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Our bodies are spent, but our spirit endures

'Unlike international reporters, those of us from Gaza don’t simply report,' says journalist Mohammed Omer. 'We live and die here.'
A Palestinian boy cares for a wounded horse outside UNRWA's Abu Hussein school at the Jabaliya refugee camp which the author attended as a young boy (AFP)

The days flow from one into the next, punctuated by breaking stories, covering one massacre to the next. Each day another home is bombed. Homes with children sleeping inside. 

Even soccer isn’t safe. A highly accurate Israeli missile obliterates a few young boys watching the World Cup. They’ll never know who won.

We are labelled "human shields" by Israel, though no proof has ever been offered supporting this. There isn’t any. We’re targets to Israel and yet they are the victims. 

It is surreal to watch, but a nightmare to live. Each person killed here had a life, feelings and memories. Their death affects parents, children and spouses, none of whom can mourn as they must continue running for their lives in an increasingly shrinking cage. To put this in perspective, the number of people killed in Gaza, given as a percentage of the population, translates to 120,000 Israelis or 3 million Americans murdered within three weeks. We are an occupied people, who are told what we may eat, where we may go, how to live and even with whom we may associate. We have few choices. 

I am one of these people and Gaza is my home.

As a journalist, no horror has affected me more than witnessing a mother nursing her baby killed by an Israeli missile, something my own wife does daily with our 4 month old son. Miraculously, the woman's baby survived, but she died instantly.

Gazan journalist Mohammed Omer talking with Democracy Now in July (Facebook)

I see this, live this and desperately tweet and re-tweet because I am offended, not only as a human, as a Palestinian in Gaza, and as a father, but also as a journalist in Gaza. To get a story, I navigate a sea of body parts and blood each day, much of it the remnants of people I know: my neighbours, friends and community. Unlike international reporters, those of us from Gaza don’t simply report. We live and die here.

When global journalists arrive to witness another bloodbath here in Gaza, one can only pray that they are humbled by the blood and the body parts around them that were, just moments before, ordinary people, children, babies trying to exist, live and survive under such degrading, inhumane circumstances. With each report filed, the people of Gaza pray these messengers of news will transfer the truth to the media world outside Gaza and Palestine, without bias or prejudice. 

Alas, this rarely happens. Even if the journalist wants to, often the corporations employing them edit out the context, details and facts. The few whom have dared to voice disgust or the facts, often find themselves reassigned or without jobs the next day. The gulf between reality and perception is then filled by the increasing voices of individuals and citizen journalists via social media. And they are making a difference.

News consumers around the world from NYC, London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Delhi and Nairobi, it is time to question what you read; do not accept what you are seeing. Push, question, cross-reference. 160 characters is a start, but not the truth.

I scribble my notes as fast as I can, collect my interviews, verify with official sources and run to the laptop to type and condense my ideas before the power cuts out. The stress is always 'Will I make it before the power cuts so I can file the story?' On some of the best days, I have just two hours or less of electricity. I was in darkness the last nine days of the war. And yes, there is a deadline on dying too!  If I am lucky, I’ll catch one or two hours of sleep before I have to begin reporting again. This war is more than blood; it’s psychological and emotional torture, expertly designed to strike an already-marginalised group and reduce us to less than human. 

There are differences between local and international journalism. The local variety needs no wider context, just the images of the human carnage and desperation is enough. We know the context and history. We live it. International media needs to answer more questions and add historical context. Accuracy and truth are vital. I see an UNRWA school used as a refugee shelter being hit, but I will ask people affected by those circumstances for their story on the American supplied Israeli F16s, Drones, Apache helicopters, Israeli tanks, cruise missiles, naval warships and mortar shells. Yes, where the weapons come from needs to be stated. US media reports Israeli claims that Iran supplies Gaza with weapons, but never mentions who supplies Israel. In Gaza, we’re still looking for those Iranian weapons that Israel says we have. What Gaza factions have are small weapons and homemade rockets. What the Israelis have are state-of-the-art American military equipment.

During 2011, I covered the Arab Spring from Cairo and the Sinai. Gaza is different. It is my home, the place where I was born, where I have my family, relatives, friends and some colleagues. This is where my grandmother lives - where my cousins and uncles also live - from far north in Jabaliya to far south in Rafah.

I am associated with many places - at different levels - in Rafah, from personal to professional and casual acquaintances. I try to listen more than talk, except to ask questions, and commit myself to serious journalism. During the last four weeks of Israel’s most recent brutal attacks, it has been difficult to suppress my emotions, a tough task for any compassionate human.

Ironically, Israel’s butchery at UNRWA's Abu Hussein School triggered me to be more professional because the facts speak for themselves and the images of the facts are all the world really needs to read and see in order to stand up and make things better than this ominous reality.

Writing about the school, I had to suppress the memories of my childhood - memories of being at the school, next to my grandmother's house in 1st grade, before fleeing to Rafah. Still, the images of my first teacher - Yasser - flash in my head when I see dead bodies. I am 30 years old now, but I was seven in that playground where the Israeli tank shell hit.

Likewise, at Islamic University, I felt the excitement of early adulthood, diving into my education to escape the memories of sadness among the ashes of Rafah refugee camp to reach the comparative beauty of Gaza City. This was huge for me. In the taller buildings of the city, I felt free after being trapped in Rafah.

But the air was sucked out of my lungs when I had to break the news live to CNN this week that Israel had bombed my wonderful university, the place of my education, the classroom where I had my Linguistics exam after which I spent hours at an Israeli checkpoint returning home. This was not easy, and it’s hard to see the hypocrisy and injustice of the world as CNN invites Israeli officials to present their justifications for hitting a university, a seat of learning.

I could choose to be blind to keep my sanity, but I prefer the dedication to the facts and truth, as insane as it is, seeing the ruins of homes and desperation on the faces of fishermen, farmers, doctors and teachers. I feel nothing should be left out, from the dust on a mother’s face to the tears of fear in childrens' eyes to neighbours trying to make homes from rubble. Call me biased, but Gaza is my home, so I’ll take that as a compliment and carry on.

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