Israel Unpunished: Art in the Time of War

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In the ruthless siege of Gaza coupled with a worsening political and humanitarian crisis, Palestinian artists express their plight with aesthetics and creativity. They fight against the Israeli brutality with their posters, paintings and songs. Iyad Sabbah is an internationally acclaimed artist who has made the world aware of the extent of human tragedy in Gaza. To capture scenes of suffering and destruction, Iyad carved statues to reflect the pain of the inhabitants during the war, as well as their displacement in the Shejaiya neighborhood, in the east of Gaza. In Today’s Gaza, the talented Palestinian artists turn Israeli bombs, rockets and missiles into symbols of resistance and hope and transform flames and smoke into life.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: The Adhan (pronounced Arzan), the “Islamic call to prayer”, reverberates from mosques throughout the city of Gaza. Five prayer times each and every day summon Allah’s faithful.

Since the period of the first intifada in the year 2000 religious awakening has grown dramatically in the Gaza Strip. At that time the number of mosques was estimated to be 500. Statistics 14 years later in 2014 show that this number has now doubled to nearly 1,000 mosques, which are attended by hundreds of thousands of Muslims both night and day.

SOUNDBITE [English] Alexus, Archbishop of Tiberias: “The Muslim, they have the forgiveness which they call it in Arabic “Samah” so to forgive someone you suppose to be brave.”

Narration: There is a striking image, which is evident in almost every Palestinian city. It is where minarets of the Islamic mosques embrace closely with Christian church bells. In the neighborhood of Zeitun in Gaza City for example, you can see the Katib al-Wilayah mosque situated next to the Roman Orthodox Church, the Church of Porphyry. This living example witnessed for centuries proves that fraternity and tolerance between the Muslim and Christian communities is indeed possible; and how the fate of each community is linked to that of the other in the land of Palestine.

SOUNDBITE [English] Alexus, Archbishop of Tiberias: “Christians and Muslims, we have to live together in love because we are the creation of God and the God is one though special here in Gaza, Christian and Muslims are living in a good relationship, very close relationship because we are living as a family, we participate together, Christians and Muslims in their festivities, in their social life, social events.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Salim, Director: “We all share the same concern for the martyrs and for the wounded. We suffer together, which prompts the Christian to host the Muslim and vice versa so that we introduce to the whole world a demonstration of brotherhood between Muslims and Christians in Gaza and Palestine at large.”

Narration: The fraternity among Muslim and Christian communities was also demonstrated when the ferocity of the most recent war imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip in 2014 escalated to an inhumane degree that shocked the world when the Israeli occupation army invaded border areas indiscriminately killing men, women and hundreds of children and displacing thousands of ordinary citizens who were forced to seek asylum to safer shelters. Churches and Christian homes served as shelter for thousands of victims.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Um Alaa Al Za’anin, Displaced: “We refused to leave from the beginning. The Israelis dropped flyers from their planes asking us to leave, but we refused up until yesterday and the day before. All of Beit Hanoun was flaring under phosphorous bombs emitting poisonous gas; and the F16s in the sky and tanks on the ground. We waited until daylight to leave while our house were destroyed, Inshallah. Allah grants victory to the resistance.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Alexus, Archbishop of Tiberias: “We accept the people in the church because we are very close in the area when they are hitting the Israeli army, we are close to Sajadiyeh and Zeitun, we are in Zeitun and so many people from Beite Elahiat and Sajadeyeh which they are suppose to live there places it was because they scared at that places from the tanks so they are trying to find a safe place, Safe place it is the mosque or the church, young man or the young woman carrying a baby is in her hands or his hands, you cannot close your eyes, your heart speaks and you have to apply because you are opened the doors of the church and accept the people.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: The compassion and empathy did not stop at the Churches hosting displaced persons, but even more was offered providing environments to Muslims to lead Islamic prayers in their Church yards.

SOUNDBITE [English] Alexus, Archbishop of Tiberias: “We are in the Ramadan time so it was very difficult pain for the people, it was the holy day of Al-Qadr which they call it in Arabic, which suppose this people to pray during the night time so the church respect everybody, so what we have done, we gave to them all the freedom, all the permission to pray down at the yard of the church without no comments.”

