Gaza Fixer: A Chronicle of Survival
Can news fixer and six-time war survivor Raed Athamneh recover once more after Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza?
Raed Athamneh is a six-time war survivor, patriarch and trusted news fixer to foreign reporters covering Gaza.
As he gives aid workers and journalists tours, he is the one who actually talks to the people, and translates the story of their fate to the foreigners eagerly recoding, writing, filming, the tragedy that Gaza has become.
His colleague, photojournalist George Azar, has witnessed Gaza’s trauma in extreme close-up and through his observational filming of Raed himself, as well as over nine years of friendship.
He captures the defining moments of Raed’s life – destruction, endurance, humour and unimaginable loss – with remarkable intimacy.
In an ongoing chronicle of Raed’s life, Israel’s 2014 war on the Gaza Strip leaves the family reeling, and Raed struggling to imagine the future.
By Mariam Shahin
I first visited Gaza in 1991, a few months after Palestinians and Israelis began peace talks. Unlike other parts of Palestine occupied in 1967, it was a vast coastal society with vibrant communities of farmers, fishermen and semi-nomadic herders; all of whom were dominated by wealthy and an almost feudal urban and merchant class.
I met Raed Athamneh soon after my first visit. He became my guide, driver, fixer – and eventually my friend. He was from the border town of Beit Hanoun, adjacent to the Erez crossing point. When we first met, there was only a signpost to mark the crossing point. Today it is sealed by a wall and a military fortress.
Raed told me personal stories of the first Intifada, which was just coming to an end. He had been among the stone throwers and slingshot provocateurs who eventually forced Israel to negotiate for peace with the PLO.
By 1993, he was looking forward to the end of the occupation and towards a new and better life. He became a young father and named his first son Saddam to honor the Iraqi leader who had shot scuds at Israel. Sadly, Saddam Athamneh died in infancy from lack of medical attention during week-long Israeli curfews.
Raed’s father, Majid, had been a taxi driver who taught Raed to drive when he was only 12 years old. Like no other driver/fixer/guide, Raed knew every inch of Gaza. It was only natural that I recommended him to my partner, photographer George Azar.
Raed is a big personality, almost larger than life. He took George to photograph some of the most remote and beautiful places in the Gaza Strip. By 2005, George and I moved to Gaza, expecting the Israeli withdrawal during that summer to bring freedom for Gaza.
Raed was a part of every assignment we undertook and we saw him daily. We learned more and more about Gaza through the prism of Raed’s photographic memory and intrinsic knowledge of the 5,000 year-old city.
They targeted each and every Palestinian .... No stone, no tree, not even the house of God is safe from them. No one is safe from this occupation.
The 2006 massacre of 18 members of Raed’s family came unexpectedly, as massacres usually do. We were finishing off a film about Palestinian political prisoners when George witnessed the immediate aftermath and horror that had befallen the Athamneh family. This was how the film, Gaza Fixer, was born.
Since then, our emotional ties and feeling of responsibility towards Raed have grown incrementally and our proudest moment came when George and the Gaza Fixer were selected as finalists in the 2007 Rory Peck Awards.
Then another war came.
For nine days during the 2008/2009 war on Gaza, I lost all contact with Raed. His phone was not working and I had no way of reaching him. We feared the worst.
Then, on the 10th day of the Israeli onslaught, he answered the phone, speaking vaguely and with exhaustion after being forced to leave his home with his relatives.
The fate of Raed and his family during that war became the Gaza Fixer II film.
When we first contemplated making the film this time around, we were wary of the prospect of viewer exhaustion with a story full of tragedies. But Raed’s life is much more than a series of devastating events; it is a brilliant example of perseverance and tenacity. The will to continue surviving, against all odds, is one that is inspiring.
Indeed Gaza Fixer: A Chronicle of Survival, does not document the last and final chapter of the life of Raed and his family, it celebrates their survival.