Entering Gaza
February 2009

by Stefania Mizara

I entered Gaza on Jan. 12, 2009, late in the evening with a group of doctors. It was my first time entering an active war zone and I was feeling kind of nervous. The feeling of anxiety worsened at the sound of a bomb dropping near our bus, which was transferring people from Egypt to the Palestinian border. The explosion made us all dive under our seats.

© Stefania Mizara/WpN
Desperate relatives wait outside Al Najjar hospital in Rafa, in the Gaza Strip, on Jan. 13, 2009.
The distance from the border of Rafa to the center of town is very short. By the time we arrived at a hospital, ambulances started arriving with the people wounded by a bomb that had fallen in the main market. The Greek and French doctors went directly to work. The feeling of human loss is unbearable. When the rush is over, your mind starts thinking of what the eyes have seen – images of children, women, old people, young boys covered in blood with crazy eyes, missing parts of their bodies – but those memories are rejected by the filter of logic. I think the human mind has the capacity of forgetting horror images such as these because it can't bear them.

© Stefania Mizara/WpN
The U.N. building in Gaza City burns after being bombarded with white phosphorus bombs. Relief food supplies were burning for two days.
And then comes fear as the sound of dropping bombs wakes you up at night. After a while you get used to it, people were saying. You actually do but only superficially. You just learn to get back to sleep even though anything can happen anywhere and there is no safe place to hide.

The next day Cuewa, an Irish girl from the Free Gaza movement, arranged for us to go to Gaza City in a convoy of 18 ambulances. "It is safer than any other vehicle," she said, "but still the Israelis have already shot ambulances and medics." We left at 9 p.m., headed for the Gaza morgue; the ambulance was loaded with the body of a young man and his desolated brother who didn't speak through the whole trip. Actually I didn't speak either because I was wondering if this decision was my last one. The details of arriving in a ghost city, passing some dead zones with tanks seemingly looking around and targeting us was just the beginning of a week of fear.

© Stefania Mizara/WpN
Child wrapped in a blanket from his destroyed house in Atatra, Gaza Strip, on Jan. 18, 2009.
I spent the next day trying to understand how anyone could move under these circumstances, not knowing where things are in this bombed city or how to get anything done. Even the easiest thing like buying bread was getting complicated – no exchange, no shops, no bread.

© Stefania Mizara/WpN
Omar al Kanya, 25, shows the phrase Israeli soldiers wrote on the wall of his house in Atatra, Gaza Strip, on Jan. 19, 2009.
Over the coming days I moved around with local press people from Ramattan television center or in ambulances. The heroes of this war were really these people: local journalists, medics and activists. They are the only humans moving around the city, especially after nightfall. The nurses in the ambulances and the doctors were working 20 hours a day, sleeping in shifts in the hospitals. The cameramen and reporters hadn't seen their families for weeks. The activists went with the ambulances wherever there was the danger of being used as a human shield so the medics could pick up wounded or dead people from isolated areas.

I focused more on these people's work – I preferred to see the hope and human force against the horror of death and despair. I discovered things about myself as well. I found out the answer to the question always asked of photographers and cameramen: Do you take the picture or do you help the person suffering in front of you? I thought I was in the first category but I am in the second one.

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© Stefania Mizara

Greek photographer Stefania Mizara studied language and literature in Paris before entering a photography and graphic arts program there. She is based in Athens, Greece, and works as a freelance photographer mainly for the Greek press and for WpN. She has been in photography for about eight years mainly working on social issues and travel reports. She has been in numerous exhibitions, one-person as well as group, and also works with humanitarian NGOs and organizations for the protection of refugees and the environment (Medecins sans Frontieres, UNHCR, UNEP/MAP) and on organizing exhibitions and sensibilization projects.

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