Day 52 roundtable: Joy and tears in Palestine

“Life was beautiful,” photojournalist Mahmoud Nasser told us on Monday’s livestream.

Mahmoud, who has Canadian citizenship, left Gaza with his pregnant wife and his family earlier this month. But, he said, he believed living in Gaza was “a calling – I had to go there, I wanted to go there. I wanted to capture my country … according to the way that I saw things.”

“Everything about Gaza is amazing,” he explained. “But I don’t know if I can say the same about it now because it seems like everything has changed. The things that I loved when I was there, I don’t think they are there anymore.”

Mahmoud described the agonizing decisions he and his family had to make while under constant threat of Israeli bombing, especially as residents of Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza Strip.

“In 2014, we lost our [generational] home in Beit Hanoun due to the war,” he said, referring to the Israeli attacks that summer. “But when this war broke out, I wasn’t in Beit Hanoun – my father was there, I was with my wife in Gaza [City].

When the current attacks started, Mahmoud said, he and his brother ultimately decided to bring their father to Gaza City.

“Now, thinking about what transpired days later, it was a great decision because Beit Hanoun was the first place to evacuate. It got hit really hard. And had we gone there, [we] don’t know what would have happened,” he said.

We discuss Mahmoud’s journalism work, his recent photo essays published by The Electronic Intifada, and what it was like being among thousands of internally displaced people sheltering in Khan Younis refugee camp before he left Gaza.

We also talked about his dreams for his unborn child, and why he said he would go back to Gaza “in a heartbeat” to raise his family there.

We were also joined by Chris Gunness, who served as the spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, for more than a decade.

Chris became a familiar figure to television viewers during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza. Throughout his tenure, he was under constant assault from anti-Palestinian lobby groups.

He talked to us about the dire humanitarian situation for the 2.3 million Palestinians under Israeli bombardment for the last six weeks, while lacking basic food, water and medical supplies.

For many children who have lived through serial Israeli attacks, Chris explained, “this is the fifth or sixth time they’re being re-traumatized.”

“The other horrifying thing that’s going on now is that there are many children who are waking up from whatever has happened to them to discover that they’re the sole surviving member of their family,” he said.

“Or that there are two of them, and their brother who’s perhaps a bit older than them, or sister, is now permanently disabled.”

Chris also described the “existential crisis” for UNRWA and its employees.

“As far as UNRWA is concerned, they’re all deep in crisis. They’ve lost 108 colleagues, and I’m sure that as with all death tolls, it’s far higher. There are many UNRWA colleagues lying underneath rubble.”

Later in the show, Jon Elmer and Ali Abunimah talk about the last four days of prisoner exchanges and the two-day extension, announced on Monday, of the truce between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel.

During the first day of the release of Palestinian children and women prisoners, “people just poured into the streets, surrounding the buses – the buses couldn’t move,” Jon said.

“Everybody’s cheering. Remember, we’re talking about children that are being released here. This release was a small number of women, many of them were young women. And then children under the age of 18. And the vast majority of them are not charged with any crime. They’re in administrative detention. They don’t know the charges against them … they’re tortured.”

We showed video footage of some of the reunions of children and women with their families.

“This is the footage that people suffered through in Gaza, waiting for,” Jon remarks.

“The punishment delved out onto Gaza was an effort to prevent these moments. This prisoner exchange could have happened right away, particularly this phase of it, this stage where the women and the children are exchanged for women and children. This could have happened right away.”

And Ali talked about the possibility of the US green-lighting the resumption of Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza once the truce extension is over.

“I think there’s a real danger,” he said.

“And this is what I worry about – is that the people in Washington who are effectively running the show will not take this truce as an opportunity to climb down the ladder, but will instead see it as a prelude to more catastrophic escalation. And we just don’t know yet, but I think we have to be prepared for that possibility.”

Watch the entire broadcast above or listen via Soundcloud below.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).