#ObliteratedFamilies – Foreword by Rajah Shehadeh

During the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members. Some of the families were wiped out entirely.

The #ObliteratedFamilies project tells the stories of some of these families, their loved ones who were killed and those left behind.

Don Paterson, the prize winning Scottish poet, has never been to Gaza, and yet following the news of the Israeli attack on the Strip in the summer of 2014 found that he could not remain silent. He wrote a sonnet about the Israeli shelling of a boy playing on the beach. The sonnet is called The Foot and it begins with the line:

I have no words so here are the no words

Often during that dreadful summer I also found that I had no words in the face of such inhuman shelling by the Israeli military of so densely a populated area as the Gaza Strip. But Anne Paq and Ala Qandil in this web documentary found the words and took photographs that tell the stories of ten families whose lives were literally shattered by the Israeli offensive of 2014.

What we hear from Gaza, as from other war-torn areas of the world, are always the numbers and figures; the news is often so grim that we are numbed and feel we can no longer imagine what it’s like to live there. The significance of this project is that it brings us through word and image the intimate lives and tragedies befalling the Gaza families and makes it impossible for us, the readers and viewers, to shield ourselves and not to profoundly feel the experience of those who lived through the Israeli bombardment during that black summer of 2014.

When approaching carnage there are some who may exhibit a pornographic interest in the subject, callousness, lack of empathy or an attitude of voyeurism in their observation of others. This was perhaps true of some of the Israeli soldiers who carried out the bombing, one of whom the author caught smiling right after he shot towards the sight in which she stood. It is certainly not so with the sensitively woven and narrated accounts in this web documentary.

The documentary’s cover photograph was taken with a wide lens from a high point. It is of a young man standing in the midst of a yard that is full of pieces of metal, wood, porcelain, cement and stone. These are the remains of what had once been the factory which he owned and his nearby home, where two of his brothers along with their wives and kids were waiting to be evacuated when they were bombed along with all the walls, furniture, personal belongings, and photographs, all reduced to rubble.

It is tragedy enough to lose one’s home and place of work, and worse still to lose one’s loved ones or one’s entire family. But what is not often remembered is the consequence on the survivor’s life and future of losing all one’s documents: birth certificates, property deeds, school and university certificates and health reports, as happened to many Gaza residents whose houses were bombed. Just imagine the complications that would arise from being unable to submit to any authority proof of your past and the details of your previous existence. It is difficult to imagine how one can manage to build one’s life anew after such immense loss.

And yet in the midst of all this destruction, the young man whose life was shattered stands tall, looking up, seemingly ready to go on, a true representative of the legendary resilience of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. There are also two portraits of Hussein al-Najjar, whose family is amongst the ten shattered lives that are highlighted here. In neither of them does he look at the camera. In one of the photographs his seeing eye (the other is bandaged as is his head) is looking down, introspective, sad, terribly sad, but not seeking sympathy. In the other, his left hand covers his mouth as if he did not want to speak; he wants to be left alone to think his own thoughts, lost in his own world as he tries to figure out how it has come to this, to this horror that humans can bring on other humans who live close by.

In the introduction we are told that Hussein went to pray when his house was bombed. He lost consciousness, then when he opened his eyes again he learned that his wife, two children and 16 other members of his family were killed. The question that comes to mind is: how could anyone want to wake up after such knowledge? And yet, from following the news from Gaza one knows that the people in the Strip do just that. Four months after this photograph was taken, Anne Paq returned to Gaza and visited Hussein and wanted to give him the photograph. But he refused to take it because, as he told her, “I don’t want to remember that day.” His reaction made her shift from being the researcher and documenter to the human being she is and she writes that she felt ashamed and cursed herself. She then adds: “I felt that for a moment I had lost that fragile balance between documenting the tragedy and bringing more sorrow into the already devastated lives of the survivors.” She adds: “Everyone wants an original account of the attack, a piece of their intimate feelings, a few personal details…” The authors of this documentary are not among those who try to take anything. Instead, they generously give back to the people of Gaza. This work would move many a viewer to tears.

One of those whose stories are told in this book, Saleh Kilani, says: “Life in Gaza has always been consumed by war.” But has it always? Before the Israeli occupation the people living in the Strip were known for their humor and ability to live happy, carefree lives, as any other people who lived by the sea. One day the siege of Gaza and its occupation by Israel will end and, in the words of one interviewee, ’natural’ life will be possible again in Gaza.

by Rajah Shehadeh

The Gaza Strip is part of the Palestinian Occupied Territory; together with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. More than 70% of Gaza Palestinians are refugees, forced to leave their homes in the lands grabbed by the nascent state of Israel in 1948 and forbidden from returning.

