SARAJEVO, September 12 (FENA) – “Gaza: Past, Present, Future” was the title of a lecture delivered by Palestinian journalist Safwat Al Kahlout as part of this year’s fourth edition of the Al Jazeera Balkans International Documentary Film Festival (AJB DOC) in Sarajevo.
Until 2000, Gaza was a very pleasant place to live, its economy was thriving, they produced many things, agriculture was developed, they exported to Israel, Arab countries and European Union countries.
Gaza was a tourist destination for Palestinian Israelis (Arabs living in Israel), as well as for Palestinians from the West Bank, but today’s Gaza looks a lot more different. The area was completely destroyed by the Israeli siege and wars, which affected all spheres of life, including the economy and infrastructure.
Al Kahlout has been a journalist for 20 years. In the beginning, he was a freelance journalist, translator, fixer, producer, because the media’s interest for Gaza was much higher then for the West Bank.
“Today, when Gaza is mentioned, everyone is thinking of war, explosions, bombing, siege and poverty. Israel destroyed the economy first, because when you destroy the economy of any country in the world, other sectors will be destroyed as well,” said in an interview with FENA, Al Kahlout.
After that, unemployment rose, more than 50 percent of the population is unemployed, especially young people. Israel closed the borders, allowing only a few people to cross the border for work.
He says there is a saying today that people in Gaza use, “yesterday was better than today and today is better than it will be tomorrow” because they have lost hope that one day, things will get better.
“One of the consequences of the current situation in Gaza is the fact that two-thirds of people live on the brink of poverty and depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Gaza has been under siege for more than 15 years and is being called the largest open-air prison in the world,” he stressed.
Explaining the situation in geographical terms, he reminded that Gaza is surrounded by the sea, Israel and Egypt and that there are two points to get out of Gaza. One is controlled by Israelis and the other by Egyptians, and today about two million Palestinians live in the largest open prison in the world.
“Any temporary solution for Gaza will not help solve the problem that is so deep and big. Gaza needs a strategic solution and a serious agreement, whether political or humanitarian, but under that agreement, Gazans must be guaranteed freedom of movement. That must be an essential part of any future agreement,” said the Palestinian journalist.
He estimates that the inability to move people and goods is destroying the economy. There are still many companies there that do business and produce many things, which is why full freedom of movement and independence is needed, which will not be limited by Israel or Egypt.
Al Kahlout says the people of Gaza do not want to accept anything less than that and that they are determined to fight for freedom, their country and holy places like Jerusalem.
“Gaza has been fighting for its freedom for many years. We signed the Oslo Agreement, which envisages the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the area of the future Palestinian autonomous territory from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but it seems that the more you agree to compromises, the other side demands even more,” Al Kahlout notes.
He does not see a solution to this issue in the near future, as long as a third party has control over the exits from Gaza. For the population of Gaza, it will not be an acceptable solution, because, he says, they need independence.
His wish is for the Israelis to one day finally decide to stick to the Oslo agreement, allow independence and stop military interventions so that everyone can live in peace. He emphasizes that it is worth fighting for freedom, even though they are alone in that fight for independence, freedom and dignity.
Speaking about the attitude of the international community towards the Gaza Strip, Al Kahlout says that the international community anywhere in the world can get involved and resolve all issues, but that in the Gaza Strip it is completely paralyzed because Gaza has a powerful Israel as its enemy.
“Palestinians are very indignant at the attitude of the international community because it uses double standards since in some parts of the world they go and solve problems, but not in the Gaza Strip. For now, they are just sending money and help and calling for a ceasefire. But Israel will never stop until a real world power emerges that will force them to stand down and give rights to others,” Al Kahlout said.
He says the only thing Gaza citizens want is freedom. Poverty is present everywhere in the world, it is a global problem, but nowhere in the world are the citizens of one country forbidden to travel to other countries, he notes.
Looking back on his work over the past 20 years, Al Kahlout said he had reported occasional bombings and tensions until 2008, but after that year and the first real war in Gaza, everything changed and they stepped into a new era with more attacks and more people being killed.
“They had to change their way of life and always have “Plan B” up their sleeve. The population generally always has the most important things prepared and ready to be on the move. Among them are documents and valuables that they will be able to take with them if their house is bombed.
I am not saying that the Israelis have my home as a target, but if someone who is their target passes through my street my house will be bombed,” explains Al Kahlout.
He also described the way in which it has become more difficult to report from the streets because Israelis are increasingly bombing the streets, and it is known that in war situations there are medical staff and journalists on the streets, and now journalists have to wear helmets and vests.
At the end of the interview, he said that Bosnians and Herzegovinians who survived the war of the 1990s can best understand what the population of Gaza is going through. No one could solve this war, but the warring parties had to sit down and find a solution to end the war.
“I hope that one day Israel will understand that the Palestinians will not disappear and that they deserve freedom. I hope that smart leaders within the international community will appear and boldly say – this is too much, these people should have their freedom,” concluded Palestinian journalist Safwat Al Kahlout in an interview with FENA.