Friday, January 8, 2010

Strawberries and Viva Palestina

The past two days have been hectic in Gaza as I began to meet so many warm and wonderful individuals... from Dr. Tarazi who took me to his farm in Beit-Lahiya where we picked strawberries together and talked about the trauma victims he saw in the Shifa hospital during the siege last year, to a Palestinian couple in their home, French and English teachers, who talked about dealing with psychosocial support for kids in school but feel that the adults need it just as much.

Gaza is full of contrasts from fancy hotels along the beach in Gaza City built during the economic boom around the Oslo accords in the 90's to cramped refugee camps like Rafah, Jabalia, Bureij, and Khan Younis in the north and south, that still struggle with the demands of daily life under the effect of an unjust blockade.

I spent the day with the Viva Palestina humanitarian aid convoy of over 500 people that made it into Gaza after a month of traveling across Europe and the Middle East.

They encountered many difficult days of negotiations with Egyptian authorities and violent actions by riot police at their port in Al-Arish... nearly 55 people in the convoy were injured - I saw many with bandages but still smiled when they arrived in Gaza. The British MP George Galloway leading the convoy spoke eloquently at many press conferences, greeted warmly by Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister. I've been shooting video footage and interviews with members of the convoy all day to cover the day's hectic events. I made many friends in the convoy already, though they all leave tomorrow as required by the Egyptian authorities.

In the evening I finally managed to get my first meal of the day at a local seafood restaurant with Maurice, a filmmaker here on extended stay and some Scandinavian journalists - it was probably the best seafood I've had in a long time; seabass and calamari never tasted this good. Later that night I went to the Gaza Sporting Club as some of the Irish delegates on the convoy delivered soccer shirts and materials to the members of the club after a fun game of soccer together. While I spoke with one of them, we heard distinct sounds like thunder in a distance... apparently it's a frequent occurance - as my friend Mond quickly identified them as a F16's dropping a payload of bombs ... as I got back to my hotel in a taxi, the news reports were quickly confirmed, however no casualties reported yet.

Just read this report in the news now - seems more serious than I expected:

This morning I hope to tour some of the devastated areas from the siege last year... I'm not sure if I'm fully prepared to see what we'll witness but plan to take along my camera and capture some footage and stories from residents who survived.

But for now I'm content munching on the bright red strawberries I helped pick at the farm by the sea last night, before another long day...

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