Seattle film maker heads into Israel-Gaza fray

Palestinian women sit on the rubble of their home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. AP

By Ross Fenter, Seattle-based film maker and journalist 

East Jerusalem – The lingering stares from Palestinian men, young and old, are hard not to notice as I sit down for breakfast across the street of the Damascus Gate, the main point of entrance into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem.

As the war rages on in Gaza and the number of casualties increase by the hour, there’s an omnipresent buzz of news all around me coming from the televisions in the restaurants, the radios mounted on vendor stalls and the conversations behind me amongst the group of laborers smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee while they wait for their bus.

Gaza, Israel, bombing: Not a minute goes by where you do not hear those words emanating from one source or another.

I’m here in East Jerusalem on my way into the West Bank to meet up with my good friend Mousa Maria, co-founder of the Palestinian Solidarity Project.

This group that Mousa helps direct is dedicated to opposing the Israeli occupation and the ever-growing illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank through non-violent actions. Founded in 2006, PSP is based in a little village called Beit Ommar located in the southern West Bank between Bethlehem and Hebron.

Before I can make my way down south I have a handful of things that I need to get done here in Jerusalem, my priority being a stop by the Makassed Islamic Charitable Hospital to link up with one of their public relations persons, Besima Abdula in an effort to find out more about the wounded in Gaza being evacuated to East Jerusalem and other cities located in the West Bank.

At the hospital the energy is ramped up given the arrival of not only patients coming up from Gaza, but the families of the protestors who’d been injured or shot in Ramallah over the weekend are all milling about. I finally meet up with Besima, a middle aged Palestinian woman with an infectious smile who seems to be enjoying the obvious change of pace at Makassed, although she clearly doesn’t approve of the source of this new found energy.

Like most Palestinians, Besima is generous with her time and attention and after I ask her a few basic questions, she wisks off down the hallway to track down the manifests in an effort to get me more accurate information.

As it turns out, Makassed is currently caring for 16 of the wounded from Gaza, 3 children and 13 adults, which is a smaller number than the hospital across town but I’m told that this hospital is better equipped for the more difficult injuries with some of the best skilled surgeons in East Jerusalem. To my surprise, Besima asks me if I’d like to see any of the injured in ICU and I ask if it would be alright for me to visit the children, but only if the families approval.

Injured child in the Makassed Islamic Charitable Hospital East Jerusalem. Photo by Ross Fenter

Injured child in the Makassed Islamic Charitable Hospital East Jerusalem. Photo by Ross Fenter

With that I’m sent off on my own to the Pediatrics wing on the 2nd floor and told to simply notify the head nurse that I’m here from America writing some stories and taking pictures, and would it be ok if I met the children and their families.

It never ceases to amaze me how trusting and generous the Palestinian people are with people they’ve never met before. On many occasions I’ve been invited into family homes for coffee or dinner, to weddings and family events with folks who’d I’d only known for hours if not minutes.

In the Pediatric ward I meet the head nurse and deliver my humble request with the strong caveat that I in no way want to impose myself upon these families if they are not interested, she just smiles and says come with me. Apparently 1 of the children is in surgery still but the other two families are happy to meet with me.

I’m heart broken when I see the first child, a little boy who’s suffering from head injuries but his prognosis is good for a full recovery. I’m moved beyond words really and I can barely manage to take a photo before putting my hand on his little leg and another on his mother’s shoulder as I try to express my deepest sympathy.

I don’t think to ask for names of the boy or his family or the neighborhood in Gaza where the attack occurred, I’m trying hard to not be overcome with emotion and really just grateful that a mother would allow me this brief moment with her child, an innocent victim of war. The same scenario occurs with the little girl and her family, she nearly lost her arm to shrapnel and I’m told that she may never be able to use it again.

As I leave the hospital it occurs to me that both of these mothers know that I am an American, and that one of the biggest news stories churning out on todays omnipresent news stream is the fact that the Israeli Army just tapped into a local US strategic arms stockpile to resupply their assault on Gaza with more grenades and mortar rounds, according the Rear Admiral John Kirby.

I’m pretty sure the two mother’s had heard this news already, as well as Besima and virtually every other person in Palestine and the surrounding Arab countries. I inadvertently lower my head as I walk out of the hospital and call my driver who is to take me down to Beit Ommar where the story that I’m covering was supposed to begin, and where the next 48 hours could prove to be the most crucial since the start of the second Intifada in 2000.

In the taxi I sit up front and share the stories of the two children with Maneer, a 66 year old Palestinian man with a son going to school in North Carolina. Maneer has lived through two occupations, the Jordanians and the Israelis and he just smiles and puts his hand on my back. He says:

“My friend, it’s all God’s will. God has a plan for everything and everyone.”

With that Maneer turns the car south for the West Bank and we leave the Mount Of Olives and the injured children in our rear view mirror.


Ross FenterRoss Fenter is a philanthropist and a film maker with over 18 years of experience working in film and television. After serving in the US Army overseas and earning a degree from the University of Montana, Ross moved to Los Angeles to embark on a career in film and tv with a focus on documentary film making. Ross has filmed in over a dozen countries, from the jungles of Thailand and Burma working with the Karen refugees and guerrilla fighters, to the occupied territories of The West Bank, Brazil, Peru, Laos and many more.

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