Sunday, 30 August, 2009

Eman Mohammed recounts her experience of meeting the Elders and explains that Gazans simply want to live in a quiet, peaceful place free from human rights violations and widespread crime.

Living normal lives in a quiet peaceful place might sound like another idea of boring routine to anyone anywhere else in the world - except to those living in Gaza. That's the way some Palestinians put it.

Since everyone nowadays is rushed into the easiest solutions, the fastest ones too, we can't help to miss some of that mysterious magic of life. But today I didn't.

My sour/sweet life in Gaza for the past years taught me I might not be heard 99% of the times I try to speak. Even though talking can solve many of the unsolved issues, it's so seldom used in Gaza's situation that it seems over time people lost their ability to do it anymore.

They say words have much more impact on the listener than the speaker. In today's amazing meeting with the Elders, that wasn't the case. For the first time I experienced a dialogue which had a great impressive impact on both sides participating in it.

When all the "leaders" are so worried about what other "leaders" want to do, say or think, 12 respected people with the most intelligent personalities - and extremely busy as well - managed to find time and interest to ask some of Gaza's youth about their dreams. The most stunning thing of the 45 minute conversation was they were wisely down to earth - the answers to their questions weren't as amazing as their questions themselves. Maybe this is 'hope' - talking - there has never been any harm done from hoping as long as the person can handle disappointments!

We discussed poverty and women's education which were always the main issues of women rights in Gaza yet nothing much was ever done about it. Realising this kind of problem can only get worse with the ongoing siege on the Gaza strip, women and men found their own way to overcome all kinds of obstacles, not to get into a better level of life but just to move on and work their way out of the corner they were trapped in.

Over recent months, human rights have obviously been violated, a dozen times at least. With less witnesses, more crimes are done, which seriously damages all aspects of life or any dignified kind of life in the city. More desperate measures were taken: on the top of the list was the "underground tunnels business" which ironically worked, however a very high tax had to be paid.

All ways out of the dark tunnel that Palestinians in Gaza were jammed into were beset with tricky difficulties, not least having no guarantee of light at the end of the tunnel or even knowing it is going to be there.

For sure, the most important part of the meeting was the message. The message that none of the 12 Elders underestimated was that as much as words can be powerful, so are their life time achievements; a message that shows that they have all in the end had the same goal, one way or another, a noble one.

Looking at miserable situations in different countries and feeling sorry for them is really deep, but in its efficiency it is shallow, and as a Palestinian I would never want to be treated like a cripple because of my nationality or where I live. It would always be more appreciated to be given a chance to be me.

So thank you for giving us this chance to be heard, just by walking into that room to meet you, knowing you care enough to ask and to listen to the answers, even if it was once in a life time, it could make a difference. It already has done, and that's something no one can ever take away.

Eman Mohammed is a 21-year-old photojournalist based in Gaza city, and has a bachelor’s degree from the Islamic University of Gaza in journalism and public relations. She was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass – World Press Photo 2009. Her photography has been featured in several prominent international media publications. Additionally, she has worked as a freelance photojournalist with organisations including the World Bank, Save the Children, UNFPA, and MAP. She also blogs, and is keen to portray the positive potential of the Gaza Strip despite the harsh realities she relays to the world through her photography.

See more of Eman's photos at

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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