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#ObliteratedFamilies – Introduction by Amira Hass

Rubble of the Maadi house

During the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members. Some of the families were wiped out entirely.

The #ObliteratedFamilies project tells the stories of some of these families, their loved ones who were killed and those left behind.

Behind every erased Gazan family is an Israeli pilot. Behind every orphaned child who has lost his brothers and sisters in the bombing is an Israeli commander who gave the order and a soldier who pulled the trigger. Behind every demolished house are the Israeli physicist and hi-tech specialist who calculated the optimal angles for maximal impact. And there is the army spokesperson (backed by legal experts) who always evaded the journalist’s question: how proportional is it to shell an entire building with all its inhabitants? What – in your laws – justifies killing 23 family members, babies, children and the elderly among them, in one fell swoop of a missile?

There is one very present absentee in the “stories” below: Israeli society. Whether those members of society directly responsible, from government ministers and general military staff down through the ranks, or those who are indirectly responsible in their support and refusal to know. Have the direct accomplices – most of whom preserve their armed anonymity – ever shown any interest in knowing who was targeted by their sophisticated smart bombs? Or how many unarmed civilians they killed, their names, how many girls and boys, how many members of a single family, how many entire families have been erased? Disastrously, the safe guess is that physical distance and the fact that both soldiers and commanders did not have to soil their hands with blood nor see the mangled bodies with their own eyes helped them greatly to bury any information, knowledge, and thought.

Before and between the major onslaughts of 2008-9, 2012 and 2014 “smaller-scale” Israeli assaults were carried out, and they too wiped out lives, or erased the toil of many years and added traumas onto past disasters. Another link in such a long chain of injustices that one’s head is dizzy with disbelief, or the need to forget. At times, Gazans themselves help one forget: with their humor, their warmth, the continuity of life and vitality their creativity which breaks through all barriers and limitations of the siege and the pain, their silences – for they are sick of telling, or because what’s the point. But more than ever, more than any previous large-scale or smaller-scale assault, after 2014, the quenched eyes of Gazans have recounted how that was the most horrific of attacks.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calculated that 142 families lost three or more members, each of these families in a single Israeli shelling or bombing. The total was 742 persons, more than 25% of all Palestinian casualties of that summer. There is nothing more difficult than gathering testimonies from people whose families have been nearly wiped out, to try and describe the horrendous vacuum which has been created and cannot be filled. The choice of “only” ten families, is a statement: testimony gathering and reading must not become automatic. It mustn’t, lest feelings be dulled. Therefore, the silences and the spaces between the spoken and the unspoken, between the written and the unwritten, speak for all the rest.

The erasure of entire families was one of the appalling characteristics of the 2014 assault. These were no errors or mistaken personal choices on the part of a pilot or a navigator or a brigade commander. This was policy. There are no anonymous players here: the identity of the policy makers is well known, as are their names and positions. Between July 7 and August 26, Israel carried out about 6,000 air raids on the Gaza Strip and fired 14,500 tank shells and about 35,000 artillery shells. 2,251 Palestinians were killed, among them 1,462 civilians, 551 of whom were children, and 299 women. Some of the non-civilians killed – namely combatant members of the armed organizations – were not killed in battle but under the same civilian circumstances where their relatives were also killed: in their beds, in their own homes, during the fast-breaking meal, in their residential quarters.

As stated in B’Tselem’s report “Black Flag”, which investigated 70 of the 142 incidents, with the exception of a few cases Israel never gave any explanation for bombing or shelling those houses with their inhabitants inside. In other words, Israel never disclosed what and who were its targets: perhaps one of the family members, perhaps a weapons stash in the house or fire opened from a neighboring house? But the systematic action and the silence both show that Israel finds it ‘legitimate’ and ‘proportional’ to kill entire families: if one of their members is a Hamas fighter, if a weapons stash is held nearby or in their home, or for any other similar reason. What does it mean? That it is legitimate to shell nearly every home in Israel, for nearly every Israeli family has an armed soldier, and many homes are inhabited by senior army officials, and important military and security installations are situated in the heart of Israeli civilian population. This is an absurd and criminal criterion of warfare, opposed to international law and basic principles of justice. But the majority in Israeli society embraces it as right and justified.

