SLIDESHOW: Glimpses of Gaza

One year after “Operation Cast Lead” concluded, a look back at its aftermath.

Matthew Cassel

From the roof of a mostly destroyed medical clinic for the Palestinian government in Gaza, tents are seen setup for Palestinians whose homes were destroyed by Israeli attacks in the Atatara neighborhood of Beit Lahiya, in the Gaza Strip. (All images by Matthew Cassel)

Twen­ty-two days of non-stop Israeli bom­bard­ment left the Gaza Strip dev­as­tat­ed. Armed with F‑16 fight­er jets, Apache attack heli­copters, bat­tle­ships, unmanned aer­i­al drones, tanks and ground troops, begin­ning in late Decem­ber 2008 Israel destroyed homes, mosques, med­ical facil­i­ties, ele­men­tary schools, uni­ver­si­ties, farms, fac­to­ries and busi­ness­es in Gaza.

Near­ly 1,400 Pales­tini­ans were killed, and more than 5,000 injured – the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty civil­ians. Pales­tini­ans, armed with small­er weapon­ry, includ­ing rock­ets – the osten­si­ble rea­son behind Israel’s assault – killed 13 Israelis, 10 of whom were sol­diers. The wide­ly con­demned attacks were part of Israel’s ongo­ing siege of the Gaza Strip that began in 2006 short­ly after the Islamist Hamas move­ment won a major­i­ty of seats in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions held in the Occu­pied Pales­tin­ian Ter­ri­to­ries. [Text con­tin­ues below slideshow…]

All pho­tos

Like near­ly every­one in the Arab world dur­ing the attacks, in Beirut I watched Al-Jazeera’s around-the-clock cov­er­age of the assault. Its reporters had been in Gaza pri­or to the attacks, and the Ara­bic-lan­guage satel­lite chan­nel aired raw and uncut footage of the killing and destruc­tion. The out­rage across the Mid­dle East was wide­spread, as hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple took to the streets in protest. Most for­eign media were pre­vent­ed from enter­ing the ter­ri­to­ry by Israel once the attacks start­ed, and were forced to cov­er events from afar. Switch­ing between Al-Jazeera and CNN Inter­na­tion­al, it was dif­fi­cult to believe both sta­tions were cov­er­ing the same events. 

After the attacks end­ed in Jan­u­ary, Israel and Egypt tem­porar­i­ly opened their bor­ders with Gaza, allow­ing for­eign jour­nal­ists and small amounts of human­i­tar­i­an aid to enter. I quick­ly flew from Beirut to Cairo and trav­eled by land through the Sinai desert until I reached the Gaza Strip. I was sur­prised to dis­cov­er that most of the hun­dreds of jour­nal­ists massed along the bor­der wait­ing to enter Gaza did not enter once the attacks end­ed and they had the chance to do so. As one Pales­tin­ian jour­nal­ist said to me in Gaza, no one pays atten­tion once the bombs stop falling.” 

As I trav­eled across Gaza dur­ing the next eight days, I saw build­ing after build­ing in ruins. Because of the large artillery and bombs used dur­ing the attacks, Gaza felt more like the scene of a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter than war. There were few struc­tures par­tial­ly dam­aged – in Gaza, it was all or noth­ing. Recon­struc­tion since my vis­it has been very dif­fi­cult, as the ongo­ing siege blocks cement from enter­ing the ter­ri­to­ry. Some have begun using an age-old tech­nique of build­ing homes out of mud to compensate. 

As with all my trips to Pales­tine, when I went to Gaza after the assault I was sur­prised by Pales­tini­ans’ for­ti­tude. A pop­u­la­tion that was already most­ly refugees when Israel was cre­at­ed in 1948 now sur­vives on basic goods smug­gled through under­ground tun­nels on the bor­der with Egypt. One year after the bombs stopped falling, still under a tight siege and occu­pa­tion, 1.5 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans in Gaza con­tin­ue to eke out a frag­ile existence.

Matthew Cas­sel is a pho­tog­ra­ph­er and jour­nal­ist from Chica­go who has lived in the Mid­dle East since 2004. He worked with var­i­ous human rights orga­ni­za­tions in occu­pied Pales­tine before start­ing a media school for youth in a West Bank refugee camp. He is cur­rent­ly based in Beirut, Lebanon. His web­site is Jus​tIm​age​.org.
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