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Where are the prisoners?
A Palestinian photojournalist in Gaza discovers that everyone under occupation is serving a prison sentence


November 29, 2013 -They call me "fixer," but I dont fix things. Rather, I keep an inventory of broken things broken lives, broken homes, broken promises. And then I spread them out like a street vendor for foreign journalists to choose from. Take me to this family, they say, the one that lost a child in the bombing. Take me to that shanty, the one with the exquisite squalor.When journalists can't cover something themselves, they ask fixers like me to capture the scene. One piece of recent news concerned the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, five of whom returned to Gaza ...

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Where are the prisoners?
A Palestinian photojournalist in Gaza discovers that everyone under occupation is serving a prison sentence

Lara Aburamadan

November 29, 2013

They call me "fixer," but I dont fix things.

Rather, I keep an inventory of broken things broken lives, broken homes, broken promises. And then I spread them out like a street vendor for foreign journalists to choose from. Take me to this family, they say, the one that lost a child in the bombing. Take me to that shanty, the one with the exquisite squalor.

When journalists can't cover something themselves, they ask fixers like me to capture the scene. One piece of recent news concerned the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, five of whom returned to Gaza. When the prisoners arrived, my fiance, a photographer like me, took the assignment. We're used to spending hours waiting for a scene to coalesce. We wait and wait for an event, a person or an unexpected line of light. And then, all of a sudden, we spend mere seconds snapping a set of images that we hope will yield one photograph just one good enough to tell the story.

But sometimes a camera tells its own story, one even its chroniclers can miss. We approach a scene with a sense of mission, not inquiry. So when the camera holds answers to questions we didn't ask, it is as if we, not our intended subjects, are in the frame.

This recently happened when I was at Erez, the Israeli-sealed crossing separating Gaza's Palestinians from their compatriots in the West Bank. Sometime after midnight, the five prisoners stepped back onto Gaza's soil some of them after more than two decades in Israeli jails. My fiance shot the scene.

As I scanned the images the next day, no one among them stood out to me.

"Where are the prisoners?" I asked him.

He wanted to chuckle away the question but knew better. Instead, his voice wound to a stammer, made weak by a night without sleep.

"Wh What do you mean, where are the prisoners?" he said. His voice trailed off as he tapped the return key and scrolled through the images one by one.

"My God," he said. "You're right." 

In his images, the figures on each side of the Erez fence looked the same blank stares from weary eyes all too familiar with loss. For the five men, being dropped off at Gaza's gates was like transferring to a new open-air facility of 1.7 million prisoners.

"This one." My fiance pointed to the image of a boy, too young to have been fathered by any of the prisoners (and too old to be among any grandchildren they might now have). "He's been a prisoner all his life."

Travel out of Gaza has been at the behest of the Israeli military since 1967, the year Israel seized this 25-mile strip of land along with the West Bank and its largest population center, East Jerusalem. Then, in 1991, Israel instituted a permit system that has since made travel out of Gaza and, indeed, into East Jerusalem almost impossible for the vast majority of Palestinians.

I'm one of them. I have never once been allowed to cross to the West Bank. Behind barriers and under the gaze of machine guns, I am permitted only to wait. The sun there is hot and the wind is strong. And the air is filled with the constant buzz of drones from above. I know because I have been to Erez a thousand times.

There, mere meters from the Palestine my grandmother once knew, I daydream about carrying a sign and walking toward the soldiers. "I want to visit my homeland," it would say.

And in my daydream, the soldiers don't grant me that right; they yield to it.

Lara Aburamadan is a freelance photographer in the Gaza Strip.



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:: Article nr. 102973 sent on 01-dec-2013 18:09 ECT

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