According to OCHA, Hamas and other Palestinian armed organizations launched 4,881 rockets and fired 1,753 mortar shells against Israel. 94% of these reached the maximum range of 50 kilometers, mentions B’Tselem. This fire targeted mostly Israeli civilian communities. Because of the limited technology of Hamas’ weapons, and thanks to Israel’s state-of-the-art defense capacities and the evacuation of numerous Israeli residents, the number of Israeli civilian casualties was minimal: six Israeli civilians were killed, among them one 5-year old child. The 67 Israeli soldiers killed during the onslaught were casualties in battle. The Palestinian combatants who killed them were defending their own population from the invader.

The Gaza Strip is not a sovereign state, even if the Hamas regime sometimes behaves like a sovereign government of a liberated territory. According to international agreements, the Strip is an inseparable part of the Palestinian state which the world is still committed to creating, at least by declaration. It is still under Israeli occupation – even though the parameters of control differ from those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For example, the population registry of Gaza, as that of the West Bank, is subordinate to the Israeli Ministry of Interior and its policies. Only upon Israeli approval is the Palestinian Authority able to issue new ID cards to 16-year-olds in the Gaza Strip every year, as in the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinians, among them refugees from Syria, live in the Gaza Strip without Palestinian IDs: Israel will not have it. As an occupying force, Israel is supposedly responsible for the population – while it shirks this responsibility with increasingly brutal measures of domination and revenge. Its military assaults were and still are the continuation of Israel’s consistent policy of separating the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinians in its attempt to crush the people and turn it into a collection of separate, disconnected groups and individuals.

As the occupied, Palestinians have the right to fight the occupier. But this right is also subject to international law, to common sense, to international circumstances, to the leadership’s responsibility towards its public. Hamas has had its own internal political considerations in choosing the military path in spite of all the previous rounds of warfare that failed to achieve its declared national objectives. True, over the years Hamas has developed its own means and skills of warfare. But, as the 2014 war showed, it has been – and remains – inferior to Israel’s military might. Military confrontations are Israel’s home field, where it excels. It is precisely the field that should be avoided.

Amira Hass
6 July 2016

The Gaza Strip is part of the Palestinian Occupied Territory; together with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. More than 70% of Gaza Palestinians are refugees, forced to leave their homes in the lands grabbed by the nascent state of Israel in 1948 and forbidden from returning.

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Palestinian teen killed by Israeli fire in Gaza

The Israeli army said it detected three people near the security fence and fired at them. A cousin said the 18-year-old was on the farming land that his family owns.

Al Jazeera, 22 March 2017

A Palestinian teen has been killed and two other men wounded by Israeli fire in southern Gaza, according to health officials.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said 18-year-old Yousef Abu Athira was killed before dawn on Wednesday by Israeli artillery fire east of Rafah.

He said two others sustained shrapnel wounds and were taken to Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah.

The Israeli army, which had been carrying out training exercises near the border overnight, said it detected three people near the security fence separating Gaza and Israel and fired at them, according to a military spokeswoman.

But Yasser Abu Athira, the killed teen’s cousin, said the 18-year-old was on the farming land that his family owns.

“We heard the noise of about 15 shells that came down. After a while, we found out that it was Yousef. The Israeli army said he was trying to get into Israel, but we completely deny that claim,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We are very angry and we blame this on the occupation and the Israeli army. He was not armed and he is not part of any faction.”


READ MORE: Gaza’s healthcare crumbling under Israeli siege


Gaza has been under a decade-long siege imposed by Israel following Hamas’ election victory and subsequent takeover of the enclave in 2007.

Israel’s military said that some 2,000 reserve soldiers had since Sunday been performing military exercises around Gaza Strip.

Tareq Rishmawi, spokesperson for the Palestinian government, denounced the Israeli army’s large-scale exercises over the past few days and called on the international community to end the systematic “Israeli assaults”.

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Banksy’s Murals Turn Up In The Gaza Strip

Krishnadev Calamur, NPR, February 26, 2015

Banksy’s work is now in the Gaza Strip.

The artist, who uses public spaces for his often-provocative murals, posted images that he said were of art he created in the Gaza Strip, along with a two-minute video of life in the Palestinian territory, titled “Make this the year YOU discover a new destination.”

Here are some of the murals, which you can also see on Banksy’s own website.

Banksy writes about this image:

“A local man came up and said ‘Please — what does this mean?’ I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website — but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens.”

