Pedro Letria
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    Cut Short

    Cut Short is a collection of photographs, texts and artifacts taken, written and collected since 2009, during and following a journey to the Gaza Strip.
    A seemingly documentary or journalistic enterprise, Cut Short stands to posit the issues of both media production and reception, and at the same time bears testimony to an imagined, and soon abandoned, life in reporting.
    Cut Short is as much a yearning inquiry into the foreign correspondent's craft as it is a refusal of journalism's inability to transcend the validation of current events and partake in their manipulation. Ultimately, it is an account of one individual's efforts to understand and make known the appalling plight of many. It was never published.
    5-3-55. EGYPT-ISRAEL TENSION GROWS…THE TROUBLE SPOT OF GAZA. It has been reported that the evacuation of wives and children of United Nations officials has been ordered – from the trouble spot of GAZA because of "agitation by thousands of refugees in the Zone". Gaza was the scene of the clash last Monday in which 38 Egyptians and 8 Israelis were killed. There has been further exchanges of firing between the outposts.
    KEYSTONE PHOTO SHOWS:- A ruined jeep – after the clash at GAZA the Egyptian held strip. Thirty eight Egyptians and eight Israelis were killed.
    JSS/KEYSTONE 1389/636109.

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    9-11-55. THE SCENE OF THE EGYPT - ISRAEL BATTLE AT EL SABHA. Pressmen paid a visit to the scene of the recent clash between Egyptian and Israeli Forces – at EL SABHA.. Both sides claim many captured and casualties.
    KEYSTONE PHOTO SHOWS:- A helmet belonging to a Jewish soldier – surrounded by spots of blood – following the battle of El Sabha.
    JSS/KEYSTONE 13890647836.
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    NXP55-4-6-JERUSALEM: Egyptian and Israeli guns thundered again 4/6 at Gaza, pushing the Middle East closer to the brink of an all out war. Here an Egyptian soldier points gun from machine gun nest along the Egyptian-Israeli truce line. The white block (arrow) in the background is an Israeli armed position.
    UNITED PRESS TELEPHOTO (Pix made 3/56) -ctm.

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    (NY20-Nov. 15) TWELVE MONTHS ON THE GAZA STRIP_ _Two soldiers of the United Nations Emergency Force stand guard at an outpost in the Gaza Strip, between Egypt and Israel. The UNEF, comprising troops from Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, India, Colombia. Brazil, Yugoslavia and until recently, Indonesia, have now kept the peace in the disputed territory for a year. (AP Wirephoto) (bes614201on) 1957.

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    ISRAEL #860-862 SETTLEMENTS Hevel Ba-Besor, Arava, Gaza Strip, 1984. Stamps. Full Mint Strip.

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    A rooftop in Gaza littered with a brood of satellite dishes competing for attention between unfinished, reinforced cement pillars. The building codes in Gaza are flexible. They have to be. Offspring will marry and a new floor will need to be erected over the family house; or an Israeli bomb may wipe out the existent structure and everything must be re-convened from the rubble. Looking out over the city, I watch life unfold below and listen to its droning hubbub until, drowned out by my own resounding heartbeat, I am left standing, still; my arms irresolute, overwhelmed by the here and now.

    The On-line editor asked me: "How old do you think I am?" "40," I replied. "Right," he said. "I'm 43," I added. "You look it," he returned.
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    The translator is very pleased with himself after demonstrating his considerable cultural references. On a dusty street outside a makeshift mosque in Abed Rabou, a man performs the standard ablutions, washing his feet with water from a plastic tank. He came from dirt and on dirt he will walk, and all that matters is that he did what had to be done. He is at peace and wants to stay that way. There is no slippery slope for this Sisyphus, and no myth either.

    Sitting with Tawfiq, his 5 month-old daughter Amal (she'd had her shots the day before and was restless) and the rest of his family in the family courtyard, across from the church of St Porfirio. The second the chopper blades shuddered the star flecked sky, a dull silence crushed the conversation, instantly. It takes a hell of a lot of practice to time it that good, I thought. Oblivious to the unknown, only Amal's tiny chest breathed regularly.
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    A man dressed in black, in a private moment, on a curb. There is a correlation to be drawn between the pace of animal locomotion and the speed at which re-construction will replenish a bombed out neighborhood. In both cases, there is only so much that can be willed, and of that, even less that may be explained.

