"Selfies in the Rubble": Interview From Gaza a Year After Operation Protective Edge

Michaela Whitton
August 19, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) United Kingdom — Almost a year ago this week, thousands of Palestinians took to the bombed streets of Gaza to celebrate the agreement of a long-term ceasefire that would see the end of the deadly 50 day assault that killed over 2,200 Palestinians.

Earlier this week, the Anti-Media spoke to 21 year-old engineering student Muhammad Shehada to find out what things are like in Gaza a year after one of the longest and most bloody attacks in the history of the conflict.

Like all young people in Gaza, Shehada has lived through three brutal Israeli assaults during his short life in the city, which is strangled by an enduring eight-year land, air and sea blockade.

A student at the Islamic University of Gaza, one of the scenes of Israel’s aerial bombardment during Operation Protective Edge,  Shehada is also a community translator and researcher for outspoken author and critic of Israel, Professor Norman Finkelstein.

He described last year’s terrifying scenes in Gaza. “After an escalation of tension, the first day started with unforgettable non-stop lunacy, airstrikes everywhere and unjustifiable mass shelling. “ He went on to recall the lack of food and water, long-lasting cuts in electricity, destroyed ambulances, demolished schools and hospitals, and scattered bodies lying in the streets.

“The mortuary ran out of space — they had to put corpses in ice cream fridges. Our sincere evening prayers called for the heavens to help us. We were betrayed by most Arab leaders, given expired rotten food from Egypt, and had helpless delegations taking selfies in the rubble.”

The Shehada family was lucky to have a basement to hide in as airstrikes drew closer, although the combination of unbearable hot weather and Ramadan fasting during the seven week bombardment meant that after a while, they no longer had the energy to take cover.

“Evacuation leaflets were scattered everywhere as Israel urged us to leave our homes, but all the borders were closed and the land was burning, ” Shehada said. He went on to describe the non-stop background chatter of news reports on TVs and radios and the deafening shouts of joy when negotiations moved forward positively.

Referring to Israel as a merciless killing machine, Shehada claims “heaps of heartbreaking stories passed unmarked,” recalling scenes in the streets.

“People, all colours and shapes, men, women, and children were panicking and running in pajamas, traumatized survivors from the Shejaiya massacre in unforgettable bloody scenes.  I was wandering around Gaza, expecting the car next to me to blow up or buildings I was walking past to collapse on my head.”

As friends all over the world attempted to comfort him via Facebook during the attack, he said the longer the assault lasted, the more he lost hope.

“At one point, I was watching Robin Williams on an iPad — headphones blocked external hullabaloo.  Alone in my room, light-bombs blowing up showed us death was inevitably coming. Strangely, I didn’t care, and continued watching ‘Good Will Hunting.’ I think I lost my fear of death in the first war, this time I was losing my tendency for life.”

Asked what the international community can do to support Palestinians, Shehada wants to see the insistence of full Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and a “reasonable resolution of the refugee question.”

Unsurprisingly, he added that the people of Gaza have entirely lost hope in international governments due to their unconditional support of Israel, but that people are aware of the difference between governments and the masses.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are willing to make great personal sacrifices in order to achieve justice for the Palestinians,” he said.

His dream is to see a “Palestinian million-person march” to the Erez checkpoint, led by women and children carrying a banner that reads, “The U.N. Says ‘lift, immediately and unconditionally, the blockade on Gaza.’ The People of Gaza Call on the World to Implement the Law.” He believes with proper planning, this could be accomplished within 6 months.

He said that while money spent on Palestine during the last 50 years is enough to establish a ”new Singapore”,  the international community, ‪Israel, and “PA corrupted decadents” stand in the way of fair administration of aid.

“Gaza lives almost purely from NGOs’ money, which makes it impossible for the Palestinians to think themselves out of a context where they rely on others. Foreign investments and interests always come with a price, which rarely benefits the Palestinians themselves, but rather acts as fuel for further division,” Shehada claimed.

He added that there are over 700 charities in Gaza, a number that is growing.

“Why not? It’s a most profitable business, like peacemaker NGOs, but their competitive behaviour will lead to the bankrupting of all of them. Sharing donations around 700 is a waste of both time and funds and small charities don’t have the same expertise and capabilities as the long-lived dependable ones.” He gave examples of psychological and trauma support services for children and claims they are in danger of making matters worse without the use of well-qualified specialists.

Gaza has vast numbers of food-distribution campaigns, but these are a temporary sticking plaster. The establishment of long-lasting sustainable development projects is almost impossible due to “periodic massacres and constant conflict,” according to Shehada.

Describing the bleak situation a year on, he was frank. “There is lot of wasted money, zero development, zero economy, 65% unemployment, and 40,000 employees without payments. People are struggling to put food on the table.”

This article (“Selfies in the Rubble”: Interview From Gaza a Year After Operation Protective Edge) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Michaela Whitton and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Michaela Whitton joined Anti-Media as its first journalist abroad in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include human rights, conflict, the Middle East, Palestine, and Israel. Born and residing in the United Kingdom, she is also a photographer. Learn more about Whitton here!