This is an aftermath story of Gaza, following the 2014 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. The war claimed the lives of more than 2,150 Palestinians, wounded more than 10,000 and displaced an estimated 300,000 people. On the Israeli side, at least 64 soldiers were killed and six civilians died.
I traveled to Gaza in the aftermath to witness the devastation for myself. I took a series of portraits of people living in the ruins of what used to be their homes. I intentionally shot them at night because my conceptual motif for this story is that these people have experienced the darkness of Gaza's devastation physically and psychologically. This is something I want to shed light on.
Gaza is literally in darkness due to the lack of power. But the real darkness comes from the difficult conditions in which the people continue to live. Due to the decades of conflict—and the economic blockade established in 2007—the people of Gaza live in the world's largest detention-like facility. In the country, the unemployment stands at 40% and that number will continue to climb as a consequence of last summer's war.
The recent destruction of Gaza was so widespread after the last war that Shelter Cluster, an international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction, says it will take 20 years for Gaza to rebuild. Indeed, many people in Gaza remain in their houses, mere ruins, because they have nowhere else to go. The homes are not just uninhabitable but are often in extremely dangerous condition.
For example, Fatma Ibrahe Abu Mutlaq told me, sobbing, that a huge stone, much bigger than her head, dropped from the ceiling and hit her on the day I went to meet her. Foad Yousifi Al-Zaza, a 70-year-old man in Alshjaia, said that his house sank as many as 40 centimeters in 6 weeks since the war. Despite these conditions, people continue to live in their homes. Many of these people have no alternative spaces to inhabit. After all, the Gaza Strip is only 360 km². That limited space doesn't offer its residents much choice.
Beyond the portraits themselves, I hope to convey a larger point about the international community's deficient response to the continuous humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In the middle of October, three months after the hostilities had ceased, a group of international representatives finally pledged some $5.4 billion in aid for Gaza. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the people on the ground will see this promised money translate into immediate and actual reconstruction. This gap exists for many reasons. First, the import of critical rebuilding materials to Gaza remains extremely restricted due to Israel's fear that the militants will use them to rebuild the infamous tunnels that Israel was so keen on destroying (the tunnels gave extremists some freedom of movement into Egypt and also into Israel itself). The second problem is that much of the money doesn't directly go to Gaza. Instead, it goes to the Palestinian Authority, which resides in the West Bank.
But helping people in Gaza might require more than humanitarian aid. Despite the fact that the Palestinians in Gaza are deeply tired of war, most of them think that war will break out again. The reason for this pessimism is not Hamas—it comes from despair, one of the darkest aspects of the human psyche. Indeed, most people in Gaza do not hold real hopes for the future. Instead, they find themselves eternally trapped in a jail-like existence. Around the world, poverty has been shown to be one of the root causes for producing extremists: people willing to die because they have nothing to lose.
Despite the despair that I felt while I was there, I have a dream. It is that someday, in the fresh morning light, I will be able to photograph the portraits of people in Gaza. Portraits of people who have hope.
Editor's Note: Also, don't miss as Q. Sakamaki takes over LensCulture's Instagram feed! Although he is a documentary photographer by trade, his work on Instagram consists of mobile photography depicting the artist's daily life in New York City. Beautiful, simple, inspirational work, be sure to check it out!