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Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00

Some Conversations Are Endless

By  Yazeed Kamaldien
August 28 2010

In January 2009 a ceasefire ended a month-long Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. Israeli said that it was retaliating to Hamas fire on its land. The result was bloodshed of thousands of civilians. How could the Free World not act to stop the violence before it was too late?

Days after the ceasefire had been declared I gained access to the Gaza Strip as a photojournalist. I had my camera with me. I visited patients in hospital and got their stories about how Israeli fire killed the rest of their family. In neighbourhoods in Gaza City I conducted interviews with others who lost entire families and yet more whose homes were destroyed by air strikes. The rubble that had become life in the Gaza Strip was not easy to digest.

By day three I was engulfed with a sense of claustrophobia and felt somewhat depressed at the thought of what it must be like to live in the Gaza Strip with no freedom to enter or leave without permission from Israel which occupies Palestine. When I left the Gaza Strip the young man who had acted as my translator asked the immigration authorities to stamp the exit mark - reserved for those leaving the Gaza Strip - on to his hand. He was not sure if he would ever be able to leave but wanted the stamp just to see what it looked like.

Setting foot on OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg kicked in the reality that we live in very different worlds. The Gaza Strip knows not the feeling of freedom. A freedom that many of us take for granted.

Less than ten days later I was in the United States of America for a journalism programme. My time there was spent in five different cities, including New York and Washington DC. Here I was confronted with the freedoms of the perceived First World. New York has become a manufactures symbol of the free world via mass media images and mainstream pop culture. The Statue of Liberty has been at the centre of that message that there is no other nation on the planet that enjoys more freedom that the United States of America.

I have felt conflicted about how two worlds can exist at the same time in this world. A world that is oppressed and where people suffer unspeakable pain. And then there is a world that enjoys freedom that is not entirely innocently detached from the oppression of that other world.

While traveling through the United States of America I also readily had my camera at my side to document visually the experience.

More than a year later I have used the images from the Gaza Strip and the United States of America - images mostly from New York City - to build a visual conversation between the two worlds. The freedom of the oppressed relies heavily on the willingness of the free to assist the oppressed. But without acknowledging that these two worlds have a conversation - or should engage - there is no step in the direction to ensure freedom for all.

It is clear that the Gaza Strip and its relationship with its direct neighbour, Israel, depend on the role that the United States of America plays in its support of both nations. This series of images aim to critique the role that the United States of America is playing in securing freedom for an oppressed nation - the Palestinians - by supporting an established state, Israel, in oppressing its neighbour.

The images also speak visually of a Palestinian in relation to the United States of America. While the latter is not the best example of a free and democratic nation, it is an example of a nation which has a citizenry free of the kind of oppression and violence that Palestinians face. Would it not make sense that the Palestinian would also desire freedom, as someone from the United States of America?

The conversation about freedom for Palestinians is one that I want to have with the United States of America because it is the biggest supporter of Israel which oppresses Palestinians. At the very least, I hope that these images provoke a thought from the free world for the oppressed. What is our role in a world where inequality prevails daily?
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