A photo project brought me back to the Gaza War Cemetery with a photographer I know. Most photographers, including us, know that the better time to shoot (pictures) is early morning or at sunset, the light softer, shadows play tricks… in general everything is nicer that the midday glare you get with bright sunlight.
But particularly in a place like Gaza, where that midday sunlight is accompanied by intense heat, photographing is really best left to morning or evening.
We arrived at 1pm.
Ibrahim Jeradeh, the dignified older caretaker of the grounds for decades, was there, in his prime. Always happy to receive visitors, he seems. Today we were looking for specific graves, and although this man knows his grounds and could estimate the number of graves from a particular country, he is also very exacting.
Consulting his log book, he told us there were 258 graves from that country we sought, with another 35 in the Deir al Balah War Cemetary. We`d expected a handful. Suddenly photographing at midday became a bit more arduous.
Taking a break from the sun after an hour of seeking and photographing, we sat under one of the many well-kept trees.
And although it is Ramadan, and although his family is Muslim and fasting, Ibrahim sent a grandson out with two glasses of juice and a bottle of water, thinking only of his visitors’comfort. It was awkward, as his hospitality was something I don’t want to disdain, but at the same time, I didn’t want to drink outside during fasting hours.
He also sent a hat to shade me from the sun, as I’d left mine at home.
Why all this, as we are only random strangers there for a project, he will not benefit in any compensatory way…? Why? Because he can, and the will to serve guests is as deeply ingrained as the olive trees’ roots in the land (before being bulldozed by the IOF, that is).
Two lovely creatures appeared, granddaughters, coquettish and childish.
Last time I’d spoke with Ibrahim he’d talked of the massacre, and where he’d been while Israel bombed Gaza for 3 weeks.
“I stayed here, watching over the cemetery,” he’d said. His house sits next to the grounds, in turn not far from Jebal Kashef (Kashef hill), where Israeli tanks congregated, from where shells exploded and phosphorous rained down, he said.
Leaving the second half of graves to be photographed for another day, we sought a taxi back to Gaza City. A van rumbled past, honked, stopped, and backed up. These kind of services are usually for longer distance trips, not within the city. But the driver remembered me from our work accompanying farmers down in the east of Khan Younis.
“Where have you been?!” he asked, for it was months since he’d last driven us. I explained that while the farmers are still being shot at by the Israeli soldiers patrolling the Green Line, there isn’t so much organized work during the summer, we haven’t been contacted. Likely in a month’s time, the planting will begin and we will resume the accompaniment.
He wouldn’t accept any fare, wanted to drive us where we needed. Earlier, the taxi I’d taken to the cemetery had passed the entrance road (because I’d not seen it). Instead of leaving me on the sidewalk to walk back he circled round and did the route again, dropping me at the entrance and insisting I call if I needed anything at all.