What do you really know about Gaza, or the Gaza Strip as it’s also known? I asked myself this question because I fall short when sharing my knowledge of the area, especially beyond the stories on the news that replay tales of a stretch of land in conflict, time after time, generation after generation – and currently the centre of a war between Israel and Hamas, the latter a Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organisation.
Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s documentary is about the region, its people and just a slice of their battered existence, and because of my aforementioned lacked of knowledge, I was eager to discover more. Considering Gaza is just 25 miles by 6, and home to over 2 million people, it’s astonishing to think of its impact on the world stage to this day, both historically and politically.
While we have that in our minds, Keane and McConnell’s film focuses in on a selection of people and characters, which both gives us the humanity in the city but also never hides away from the war that erratically explodes, literally, around the residents and always has an influence on every part of their lives. From 19-year-old Karma, well educated and playing her cello in front of bombed-out buildings, to an amazing rap artist, a positive-thinking taxi driver and an Ambulance paramedic, who’s work never stops, everyone has dreams of a better life – both inside and outside of Gaza – but they’re trapped by events around them.
Gaza is a beautifully shot, filmic-like documentary and this insight into Palestinian life is something I’ve never seen before. It’s the kind of doc that absolutely demands to be watched because this isn’t information that we shouldn’t know, this is real people and their human lives. Keane and McConnell’s work lets the people involved tell their own stories, in their own city, with insightful, saddening but also hopeful perception into ‘another’ life that seems consistently just out of reach because, if you live there, you’re in an open-air prison, as the borders are closed on both sides.
So how do you learn about any city? Spend some time with the people and this is undoubtedly, remarkably achieved here. Honest characters, talented, intelligent taxi drivers, cello players and fashion designers. Constantly beaten down but never chased away, they’re inmates in their own home, both wishing to protect a legacy and create a future but also blocked and held by those around them.
Gaza takes an original approach, these aren’t real-life stories you see every day and while it holds human echoes of heartbreaking real loss, especially during bombing raids where the young men of the city are desperate to do anything and often up badly wounded or dead, I feel it should be seen. In reflection, I felt like this type of education can be beneficial for anyone watching. While the region may never resolve its on-going historical and political issues, it doesn’t mean we can’t delve inside the lives of fellow human beings with compassion, understanding and a slight slither of hope, which is what Gaza portrays. Even out of all the anguish, death and loss, we sense an unerring optimism which is very human indeed and something we can all use more of in this era.