Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman | 08-03-2017

When missiles and shells fly during war time, even the bravest of men seek cover, waiting until the all-clear sign to venture out. But during the height of the last war waged on Gaza, a young wife and mother could be seen out on the streets, reporting the grisly developments for TV: 30-year-old Israa Mahmoud El-Buhaisi.

Israa is a mother of four—and a seasoned reporter for both Alkofiya TV in Gaza and Iran’s Alalam International News Channel.

Early passions

Israa has wanted to be an international journalist since she was a child. In fifth grade, she already stood out for her gifts in creative writing and public speaking. Her teacher at that time singled her out for her strong, distinguished voice when reciting Arabic, and encouraged her to make announcements over the loudspeaker before classes began. That same teacher—an influential one for Israa—noticed her talent for writing as well, and assigned her homework to develop it further.          

In 2000, at the age of 14, the Tamer Institute for Community Education—a Palestinian nonprofit that promotes reading among young people—accepted her into its programs. Three months later, she began writing for the “Literary Fireflies” section of Gaza’s Al-Ayyam newspaper. Her first publication was a poem titled "Awraq Sajeen" (Life of a Prisoner).

Soon after, she entered a competition sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, which called on participants to describe the negative impact of the Israeli occupation. Israa wrote an essay titled, “Alhm Al-Kabir" (The Big Concern), which focused on the role of Israel in polluting the environment. The result: Israa won the prize for best story and her piece was printed for distribution to Palestinian libraries.

By the 10th grade, she was broadcasting on local radio programs, first with Voice of Freedom and then Voice of the Workers—as a news anchor! She was forced to stop, however, during her final year of secondary school (called tawjihi), which is an intense year of study.

Israa interviewing tunnel workers

After a year and half of studying journalism and media at Al-Aqsa University, Israa married Muamer Abu Tabikh, a photographer with Palestine TV. Soon, she gave birth to a baby girl, Layan. Throughout her pregnancy and its accompanying dizziness, nausea and vomiting, she continued to work and attend school.

That is the schedule she maintained in the years that followed. Today, she has four children: Layan, 10; Anas, 9; Mohammed, 6; and Kareem, 2. A babysitter helps take care of them, as needed, until their parents return home at nearly 6 p.m. Israa excelled in her career. In 2010, she was chosen "best correspondent in the Muslim World" by an international conference in Iran.  

Then came July 2014

That’s when Israel launched its third major war on Gaza. Frightened by rumors that Israel was planning a massacre in in their neighborhood of Shejaiya, similar to an earlier assault on the northern town of Beit Hanoun, the couple sent their children to their grandfather’s house in Deir al-Balah.

On July 21, their worst fears came true: Israa and Muamer lived through—and reported about—a massacre. Israeli artillery bombarded the houses at a rate of three shells per minute, supplemented by fighter jets randomly carrying out airstrikes. Because their house was on the edge of the neighborhood, she and her husband were able to flee, running among the dead, bloodstained bodies on the ground. Later, when they could return to their house, they found it was partially damaged; the windows broken, the doors gone, debris everywhere.

During the remainder of the 51-day war, Israa stayed in her office and her husband in his, worried about their three children far away while they reported on the fighting. There was only one day that Israa and her husband were able to see their kids, traveling in an ambulance in order to see them. The couple could stay with them for only two hours, however. When a massacre took place at the Abu Hessein School in Jabalia Camp to the north, they had to return to work, traveling back into Gaza City under a rain of shells and missiles.  

During a four- hour ceasefire on July 31, Israa and Hamid Shubaki, a photographer for Alalam TV, decided to film a report on Gaza's fuel crisis in front of the power plant. Tired, she wanted to rest first.  Shubaki insisted otherwise, insisting he depart immediately in one car, with her following. Before she could leave, however, Israeli artillery fire hit a packed and popular market in Shejaiya. A call from one of her colleagues informed her that Shubaki had been critically wounded. She quickly went to the hospital to check on his status and take photos of the casualties. The emergency department was splattered with blood and pieces of flesh, some of which stuck to her clothes. Israa fainted from the shock and was carried into the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, where she was forced to rests for the next three hours. She insisted on returning to work immediately after.

Israa and her family

Looking forward

Today, in a calmer Gaza, Israa is pursuing her master’s degree in political science, hoping to help shape the next generation of youth and help them work for a unified Palestine against Israel. She dreams of teaching this major in university to change Palestine for the better, avoiding the political strife that divides the people today.     

Posted: March 8, 2017

Mentor: Pam Bailey

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