The Gaza Strip, or simply Gaza, is just 25 miles long and seven miles wide. This little territory is home to more than two million Palestinians, who live in overcrowded and impoverished conditions. They are constantly under Israeli surveillance and never too far from a sniper rifle bullet. People in this 25×7 land strip experience anger and fear 24×7.
The high demographic density is combined with a number of factors that make life very primitive. Electricity shortages are extremely common, and many people have to fend with power for just four hours a day. The building are crumbling. The streets are littered with garbage and debris. The siege also means that it’s virtually impossible to leave the territory. Electric fences and snipers on watchtowers separate these people from Israel. The sea is hardly liberating, instead it’s dark and menacing, with giant waves and Israeli coast guard patrols.
Despite the difficulties, people in Gaza carry on with their lives. They find solace and redemption in a variety of a activities. The two Irish directors follow individuals as they dream and search for a meaning in their lives. A female teen plays the cello. A young woman wants to study international law abroad. Boys compete in sports. A man disabled (following an Israeli shooting) raps. Others have already allowed their dreams to die. We learn of a man who has played backgammon for the past 20 years.
Life is Gaza is like a car with flat tyres stuck in the mud. It moves neither forwards nor backwards. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza were born under Israeli occupation and have only seen their life deteriorate since. The prospects are daunting. The future does not look bright. Finding the will to carry on is very difficult. Oppression also comes from the inside: a middle-aged woman argues that Gaza was very liberal when she was young, when most women shunned the hijab. She regrets that the society has become so conservative since (something the film does not to explore in more detail).
We also learn that Israel dismantled settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005, that Hamas was democratically elected in 2007, and have since ruled the territory. Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza since. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the summer of 2014, when the latest war broke out. A young boy aged just seven has already witnessed at least two wars. A parent questions whether they should have brought children into such world.
The images are fascinating to watch. The locals are charismatic and eloquent, and the joi-de-vivre at the face of adversity is indeed remarkable. The vast concrete jungle from above. The dark smoke from the bombs and the dark waves from the Mediterranean both prepared to swallow these vulnerable people. There’s poetry in the chaos of war. I have little doubt that some will describe this as poverty porn, but I prefer to see this as a denunciation tool and also the register of a people who have to find soul and beauty in the most precarious of places.
The image of a girl with a cello on the debris (above) is remarkably powerful. But it also has “Titanic” written all over it. The fiddler who refuses to abandon the sinking ship. I’d like to think that international pressure will eventually pile up and the state of Israel will be held accountable for its criminal activities, and Palestine will enjoy freedom and sovereignty. I hope that Gaza will not sink to the bottom of the sea.
This Irish-German-Canadian production does not, however, investigate the nuts and bolts of the fractious political landscape. For example, we never learn what Hamas has achieved since coming to power in 2007, the role of Netanyahu is the massive strikes against Gaza (and Palestine as a whole), and so on. Instead, Gaza is a collage of beautiful lives against a very ugly backdrop.
Gaza is out in cinemas across the UK on Friday, August 8th.