Gaza: Living in Ruins
This is an aftermath story of Gaza, following the 2014 summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. The war claimed the lives of more than 2,150 Palestinians, wounded more than 100,000 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 people who 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 physically live. Due to the decades of conflict situations and the economic blockade established since 2007, people in Gaza have lived in the world’s largest detention-like facility, with more than 40 % unemployment of the 1.8 million Gaza population. That number will most likely be higher after the last summer’s war. Such devastated situations have been further intensified. The destruction of Gaza was so huge and rampant after the last war. Shelter Cluster, an international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction, says it will take 20 years for Gaza to rebuild. Indeed so many people in Gaza remain in their houses in the ruins and often in extremely dangerous conditions.
Fatma Ibrahe Abu Mutlag, 46-year-old mother in Khan Yunis, 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 still live in these homes. It is because there is no alternative space for them to move to or its too expensive to rent after the war. Virtually no one has come to help them, at least that's the way it was when I visited in October. This is why so many people are continuously living in the damaged houses or tents or shacks in the ruins at the same places as before the war.
The use of artificial light to clearly photograph the subjects at night has also a special meaning. It, in terms of a concept, exposes the International community’s deficient response for the continuous humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Although, in the middle of October, international envoys at a donor conference in Cairo pledged about $5.4 billion in aid for Gaza, it's unlikely that people in Gaza will see the full extent of that promised money translate into immediate and actual reconstruction on the ground. This is because the import of critical rebuilding materials, such as cements and other construction supplies, to Gaza remains extremely restricted, due to Israel's fear that the militants use them to build rockets and tunnels to attack its civilians. Plus, much of the money doesn’t directly go to Gaza. Instead, it goes to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. In addition, after the last war most people in the world tend to turn a blind eye to Gaza, as many other deadly conflicts go on in other parts of the world.
On the other hand, helping people in Gaza, it could be more than humanitarian aids. Despite the fact that Palestinians in Gaza is surely tired of war, most of them think war would break out again soon or later. The reason is not Hamas. It comes from despair, one of the darkest parts of human conditions. Most people in Gaza cannot have hope in the future, as they live in a jail-like situation. Poverty is one of the biggest root causes of war and/ or terror, as even former Israeli prime minister Simon Press says so. In addition, Israeli military strategy seemingly didn’t work on Gaza. It couldn’t eliminate Hamas, probably because of the international criticism on the unproportional military action or whatever the reason is.
Although there are other critical issues, Gaza is now in the central concern for all actors involved in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Serious committing to rebuilding Gaza could bring stability in the region. It could create a great opportunity helping lead to the lasting peace between Israeli and Palestinian people. It would not only give hope to Palestinians but also consequently allay Israeli security concerns.
I have a dream. It is that someday in the fresh morning light I can photograph the portraits of people in Gaza, who have hope.