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]

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

Injuries under siege

matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

This boy was not injured during the attacks. After the attacks he fell and hit his head and went unconscious. He was recovering in the ICU at Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital. Since the Israeli (and Egyptian) siege began, almost 250 Palestinians patients in Gaza have died from illnesses or injuries who would’ve otherwise lived had they only been able to leave Gaza and receive the necessary treatment. In many cases that treatment was available only an hour away in Egypt. The siege has also meant that medical machinery at Gaza’s hospitals is unable to be mintananced or powered non-stop due to frequent electrical cuts. This boy’s serious yet treatable injury is made all the more critical because of the inhumane siege. With the ongoing attacks in the midst of the siege, Gaza’s hospitals are also overcrowded and the medical staff is overworked, which makes treating routine injuries all the more difficult.

Cooking gas

matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

Driving up and down the main Salah al-Din road in the Gaza Strip over the past few days there have been hundreds of Palestinians lined up outside the various butane gas suppliers, which most people use for cooking. The Israeli siege has not allowed a sufficient amount of gas into Gaza for the past year and a half, often times cutting off supplies completely for days, if not weeks at a time. When some does come in, people have to line up and wait for days outside the supplier to be sure that they can get gas for their families. It was a chaotic scene yesterday when we stopped by and talked to people at one of the suppliers. People were fighting to enter one of the two doors, while policemen from the Hamas government had to try and keep order to prevent a riot from breaking out.