Gaza Rolls Out The Red Carpet For Film Festival Amid The Ruins

05/17/2015 09:13 am ET | Updated May 17, 2015

Filmmakers in the Gaza Strip this week held a film festival amid the ruins of a neighborhood that was devastated by the worst fighting of last summer's war with Israel.

Eight months after the war, most of Gaza City's Shujaiyeh district has yet to be rebuilt. But festival organizers bulldozed through the rubble, hauled in massive power cables, and grappled with the threat of unexploded weapons lingering from the July-August conflict.

On Tuesday, they finally rolled out a red carpet for the opening ceremony of the Karama Gaza Film Festival, nestled between the hollow shells of Shujaiyeh's broken buildings.

Essam al-Hilu, who lost his Shujaiyeh home and 11 brothers during the war, was asked to open the ceremony, but at the final moment became too overwhelmed to say a word, festival organizer Khalil al-Mozayen told The WorldPost.

Organizers said thousands of Palestinians from all over the Gaza Strip attended the three-day event, which was produced by Gaza production company Lama Film and screened over 20 narrative and documentary films.

"Each of the films were about human rights, allowing people in Gaza to know that there are others around the world who suffer like them," al-Mozayen told The WorldPost by email.

Al-Mozayen, a 50-year-old filmmaker from Gaza City and a director at Lama Film, said his dream is to open a cinema in Gaza -- the last theater was closed during the Palestinian uprising against Israel in the late 1980s. In the meantime, he wanted to bring movies to Gaza whichever way he could, so he contacted Jordan's Karama Film Festival about holding a simultaneous event in the Gaza Strip.

With their support, as well as that of other groups including Amnesty International's Movies that Matter Foundation, they pulled off the first film festival in Gaza since the 2014 war. Al-Mozayen's office and entire film archive were destroyed during the seven-week conflict between Israel and Hamas, the movement that controls Gaza.

gaza city

Palestinians ride their donkey carts in Gaza City's Shujaiyeh neighborhood, on May 11, 2015.

Some of the bloodiest days of the war took place in Shujaiyeh. Israeli troops and tanks entered the neighborhood on July 20 and were met by Hamas fire. Ferocious fighting left over 60 Palestinians and more than a dozen Israeli soldiers dead, while thousands fled as their homes were laid to waste. In all, more than 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed over the course of the war.

Months later, thousands of homes and businesses in the Gaza Strip still lie in ruins and around 100,000 Palestinians remain homeless. Donor countries, concerned about continued tensions between Hamas and rival Palestinian party Fatah, have delivered little of the $5.4 billion pledged for reconstruction.

"The people of Shujaiyeh still don't have homes until today, and this festival is a message to everyone to think of them as human beings," al-Mozayen told The WorldPost. "I want the festival to send a message to the whole world that people of Gaza deserve life -- that they love life and seek peace."

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