Gangnam Gaza Style: on the siege, Palestinian Prisoners, Palestinian Pride

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*photo: Emad Badwan

First published at Inter Press Services [blog version longer than published version] -By Eva Bartlett

“We wanted to do something to bring focus to the plight of Palestinian political prisoners, of which there are around 5,000 in Israeli jails, including hunger strikers, children, women,” says Mohannad Barakat, 30, one of seven Palestinians who made ‘Gangnam Gaza Style.’

Parodying the South Korean video, ‘Gangnam Style,’ which topped charts in mid- 2012, soon after breaking records for most-watched Youtube video, Gaza’s version injects the sordid realities of Palestinians’ lives under Israeli military occupation and the years-long choking siege of the Strip.

“We wanted to tell the outside world about the impossible circumstances under which we live: that our airport has been destroyed, our fishers are prevented from accessing their sea, that half our population is out of work, that we use tunnels instead of border crossings and donkeys because fuel is scarce.”

The Gazan rendition of the Korean dance video highlights some of Gaza’s most urgent problems under siege, including daily power outages, fuel shortages, lack of freedom of movement, and unemployment. Dressed in black, heads wrapped with the traditional black and white Kuffiyehs (scarves), five men and two children dance a fusion of ‘Gangnam style’ and Dabke, the energetic dance found in many Arab countries.

“In our video, as we show how the siege and Israeli occupation impact on our lives, we hold our hands crossed in front of us, symbolizing Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails,” says Barakat.

The four and a half minute video moves from Gaza’s coast, polluted with the untreatable sewage pumped into the sea at the rate of 90 million litres per day, to gas-less filling stations, to the tunnels which serve as border crossings and bring Israeli-banned construction materials into Strip, long devastated by Israeli-bombing.

The theatrical bomb explosion in the original Gangnam Style video also more appropriately appears in the Gazan version: with two major Israeli offensives on the Strip in the last four years, and numerous other Israeli attacks before and in between, Gaza’s Palestinians are all too familiar with bombings.

Wassim abu Shabaan, 10, one of the two children in the clip is one of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza whose homes have been destroyed by Israeli bombing and bulldozing.

“The whole house was destroyed, everything was destroyed…our computer, my room, our clothes, everything,” says the boy of the 2009 Israeli bombing of his home.

“Palestinian children can recognize the difference between an F-15 and an F-16 warplane, and the difference between drones armed with missiles and surveillance drones, just by their sound,” says Mohannad Barakat.

“We put children in our video so that people will understand that they are exposed to all the difficulties and dangers of life here in Gaza.”

“Our children have nowhere to play.” They play in streets, camp alleys…the few parks that there are are in disrepair or were damaged by Israeli bombings, as with Barcelona park in Tel el Howa, destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in the 2008-2009 war on Gaza.

In the Nov 2012 Israeli attacks on Gaza, Israeli warplanes bombed Palestine stadium, one of Gaza’s few venues for sports and a place where disabled athletes trained.

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Gangnam Gaza depicts this destruction, the five men and two children entering the stadium with soccer balls in hand to find it in ruins.

The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme found in 2009 that over 91 percent of children in Gaza suffer from moderate to severe PTSD. Children make up roughly half the population of Gaza’s 1.7 million people.

“A large percentage of children in Gaza, even those in their teens, have anxiety and PTSD, wet themselves, have nightmares and wake screaming…Since the Israeli bombing often occurs during the night, many children associate darkness (and power cuts) with danger and the fear of being bombed says Mohannad Barakat.

“All of us are affected by the siege and the various Israeli wars on Gaza. We all have psychological problems from living under these circumstances. We hadn’t recovered from the 2009 Israeli war on Gaza when the 2012 attacks occurred.”

Gaza’s infrastructure had likewise not recovered from the attacks and the siege, with hospitals reporting consistent shortages of essential medicines and medical supplies, and Gaza’s schools severely overcrowded, the vast majority of whom run double, even triple, shifts to accommodate all of the students.

Since 2006, when Israel bombed Gaza’s sole power plant, the entire Strip has been under daily rolling power outages, ranging from 18 and 20 hour outages in the worst years to the current 8 hours on, 8 hours off scheduled outages.

“It’s the 21st century but Gaza still has almost no electricity,” says Barakat. “The use of candles and generators indoors during power outages has caused a number of fires and carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in recent years.”

