GAZA CITY, Gaza (WOMENSENEWS)–Decisive moments in our lives leave an indelible mark. Sometimes they come at us in a life-and-death way, in flashbacks and a gush of memories and a grim feeling that the end is near. Often, we hang on to denial and self control.
This was how I lived the first day of the eight-day “Pillar of Cloud” operation on Gaza in 2012. Constant, violent shelling brought back the sounds of the “Cast Lead” wars in 2008-2009.
This time, I was waiting for it; with my camera. For four years my camera has been like my shadow and I have stayed on alert. As the first bomb went off this time, though, something was different. This time I was holding my baby daughter Talia, 1-and-a- half-years-old.
When the second bomb went off I was at the nursery where she spends her days. I rushed her home. The Israeli air shelling went on, like drum rolls of war once again. Talia’s bewildered looks were asking me: “What is wrong?” I had no answers. All I could do was cover her ears.
Every person who has lived in a war zone like Gaza knows that even if some details change, the identity of war is always the same. But our individual identities are always changing.
This time, four years later, I was no longer just a journalist. Now I was a “journalist mother.” Actually, I was a very visibly pregnant journalist mother. I was nine months pregnant and at any point my second baby was due. Before the airstrikes started I had been busy with happy preparations. I knew it would be another girl and I was preparing tiny clothes and thinking about a slew of other details. And telling myself I had time.
But for eight days I was stuck, not knowing quite how this second delivery would go. I tried contacting my private doctor as soon as war sounded off, but there was no answer.
That made sense. The scenes in Gaza’s hospitals were not to be forgotten in a lifetime and that was no place for me.
As I did what I could to hold off my delivery, I kept going out with my camera to document what I could. But I was attracting attention. I had “pregnant” written all over me.
One day, as I was taking photos of a playground completely ravaged by the Israeli bombardment of the city, the terrified voice of a civil defense officer shook me back to reality. He had mistaken me for a survivor, someone who had lost her way in the rubble from a collapsed building across the street. The horrified look in his eyes made me realize that I was the reason, at first, for his terror. The moment he saw my camera and realized I was a journalist, he drew back.
Journalism and motherhood don’t always get along. Journalism can demand that we look into the face of inhumanity. Motherhood wants to look away.
By the end of the fifth day, I had stood in morgues and walked with my camera in funerals. War went on, mingling with my prayers that my daughter would not be born; not yet, not during the horrific screaming and relentless shelling, day and night. I was willing a delay of this birth. It felt a bit dangerous, but also like my only choice.
Knowing Something More
As I interviewed the mothers who carried their children to be buried, I knew something more this time of what they must feel. My communication with the widows and the bereaved became easier, and I wrote with greater feeling. I took thousands more photos this time.
Thoughts kept storming in my mind. My mother had probably been right last time, when she quarreled with me every morning that I set out to cover the previous war. I now understand her better. The face of my daughter is my biggest comfort. She alone can alleviate my heavy heart after a day of violent bombing and brutality.
When the fighting ended this time celebrations began. I couldn’t savor the cheering, fireworks and gun shots in Gaza’s skies. I saw no victory. But then I realized I had my own special reason to celebrate. My second daughter would be born.
Lateen was born on Nov. 27 at 1 a.m. Hospitals were still too low on basic medication and equipment, so my husband and I went to a small makeshift clinic my doctor had set up in his house. Delivery was fast but painful, as no painkillers were available and my overdue baby was almost 9 pounds. A couple of hours after delivery we were both fine and went home. It was a happy way to put the war behind us.
But I fear that she is coming into a world where her safety and future are far beyond my power to control. My fellow journalists and reporters will understand when I say that, no matter how good you are at crafting your words and choosing your pictures, reporting the truth is a lot harder when it is your own.
Eman Mohammed is a 25-year-old Palestinian photojournalist and reporter based in the Gaza Strip.
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