Narration: Tragedy unites communities. The Israeli occupation forces were livid to discover this Muslim / Christian unity so they decided to open fire on a Church in an effort to spoil this rising affinity and sympathy under the false pretext that they observed rocket fire coming from the church grounds. This was a war on people, not a war on Hamas, by an entity, which has a long history of massacring the innocent since 1946.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Salim, Director: “This situation explains the relationship between the Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip as we share the same experience and sorrow together while we walk towards the liberation of Al-Quds Jerusalem and The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.”

Narration: Israel targeted places of worship and even schools, universities, hospitals and cemeteries with their attacks, gross violations of international law that reflects the moral depravity and severity of the Israeli occupation army and indirectly the complicity of Western nations, whose medias and governments widely ignored the deliberate targeting and bombing of churches and mosques in the Gaza strip. In all, more than 200 mosques were blown up with debris raining down on the heads of innocent worshippers.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Salim, Director:The Israel occupation reduced 74 mosques to rubble while 179 more were directly hit by this aggression. Several mosques were destroyed on top of the heads of worshippers such as Masjid Al Qassam in Al Nusierat of Middle Governorate. They were killed while waiting for the dawn prayer service to begin.””

Narration: Al-Qassam mosque in Nuseirat, also known as the Grand Mosque, used to be the largest mosque in the middle zone of Gaza where it is densely populated. After an Israeli air strike reduced it to dust, all that is recognizable now is the minaret. The claim that mosques were being used to harbor weapons and tunnels is unproven and denied by local residents.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Um Tariq Al Tawel, Resident: “The occupation army contacted us on Saturday August 8, the caller introduced himself as officer Mosa asking whether this was “Yahya Al Tawel’s house”. My husband answered in the affirmative. The officer informed him that we have 5 minutes to evacuate as they are intending to target Al Qassam Mosque. The officer hung up and my husband rushed to inform the neighbors.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mosa Shaheen, Crier of Al Qassam Mosque: “My mobile phone rang. Neighbors called to inform me the mosque was going to be bombed. Four young men were back there getting themselves ready for prayer inside the mosque, I don’t know how I managed to flee the place.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Um Tariq Al Tawel, Resident: “We are 13 people, my husband quietly told us we have to evacuate as the Al Qassam mosque was going to be targeted. We dressed and went to my brother in law’s house in this tower, the mosque was hit 3 minutes later.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mosa Shaheen, Crier of Al Qassam Mosque: “I was escaping when just 30–40 meters behind me they hit the place with another missile. The vicinity was covered with dust and smoke. It was horrifying! My neighbors and beloved ones were calling asking where I was. I told them I was outside the mosque, but four young men were inside and I had no idea what happened to them.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Abd Al Hamed Abo Al Ros , Father of Martyr Zohdi: “In the early morning hours following the bombardment, two bodies were retrieved while the third, the body of my son Zohdy, remained somewhere under the rubble. They searched for three days with an excavator, but found nothing. The search was called off, but resumed again after 60 days. The excavator operator came across my son Zohdy’s body then.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mosa Shaheen, Crier of Al Qassam Mosque: “He was next to them; we thought he was somewhere else. This means the young men were here. Two of them were recovered, one of whom was waiting here while another was hiding in the corner. We found him in this corner a month and a half later.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Um Tariq Al Tawel, Resident: “The whole apartment underneath us sustained damages while the barrier between us and the mosque was removed. Our home and the shop sustained a great deal of damage.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mosa Shaheen, Crier of Al Qassam Mosque: “The entire pulpit flew into the house, the electrical generator was this side, but ended up landing in Abu Zir family’s grocery shop. Can you see this repair shop where the electrical generation entered? Can you see what the shop looks like now? A 60 kilo electrical generator flew to the shop.”

