Photographing Gaza: the people I met and the stories they told

I’ve tried to draft this article several times in the last six months. Each time I try the words don’t really seem to do justice to the subject matter or the people. But with the headlines coming out of the Gaza Strip recently, I felt I needed to respond.

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Remnants of the 2014 war near the border, south of Gaza city

In October 2017 I traveled as part of a field trip to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I was there as a photographer, accompanying a team from ActionAid UK who were gathering stories for their Christmas fundraising campaign.

ActionAid do some amazing work on the ground in Gaza. We had the privilege of meeting them and many of the families they help. We were there to listen to their stories and capture the heart of their situation, in order to faithfully reflect them to people back home:

A young woman whose house had been hit by a bomb during the 2014 war, her father had died as a result of his injuries.

A family living with an unreliable electricity supply — as do all Gazans — whose children were finding school hard because they couldn’t study after dark.

Parents who couldn’t work due to sickness, struggling to provide for their family.

Sisters who feared to leave their homes at night for want of street lighting.

A girl, a little younger than my daughter, who still has nightmares about airstrikes she’d survived (pictured).

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The people and the words they spoke have stayed with me ever since. A people caught between Hamas on one side and the fortified border on the other. Children flinching at the sound of every aeroplane. Families wrenched from their land with no hope of return.

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Yet they were also a people who welcomed us, who opened their arms and their homes, who offered us amazing coffee at every turn. A people who, while faced with the reality of living in a 149 square-mile open-air prison, were also full of joy, and creativity, and pride, and determination to have their voices heard.

And so when, via news media, I see places we visited wrapped in black smoke, roads down which we drove filled with running figures, the paraphernalia of occupation which became all too familiar; I’m back there with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

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I’d love to offer a simple insight, some pearl of wisdom driven by my observations. Unfortunately, the only knowledge I left with, was the knowledge that most of my assumptions were wrong. The situation is overwhelmingly more complex than I’d feared. With the events of the last few days still playing out, that complexity would seem to be the tip of an iceberg.

The only thing of which I’m certain, is that I stand with the people of the Gaza Strip.

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To quote a man whom I met all too briefly in the West Bank:

“We must all stand against the killing of people in Palestine. We must all work together to find an answer to the Palestinian question and towards Palestinians’ right to self-determination.” — Ibrahim Ibraigheth, Country Director, Occupied Palestinian Territory

(Images used by permission from ActionAid UK)

Paul Evans is the Co-Founder and Creative Director at The Developer Society, a not-for-profit digital agency, working with NGOs and groups with a progressive mission to help make the world we live in a better place.

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