“A Family in Gaza”: Two Years Later


by James M. Wall

Just months after the Israeli assault that killed 1,390 Palestinians, I visited Gaza. Among dozens of painful stories I heard, one family stood out. I spent several days with Kamal and Wafaa Awajah, playing with their children, sleeping in the tent they were living in, and filming their story.

Wafaa described the execution of their son, Ibrahim. As she spoke, her children played on the rubble of their destroyed home. Kamal talked about struggling to help his kids heal from trauma.

What compelled me to tell the Awajah family’s story?

I was moved not only by their tragedy but by the love for their children in Wafaa and Kamal’s every word.

Palestinians in Gaza are depicted either as violent terrorists or as helpless victims. The Awajah family challenges both portrayals. Through one family’s story, the larger tragedy of Gaza is exposed, and the courage and resilience of its people shines through.

For more information or to purchase a DVD or organize a screening, please contact donkeysaddle@gmail.com

One Family in Gaza from Jen Marlowe on Vimeo.

A Family in Gaza is a short film made and distributed by Jen Marlowe. It tells the true story of what happened to one family in Gaza, two years ago.

Given its theme, it is a remarkably low-keyed film, narrated calmly by Wafaa and Kamal, the parents of the Awajah family of the title. Their young son was among the 1400 Gazans who were killed during Israel’s 23-day assault on Gaza which began December 27, 2008.

I shared the video with friends and family. Here is one response:

It is a beautiful video, a mythology-shattering piece both compelling and painful. Watching it brought to mind a hasbara tactic that infuriates me, the mythology surrounding incitement, specifically, the assertion by Israel that Palestinian educators and parents teach their children to hate and that is what drives Palestinian violence.
While there are undoubtedly issues with both Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, this tactic is simply noxious. Throughout the telling, the father of this family reflects on how this experience and fear have been ingrained in his children’s blood – this is of course the greatest source of incitement, the killing and traumatizing of civilians, the subjugation of generations, the demolitions of homes and land, and the killing, always the killing.
Until now, I had not seen nor heard this tactic adequately exposed.

The December, 2008 assault and invasion of Gaza was said to have been planned well in advance to coincide with the final days of the George Bush administration. Or maybe the timing was just a coincidence.

The  assault, you might conclude from that speculation, was a parting gift to President Bush, whose administration spent eight years repeating the mantra: “Israel has a right to defend itself”.
As a further insult to the Gazan people, and no doubt, as a conciliatory nod to an untested new US president, the attacks on Gaza ended the day before President Obama’s inauguration.

What is certain is that neither incoming President Obama nor outgoing President Bush raised any objections to the intense 23 day bombardment of Gazan families, homes, schools, mosques, churches, and hospitals.

A week after the air assault began, Israel launched its ground invasion. Soldiers like the one above, marched into Gaza, following tanks that smashed homes along the way.

In A Family in Gaza, Wafaa Awajah recalls the night of January 4 when Omsiyat, Wafaa’s 12-year-old daughter, screamed in the night, “Mother, there are Jewish soldiers outside the door”.

To bring up the full 22 minute film, click here. Click on the triangle after it appears in the lower left corner of the screen. It loads slowly, so be patient.

An investigation team, appointed by the United Nations, and chaired by Jewish Judge Richard Goldstone, issued a report on what happened in Gaza during the Israeli land and air assault. Pro-Israeli supporters condemned the Goldstone Report. The US House of Representatives’ gave its official response on November 4, 2009. Democracy Now reported the House story:

The House has approved a non-binding measure denouncing a UN inquiry for accusing Israel of committing war crimes in its assault on the Gaza Strip. The inquiry, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, also accused Hamas of war crimes and urged both sides to investigate the charges or face international prosecution.
But the House measure dismissed the Goldstone report as “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.” It also calls on the Obama administration to “strongly and unequivocally oppose” discussion of the report’s findings in any international setting. The resolution passed by a margin of 344-to-46.

That 344-46 vote, it should be remembered, was cast by a House still under the control of the Democratic party. And while you are remembering, consider: Gaza had no air defenses, no tanks, and no army.

After viewing A Family in Gaza, I wrote to Jen Marlowe, the Seattle-based director who made the film. I asked her to tell me how I might encourage others to secure DVD copies to show to any audience they can reach.

I also think it is a film that should be sent to every member in the US Senate and House, with a polite note that would ask: “Did you approve the use of US funds and military equipment for this 23 day attack on Gaza? And do you believe we are safer now that 1400 people, more than 300 of whom were children have been killed?”

