Take Me with You

A year with Gaza’s wounded

Hazem Harb, In Transit. 2013, wood, mattress, polystyrene, cement, straps. Variable dimensions. Photo by Nicolas Giraud. Courtesy of the artist and Sharjah Art Foundation. Private collection: Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE.

The joke involves a magic pocket or suitcase, one large enough, secret enough, to conceal a person and ferry them past everything that keeps a Palestinian from Gaza locked in: the bureaucracy; suspicious intelligence officers; wall and fence; body scanners; biometric permit controls. “Take me with you,” the joker jokes, and you offer the small bag you’re carrying over your shoulder. Weak laughter follows. You walk away and meet someone else, another joker saying the same words, the joke as thin as the line that separates irony from unrealizable wish: “Take me with you.”

In Gaza, where two million people are more or less trapped, the joke takes on the air of a mantra, a joyless and unanswered invocation to those few who are free to come and go. It was repeated to me countless times in the Gazan clinics of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), where I worked as a communications manager in 2018 and 2019, our facilities overflowing with people shot by the Israeli army during the weekly protests that took place from March 2018 until the end of 2019 at the fence that separates Israel and Gaza. In dozens of formal interviews and in many more informal conversations, I gained some insight into the profound desperation that pushed people to take part in these demonstrations. Their reasons varied wildly, some citing political commitment, others speaking of boredom, despair, or curiosity. But these motives all shared a common root: the isolation imposed upon Gazans by the toxic confluence of the Israeli blockade, Palestinian political intransigence, and Egyptian restrictions. There is almost no other place in the world in which your existence is as tightly constrained within the space where you were born.

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