Witness - Ambulance

Ambulance: The Story of the 2014 War on Gaza

During the 2014 war on Gaza, a Palestinian filmmaker joins an ambulance crew as they try to save lives.

Editor’s note: This film is no longer available for online viewing.

Mohamed Jabaly, 24, aspires to make films in Gaza City, despite the lack of water and electricity, and closed borders that are part of every “normal” day under the seven-year Israeli blockade of Gaza. While many young people dream of leaving Gaza, Mohamed wants to help.

When he hears the news of a new Israeli offensive on Gaza in July 2014 he decides he cannot merely “wait for death” but must do something. He joins an ambulance crew to document the war. Mohamed comes of age among broken bodies, terrified families, and the constant risk of sudden death. He had never witnessed the effects of violence up close.

Within the first few days of war, he finds himself helping victims of a massacre. “It felt like being in the middle of a theatre play. I saw blood. I tasted the pain in the eyes of women, fear in the faces of children. To whom could I show these images that are not merely images?” he says.

The ambulance team is led by captain Abu Marzouq, who saved lives in many of Gaza’s wars. At first, the captain is intense and a little intimidating, and each day Abu Marzouq and the crew are in the eye of the storm. When four nine-year old boys are hit by a missile on a Gaza beach, they are one of the first ambulance crews to arrive.

Mohamed cannot tell his family what he’s going through. He begins to feel close to his crewmates, who joke and encourage one another despite the fear. Abu Marzouq takes Mohamed into his confidence, and Mohamed discovers a man full of life and love for his co-workers.

Mohamed Jabaly [Al Jazeera]
Mohamed Jabaly [Al Jazeera]


By Mohamed Jabaly

The film is a personal story, as seen through my own eyes and the people with whom I worked during the war. The film is about human connections and does not seek to campaign for any political party or policy, nor assign blame. This is not because I don’t see the urgency of the political debate or the importance of accountability, but because I am a storyteller who believes that personal stories can open the way and show us what we have in common: human decency and human dignity.

My war experience was very hard and I am still trying to understand my feelings. The filmmaking process forces me to do this and this is a good thing. I travelled to Norway in October 2014 to participate in a conference and screen some of my short films. Actually, I should have been in Norway earlier but the war prevented me from going. I was supposed to stay for only one month but, after only one week, Egypt closed the border with Gaza. I went from being stuck inside Gaza to being stuck outside of Gaza. My Norwegian hosts and friends were very generous and understanding. They also helped me to come out of myself and urged me to make this film.

Abu Marzouq, captain of the ambulance team [Al Jazeera]
Abu Marzouq, captain of the ambulance team [Al Jazeera]

But I was thinking of home all the time. I was walking around with the burden of war inside of me. When I was filming the ambulance team, I knew how important it was to make this film – everybody knew that – but I didn’t know when or how to do it. The ambulance crew asked me again and again, “When will you finish this film? We need to see ourselves. We need to see how we are working during the war”.

It was a heavy responsibility but it also gave me a feeling of pride that I might be able to contribute something.

The people of Gaza know how hard is to live under constant attack, but not everyone sees the details up close. Few people are really on the front line, close to everything. Even though I myself had lived through two wars and two Intifadas before, nothing prepared me for my experience during the last war in 2014. Every phone call was bad news – one after the other. And it got worse and worse. It could have been my family or my neighbours. Our ambulance could be hit at any time. It was the first time in my life that I had been so close to a situation like this. I began to understand that each TV image was just a small part of a bigger story. Even though I had lived in Gaza all my life, I was shocked every day, moment after moment.

When people in Gaza see this film, I think they too will be shocked. They will be sad, remembering the war and everything they have lost. But I think they will also feel glad that this war will be remembered, that no one can say it never happened. No one can erase or deny our pain. The world must remember.

Both inside and outside of Gaza, people will see how we survive. The film must also remind people we are still alive; that we can still smile and that we remain hopeful. The best thing about the war was that I gained a new family in the ambulance crew. I learned what hard work and courage really looks like. And I felt and received real love.

Filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly, left, and the Gaza ambulance crew [Al Jazeera]
Filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly, left, and the Gaza ambulance crew [Al Jazeera]