Friday, June 22, 2007

"Apart From The Axe"

Before heading back to the parks of Long Beach, let us pause and reflect on news cameraman Mal James and his most recent day at work:

There is a famous joke quote that I always think of that goes along these lines

“Apart from that, how did you enjoy the show, Mrs. Lincoln”?

Referring to the murder of President Lincoln at the theatre in April 1865.

So what the hell does this have to do with life in the Unholyland?

Well after nearly a year of not going into Gaza, following the kidnapping of two fox Journalists last summer. We finally stepped back across the border into Gaza to cover the Fatah refugees holding up in the tunnel in the no mans land that separates Gaza and Israel.

Following the collapse of law and order in Gaza with Hamas staging what can only be called a military coup like takeover and destroying the Fatah security regime. Many Fatah members and their families trying to flee possible retribution tried to get out of Gaza via the tunnel and across Israel to the West Bank. Basically Israel said “No way Jose” and these people had been stuck in the tunnel for three days.

With correspondent Reena Ninan, we passed thru the metal gates that separate the two countries and found ourselves in a concrete funnel, the heat, mounds of rubbish, urine and a couple of hundred humans makes for an odor that somehow defies any advertising gurus thesaurus.

The aim of the shoot was to get in, shoot a package and get out of dodge before any potential risk to our safety.

I wanted to get down to the other end of the tunnel, to what we call the Palestinian end approx 400m walk. The trouble was that the tunnel after a 100m became, well not a tunnel anymore but an open walkway. Following the collapse of law and order, scavengers had descended and were in the process of removing anything and everything from bricks to the tin roof and once that was gone, then they were taking the steel framework from above our heads as we walked down.

Now this is not a professional demolition of property, but a complete anarchic loot carried out by men and boys, using anything and everything to smash property, and they obviously do not want to appear on the next edition of that popular Palestinian TV show “Crimestoppers”. So as I Reena and I made our way down the tunnel filming the offenders two kids above us screamed what has been translated as the foulest possible Arabic phases at us that questioned my mother and other issues in one sentence and the little Nobel laureate above us threw his axe down narrowly missing us from a height of 20ft making what can only be described as a bloody loud noise.

You have two options one to stand and argue or two keep moving and allow them to go back to looting. It made one hell of a picture that was duly put in our package that night; I just hope that the next edition of Palestinian Crimestopper’s uses the material to help the public identify the criminals.

We walked to the end of the tunnel, well what was left of it. This is a tunnel I have walked on hundreds of occasions over the past five years covering events in Gaza and now there is nothing left, everything has been taken where buildings and checkpoints once stood, now only holes in the sand remain.

It is if a society is simply eating itself, and law and order is enforced with a bullet. But there was not one person in any position of law and order to stop what was happening and if there were they would not have cared.

It was Reena’s first time in Gaza, and this was her impression. It is weird to reflect that she has never seen what we consider normal. Because the normal no longer exists in Gaza.

We shot an interview with the Red Cross, did a couple of On Camera’s and then after all that we found ourselves stuck behind a group of Russian refugees fleeing Gaza. Yes Russian refugees you ask. Trust me I had no idea that there were any Russians in Gaza but somehow a couple of busloads had to be evacuated and we were behind them.These were not just day-trippers on a day out to the beaches of Gaza, but families who had been living in Gaza, doing what I have no idea. But they were fleeing the collapse with suitcases the size that could house families. The trap is that to get out of Gaza you have to go thru turnstiles similar to what you see at stadiums and here we were trapped behind the group as they tried to squeeze and cram these cases thru the turnstiles. It was a Monty Pythonesque scene to say the least and we still had personal security and bomb checks to go through.

This is where your worst nightmare and hold up can happen.

I found myself in the cubicles leading to the bomb detection machine with a Russian mother and her two small children a girl aged maybe four and a three-year boy. Just as they are about to enter the bomb detection machine the small boy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a spent bullet casing, no doubt a souvenir from his time in Gaza and drops it on the floor by accident. His mother freaks and checks his pockets for more whilst I just groan that this is all that we need, what else could go wrong today.

First the axe now the bullet.

Somehow the worlds most advanced bomb detection machine did not detect any gunpowder on him and we passed through to passport control. I just wonder what the cleaners thought later in the day when the found the bullet casing.

It had been an interesting day, Reena has now been into Gaza, I had returned and I thought “Apart from the Axe” how did you like Gaza Reena.


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