The Strip is currently enduring another crisis of cooking gas shortages, particularly hard during winter months when hot meals and beverages help make up for the lack of heating in the typically-uninsulated homes.

The problem of sewage treatment has yet to be solved, for want of building materials to expand Gaza’s outdated sanitation facilities. The combination of power outages and little clean water to begin with contributes to a general water crisis, with 95 percent of Gaza’s water undrinkable by WHO standards.

A 2012 United Nations report entitled “Gaza in 2020: a Liveable Place?” predicts that Gaza’s sole aquifer, already over-tapped and under-replenished will fail by 2016.

The WHO reports that at least 81 patients have died due to delayed medical referrals since 2008 alone. In 2012, Palestinian authorities reported over 400 kidney patients were at risk due to lack of essential dialysis equipment shortages.

In June, 2012, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP-UK) reported that “prior to the military offensive, zero-stock levels of 40% of essential drugs and 65% of medical supplies were a major concern – and currently remain so. Shortages include lifesaving drugs, such as those needed to treat cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as psychotherapeutics and kidney dialysis products.”

MAP-UK also reported that 10 percent of children under 5 years old suffer chronic malnutrition, while anaemia is rampant among pregnant women.

Since 2007, the Israeli army had killed 2,300 Palestinians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ June, 2012 report. Tens of these deaths, and hundreds of the 7,700 injuries the UN reported before the Nov 2012 Israeli attacks, have occurred in Gaza’s border regions and on the sea, where fishers and farmers alike are targeted by the Israeli army as they work.

The Israeli-imposed “buffer zone” cuts Gazan Palestinians off from 35 percent of their agricultural land, impacting on their economy and local food sources.

Produce once exported to the rest of Palestine and to European markets, along with textiles and furniture, have not been exported since 2006, save an insignificant amount. The same June 2012 UN report notes that Gazan exports “have dropped to less than 3 percent of 2006 levels.”

Legal and human rights group, Al Haq, notes that “the closure also imposes severe restrictions on workers and students. Before 2000, over half a million workers exited Erez every month, and until 2006, 900 left Gaza daily. Israel revoked the workers’ permits and now only allows severely limited travel to the West Bank. …Since the closure, students from Gaza are forbidden by military order to obtain a permit to study in a university in the West Bank.”

Some of Gaza’s most desperately poor work in the hundreds of tunnels running to Egypt. As of June 2012, the UN noted that “at least 172 Palestinian civilians have been killed while working in tunnels,” since 2007.

Although most of the young men in ‘Gangnam Gaza Style’ have studied or are currently studying in post-secondary education, nearly all are unemployed. “Unemployment is higher than most people know in Gaza, it’s at least 60 percent of the working age population,” says Barakat.

Although only five men show in the video, the Gazan team comprises seven: Mohannad Barakat, 30; Walid Abu Shabaan, 26; Walid Afghani, 25; Mohammed Abu Shabaan, 24; Adham al Najjar, 29; Ahmed Aqleem, 20; Mohammed Barakat, 29.

“An Israeli commented on our video that Gaza has new cars, nice houses, wealthy people…that we weren’t showing the reality of Gaza. In fact, the reality is worse than what we showed,” Barakat says.

“The problem of unemployment hasn’t been solved, nor of power cuts, political prisoners, the border crossing… Which siege has been lifted? Even now the Rafah border isn’t completely open. There are many people who cannot cross the border, they aren’t allowed. My passport has twice been rejected at the Egyptian border, so have my friends’ passports. There’s no regulation at the border, it’s however the Egyptians want. Not everyone can pay $200 bribe to the Egyptian border authorities in order to cross.”

In a Sept 2012 Op-Ed to the Guardian, Robert Turner, Gaza Director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, wrote:

“Allow the people of Gaza to enjoy the standards of development and economic prosperity for which they yearn. They are capable of self-sufficiency. Let us address the root causes of this looming disaster rather than expecting the international community to foot the bill to mitigate their disastrous consequences.”

Earlier, in June 2012, Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said: “this amounts to a collective punishment of all those living in Gaza and is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law.”

Filmed over a two week period, using a cell phone camera, Gangnam Style Gaza clip cost roughly $100 to make. “For taxis and phone cards mostly,” says Barakat.

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