By Max Blumenthal
Hours before Australia joined the US as the only countries in the UN Human Rights Council to vote against an investigation into Israel’s killing of over 60 protesters in one day in Gaza’s no-go zone, I joined Sky News Australia to discuss the massacre and my and Dan Cohen’s new documentary on life under siege, Killing Gaza.
You can watch the trailer below and purchase the complete film here.
In the Electronic Intifada, I profiled a few of the survivors of war who appear in Killing Gaza:
In the town of Khuzaa, in southeastern Gaza, we met Hani al-Najjar, who returned to his home after the Israeli military pulled back, only to find six corpses in his bathroom, all charred, bound and gagged, and blown to bits by an Israeli grenade.
Outside the city of Rafah, in southern Gaza, we met 19-year-old Mahmoud Abu Said, who had been taken as a human shield by Israeli soldiers and held in front of a window in his own home while those soldiers sniped at his neighbors from over his shoulders.
And in Gaza City, we encountered residents of Zafir 4 and the Italian Compound, residential towers that had been blasted to pieces by Israeli jets in the final days of the war for no other purpose than to teach Gaza’s educated middle class a lesson.
Standing by the rubble of what was once his home outside Rafah, and next to a destroyed taxi that used to belong to his son who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper, Suleiman al-Zugheibi delivered a testimony of trauma and defiance that was all too common among those we met.
“We’ve suffered for the past 60 years because of Israel,” al-Zugheibi told us. “War after war after war. Bombing after bombing after bombing. You build a house, they destroy it. You raise a child, they kill him,” he said. “Whatever they do – the United States, Israel, the whole world, we’ll keep resisting until the last one of us dies. Even if they turn all of Gaza into rubble like this, even if the rocks are all that’s left, we won’t surrender.”
We traveled north to Beit Hanoun to see what was left of the zoo at the Bisan Amusement Center. When we arrived, we found monkey carcasses strewn across the dusty ground, shell-shocked lions pacing back and forth and a pack of crazed gray foxes running in endless circles in a wire cage.
Some 85 percent of the animals had been killed by Israeli missiles, the zookeeper, Ali Qasem, told us.
“I liked the monkeys best,” Qasem said as he strolled past empty cages. “To me, it was like humans were killed. It’s not okay because they were animals. It’s as if they were human beings, people we know. We used to bring them food from our homes.”
After the war, the cold rains of winter set in on Gaza. Flooding consumed entire neighborhoods and families consigned to the border areas languished without electricity in the rubble of their former homes.
Unemployment spiked to record levels and men like Hosni Ibrahim attempted suicide. “I am unable to provide for my children’s most basic needs,” Ibrahim confessed to Dan Cohen. “What should I do? Steal? That’s not my way. So I tried to kill myself to get rid of the burden of this world.”
Others, like the teenager Waseem Shamaly, contemplated taking up arms.
Waseem was the younger brother of one of the war’s most well-known casualties: Salem Shamaly, a 23-year-old shopkeeper who had been executed on film by an Israeli sniper as he searched for his wounded cousin in the rubble east of Gaza City.
We interviewed Waseem just weeks after the killing and saw the deep wells of sadness in his eyes as he called up memories of his brother. Dan met with him again months later in the graveyard where Salem is buried, and it was there that Waseem revealed his desire to join the Qassam Brigades – the armed wing of Hamas.
“Every Friday, I visit him at the cemetery and then go home,” Waseem said of his elder brother. “I want to become a fighter to avenge Salem’s murder. I want to take revenge on the occupation that shot him. I want to join for Salem, for my brother and for the Palestinian people.”
“I feel like everyone who had a sibling killed wants to be a fighter,” Waseem observed. “All my friends from the mosque want to be fighters. Each lost a sibling, so now they want to fight. They want to get their siblings’ blood back from the occupier.”
Waseem’s generation had come of age during three wars, each adding to the devastation of the last. But not all of his peers wanted to take up arms. Others coped with the psychological toll through poetry, dance, painting and literature.
Shark is the founder of Gaza’s first break dancing crew. He began teaching the art of b-boying in the conservative refugee camp of Nuseirat just as Israel’s siege took hold. He understood hip-hop not only as a form of cultural resistance against occupation, but as a means of psychological survival.
“We dance because it makes us forget what is happening by the Egyptians or the Israelis,” Shark explained. “If we don’t have something that makes us feel something, we would be like psycho walking in the streets.”
“There are a lot of people here, when we look at them we think they are not alive. They are like zombies walking in the streets, because of the situation,” Shark added. “That’s why we don’t talk about political things. It’s not for our business. If we don’t have a good mindset, we’ll go down and give up and not live like normal lives. That’s how we think here.”
Like so many educated and talented young people we met in Gaza, the Camp Breakerz could only see a future on the outside. And like most of the youth we became acquainted with, Shark eventually made his way to Europe, where he was able to compete against other break dancers and hone his craft. Others we met went to Australia, to the United States and to the UK. Someday, perhaps, they might return to Gaza, where they left their families behind.
Masses of others cannot get a get-out-of-jail card from their besieger. They have been left with the stark choice of festering in a walled-off ghetto or rushing its militarized gates at the risk of death.
Watch Killing Gaza, absorb the atmosphere of siege and listen to the testimonies of the trapped. You might then understand why so many chose to rush the gates.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, The Fifty One Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, and The Management of Savagery, which will be published later this year by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie and the forthcoming Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.