Narration: Al-Sosi Mosque was located west of Gaza City in the densely populated Shati refugee camp. This mosque too was reduced to rubble by Israel’s US-provided F16 war jets. The raid resulted in the destruction of residential homes surrounding the mosque and caused the fall of martyrs and many injuries amongst the families residing in that neighborhood.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Al Quqa, Al Sosi Mosque Reconstruction Committee: “The enemy targeted this mosque in its recent aggression like they did to the other mosques in the Gaza Strip.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ismael Rodwan, Resident: “On July 30, at 2:20 to 2:15 they hit the mosque with unmanned drones that landed on the water tankers, none of the neighbors heard anything and so did nothing. Then they fired another missile, which made us aware and think they were going to target the mosque as that was the way the Israeli occupation worked, with unmanned drone missiles firing first.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Iyad Rodwan, Resident: “We went to the balconies and windows immediately to see what was going on. We didn’t know that the mosque was the target as the missile hit the water tankers. They fired another missile after that. Then people started to scream urging us and our neighbors to leave our homes. We were unsure as to whether we should leave and risk getting bombed or stay and be exposed to the same risk. It was indescribable; a horrific time.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ismael Rodwan, Resident: “We had 50 people in our house. I was awake with my family next to me, which includes 3 boys, two daughters any my wife. My two brothers and their families were there as well with totaling about 50 people. I woke the boys up and the girls and rushed to my brother upstairs. I can’t describe to you how this all happened in just minutes. Those who were sleeping woke up alarmed and we had to look after the elderly members and those who needed to be carried. Bottom line, we all left the building.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Iyad Rodwan, Resident: “We were separated from each other - I lost 3 of my kids and had to go back to search for them. We weren’t able to grasp what was happening in the moment. Electricity was cut and neighbors were screaming while ambulances rushed the injured and firefighting crews raced around. I had to return after receiving a phone call from my neighbor telling me that my kids were at his place. On the way I was injured, hit by shrapnel in my foot, back and head and my brother was injured, too. We were running, but we couldn’t run far because the missiles came down so fast as we were following one another.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Al Quqa, Al Sosi Mosque Reconstruction Committee: “This mosque was targeted with two unmanned drone missiles followed by two F16 vacuum missiles - as they call them. The F16 raid was the reason for the collapse of the minaret on the Rodwan family’s home.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Iyad Rodwan, Resident: “The tip of the minaret that collapsed onto the house weighed 10 tons. It flew about 8 meters onto the roof. It was Allah’s mercy that prevented it from falling on the neighbors, otherwise none of them would have survived. The main body of the minaret broke 3 or 4 roofs due to its heavy weight.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Al Quqa, Al Sosi Mosque Reconstruction Committee: “There were some martyrs as a result of that bombardment - an old man died and a pregnant woman from the Rodwan family died also.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Ismael Rodwan, Resident: “My sister-in-law was 6 months pregnant. She miscarried on the spot due to the explosion. They sprayed missiles over the Palestinian people to the extent that shrapnel, sand and small stones reach as far as 500 meters.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Al Quqa, Al Sosi Mosque Reconstruction Committee: “There were 20 to 30 injuries suffered by people in nearby houses due to the impact of stones and glass flying.”

Narration: Al-Sosi worshippers refused to be distracted from performing their prayers near the mosque and so set up a makeshift mosque on vacant land beside the original location only to see it bombed also. Israeli aircraft did not give them the opportunity to pray.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Al Quqa, Al Sosi Mosque Reconstruction Committee: “We started preparing a makeshift mosque the very next day. An organization provided us with the shading to finish it. We were shocked the next night to be hit by another bombardment targeting the area. We rushed to the area to find they targeted the exact spot we were preparing to build a makeshift mosque.”

Narration: The town of Khuzaa in the south with a population of 9,000 suffered immense damage after it was heavily bombarded for 3 days by the Israeli regime to the degree that the town was almost completely wiped out. 7 mosques out of 9 were destroyed, the most prominent being the township center mosque, Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman. After the annihilation, Israeli forces besieged the town for 10 days, cutting it off from the outside world. A Red Cross worker described the scene as a tsunami of death.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fawzi Al Najjar, Crier of Ibad Rahamn Mosque: “Unfortunately, they sabotaged the infrastructure and the structures; the whole electricity network in Al-Najjar neighborhood and entire city of Khuzaa was destroyed. It was intentionally leveled by bulldozers. They removed the pylons, wires, water networks and everything. They even leveled 7 mosques and blew them up with dynamite.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Intisar Al Najjar, Resident: “They are taking out their anger on the mosques. We don’t know why they’re doing this to mosques. They target people, mosques, houses and everything around the mosque. All surrounding houses were destroyed. I live next to the mosque, but no one passes by or greets me now, I am so affected by this. Praise to Allah that those who used to greet me are martyrs now.”

