Closer to Gaza

27 December 2008 it began. With absolutely no forewarning, ALL of Gaza’s population instantly became subject to non-stop Israeli bombardment by land, sea and air. It began two years ago today and lasted for 22 days, during which time no one could escape — one and a half million people, not a single one of them safe.

When most of the bombing stopped so did Gaza’s importance in the Western media. Most media (save Al-Jazeera and a few other mostly Arabic language journalists who bravely covered the events) had been perched on a hill outside Gaza prevented by the Israel and Egypt besiegers from entering the territory. When the majority of the bombing ended and they had the chance to, few of them did. For them the war was over. However, still under a tight siege, unable to leave, unable to bring in reconstruction materials, medicines or school supplies among hundreds of other basic items, the brutal war continued, and continues, every day. My pictures, taken in the weeks after Israel declared a unilateral “ceasefire” on 18 January 2009, are proof of that.

(You can see the full gallery here.)

I didn’t go to Gaza for any job or assignment. I went because I wanted to see with my own eyes the results of the horror that I had just watched unfold on television. What I saw once in Gaza, I wanted to cause outrage. I wanted my photos to trigger questions: What? Why? How did this happen? More than 1,400 dead in 22 days, 352 of whom were defenseless children. Thousands more injured. We — those of us without bombs falling on top of our heads — could’ve made it stop. It’s hard to believe no one did, and harder to believe that the threat still lingers. This could happen again.

Maybe I didn’t do enough. Maybe I didn’t take enough pictures, or maybe I stood too far away while photographing people who had just lived through 22 days of the most unimaginable horror. I thought about that as I went through the images today. So, I decided to try something different and zoom in and get closer to the people who I photographed, and thereby allow you the viewer to do the same. Below are some of the pictures I took of people in Gaza, only these are zoomed in at 100% (the full resolution in which the pictures were taken):

A Palestinian girl sits on top of her home destroyed by Israel in Jabaliya, Gaza Strip. [original]

A farmer stands next to his fenced off land surrounded by homes destroyed by Israel in the Ezbat Abed Rabu neighborhood of Jabaliya, Gaza Strip. [original]

A boy holds his backpack found in the rubble of his family’s home underneath his feet in Jabaliya, Gaza Strip. [original]

A Palestinian girl plays on top of a car destroyed by Israel during its assault on the Gaza Strip. [original]

Young men pose for a photograph near their homes that were destroyed by Israel in the Ezbat Abed Rabu neighborhood of Jabaliya, Gaza Strip. [original]

Abdel Naser Zemo sits with his wife, Suheir, in her room a the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Suheir’s leg was blown off by a missile fired by an Israeli attack helicopter while the couple sat in their family’s home during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip. [original]

Abdel Naser Zemo sits with his wife, Suheir, in her room a the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Suheir’s leg was blown off by a missile fired by an Israeli attack helicopter while the couple sat in their family’s home during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip. [original]

Beirut protests Israel’s attack on Gaza aid convoy

I went to bed Sunday night telling coworkers that I would be up early to check in on any news of the Freedom Flotilla aid convoy that was due to reach Gaza at some point the next day. Like most, I had strong doubts that the Flotilla would actually be able to reach Gaza. Israel had been threatening it for weeks and even set up prison tents days earlier where they would hold the hundreds of civilian activists aboard the Flotilla’s six ships. However, I was slightly optimistic knowing the determination of the activists and the difficulties that Israel would have in trying to stop and take over these massive ships. Along with the activists, the Freedom Flotilla contained over 10,000 tons of badly needed goods bound for the people of Gaza who have been under a brutal and inhumane Israeli-led siege for the past three years.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see what I did when I opened my computer at 8:00 am on Monday.

The video was chilling. Masked and armed Israeli soldiers — or “commandos” as they’re described to perhaps conjure up images of G.I. Joe action figures — descended from helicopters one by one on board the Mavi Marmara and Israeli warships flanked the vessel on all sides as it sailed in international waters. As anyone would expect, the startled activists resisted the attack with sticks and whatever else they could find on deck. The Israeli soldiers opened fire and dozens of activists were killed and injured. More than two days later, Israel has yet to release the names or even the total number of dead leaving those of us with friends and loved ones who were on board the ship in a constant state of worry.

Protests have been held around the world against Israel’s attacks and in support of Palestinians under siege and occupation in Gaza. In Beirut on Tuesday, dozens of different organizations and political parties took part in one of the most diverse protests I’ve witnessed in three years of living here. Because of the role Turkish organizations played in organizing the Flotilla combined with Prime Minister Tayyip Erodogan’s strong words against Israel’s attacks on the ships and its siege on Gaza, support for Turkey is incredibly high across the Arab world. Many in Beirut carried Turkish flags and signs in support of the Erodogan government.