Marlowe is distributing the film through her own company, Saddle Back films. She sent me information on how to order DVD copies. I had thought a two minute clip or trailer would be helpful.  She wrote back:

I don’t have a trailer or a short clip–I am actually trying to encourage as many people as possible to watch the full film online, since it is short–and many have been writing to request dvds, so I’m not worried that watching it online is inhibiting the purchase of DVDs.
DVDs are available on a sliding scale from $10-$50.
$10: discounted price for an individual DVD (for those who need a discount)
$15 regular price for an individual DVD
$30: discounted price for an institutional/educational DVD (for those who need a discount)
$50 regular price for an institutional/educational DVD (or for a public screening)

Her note adds that proceeds from all DVD sales will go to the Awajah family in Gaza. Make checks out to “donkeysaddle projects” and include a note to indicate the number of DVDs you want, and whether they are individual or institutional DVDs. Include the address to which they should be sent.
Mail checks to: Jen Marlowe, 926 N. 72nd Street, Seattle, WA 98103. In the info line write “For A Family in Gaza”.

Email Marlowe at donkeysaddle@gmail.com, to let her know your check is truly in the mail and tell her what number and type DVDs you are ordering.

Marlowe is a trusting soul. She writes me that she is traveling and expects to see the Awajah family in person soon. She will deliver whatever proceeds she knows are on their way, “even if I have not yet physically received the checks”.

What I find encouraging in my cinematic encounter with Jen Marlowe and the Awajah family, is that I believe this film can encourage that vast network of people around the world who are frustrated and angry over the failure of their governments to respond to this needless one-sided conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.

How dare we be discouraged when we are confronted by the courage of this family in Gaza which continues to love its children and plan for their future?

It is a future, of course, that remains uncertain and dangerous because recent Wikileak reports reveal that Israel has not only continued its own institutional terrorism campaign against the Gazan people, but it has also continued to report its plan to the US government.

The Reuters news agency reported January 5:

Israel told U.S. officials in 2008 it would keep Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse” while avoiding a humanitarian crisis, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by the Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

Three cables cited by the  newspaper, which has said it has all 250,000 U.S. cables leaked to WikiLeaks, showed that Israel kept the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv briefed on its internationally criticized blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge,” one of the cables read.
Israel wanted the coastal territory’s economy “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis,” according to the November 3, 2008 cable.

Jewish American Professor Richard Falk reports in Aljazeera that economic terrorism may not be enough for Israel. There is talk among top officials that a second Israeli invasion is ready to launch. In the month prior to the 2008 invasion, Falk, then on special assignment for the UN, was blocked from entering Israel. Last week, Falk wrote in Aljazeera:
It is dismaying that during this dark anniversary period two years after the launch of the deadly attacks on the people of Gaza – code-named Operation Cast Lead by the Israelis – that there should be warnings of a new massive attack on the beleaguered people of Gaza.

The influential Israeli journalist, Ron Ren-Yishai, writes on December 29, 2010, of the likely prospect of a new major IDF attack, quoting senior Israeli military officers as saying “It’s not a question of if, but rather of when,” a view that that is shared, according to Ren-Yishai, by “government ministers, Knesset members and municipal heads in the Gaza region”.

Falks adds that the Israeli Chief of Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi, was recently quoted as saying that, “as long as Gilad Shalit (an Israeli soldier held by Hamas) is still in captivity, the mission is not complete”. He adds with what Falk describes as unconscious irony, “we have not lost our right of self-defence”.

Meanwhile, Ecuador has joined a growing number of nations that have officially recognized Palestine as a state. Israel’s YNet news has the story:

Ecuador formally recognized Palestine as an independent state on Friday, following the lead of its neighbors Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay earlier this month.
President Rafael Correa signed “the Ecuadoran government’s official recognition of Palestine as a free and independent state with 1967 borders,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The border mention refers to the territorial limits of the Palestinian territory before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Ecuador’s decision, the ministry statement said, “vindicates the valid and legitimate desire of the Palestinian people for a free and independent state” and will be a key contribution to a negotiated peaceful coexistence in the Middle East.

YNet also brings the good news that:

Next week, Peru will host the Summit of South American-Arab Countries (ASPA), a bi-regional convention established by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2005, in which the 22 member-States of the League of Arab States and the 12 countries of South America gather to discuss political and economic cooperation.
Officials in Jerusalem have expressed concern that the “domino effect” will reach its peak at the summit, during which the South American countries are expected to draft a joint document declaring their recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.

Such upbeat news calls for some music. Michael Heart has one song and Bob Dylan has another:.
Heart is a Syrian-American songwriter/singer.

His song is entitled, “We will not go down tonight (Song for Gaza).

Bob Dylan is a Jewish American songwriter/singer.  His contribution is a warning to “senators and congressmen”.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

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