    Ahmad is the name of the young man that was designated by Ramattan to accompany me during my first day in Gaza. I could tell from the start that he was uneasy doing so, but as the day wore on I felt him beginning to let go. A sense of future began to tinge his responses to my prodding, and he told me how he plans on finishing his degree and wants to become a teaching instructor. "I hate my life," was his farewell bid.
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    I felt awkward, sort of guilty, at having forgotten to bring a gift for Tawfiq and his family, and went out to buy some sweets. I first met Tawfiq in 2005 when he was manning the reception at the Gaza Hotel. One morning he asked me if I wanted to accompany him to Mass for Tawfiq and his family are Orthodox Christians, their house adjacent to the 6th century church of St. Porfirio. After the service, I was kindly feted by his family and a bond between us cried out. Tawfiq is no longer working at the hotel and instead drives petrol trucks for the International Red Cross. "Even during the gun battles, I had to drive a loaded gasoline truck where it was needed. And once, right in the thick of it, with bullets flying by, I saw two little girls in the middle of the street, 4-5 year olds, not older, and I stopped and asked what they thought they were doing there, and they tell me their mother had told them to go to Grandma's."
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    "You keep a lot of secrets and I keep none. I wish I could go back and keep some." The words to the music had nestled in Yasser's consciousness and played back incessantly. He woke up at 5.30 that morning and started to make breakfast, and all the time music blared from his brother Mohammed's room, as his sibling shadowboxed with another unfinished night. Unlike Yasser, his brother had no known occupation and viewed the former's position as waiter at the Al Deira Hotel's open-air restaurant as tantamount to collaboration with the enemy. A primary school teacher before Hamas's seizure of power, Mohammed narrowly missed being thrown off the rooftop, but watched as colleagues were told to imitate the drawings of birds children had taped to the windows of their classrooms below.

    Sabah Al-herr: good morning
    Massa Al-herr: good evening
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    An office on the ninth floor. The machine is neutral. It has no gender. Manning the controls is not pre-ordained or defining of anything but access and control. It copies, replicates, as many times as requested. It is obedient and predictable, like the whirring and buzzing that confirm its motion. The copier is a model of dedication and selflessness, always willing and ready to accommodate. An example to be followed, to be used, no questions asked. The perfect companion.

    Haven't seen a single dog in Gaza.
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    Red. Searing, scorching. Outside. Curtains that hold back as much as they keep in. A moveable barrier to be pushed aside, neutered. A room full of words, the difference between being told what to do and the freedom to invent for one's self and the sake of others. An open-ended space of dissent and self-affirmation, it's steadfast and stolid in wait of the blunt blue pencil. Wafts of sweet mint tea keep up with the clatter of rinsed glass cups and pounded keyboards. As in a tired polka set, the steps are followed and nothing is expected.

    "After the war I translated for foreign journalists, and in places like Beit Hanoun you could smell the blood in the air, the burned skin." Fadi told me. As he talked, his eyes filled up, betraying fear and anger and resentment.
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    Hold back and let go. Keep and give. Hide and seek. Show and tell. Virtue and vanity. Numbness and blindness. The deaf leading the blind. The posting of 12th grade exam notes at the Basher el Reyes High School. Flashy hijabs and chaste probity. It's a toss-up as to who got the better grades.

