*photo: Emad Badwan
IPS By Eva Bartlett “I’ve learned most of what I know about photo editing and graphic design via the Internet,” says Emad, 27-year-old film-maker and editor. In Gaza, this sort of thing has become usual in a different way.
“This programme isn’t available here,” he says, smiling triumphantly as he finishes downloading the latest edition of an advanced video editing programme. “Even if it was, I can’t afford to pay 600 dollars for it, not even if I worked for two months. But I need this for my work, so I looked for a free online version.”
Isolated under a siege which began shortly after Hamas was elected in 2006 and heightened severely in mid-2007, Palestinians in Gaza have suffered the effects of such alienation in all aspects of their lives. The economy has been destroyed both by the prolonged and choking siege and the 2008-2009 Israeli war on Gaza, leaving unemployment hovering near 60 percent.
Aside from denying Palestinians in Gaza an astonishing number of the most basic of daily items, as well as material vitally needed for reconstruction or in the health sector or for schools and universities, the siege is a psychological attack and strangulation which has pronounced affects on Palestinians dreams, hopes, and daily realities.
“I’ve tried on various occasions to leave Gaza, for workshops abroad and for study,” says 24-year -old Majed. “But even when I’ve secured visas and invitations, the closed Israeli and Egyptian borders have prevented me from leaving.”
Likewise, Hatem has held a number of scholarships to study in the U.S. and Europe, all of which have been lost to the whims of the Israeli and Egyptian officials imposing the siege.
Defiant despite the worst of obstacles, Palestinians continue to seek ways to educate themselves, as well as to feel connected to the outside world.
“The Internet is the most helpful thing right now,” says Emad. “For example, I’d like to study lighting in university, but it isn’t possible. Those type of programmes, or anything on film-making and photography, are not available in Gaza. And since I cannot leave, I look online.”
Artists and musicians, as well as independent film-makers, have virtually no market in Gaza for their work.
“Because of the siege and closed borders, the Internet is vital for promoting my work,” says Emad. “Someone anywhere in the world can see my photography, designs or videos and contact me about them. But for me, the most important is constantly sending a message about the reality of Palestine, whether it’s about the lives of children, or about the war, or the hardships under siege.”
Mahdi Zanoon keeps busy volunteering and filming with an organisation in Gaza’s northern Beit Hanoun. But when not working, he too longs for contact with the world outside. “I chat with friends in other parts of Palestine and in countries abroad,” he says. “It is a small means of escape, when we always feel choked.”
Denied the opportunity to leave and visit family and relatives outside of Gaza, the Internet fulfils another vital role. “It’s too expensive to call people outside Gaza, but using Skype or a messenger programme, I can keep in touch with friends and family abroad.”
Activists and educational groups also make the most of the Internet and technology. Satellite-enabled video conferences and Skype hook-ups allow university students in Gaza to connect with those in the occupied West Bank and with universities outside of Gaza working to break the siege on education.
The annual Bil’in conference, on Apr. 21 this year included a satellite hook-up with academics and activists in Gaza, as well as residents in one of the hardest hit areas during the Israeli war on Gaza.
Ezbet Abed Rabbo, which had 372 homes destroyed, 333 partially damaged and suffered some of the worst human rights violations and war crimes at the hands of Israeli soldiers, played host to the conference, enabling the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem activists to show their solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. The conference also enabled continued dialogue between Gaza and the West Bank, something that the siege and Israeli policies works to severe.
But for many in Gaza, the Internet and television are less political and academic, and more about killing time. In a Strip where time is the only thing in abundance, lack of work and leisure activities leads more people to surf the net or watch television.
Turkish dramas have gained a wide audience in Gaza. “I like to see something different. Their clothes, their customs, their surroundings,” says Um Fadi. “When the power cuts, I get so anxious because I don’t want to miss an episode of the drama.”
The programmes provide a means of escaping the daily reality of life in Gaza, where many feel tomorrow will be no different from today or yesterday. “Nothing changes, every day is the same,” says Mohammed. “There’s no work, no freedom, nothing to do.”
“You know, we watch television for the news, but also see how life is in other countries,” says Mahfouz Kabariti. “My kids see ‘normal’ life in other countries and ask me why our lives are so different.
“Can you imagine, this is the 21st century and my kids have never seen a real train. They live by the sea and only dream of sailing.”