The treasure of Gaza is found in its people. Since 1948, Palestinians have faced systematic genocide at the hand of Israel who assumes complete control of Palestinian lives from the amount of calories they consume, to the basic utilities they can access, to the tiny distance they can travel.
Yet, Palestinians smile.
Despite the international community abandoning them each time Israel unleashes another ruthless attack, including her 50-day Operation Protective Edge onslaught this past summer resulting in over 2,100 Palestinian deaths, they remain welcoming people to all. Despite facing extreme poverty, with 90% of the population dependent on some type of aid due to the siege, their hands are open, ready to give. Despite enduring a grim, violent reality where their homes are routinely demolished and children thrown in jail, they are hopeful and peaceful.
No matter how desperately Israel endeavors to micromanage control over every facet of Palestinian life – they can’t control their spirit. It’s indomitable. Inaccessible. Independent.
Yet, their vivacious lives, affable personalities, and moving stories are silenced in major media outlets worldwide. Instead, the Palestinian narrative remains overwhelmingly and inaccurately the same: they are anti-Semitic terrorists, Hamas is a terrorist organization, and the existence of Palestine is a threat to world peace.
Denny Cormier, an American human rights activist and citizen journalist turning 69 this April, decided to challenge the narrative he heard for 20+ years. On March 29, 2014, he made the bold move to Gaza to uncover the truth about Palestine and Palestinians himself.
“I came because I watched a long, 8-day broadcast by Harry Fear during the 2012 attack on Gaza,” he tells Muslim Observer. “I watched it around the clock. I learned a lot about Gaza in that broadcast and I was watching CNN at the same time in the United States and noticed two different narratives. I became very curious and emotionally involved.
After the war, I started making friends with Palestinians on Facebook. I made many friends and conversations online. By the time I came to Gaza, I knew many people already. I fell in love with Gaza because of the people. It was love at first sight.”
Cormier quickly learned that the terrorist tales about Palestinians were false. On the contrary, he found them to be exceptionally hospitable and loving. He shares, “The people are very welcoming and it’s universal, even to Americans and Jews. I have no problem here and they do not speak ill of Jews. Peace is a way of life here. Everyone says ‘Salaam’.”
Wanting the world to also know the truth and committed to improving Gaza’s communication with the outside world, Cormier set himself “to change the mainstream narrative” by harnessing the power of social media as an eyewitness reporter.
In March of 2014, he launched an ongoing project called 1000 Voices for Gaza. He describes the project as “an initiative to train and empower students to use social media more effectively for resistance and personal development – and to reach out in friendship to people beyond the barriers that surround Gaza.”
Using Facebook, Twitter and Flicker everyday himself, Cormier shows what Palestine and its people are really like. He shares stories of warm conversations he has with locals, posts pictures of children playing in obliterated neighborhoods, and exposes the unprecedented emotional and physical trauma Israel has caused to Palestine. His raw journalism, including the documentation of his experience living through Israel’s Operation Protective Edge massacre where he served as a reporter and human shield at Al-Shifa Hospital, has gained increasing recognition. On Facebook alone he has 5,000 friends and a growing 8,481 followers.
“I’ve gained some celebrity here, which I don’t want” Cormier explains, “but it’s about being able to communicate with the world. Gaza is not a household term. Extremely few people around the world and in the United States know about the situation in Gaza. All they know is that ‘They’re damned terrorists.’
Palestinians will ask me, ‘Does anybody care?’ I tell them, “No, that’s not the question. The question is ‘Does anybody know?’”
In his most recent attempt to broadcast Gaza and its reality, Cormier has created a short documentary series called Gaza Through My Eyes – An American Journey to Gaza with the help of young Palestinian filmmakers and activists and the sponsorship of Youth Media Center in Gaza.
The series hones in on different realities of Palestinians living in Gaza, from the devastating to the uplifting, and sheds light on Cormier’s experience living as an American amongst them. He aims to humanize a grossly dehumanized, misrepresented and neglected people.
“This is targeted to a western audience and even the Arab world because people are out of touch with what’s happening here. Gaza has few friends. There is great suffering in Gaza, but there is also vibrant life and vitality which people don’t know about.”
Gaza Through My Eyes – An American Journey to Gaza was successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo at $4,538, exceeding the $4,000 target. The campaign started on January 29 and closed on March 30, 2015. Cormier states funding goes towards “thanking those people and organizations who are at the heart of the project in a tangible way.” It is also used to offset any incurred expenses. Cormier’s involvement, however, in entirely voluntary.
The videos are in English and contain both French and Arabic subtitles to reach a wider global audience. Between 8-12 episodes will be made in total, with each episode taking around a month’s time to produce. Episode one, released January 1, 2015, offers a glimpse of the destroyed homes in Gaza, but through the gleaming children playing in rubbles, shows a land that refuses to be destroyed. Episode two, released March 27, 2015, recalls Cormier’s first experiences in Gaza and unveils the surprising energy and vibrancy of Palestinians who open their doors widely to him. Episode 3 is projected to release soon.
Revolution News, Shehab News Agency, and Global News Centre have shared Gaza Through My Eyes – An American Journey to Gaza on their news networks, allowing the two released episodes to reach over 100,000 views collectively.
But, as Cormier affirms, “we need to reach much more …because it’s harder to kill people that you know. More people will stand up for you if they know you.”