in my external drive with the footage I had shot six months earlier, when Wafaa had first led me on top of the rubble of their home. 7-year old Zikriyat sat on her mother’s lap as we watched the unedited footage together. I wasn’t sure how much Zikriyat was understanding of what her mother was saying on the video, words expressing despair and hopelessness. But when Wafaa (on the video) began to cry, Zikriyat burst into tears and buried her face in her mother’s lap. Moments later, Zikriyat pushed herself out of her mother’s arms and ran into the caravan, unable to watch or to hear anymore. “It was because I was crying,” Wafaa said. Wafaa almost never cried; Zikriyat may have never seen her mother’s tears before.

Wafaa took me back to the pile rubble, but this time, not to show me the destruction. She pointed to a small shrub at the rubble’s edge, battered, but clearly alive. “Ibrahim’s tree,” she said to me.  “I couldn’t believe it when Sobhi (her eldest son) found it, after we had cleared away some of the rubble.”

The olive tree had been planted by Awajah’s son Ibrahim, who would have been 15 years now old had he not been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier during the 2009 Gaza assault. (Three-year old Ibrahim, born in 2011, was named for his martyred brother.) The family had taken shelter under this tree when their first home was destroyed, just hours before the first Ibrahim was killed. When they rebuilt the home, they made sure that Ibrahim’s tree would be exactly next to it. A few days into the 2014 war, the family fled the dangerous border-area in which they lived, and took shelter in Gaza City. They returned at the war’s end, only to find their newly rebuilt home completely demolished. “When I was looking around the rubble, I went to Ibrahim’s tree.  When I did not see it, something from inside me fell on the ground,” Wafaa told me on the video 6 months ago. “This is a memory, I left it for Ibrahim. It wasn’t there anymore, they disconnected any tie to Ibrahim with this area.”

But, as the family discovered only recently, a small piece of the tree had survived the demolition, and, though trapped under the rubble for almost a year, had still survived. The physical connection between the Awajah’s martyred son and his home had not been totally severed after all.

The next day, Kamal (the father) took the kids and me to a restaurant in Gaza city to celebrate the 2nd day of the Eid, and then to the Unknown Soldier park in the center of Gaza City. There were children’s rides at the park, rickety and precarious, but rides nonetheless. The younger Awajah kids scrambled up on swings that (via manual power) circled around, and then rode on toy trains, and danced and sang during a horse-and-buggy ride we all took together around the perimeter of the park.

Kamal smiled to see his kids happy, playing.  “You see? Ibrahim has forgotten all about Hamas and the Israelis,” he said to me with relief, watching his three-year old laugh and kick his legs gleefully as the swing lifted him in the air and carried him around in a circle.

Awajah kids on horse back

The Awajah chlldren enjoying a horse-and-buggy ride to celebrate the Eid

ZuZu on swing

Zikriyat Awajah enjoying her Eid swing ride in Gaza City

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1 year after Gaza war: interview with Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPost Live

Dear friends,

Marc Lamont Hill did a segment about where things stand one year after the Gaza war on HuffPost Live. I was honored to be invited to speak on the show, alongside Chris Gunness, the spokesperson for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA).

You can watch the segment here, which starts at about 11 minutes into the show.

All the best,

Jen Marlowe

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Gaza’s Mental-Health Crisis and the Trauma of Permanent War

Dear friends,

Below, please find an excerpt and link to my recent feature piece in The Nation, about the impact (especially on children) of chronic war in Gaza, published at the one-year anniversary of the 2014 assault.

I hope you will read, share, and look forward to hearing your thoughts, responses.

All the best,

Jen Marlowe

http://www.donkeysaddle.org

Gaza’s Mental-Health Crisis and the Trauma of Permanent War:
“The Jews shot me.” I was eating breakfast with 3-year-old Ibrahim Awajah in February 2015, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, when he made this proclamation. His father, Kamal Awajah, saw the surprise on my face.
“No, no, you’re the second Ibrahim,” Kamal quickly corrected the small, sandy-haired boy. “It was your brother who was shot, not you.”
The first Ibrahim, 9 years old, had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier during the 2009 attack on Gaza, which the Israeli military named Operation Cast Lead. His parents and siblings witnessed the killing, along with the demolition of their home. The second Ibrahim, born in 2011, was named after his martyred brother. He has already lived through two massive military campaigns. He has also lived most of his young life in tent-like structures, first while his family’s house was being rebuilt after Operation Cast Lead, and then after it was destroyed again during the summer 2014 war.
Read the rest here.

Kids playing in the rubble of the destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza

Kids playing in the rubble of the destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza

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