When most people think of Gaza (if they do at all), they think of it as anti-Israel disaster zone. The film Gaza tries to remind us that real human beings live there and that they, like the rest of us, have dreams of better lives. Over a four-year period, filmmakers Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell followed the daily lives of several people. The ones who get the most attention are two teenagers, one from a well-off, well-educated family and another from a poor (and unusually large) family of fishermen.
The rich girl, Karma Khaial, plays the cello. She is well-aware of the outside world, but she can’t get at it. As many have said, living in Gaza is like being stuck in “a prison without a roof.” The poor boy is Ahmed Jamal al-Aqraa, who lives in a refugee camp and is a member of Gaza’s largest family. His father has three wives and 37 children. Ahmed wants to be a fisherman, but the Israeli government has limited the ability of Gazan fishermen to make a living by not allowing them to practice their trade more than three kilometers from the shore. Of course, that is not all that the Israelis have done to cripple the economy of Gaza.
We also meet several other citizens of Gaza, including a taxi driver, a theater director, a restaurateur and wedding planners. We also meet a fisherman who went to prison for trying to ply his trade beyond the limit set by the Israelis. We meet young Palestinian males, with no discernible future, who gather once a week to bombard the Israeli side of the border with stones and other projectiles. The Israeli army responds with far more lethal weapons.
In interviews, the Gazans make it clear that although their primary enemy is the Israeli government, there is enough blame to go around. Some of them express bitterness toward Hamas, which, since 2007, has been the ruling party in Gaza, because it is Hamas’ intransigence that has led to the continuation of the Israeli blockade, and because Hamas’ rule over the people of Gaza is authoritarian. And then there’s the international community in general, which has ignored the plight of the Gazans and used them instead to stake out various political positions.
Still, it is the bombing by the Israelis that leads to the most shocking footage. The filmmakers are there in an ambulance as injured and dying Gazans are rushed to a hospital and inside the hospital when frantic relatives hover over their badly injured family members. It is heart-wrenching to see stunned and bleeding children being treated.
McConnell, who first came to Gaza to produce a photo series about young surfers in a war zone, has said, “Whether it’s the Palestinians in Gaza, or refugees from Syria, or immigrants from South America, there is something inherently flawed in basing our understanding of foreign peoples on flash news reports.” A lesson worth remembering.