This Article Appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 2, No. 5 (March 1996)

Book Pictures the Human Face of Occupation Years in Gaza

Reviewed by [anonymous]

Gaza: Legacy of Occupation, A Photographer's Journey (Hartford, Connecticut: Kumarian Press, 1995) By Dick Doughty and Mohammed El Aydi

In Gaza: Legacy of Occupation, Dick Doughty and Mohammed El Aydi paint a vivid picture of everyday life in the Gaza Strip. It is a world of frequent curfews, high unemployment, and intense frustration, where Palestinians are forced to live under conditions of extreme hardship and difficulties.

Mr. Doughty, an American photojournalist, based this book on his experiences in the Gaza Strip, Canada Camp Palestine and Canada Camp Egypt during the months of January through April, 1993. It is a personal account depicting an outsider's view of the situation in Gaza during that time. He credits his host, guide, consultant and friend, Mohammed El Aydi, with providing essential assistance and direction; in fact, Mr. Aydi is listed as co-author of the work.

It is very easy to forget, as you sit at home watching a report on Gaza on the nightly news, the personal stories that are a part of the region. News reports on television, and even in the newspapers, are sterile; they report limited facts about the situation. However, the human problems encountered, indeed the very humanity of the residents, is often overlooked. Gaza: Legacy of Occupation portrays the human stories of life in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian camps.

The eloquent writing and the series of black and white photos illustrate the personal stories in Gaza and in the Palestinian camp in Egypt. The reader is drawn into the situation, feeling outrage and sadness at the senseless killings (by both Israelis and Palestinians), the senseless retributions, the destruction of homes, and the frequent curfews. Yet the book also portrays the very human characteristics of perseverance and even hope in the face of difficulties.

A poignant depiction in the book is the portrayal of life in the Palestinian camp in Egypt and its counterpart in Gaza, called Canada Camp Egypt and Canada Camp Palestine respectively. The camp was established in 1967, and was on the old Egyptian side of the border. When the Camp David Accords were signed in 1982, proclaiming peace between Egypt and Israel, the border reverted back to pre-1967 state, and Canada Camp was divided by barbed wire and soldiers. Families were separated, and permits to relocate to the Gaza side of the border were few. The only way for families to remain in contact with each other is to meet at the fence that divides their lives and to yell news across to each other.

The book attempts to show the everyday life for the residents in the Gaza Strip and in Canada Camp, Egypt. It presents the frustrations, both of the Palestinians and of Mr. Doughty, when he is prohibited from crossing over to Canada Camp Palestine due to Israeli enforced curfews. As an American journalist, who is used to free movement and feels that he should be in the center of the story, he fantasizes about defying the curfew. His friend, Mr. El Aydi, dissents by saying, "This is really the life here, really, really, really! This is a good lesson for you! in Gaza Strip, once you make the effort you must accept it is not possible. The one who does not do this ends up dead."

Due to the separation of the Palestinians and the Israelis, both sides have a distorted view of the other. The only Israelis that most of the residents in Gaza come into contact with are soldiers. It is unfortunate, because there is no way to "speak to Israelis other than soldiers, to find out what they are really like." Soldiers are known for their harsh, cruel, and deadly approach to dealing with the Palestinians. Fear is a natural result. "This is a psychological problem for us, especially the children," Mr. El Aydi tells Mr. Doughty in the book. "They are scared all the time. We grow up not knowing what it is like not to be frightened."

In addition, horrific conditions, including Israeli army shootings of unarmed Palestinian civilians, are ignored by the outside world. A representative from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency lamented to Mr. Doughty, "There is no justice. I have seen the British and the Israelis and the Americans. They still treat us as if we were not human, us Palestinians."

And perhaps that is the most important lesson to be learned from Gaza: Legacy of Occupation; the oftentimes forgotten residents in the Palestinian camps are indeed human, with human needs, wants and desires. The book is a fine example of reminding us of human conditions in an appalling and difficult situation. Although there is no easy solution to the problems of Gaza, we should be aware of the difficulties that the people face in their struggle for a normal life.



Created 960617 - Last modified: Sun Sep 14 19:20:25 2008