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

Fore more:

International solidarity and the Freedom Flotilla massacre (The Electronic Intifada)
Glenn Greenwald talks about Israel with Eliot Spitzer on MSNBC (Salon)
Cartoonist Steve Bell on Israel’s attack (Guardian)

Glimpses of Gaza

image: matthew cassel

SLIDESHOW: Glimpses of Gaza
by Matthew Cassel

Twenty-two days of non-stop Israeli bombardment left the Gaza Strip devastated. Armed with F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, battleships, unmanned aerial drones, tanks and ground troops, beginning in late December 2008 Israel destroyed homes, mosques, medical facilities, elementary schools, universities, farms, factories and businesses in Gaza.

Protesting Egypt

Popular outrage at the Egyptian government continues across the Arab World. As Palestinians in Gaza continue to suffer under the Israeli-imposed siege of their territory, Egypt is widely seen as complicit for its closure of the Rafah Crossing, Gaza’s only border crossing that isn’t controlled by Israel. During the Israeli attacks on Gaza last winter, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the Middle East to protest outside Egyptian embassies. Recently, anger against the Egyptian government reignited when it announced it will build an underground steel wall to halt the tunnel trade between the Sinai and Gaza Strip. That tunnel trade is often referred to as a “lifeline” since it provides Palestinians in Gaza with basic goods denied by the siege.

On Saturday 23 January, Leftist Lebanese and Palestinian groups organized a protest outside the Egyptian embassy in Beirut. Some of these activists have also initiated a campaign targeting the Egyptian company that is believed to be building the wall. During the protest, clashes briefly broke out between the protesters and the security forces surrounding the embassy.

image: matthew cassel
A woman holds her shoe to the Egyptian embassy. A poster in the background reads: 'The high one built the high dam, the low one built the low dam.' It refers to former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (the high one) who built the Aswan Dam in 1970 and current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak building the underground wall in the Sinai to stop the tunnel trade with Gaza. (image: matthew cassel)

Protesters carry a large Palestinian flag near the Egyptian embassy in Beirut. (image: matthew cassel)

image: matthew cassel

Three more tunnel workers killed today in Gaza

Another three Palestinians were killed today in an Israeli strike on tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border. The young tunnel workers are paid little to risk their lives and dig tunnels that serve as a lifeline to supply Gaza’s population of 1.5 million with food, medicines, gasoline, and other essential items long denied to them by the inhumane Israeli siege. The below picture is one that I took of tunnel workers in Gaza in February 2009, weeks after Israel’s assault on Gaza that killed more than 1,500 people.

image: matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

Photostory: Hip-hop for Gaza

In the aftermath of Israel’s three weeks of attacks on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, a group of young students, activists, artists and professionals from Chicago formed the Gaza Aid Project (GAP) to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

On 12 April 2009 GAP brought together world-renowned hip-hop artists to Chicago’s Logan Square Auditorium to perform in solidarity with Gaza. The event — titled Roots of Resistance — aimed to raise funds and gather support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, brought out a diverse crowd of hundreds from around the city.

DAM's Suhell Nafar performs. (image: matthew cassel)
DAM's Suhell Nafar performs. (image: matthew cassel)
Shadia Mansour. (image: matthew cassel)
Shadia Mansour. (image: matthew cassel)
Dead Prez's M1 performs "Hip Hop" alongside Mohammed al-Farra and the other performers at the end of the concert. (image: matthew cassel)
Dead Prez's M1 performs "Hip Hop" alongside Mohammed al-Farra and the other performers at the end of the concert. (image: matthew cassel)

1 April 2009 – University of Chicago event

(This is not an April Fool’s Day joke.)

Presentation of exhibit and talk about Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza and their aftermath by Matthew Cassel.

1 April 2009
University of Chicago
Hallowed Grounds
5706 S. University Ave.
2nd floor
Chicago, IL

The truth will emerge

As many Western media outlets try their hardest to tell the story of the “brave” Israeli soldiers who fought the “terrorists” in the Gaza Strip, more and more reports are emerging of war crimes, even stories told by Israeli soldiers of their comrades who killed Palestinian civilians intentionally.

Al Jazeera reports:

Reports have surfaced in the Israeli media suggesting that Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under what may have been lax rules of engagement during the Gaza offensive.

Quoting Israeli soldiers who fought in the offensive, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that soldiers had also ransacked and destroyed civilian property.

The soldiers’ testimony, made at a course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon, runs counter to the Israeli army’s claims that troops observed a high level of moral behaviour during the operation.

The testimonies include a description by an infantry squad leader in which he relates an incident where an Israeli sharpshooter shot a Palestinian mother and her two children, Haaretz reported.

If proved, the soldiers’ testimonies could lead to war crimes charges against Israel.

This from Haaretz:

A United Nations human rights investigator said on Thursday that Israel’s offensive against Hamas in densely populated Gaza appeared to constitute a war crime of the “greatest magnitude.”

Now, if only the UN and its most powerful members, ie the US (who vetoes most resolutions against Israel), will follow through and bring justice to the more than 1,400 killed and 5,000 injured in Gaza.