Gaza: Blogging Beneath the Bombs
By Arwa Aburawa
Freelance Journalist – UK
Title: Gaza: Beneath the Bombs
Author: Sharyn Lock and Sarah Irving
Publisher: Pluto Press
Number of Pages: 176
It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since the first bombs fell on the Gaza Strip, killing over 1,400 Palestinians and injuring tens of thousands, yet here we are commemorated the first anniversary of that conflict. In the first days of the war, an Israeli-enforced media blackout meant that very little information was leaving the Gaza Strip about conditions inside.
In response to this, a few people inside Gaza decided to speak up and tell the world what was happening. One of those people was Sharyn Lock, whose insightful blogs have been recently edited into a book titled Gaza: Beneath the Bombs. IslamOnline.net (IOL) spoke to her about the book and her time in Gaza.
Gaza: Beneath the Bombs is not like most books written on Gaza, as it does not try to explain why the situation occurred, but instead chronicles what happened on those fateful 22 days with a sense of honesty and integrity. It shows not only the shock, confusion, and horror of war, but also the strength and humanity of the people of Gaza. Rather than simply focusing on statistics and political processes, Lock’s blogs give those living in Gaza a face — she honors their humanity. This is not to say that the context of the situation is missing. Lock’s blogs are explained and clarified by additional text provided by Sarah Irving, so that the average reader can understand events and organizations that Lock refers to. Even so, the book is led by Lock’s blogs, which have barely been edited since they were first published on the Tales to Tell blog one year ago.
Lock, who now lives in the UK, has been visiting and campaigning on Palestine since 2002, when she ended up in intensive care after being shot in the stomach by an Israeli soldier. She is part of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which became famous after one of its members, Rachel Corrie, was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer carrying out a home demolition. After numerous visits to Palestine, Israeli authorities denied Lock entry into the country in June 2005, and she subsequently boarded the first Free Gaza boats into the Gaza Strip. It was under these circumstances that Lock found herself in the Gaza Strip just when Israel was launching its military assault on the strip.
Despite Israel’s efforts to get all internationals to leave the Gaza Strip before the military excursion, Lock tells IOL that “we were there with ISM mainly because of the isolation and the dreadful siege, and so, at a time when Israel wanted to isolate the Palestinians more, we made a decision that we didn’t want to leave.” Realizing that there was limited press in Gaza getting information out, Lock blogged about her experiences working in the hospitals with medics and also about families who were trying to retain some semblance of normality. “It was important for me to portray the humanity and not just the suffering, because that is Palestinian. That is why I go, that is why it is a privilege to be there and to be spending time with those people who just face with courage something that we would just be crushed by.”
Even so, Lock’s blogs also portray the shocking events that the people of Gaza endured. The young baby who was killed by Israeli rocket fire and chewed by dogs was retrieved by Lock’s medic friends, some of whom were also targeted by Israeli forces. One entry is about Arafat, a volunteer medic with young children who was killed by a flechette rocket. Flechettes are 4 cm metal darts that scatter at high speed after a rocket explodes, penetrating the human skin and bones and causing horrific injuries.
“His lungs [were] blown apart by flechettes from a flechette shell, and he did survive for six hours, but he was never going to make it,” explains Lock. “There was also his colleague who had flechettes in his body. They were trying to rescue teenagers that had been bombed, some were dead or maimed already in the first strike, and there was a deliberate second strike on the medics as they tried to rescue the wounded. I kept repeating that story to the media that I spoke to, to convey the level of insanity of what was happening.”
Lack of journalists on the ground in Gaza meant that many news services were relying on the Israeli press releases for information, and these painted a very different picture of what was going on in Gaza. Lock, who was taking as many calls from journalists as she could during this period to get information out, was constantly shocked at the level of misinformation: “Weeks in, I still had journalists from the outside saying, ‘well, Israel is targeting Hamas rocket fire,’ and I was just like how can you possibly think that at this stage and when every bit of evidence we have seen refutes this! But, obviously, that evidence was not getting out or Israel has a very good PR machine which can turn things right around from facts.”
Israel may have a formidable public relations machine, but Palestinians have the support of many people like Lock who have witnessed, in person, the daily realities of their suffering. Her book is a welcome addition to a growing movement of support from those ordinary people who are speaking up for Gaza and the people of Palestine. Lock, who stayed in Gaza months after the conflict, also witnessed the increasing attacks on Palestinian farmers and fishermen and confessed to Palestinians that an international presence no longer assured their safety. They simply replied, “Well no, but you are documenting it, and you are telling the rest of the world, and if that’s all you can do, then that’s very important to us.”