    Last night, Tawfiq's nephew walked me down to Palestine Square and hailed one of Gaza's communal cabs. Incredibly, inside the obliging vehicle were Fadi's sisters on their way to the Marna House. "If you drink from someone's bottle, that means you're after them," the older girl told me.
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    Ahmad Simri's family delayed the funeral because they suspect the Israeli forces of organ removal in light of the protracted release from custody. A farmer from Beit Lahiya, Simri's family claims he was tending his crops when he was shot without prior warning. Israel counters he was killed whilst attempting to launch a rocket towards the Jewish State. A martyr's funeral was being announced by Hamas since late morning, but given the lingering suspicion it was put on hold. Children stood on the shoulders of others to peer inside Al-Shifa Hospital's mortuary entrance, as the body was taken from the Red Crescent ambulance and laid on a stretcher next to a refrigerated drawer. Other children, unable to see the morbid goings on, lined up twofold and played leapfrog, careful to stay out of the driveway's curving, tree-lined descent.
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    Sam is silent and sad, not just tonight, but every other day that we lounged about at Al Badia's busy esplanade. Drawing heavily on the pipe, Sam peers through the veiled, apple scented atmosphere, finding something to see that is to everyone else invisible. He is resolute and does not share his thoughts, nor pretend to their relevance. Unflinching, he inhales again, and even though delayed by the long, ornate hose, the embers on the tray glow garishly, as if defying their own demise. Sam hasn't blinked in some time and his cheeks become streaked with tears, which once gathered on his chin, drop to the cement floor. His left foot moves across the moist stain, as if sensing my unvoiced stir, and smudges its perfectly formed edge, mangling a hitherto perfect circle.

    "They want to give and be wanted,
    They want to forgive and not be forgotten"
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    As inebriating as it is sobering: defying all facts with its promise of absolute virtue, standing up to chaos with righteous certainty.

    Haniyeh's close guard displays an admirable reserve, a restrained forcefulness. Dark suited and bearded, stone-faced and impeccably groomed, they know they are already dead, onboard a glorious limbo liner, on their way to the afterlife, to a martyr's delight.
    I beg to differ.
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    Perhaps because light takes time to travel, however little, shadows are older than those they mimic. As siblings, holding hands under the street's wedding decorations, walking home past the television crew and crowd gathered outside the groom's rebuilt house. Home, un-regarded and empty. A vacant shell of a house for a home.

    Going through security at Erez on the way into Gaza, an adolescent boy with metal leg braces went before me and was ordered to repeat the full body-scan twice. Now, if the position one is asked to assume is unbecoming, regardless of bodily attributes, when mated with an almost complete incapacity to stand by one's self, it is in the least grotesque. The whole thing gets your blood boiling and sort of makes you take sides real quick. "Already?" you catch yourself thinking.
  • 18 / 32
    An evening's worth of stain.

    I sat next to the agency driver as we rode towards Beit Hanoun and all the time in the distance, shimmering against an impossibly perfect blue sky, a drone hovered soundlessly. Majestic and still, its streamlined, riveted chassis seemed to uphold the promise of an untainted, technologically neutral future. The wedding was held on Al Quds Street, at the twice-destroyed and twice-rebuilt house of brothers Mohammed and Mahmoud Al-Zahani. Children from the beleaguered neighborhood poured into the ruined yard and watched as journalists prepped their equipment for the scheduled coverage. Lana Shaheen from Egypt's Channel 9 stood indifferent, with her back to a group of sword wielding dancers and combed her long and lustrous black hair. The brides arrived in separate cars, heading a slow-paced, pedestrian procession of family and friends. Accompanied by their mothers, they entered the enclosure and sat motionless, sheltering from the heat under the stretched tarpaulin, their faces whitened and set under the starched veils.
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    Silence falls over people. One minute you're talking to someone and the next they're mute, vacant, absent- their thoughts misplaced. And all of a sudden they're back, oblivious to the momentary "walkabout". As happens with the electrical generators that abound in the Strip and tartly switch between on and off, making passersby, me, jump with surprise. Boo! Ha, just kidding!

    Intimacy is obvious between the members of Gaza's only Hip-Hop band, DARG Team. Sami sat behind the screens of the 2 open laptops and manned the sound controls. A microphone was exchanged between the MC's Antar, Sam and Bees. Shuffling to the syncopated loudness, band members pounced over the three blanketed beds and took turns with a couple of Bulls and Lakers NBA jerseys. Fadi's mother, Sajeda, came in with pomegranate juice, leaned against the doorjamb, and nodded approvingly. It struck me that belying the boyish camaraderie, the fact is that men are only free to touch other men, and that as far as youthful rebellions are concerned, Israel is one hell of a father figure. Israeli Rex could be a fitting title for this Palestinian tragedy of sorts.
  • 20 / 32
    A private garden wedged between towering apartment blocks. In the center of the city, a man in a red shirt waters the fledgling shoots of grass that line the plot's length. Once asked what he would miss the most following retirement as the world's best soccer player, Zinedine Zidane paused, and in his customary subdued manner replied: the greenness underfoot. A whole career spent standing atop the color green.