A mural is seen on the remains of a house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. Suhaib Salem/Reuters/Landov

And on his website, he writes about the mural below: “Gaza is often described as ‘the world’s largest open air prison’ because no-one is allowed to enter or leave. But that seems a bit unfair to prisons — they don’t have their electricity and drinking water cut off randomly almost every day.”

A mural on a wall in Beit Hanoun. Suhaib Salem/Reuters/Landov

Banksy is known for his political art that is often provocative. And these images, and the video below, are likely to have supporters as well as detractors given that they deal with the impact last year’s fighting between Hamas, which runs Gaza, and Israel had on the territory.

YouTube

The two-minute video has a line that reads: “If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful — we don’t remain neutral.”

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Film: Gaza in Context

Arab Studies Institute

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 The Full 20-Minute Narrative
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Credits

“I did not think it was possible to examine in 20 minutes what Gaza in Context  does with such compelling clarity: Israeli policies toward Gaza and Palestine, which are inseparable; the core problems affecting Gaza and the deliberateness of the policies that have led to Gaza’s disablement; Gaza’s centrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and some common myths surrounding Gaza and the history of the conflict overall, which are straightforwardly debunked.
An immensely valuable teaching tool, the film’s power also lies in its fundamental humanity, a heartfelt entreaty to end the oppression and violence so that all people in this tortured part of the world may aspire to a future in which their children can flourish.–Dr. Sara Roy, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University 

Gaza in Context  is a superb film accompanied by an excellent  teaching guide with seminal articles on the various aspects of the subject,  discussion questions, reading list and bibliography. Not only does the 20- minute- film provide the essential facts necessary for an understanding of the problem  it helps  the viewer understand the context, history and nature of the Israeli policy that brought the Gaza Strip to where it is today. It does this without committing the  common error of treating Gaza in isolation from the rest of Palestine but  helps explain the consistency in the Israeli policy over the years and throughout Palestine while focusing on its implications and manifestations for Gaza. The film ends with a cri de Coeur to all of us to do what we can to bring an end to what the film convincingly argues is not a natural but a human-  made disaster and save Gaza from continuing to be a zone of death.”
​–Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian lawyer, novelist, political activist, affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, and a founder of the human rights organization Al-Haq.

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Palestinian Author Reflects on Life in Gaza

Lupe Salmeron, Madison365, December 5, 2016

An audience of around 30 people gathered to hear from talented blogger and political analyst Laila El-Haddad on Nov. 29 at The Crossing.

Laila El-Haddad is a talented blogger, political analyst, engaging public speaker, and parent-of-three from Gaza City. She is the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between (2010); the co-editor of the anthology Gaza Unsilenced (2015); and co-author of The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey (2nd Ed. 2016).

The evening started off with a Q & A between UW-Madison professor Nevine El Nossery and El-Haddad about her blog and books inspired by her experiences while living on the border in Gaza. That was followed by a short cooking demonstration and potluck social featuring samples of Palestinian food, including dishes from El-Haddad’s cookbook.

El-Haddad explained that initially, she created her blog to relieve and process some of the emotions and experiences she underwent while living in Gaza, but it then grew to be something much bigger.

“At the time, I had a close friend who I thought was really well informed but just had this kind of naivety about the whole experience. ‘Oh, you must be used to this by now, always being stranded,’ she said. And trying to explain, “Like no, you never get used to this kind of thing.’” El-Haddad said. “Or just being ill-informed in general about the modes and methods of transportation and lack of freedom of movement (in Gaza) that made me realize that there needs to be a better ways to communicate this experience than the traditional, ‘Here are the numbers, here are the facts, here are the maps’ kind of thing. That’s when I began to use the blog as a vehicle and kind of just blogging about everyday mundane experiences, as a vehicle for people to understand the bigger political issues that exist in the background.”

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To her, it was just a way to vent, but also inform her few readers about the events happening in Gaza. She did not realize how important her “everyday mundane experiences” were to others interested in Gazarian affairs.

“I didn’t think much about it at the time, but suddenly there was a lot of interest, including from like Israelis and others who had no other access,” she said. “It was all mediated cover from mainstream channels that were telling the same dismal, dark, anonymous story of Gaza. So that’s how it (her blog) became an effective tool to bypass all that.”

Rabha Elfarra was there to hear from El-Haddad, a neighbor who saw her grow up in Gaza.

“She’s very fascinating. I think she’s very smart,” Elfarra said. “She’s an advocate and you feel like she’s really, really Palestinian, it’s in her blood.”

Elfarra also reported that El-Haddad’s cookbook has helped her add more flavor to her own recipes.

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