A year of rubble

Photo exhibit puts a human face to the victims of Israel's 2009 Gaza invasion

Mohammed Abed, AFP/Getty Images

Just over a year ago, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) pushed their way into Gaza on the hunt for Hamas militants. After three weeks of fighting that included 1,355 Palestinian deaths, the destruction of hundreds of buildings and alleged use of white phosphorus, the troops returned home January 18.

To mark one year since the invasion, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) has put together an exhibition called Human Drama in Gaza that gathers together some of the most striking images of the conflict. The group sifted through tens of thousands of photos by Israeli, Palestinian and Western photojournalists to find 22 shots that capture a sense of life during the invasion.

“We were looking for a kind of tragic beauty,” says Thomas Woodley, the group’s spokesperson. “There’s something about hardship, about living in a dangerous or stressful environment that brings out the very worst and also the very best in people.”

The exhibit charts daily life in Gaza immediately before the invasion, in the midst of the conflict and after the IDF retreat. Although there are a few shots of explosions, the group made a deliberate decision to avoid sensational pictures of fighting. Instead, the focus is on daily life.

“The story is in the chronology,” says Woodley. “You have people returning to what’s left of their homes after the conflict. You see children trying to get water during a brief, three-hour respite from the fighting or waiting in line for bread. There’s a real resilience that you see in people.”

The goal of the exhibition is to put a human face to the suffering behind the conflict. “Things are often presented in terms of how many air strikes or how many casualties there were. But behind every death and behind every injury and behind every house that’s destroyed there are people whose lives are affected,” Woodley says.

In the year since the invasion, daily life in Gaza has remained extremely difficult. Woodley points out that Israel has refused to allow construction material such as cement, steel rods, glass and wood into Gaza since the end of the conflict. “One UN official report described Gaza as being not in the Stone Age but rather in the Mud Age,” he says. “Because there was no building material available, they had to help Palestinians rebuild their homes with mud.”

The exhibit runs in parallel with Cinema du Parc’s showing of Rachel, a 2009 documentary by French director Simone Bittone about the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home. The film was the focus of controversy when it was screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last summer, with some organizers objecting to showing a film that was critical of Israel at the festival.

This kind of unwillingness to listen to criticism can be found much closer to home as well. Woodley says that CJPME spends a lot of its time lobbying federal politicians but, “Our Canadian government right now is not one that is easily moved.”

Nevertheless, the group has found some openings among certain politicians on the federal scene. “There’s a lot of sensitivity to a certain double standard that’s at work in the world with respect to issues of justice in the Middle East.” He quotes one Member of Parliament who told him: “Everyone feels very strongly about human rights except when the nation of Israel is involved.”

Despite the intransigence of the now prorogued federal government, Woodley remains convinced that pressure makes a difference.

“World opinion matters to people. Numerous human rights reports have reported terrible abuses of human rights and violations of international law and war crimes committed by Israel on the people of Gaza and if Israel didn’t care about that there wouldn’t be such a kerfuffle. In fact, Israel and other violators of human rights want to be welcomed as a legitimate player in the family of Western democracies. I think as citizens of the world we have to say, ‘Enough of the status quo!’”


Also this week, the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP) is holding a demonstration to mark the one year anniversary of the invasion of Gaza and demand an end to the Israeli occupation. The demo starts at 1 p.m. at Dorchester Square (Peel & René Lévesque) on Saturday January 16.

Human Drama in Gaza runs January 15 to February 28
at Cinema du Parc (3675 Ave. du Parc)
See cinemaduparc.com or cjpme.org for details

Montreal Mirror 14 January 2010 (this is the unedited text)


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