What Lies Beneath the Rubble?

♦ Eman Mohammed


When I turned 19, I started my career as the first female photojournalist in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. My work as a woman photographer was considered a serious insult to local traditions, and created a lasting stigma for me and my family. The male-dominated field made my presence unwelcome by all possible means. They made clear that a woman must not do a man’s job. Photo agencies in Gaza refused to train me because of my gender. The “No” sign was pretty clear.

Three of my colleagues went as far as to drive me to an open air strike area where the explosion soundswere the only thing I could hear. Dust was flying in the air, and the ground was shaking like a swing beneath me. I only realized we weren’t there to document the event when the three of them got back into the armored Jeep and drove away, waving and laughing, leaving me behind in the open air strike zone.

For a moment, I felt terrified, humiliated, and sorry for myself. My colleagues’ action was not the only death threat I have received, but it was the most dangerous one.

The perception of women’s life in Gaza is passive. Until a recent time, a lot of women were not allowed to work or pursue education. At times of such doubled war including both social restrictions on women and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, women’s dark and bright stories were fading away. To men, women’s stories were seen as inconsequential.

 I started paying closer attention to women’s lives in Gaza. Because of my gender, I had access to worlds where my colleagues were forbidden. Beyond the obvious pain and struggle, there was a healthy dose of laughter and accomplishments. In front of a police compound in Gaza City during the first war in Gaza,an Israeli air raid managed to destroy the compound and break my nose. For a moment, all I saw was white, bright white, like these lights. I thought to myself I either got blind or I was in heaven. By the time I managed to open my eyes, I had documented this moment.

Mohammed Khader, a Palestinian worker who spent two decades in Israel, as his retirement plan, he decided to build a four-floor house, only by the first field operation at his neighborhood, the house was flattened to the ground. Nothing was left but the pigeons he raised and a jacuzzi, a bathtub that he got from Tel Aviv. Mohammed got the bathtub on the top of the rubble and started giving his kids an every morning bubble bath.

My work is not meant to hide the scars of war, but to show the full frame of unseen stories of Gazans. As a Palestinian female photographer, the journey of struggle, survival and everyday life has inspired me to overcome the community taboo and see a different side of war and its aftermath. I became a witness with a choice: to run away or stand still.

Thank you.

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Eight Palestinian children in the Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza strip, look through their window where laundry is hanging, watching a funeral (not shown) process past their house. Photo: Eman Mohammed

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