Preserving memories amid Gaza’s rubble

Elham al-Astal dedicates her work to preserving the memory of Gaza victims.

Shadi Alqarra

Elham al-Astal is striving to create something beautiful out of a very ugly situation.

In her latest artwork, she has glued the branches of a tree to a broken window. The window comes from a kindergarten in the Khuzaa area of southeastern Gaza that was completely destroyed by Israel last year.

“We wanted to say that instead of having this window looking out on the surrounding destruction, it should look out to a green and calm view,” said al-Astal. “This signals our hopes and dreams for a better future.”

She and fellow artist Hazem Alzomar are working on an initiative called “Memories.” It involves painting on or making installations with items from homes and buildings that Israel bombed during its 51-day attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014.

The project began by applying colors to an asbestos sheet taken from the rubble of a home in the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah, a city close to Gaza’s border with Egypt.

“The idea that came to me was that we should preserve the memory of life in that house,” said Alzomar, who lives nearby. “Every house that was destroyed by Israel’s attack must have such memories inside it.”

Hazem Alzomar in his studio.

Shadi Alqarra

The artists then went to Khuzaa, where Israeli forces killed dozens of civilians in July. There, they began painting some of the metal shacks in which locals had taken refuge amid the persistent Israeli shelling.

Despite their enormous losses, the people of Khuzaa proved highly cooperative towards the project, according to Alzomar.

There is no escape from the devastation caused by Israel. The two artists work in part of Alzomar’s home which he has turned into a studio. The house it overlooks has been destroyed — like so many others in Gaza.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.