Narration: Northern Gaza also suffered extensive destruction of its mosques. One example was the beautiful Umar Abdul Aziz Mosque in Beit Hanon, important to Muslims worldwide and only renovated by a Malaysian Islamic organization in 2013 was bombed to smithereens for the second time in its history by an Israeli airstrike. Rubble and a pile of concrete remain.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fayez Hamdan, Crier of Beit Hanoun Mosque:“They target this mosque in every war. This is the second time now. The first building was bigger than this, it was 3 or 4 floors high, but it was targeted too. The Omar Mosque that we built was targeted as well. If they had destroyed my house it would be much easier for me to bear. I have a great affection for this mosque that Allah only knows. The mosque is my whole life as I attended there one or two hours before the call for prayer to recite the Qur’an and help clean the mosque. Our whole life revolves around the mosque.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Salim, Director: “The Israeli occupation demonstrates its hatred on Houses of the Lord. Destroyed mosques were found to have no weapons or resistance in them. We at the Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs supervise the mosques. We challenge the occupiers to present one piece of evidence that mosques were being targeted because of the Palestinian resistance or any resistant acts whatsoever. They are places for worshipping only.”

Narration: The Palestinians did not quit or give up as their holy places fell. They immediately went to work to construct temporary mosques and places for prayer. And whilst these hastily built sanctities provided little protection from the weather, it brought the people together for each call to prayer.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fayez Hamdan, Crier of Beit Hanoun Mosque: “We set up structures to pray under while the rainfall was dripping on us. Praise the lord that we are steadfast and that we will survive on this soil. No matter what the Zionists do, we will prevail and reform.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mosa Shaheen, Crier of Al Qassam Mosque: “This mosque was built by residents of the neighborhood and from other good doers. We built a mosque inside the refugee camp in an area that was designated to be a park. We use material from greenhouses to build the mosque and we pray there.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fawzi Al Najjar, Crier of Ibad Rahamn Mosque: “We decided to build a makeshift mosque because people here are devoted to their religion. We agreed we should build a mosque to perform rituals of the lord and decided to make the mosque out of material from greenhouses. You can see those two where people used to fill the mosque before it was targeted. Now there are barely three lines in this small mosque. The houses of most of the neighbors were reduced to rubble and they left the area to rent elsewhere.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Mohammed Salim, Director: “The Israelis target Palestinian mosques repeatedly. 27% of mosques along the Gaza Strip are either completely or partially damaged. It is their intention to subjugate the Arab and Muslim people. It is also to pave the way for the tearing down of the sacred al-Aqsa Mosque to be replaced by a Jewish temple.”

Narration: The Palestinians did not quit or give up as their holy places fell. They immediately went to work to construct temporary mosques and places for prayer. And whilst these hastily built sanctities provided little protection from the weather, it brought the people together for each call to prayer.

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fayez Hamdan, Crier of Beit Hanoun Mosque: “It’s like they are telling people not to be shocked if the Al Aqsa mosque is destroyed, just like any other mosque that was destroyed in the Gaza war. That’s what they want! But Al-Aqsa is different. If it was destroyed, all Muslims around the world under God’s will, would rain down on Israel. But the lord will protect it with all his might.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fawzi Al Najjar, Crier of Ibad Rahamn Mosque: They’re preparing to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque as they destroyed many mosques in Gaza, Al Qassam, Al Farooq and Al Shuhada mosques. You can tell they are preparing people and trying to desensitize them towards the destruction of Al Aqsa Mosque.”

SOUNDBITE [Arabic] Fayez Hamdan, Crier of Beit Hanoun Mosque: “It’s like they are telling people not to be shocked if the Al Aqsa mosque is destroyed, just like any other mosque that was destroyed in the Gaza war. That’s what they want! But Al-Aqsa is different. If it was destroyed, all Muslims around the world under God’s will, would rain down on Israel. But the lord will protect it with all his might.”

Narration: The Palestinian people believe that ‘the Lord protects his House’. They believe that the mosques and indeed Islam will eternally prevail despite all efforts by its enemies to destroy it.


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