Female in Gaza

NYT Sunday Review

By MONIQUE JAQUES

View slide show here.

I have been photographing in Gaza for several years, initially to cover the conflict with Israel, but over time returning because I am mesmerized by the women, and their strength.

Gaza is a troubled land, and growing up there isn’t easy. It is a 45-square-mile district, isolated by towering concrete blast walls, reams of barbed wire and patrolling soldiers. At night the drones lull you to sleep. If you stand on the beach and look north you can see lights coming from land that you will never be able to touch. Demarcation and surveillance define your existence. Families are tight, and watchful. In a place as small as Gaza it is impossible to be truly free, many women say.

Female in Gaza-NYT-Monique JaquesAll eyes and everyone you know is monitoring you — your brothers, cousins and neighbors. “I wish I could leave, even for one day, so I can go to a place where no one knows me,” whispered Doaa Abu Abdo, a 27-year-old production assistant. Hadeel Fawzy Abushar, 25, is a singer who performs in concerts promoting peace. Her dream is to sing in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank. Sabah Abu Ghanem, 14, and her sister wake up early to surf the waves on the Gaza beach before attending school. The sisters place first in many competitions inside the strip, but have never left Gaza to compete. In order to leave and enter another country you must be searched, inspected by an airport-style scanner, and lucky, as exit permits and visas to neighboring countries are hard to come by.

Despite hardships, Gaza has one of the finest school systems in the Middle East, with nearly universal literacy. Many young women attend one of the several universities, eventually graduating to become writers, engineers and doctors. Many dream of leaving the strip, to explore the world and find themselves on their own, though they also speak of returning to Gaza. “It’s my home,” they say. “I love Gaza.”

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