Saturday, June 20, 2009

Going Dutch on Gaza

"Speaking Gaza> Sameh goes Dutch

dutch1Holland, June 4, (Pal Telegraph)- Christine de Vos brought journalist Sameh Habeeb to the Netherlands. Habeeb is one of those young Palestinians who, despite formidable hindrances, tries to give meaning to his life. He has become a journalist and photographer, and is the founder of the English-language Palestine Telegraph, one of the best and most comprehensive Palestinian news sources at the moment. He has made it his life’s work to tell the world how the situation is in Palestine, but especially in Gaza, where he is from.

During the war, he did a lot of work for foreign television channels, because their correspondents were unable to enter Gaza. He did it willingly. But he also saw how some Western media did their work, such as EenVandaag (a Dutch news and current affairs program). It put in an order for images of Palestinians who used civilians as human shields. He had to disappoint them by telling them that these images do not exist. He is often confronted with requests for stereotypical images that conform to the image we have here. Frightening screaming and masked Hamas fighters are easy to sell, but no one wants the images of mutilated bodies. It is not easy to maintain your integrity when you want to work and you need the money. That is one of the reasons he has started his own media outlet.

To begin with, he visited Rotterdam, a city that does a lot for Gaza. With a presentation, facts, photos and a film. It was “heavy” for even the more experienced people, of whom there were many in the audience. Even when you think you know everything, the photos of people shot to pieces, with their legs gone, and the film, of dead and wounded children, are shocking. Behind me a woman sat sobbing quietly.







Habeeb is not inclined to let us get away with the weak notion that it is very unpleasant, but what can we do? And no wonder, as he was not only in Gaza during the siege preceding the war – when civilian deaths and attacks were already taking place – but also during the war itself. In Shifa Hospital, he witnessed the wounded and the dead being carried in, the screaming of the people, the blood in the corridors, and the moans of the dying. He will not forget this for the rest of his life. But the worst is: the world knew, and did nothing. And still does very little.

The following Monday, I accompanied Sameh. He had several meetings in Amsterdam; with the people of United Civilians for Peace; and with his old friend from Gaza, Mohammed Omer, who is receiving treatment here for his injuries sustained as a result of the abuse he received from the Israeli border police when he wanted to return to Gaza.

This is also typical for their existence; just trying to leave Gaza is a terrible trial. Habeeb succeeded after several attempts and is now in England on a visitor’s visa. He has an invitation to do his Masters at a university there, but to obtain an extended visa he would first have to return to Gaza to apply for it again. He laughs cynically. This is how much cooperation you receive in Europe. Apparently no one wants to take into account that Gaza is occupied and besieged, and that you cannot enter it or leave it. Even the trip to the Netherlands was a risk because he was warned that he might not be able to enter England again. And then? He shrugs his shoulders. No idea. Perhaps stay in the Netherlands illegally, perhaps be extradited to Israel; as a Palestinian you seem to be fair game.

I have not heard from him since; I assume that he is in England again.



In the evening he gave a presentation for a group of medical students of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam. Here too, people were speechless after the presentation – although Habeeb had left out the most gruesome photos this time. Some of the students will be going to the West Bank soon. Loes Kleijn, who is accompanying them, was worried it would give them the impression that they would be encountering dead babies on a daily basis. That is Gaza. Not the West Bank. Although even there, it is terrible enough.