Harry Fear describes the situation in Gaza as “a genocide waiting to happen.” Everyone thinks that they are familiar with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, yet people actually know very little. So says Fear, who came to the University of Leeds to discuss his time within the Gaza Strip at the recent Palestinian Solidarity Group event. If you were there to hear an entirely unbiased account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then this wasn’t the talk for you. Yet it was interesting and insightful, allowing students to find out more about the ‘true’ state of the strip as well as the “amazing hospitality of the Gazan people”.
Harry Fear is a human rights activist and independent journalist whose main aim is to document the atrocities that take place within Gaza from the Israeli military. According to Fear, it is not only the Israelis that are oppressing the civilians of Gaza, but the Egyptians that also border the Gazan territory. He explained how “when you arrive in Gaza city, it’s like a different earth on the same planet. It turned from an abstract idea represented through photos on the news and Facebook into being something real”. Gaza is the same size as the Isle of Wight, yet the population is 1.5 million. Many of them are now living in refugee camps.
Fear described Gaza as “an emergency situation”, with its citizens being oppressed and terrorised by the Israeli military for no reason other than to create fear within the Gazan community. He told the audience that “one main reason for besiegement is to suffocate the society. There is a decline in economic development on the strip. The Israelis are destroying simply so Palestinians cannot use their commodities.” Fear showed the audience a satellite picture of Gaza and Israel. The image showed the cultivated land of Israel, with neatly distributed fields and immense power plants and factories, according to Fear. Gaza was nothing more than a dusty brown wasteland. Fear said that the buffer zone that is being pushed back by the Israeli military has stolen 30 per cent of land from the Palestinians. He claimed this, alongside the constant bombing, has severely affected the state of Gaza’s economy. Fishermen are also suffering at the hands of the military: the Israeli Navy do not let Palestinian fishermen go out more than three miles from the land; if they breach this, they are shot. The normal distance for catching a substantial amount of fish is six miles. The Navy have been known to shoot fisherman as close to land as 1.5 miles. This has destroyed the fish economy, while at the same time preventing people from trying to escape through the ocean, Fear said.
He described some of the ways in which Israel creates terror amongst the citizens of Gaza. F16 planes would fly low over the city; low enough to create a sonic boom. This would make the ground shake, causing elderly citizens to have heart attacks out of fear, traumatising children and depriving the whole city of sleep. They would fly over the houses but they would not bomb. Later, they would fly above the city at such a height that citizens would not be able to hear the planes, and then they would bomb. Harry described this act as a “blatant policy of state terrorism”.
Fear also had much to say about the media, criticising British news corporations for their apparent view that it is no longer necessary to report on the situation between Palestine and Israel. His website, www.harryfear.tv, shows his extensive press coverage of his time in Gaza. This includes an interview with a newly married man who had spent the past year decorating his house for his new bride. The video footage shows his shell of a home, as he describes how the damage was caused. Fear also describes how “you cannot drive three minutes without seeing bullet holes in buildings”. One photo he took depicts a young girl offering to show him parts of Gaza. The picture shows the back of her head as she looks over the Palestinian wasteland. In the distance you can see where Israel starts, where factory chimneys and electric pylons scatter the horizon. The juxtaposition between the two states is so obvious that it just seems beyond belief.
If you want an insight weighing up each side of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, then this event would not have helped. However, this is to be expected from someone who has spent the better part of a year in a ‘war zone’ and witnessed first-hand the conditions in which ordinary Palestinians live. Fear stated that 50 per cent of civilians in Gaza are now reliant on food aid, and described how it is impossible not to get some kind of bug when you first arrive due to contaminated water. Yet, despite the negative coverage that Gaza often gets, he couldn’t stress enough the beauty of the country and the kindness of the people that live there. He intends to take a group of students back to Gaza in the summer period, to help raise awareness of the country’s splendour and to help get it onto the road of recovery.
words and image: Charlotte Prince