'The impossibility of forging a normal life under constant siege underpins an extraordinary new documentary film.
Gaza, by directors Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, chronicles the dreams, hopes, frustrations and despair of Palestinians in Gaza over a five-year period.
But this is not a political film. The directors wanted to show the universality of their protagonists’ dreams as they go about their daily lives under circumstances that are anything but ordinary.
“There is no agenda at play here. That’s not the point of what we set out to do,” Keane told The Electronic Intifada. “We are basically a couple of filmmakers who are interested in humanitarian and human rights issues. That’s the basis on which we made this film.”
The “absolute goal” was to highlight the tragedy of Gaza, where two million Palestinians are being collectively punished, Keane said.
The film’s unique vantage point was also its weakness, at least initially. According to Keane, the biggest obstacle they faced was in securing funding. Few people wanted to put money into a film that looked at the lives of everyday Palestinians in a tiny strip of land that the United Nations has said could become “unlivable” by 2020.
Stories worth telling
By focusing on five main characters with varied backgrounds and family histories, Keane and McConnell paint a compelling picture of a people seemingly abandoned and forgotten by the rest of the world, whose lives have been deeply scarred by occupation and conflict.
“This film was all about ordinary people,” Keane said. “The hardest thing we had to do was convince them that their stories were worth telling. They didn’t think anyone would be interested in their humble lives. But we wanted to show that these people were gorgeous, open and friendly. Hopefully, the film shows what Gaza could be, a beautiful place on the Mediterranean Sea.”
A young student called Karma Khaial, 19, speaks in English about her dream of studying international law overseas. But with hardly any travel permits issued by Israel to Palestinians in Gaza, her prospects of being able to travel are very slim.
She wants to help her people get through the current crisis, perhaps by working with a humanitarian organization in Gaza, she tells the filmmakers.
A talented musician, Karma hardly ever pursues her passion anymore, because, she told the filmmakers, it reminds her too much of war and conflict. In a striking scene, she plays the cello outside a bombed-out building.
“The only thing people from outside countries give us is sympathy and it bothers me so much,” she says in the film. “Whenever I stand and breathe the air of the sea, I can breathe freedom … But at the same time, the sea is a reminder of our miserable reality. It’s closed off. There is an invisible border. It’s torture.”
Karma’s mother, Manal, fondly remembers a time when Gaza was a cosmopolitan and bustling place full of hope and joy. Now Manal, whose family hails from Jerusalem, worries constantly about bringing up her family in such a gruelling place.
Ahmed Abu Alqoraan, 18, lives in a refugee camp not far from Manal and Karma’s home. From a family of fishers, he dreams of owning a big boat despite Israel prohibiting vessels from venturing much more than three nautical miles from Gaza’s shoreline.
He sometimes sleeps by the sea to escape overcrowding in the camp, home to 21,000 refugees who were forced from villages in what is now Israel during the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.'
Read more: A chronicle of forgotten lives
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