A personal account of the situation in Gaza, through the eyes of Max Slaughter.
Max Slaughter is a graduate of International Relations and Politics from the University of Lincoln. Max has a particular passion for peace and justice in Palestine, having travelled to the Gaza Strip in 2013 and the West Bank in 2014.
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Around July 2013, I participated in the Welcome To Gaza Convoy, a convoy of activists and journalists who travelled to Gaza to raise awareness of the plight of the people there. Since being back I have reflected deeply on my stay in Gaza and I can say without a doubt that it was one of the most eye-opening and inspiring experiences of my life.
Due to the siege imposed upon Gaza it is difficult (often impossible) for Gazans to travel outside of their country and for internationals to gain entry in to Gaza. So travelling in a group was a great opportunity to gain access to this seemingly open-air prison. In my case the difficulties were compounded further because our proposed entry date, 2nd July, was during the middle of the ongoing protests in Egypt and the day before President Morsi was deposed from power.
This made it difficult for us to arrange for a driver to take us through the treacherous and unstable Sinai Peninsula and on towards the Rafah Border Crossing. After much deliberation we found a willing driver and made our way through Sinai, escorted by two armed vehicles, and on to Gaza. Despite being stopped at multiple checkpoints for long periods of time, and the exit crossing in Rafah for approximately two hours, we arrived in Gaza around twelve hours later. An array of emotions were impressed upon me when I entered Gaza, ranging from excitement to anxiety. But I knew this opportunity was certainly worth the wait.
My home for the next two and a half weeks was the Adam Hotel. With a beautiful view overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and a warm and welcoming atmosphere amongst all the staff, it was easy to forget that I was essentially staying in a warzone. However, I was rapidly returned to reality after discovering that the hotel was currently undergoing construction as it had been bombed by Israel during the eight-day offensive last November. The uncertainties surrounding the fact that you could be targeted at any time – an experience that Gazans face on a daily basis – sometimes made it difficult to sleep. But due to our late nights and early starts, this task was made much easier.
The convoy’s busy schedule involved working on many heartbreaking, thought-provoking and inspiring stories. We used a combination of filming, photography, interviewing and written articles to convey these narratives, in order to raise awareness of the situation in Gaza; a situation that is often absent from mainstream Western media. We visited the homes of many Palestinians whose lives had been shattered during Israel’s two recent “Operations” of Cast Lead and Pillar of Cloud.
The uncertainties surrounding the fact that you could be targeted at any time – an experience that Gazans face on a daily basis – sometimes made it difficult to sleep. Max Slaughter
Destruction and the cemeteries
Both assaults, particularly the latter, received little media coverage in the West – and the coverage they did receive often served the agenda of Israeli interests and its ongoing 46 year occupation. It was refreshing and inspirational to work with so many other talented and passionate people, from a variety of different countries and cultures, so as to portray the reality in Gaza to an audience whose views are often shaped around Western discourse.
One of the toughest and most emotional moments of my time in Gaza was when I visited two completely contrasting cemeteries. Firstly, I visited the Gaza War Cemetery which commemorates those who lost their lives while fighting in Gaza in the First and Second World Wars. Similar to any cemetery in the West, it was beautifully maintained with clean grave stones standing amongst the bright life of flowers and nature. There was even a sprinkler, subtly watering the neat, fresh grass – it was a rare image to see grass in any site in Gaza. Standing in this cemetery felt like I was in any of the exquisite cemeteries across Europe; a place where respect is rightfully paid to the highest extreme.
It was refreshing and inspirational to work with so many other talented and passionate peopleMax Slaughter
Later on in the day I visited another cemetery that lay by the side of a road. As I walked amongst the reams of rubbish covering the crumbling grave stones, a repugnant smell permeated the air, which made me want to leave immediately. Further into the cemetery I stumbled across the shocking scene of Palestinians residing amongst the dead, ever since they were displaced from their homes during the Nakba in 1948. This was amongst the gravest poverty I had witnessed in Gaza, where families of up to 20 or more people lived in grim and deteriorating homes.
The previous cemetery was completely deserted, this one was filled with people sitting on grave stones, children playing amongst the rubbish and even the sight of animals – which on some occasions looked better fed than the children. There was no grass or flowers. No bench to sit on and honour your loved ones. This was certainly no place to console those souls who have passed away. However, what this cemetery did have to offer was images that will stay with me forever. Amongst a sea of despair and misery, there were images of hope and happiness amongst its residents. Summed up perfectly with this image of a child playing with a can that surrounds her “garden”.
Amongst the other highlights of my trip were visits to the miserable refugee camps in Jabalia and al-Shati. More than 60 per cent of the population of Gaza live in refugee camps and even more are dependent on humanitarian relief to satisfy their basic needs. The suffering of the Palestinians living in these destitute camps is truly abhorrent and the fact that most of the inhabitants are children, blissfully unaware of their surroundings and the likelihood that their dreams and aspirations have been stolen by an occupation, made the whole experience even more devastating.
Further into the cemetery I stumbled across the shocking scene of Palestinians residing amongst the dead, ever since they were displaced from their homes during the Nakba in 1948.Max Slaughter
Despite the anguish running throughout Gaza, there were still many signs of hope, determination and positivity. A prime example of this was demonstrated by the translators who worked with us to facilitate our time there. They were not only a kind, welcoming and passionate group of people but they all had huge aspirations for the future. Whether it concerns the continuation of their studies abroad, or to contribute to the documentation of the situation in Gaza through journalism; the ambition of these young people was exceptionally inspiring.
My mind is now filled with fond memories of Gaza and the hospitality of its people. This was demonstrated perfectly whilst walking along streets and being greeted with handshakes and smiles, and in one particular instance when I was given coffee at a currency exchange – something completely disparate to the often impertinent customer service in the UK. I shall never forget the moment that I was standing a few hundred metres away from the border with Israel, facing snipers and military vehicles. Or the time when I was surrounded by dozens of beautiful, joyful children all eager to talk and play with me, just after I had listened to the tragic story of a mother who lost her six year old daughter to an Israeli drone in last year’s war.
The primary mission of the convoy was to raise the consciousness of people in the West regarding the situation in Gaza. With the documentaries that the convoy produced, the great number of interesting and informative articles that were written and the abundance of beautiful and distressing photos that were taken; I think that we have gone some way to achieving this. But at a time when the dissemination of information about Gaza is still a critical source of resistance, we need to intensify our efforts. My visit to Gaza has most certainly made me more passionate about the situation in Palestine and more determined than ever to expose Israel as the abominable apartheid state that it is.
Injustice and grief know Palestine only too well. Now the international community must stand up for peace and justice for the Palestinians by demanding an immediate end to the siege on Gaza and the occupation of Palestine.
This article has been published with the author’s permission. You can find out more about Max by visiting his website www.maxslaughter.net
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