Trauma in Gaza
Touring journalist shares eye-opening stories of activism
By her own admission, Eva Bartlett is fortunate to be alive. Since 2008, the Canadian journalist and human-rights activist has spent a total of three years in the Gaza Strip, one of the most volatile and war-ravaged places in the world.
Not only that, Bartlett and fellow volunteer activists with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) purposely put themselves in harm’s way, striving to be as visible as possible when they escort Palestinian civilians targeted by the Israeli military. For instance, when a group of Palestinian farmers came under heavy gunfire near the Israeli military’s “buffer zone”—a narrow strip of land along Gaza’s border with Israel—Bartlett was front-and-center, wearing a fluorescent vest and armed only with a megaphone.
“The reason we wore [the vests] was to counter the Israeli narrative that they were shooting at a ‘suspicious person approaching the border fence,’ which is what the Israeli spokespeople invariably say,” Bartlett said. “When you see someone like me wearing a fluorescent vest, it makes it quite clear that the Israeli military is targeting unarmed civilians and they know very well that they’re doing it.”
Bartlett is currently on tour, lecturing throughout Canada and the United States on the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and the West Bank. On Monday, March 17, she stopped at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for a lecture hosted by the Chico Palestine Action Group. Drawing on first-hand experiences, Bartlett argued that Israel has systematically oppressed Palestine with a series of “genocidal policies” and heinous war crimes, which she personally documented through a series of graphic videos and images.
“There are some photos—I notice some children in the crowd—that I do not censor,” she warned the audience. “The reason I don’t is that I think it’s imperative that we understand what’s happening to Palestinians.
“With that,” she said, “let me take you on a disturbing ride.”
The Gaza Strip comprises a relatively small area—a stretch of 25 miles on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea that’s only seven miles across at its widest point—but is home to some 1.7 million people, including more than 1 million United Nations-registered refugees.
Dating back to Israel’s creation following World War II, Gaza has been the focal point of the greater Arab-Israeli conflict. In recent years, some human-rights advocacy groups have criticized Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and an Israeli-enforced blockade that has limited the import of basic goods.
Bartlett’s presentation included a slideshow with images of a Palestinian baby girl’s corpse, blackened by chemical burns; a grieving husband gathering his wife’s remains following an aerial strike; a young man lying unconscious on a hospital bed, his brain matter exposed by a gruesome head injury; and another young man, killed from a gunshot wound to the head.
In each instance, Bartlett made a point of explaining the context of the images and sharing the names of each victim—part of her effort to humanize the Palestinian people.
“I really felt it was important to be able to show people who have fallen prey to propaganda dehumanizing Palestinians and Arabs in general,” she said. “I make a point of showing that because I want people to really feel how [Palestinians] are made to suffer.”
The broader economic and social oppression of Gaza’s people illustrated by Bartlett’s presentation was equally powerful. She explained how police stations, schools, hospitals, UN warehouses, mosques and government buildings were targeted by Israeli air strikes during the Gaza War in 2008, and how Israel’s border blockade of Gaza has since prevented the Palestinians from rebuilding.
Further, Bartlett said Israel’s effort to target certain civilian groups—namely, farmers, anglers and medical personnel—has contributed to widespread food insecurity and increasingly poor public health. In response, ISM volunteers often accompany these working Palestinians, hoping that their presence would prevent the citizens from being shot.
Bartlett shared a video from 2008 in which parsley farmers, merely attempting to harvest their crop, were forced to the ground by a hail of gunfire. Bartlett’s desperate voice can be heard over her megaphone: “No! Stop! Stop! Stop! Please stop shooting. We are unarmed civilians. We are with farmers working their land. There is no need to shoot.” After more gunfire, Bartlett screams, “Why are you shooting? We have no weapons!”
Bartlett concluded her presentation on a decidedly more upbeat note, sorting through several photographs of Palestinians in everyday situations.
“In closing, I always show nicer images,” she said. “Despite all of these oppressive and genocidal policies, they are still the most loving and generous people I’ve ever met.
“They don’t want handouts and they don’t want to be saved,” she continued. “They want normal lives and open borders.”