Photo Journalist Creates “Gaza Girls” Book Showing A Side Of The Strip Not Portrayed In Newsmedia

The majority of news media stories about the Gaza Strip seem to be focused on narratives around war, conflict, and violence. For those of us who have never traveled to this part of the world, for all we know, the images and soundbites we hear from the comfort of our homes is all there is to see and know about Gaza. One woman is looking to change this conversation by adding nuance and perspectives away from those we see in mainstream news outlets.

Monique Jaques is a photo journalist based out of Istanbul, Turkey, who spent several years documenting life in Gaza, initially sent to cover an eight day war between Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas. That was 5 years ago, and since then she has been returning to the region as she became captivated by the lives of Palestinian women and girls she came across whose lives she wanted to document for the world to see.

She is now putting together her images and stories for a book called ‘Gaza Girls: Growing up in the Gaza Strip’ and launched a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to raise the funds to take it to production.

“‘Gaza Girls: Growing Up in the Gaza Strip’ is a photo book that tells the stories of young women coming of age in a difficult place. It is intended to highlight the challenges of daily life, as well as moments of joy found in a complicated existence…I am awed and haunted by their tremendous resilience, even in the face of unimaginable adversity. I also see so much similarity between these teenaged girls and the teenage girl I once was, despite our different circumstances,” she writes in a description about the book on the page.

In an email, Monique told us how the book is her attempt at showing a more nuanced side of the life of girls in Gaza, drawing on her own journalistic talents.

“So often we see Gaza through a dimensional lens of violence and conflict. Stories about quieter moments like these are often overlooked, though they offer a powerful look into world unseen by many. This work amplifies the everyday moments of joy and hope,” she said.

The book is being published by FotoEvidence, and will also feature a foreward by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American racial justice and civil rights activist, community organizer, and board member of the Women’s March.

Some of the women featured include 25 year-old singer Hadeel Fawzy Abushar who started when she was 12, despite many families and the local government looking down on the practice. Surfer Sabah Abu Ghanem, 14, regular takes to the waves outside Gaza city with her sisters, as it is one of the few places they can feel free. Monique also captured a group of young female soccer players in the Northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiyah. They are all under the age of 16 which is usually the time in a girl’s life they are expected to stop playing sports and instead start getting ready for marriage.

The coming-of-age narrative is seen throughout the images and stories, and can give readers a different kind of perspective and even develop a new empathy for the lives of those in the Gaza Strip.

“When you’re a young girl in Gaza, your existence is defined by its boundaries — literal and metaphorical, defined by both regional and cultural politics. Families are tight-knit and watchful over their daughters. Privacy and mobility are both scarce. Many women say that in a place as small as Gaza, it is impossible to be truly free. Yet, there are moments of joy found in laughs at school, shared secrets with friends and moments alone to dream. Like many peers around the world, these girls are figuring out who they are in a world built by grown-ups. Navigating girlhood is universal, even if the circumstances are not,” says the campaign description.

Monique says Gaza is unlike anywhere else in the world and it is a shame we don’t get to see the types of stories she is portraying in our mainstream media more often. In an op-ed she penned for The New York Times, she outlines just a few examples of how life as a female in the Gaza Strip can at times be quite empowering.

“Despite hardships, Gaza has one of the finest school systems in the Middle East, with nearly universal literacy. Many young women attend one of the several universities, eventually graduating to become writers, engineers and doctors. Many dream of leaving the strip, to explore the world and find themselves on their own, though they also speak of returning to Gaza. ‘It’s my home,’ they say. ‘I love Gaza’,” she wrote.

The 120-page book is set to be ready for release by late 2017/early 2018, but we encourage our readers to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign while it is still running, and support a project that seeks to give voice and visibility to a group of women and girls who deserve more than limited media soundbites.


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