    The strangest thing coming out of Gaza was to see a northbound train as it outran my cab. There are no trains in the Strip and the sighting had the crispness of things new. I caught myself playing games, memory games, with my mother driving me to school as I leaned forward between the front seats, coaching her on in an imagined race with a Cascais bound train. I caught myself out, shuddering at insanity's sense of timing.
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    Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister, finished speaking and began to descend from the minbar in the Central Mosque in Khan Younis. Worshippers at Friday prayers looked downwards, avoiding each other's gaze, playing out what they had heard. Facing them, lit neon strips spelled 9/11. "Translations are never neutral and always flawed," I said to Ahmed the driver. "Yes, and history is always written by the victors," he retorted as we began to make our way back to the City, avoiding potholes and donkey drawn carts laden with families and produce. "But our struggle is just beginning," he added.

    When Hamas took hold of Gaza, all Fatah-appointed public servants were sent home and replaced by others from the Islamist movement. And yet, their wages are still being paid today on condition that they not show up at work, ceasing payment immediately if they do.
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    Understanding what we see, what is displayed by a photograph, is unfathomable. We may only grasp at the clues and are left to make connections with what we already know. Too much is left outside the frame; too much is assumed from what is thrown together. Not enough of what happened before and what followed after is able to survive this excision of sorts. Our point of view does nothing to affirm that which stood before the camera's lens. In fact, it stands opposite, grounding the picture in our own choices and pointing, instead, at our presumptuous projections of self.

    "This is some kind of insane experiment," commented Antony Lowenstein on Gaza's predicament. A self-proclaimed Australian journalist with whom I crossed paths at the mosque and kept running into all day, Antony had his own car and fixer. He showed up and sat down at our table at the Al-Moassi beach after lunch, and took my picture as he leaned his camera against an emptied coke glass. Very smooth, professional, I noted. On the beach, boys and girls, t-shirted and in shorts (without exception) used empty, capped soda bottles tied around their waist for flotation. The bottles were green, as green as the ocean is blue. Purely so.
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    Shoot a picture. Shoot someone. Aim, focus, trip the shutter. Hit and miss. Access and point of view. Feeling lucky; Potluck. Bodyguards are always helpless. Comes with the job. So do the lookers-on. It's in the cards, no point in pretending otherwise. Practice makes perfect.

    I photographed the shadow cast by my camera on the Prime Minister's back and thought of how I was "shooting" one of the most wanted men on the State of Israel's hit list, and wondered at how I had spent the whole day within earshot and touching distance of him. No one had bothered to ask me who I am or what I was doing there, riding in the motorcade as it crisscrossed the gutted fields of a citrus farm's orderly grid, exiting and re-entering its parallel and perpendicular tracks between fledgling, knee-high, shrubbery. I imagined the laugh a pilot of one of the overflying drones would be having, watching from above as the two identical black Mercedes sedans stopped alongside each other with facing doors flung open for the P.M. to choose between cars only at the very last minute, and be raced away with the decoy vehicle in tow. Like watching close-up magic tricks, I thought.
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    Blue-eyed Nasser tells me that during the Hamas-Fatah war close to one thousand Fatah members were kneecapped and sequestered for one day so that their wounds would fester and their legs have to be amputated.
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    Awatef Hasabala- table tennis, amputee
    Sausan Al Khaliki- table tennis, dwarf
    Yasser Siam- table tennis, paraplegic
    Yiad Shehalil- table tennis, amputee
    Sozan Shahin- discus thrower, gold medal at the 2002 Arab Games in Jordan
    Mohammed Tota Azazeitoun- motorcycle, amputee


    "Imagine deaf people under shelling. Just try and imagine it." Eid Shaqura is the director and founder of the Al Basma Club for the Disabled on Abed Al Qadir Al Husseini Street. There are no schools dedicated to special education and most of the disabled don't finish high school. They cannot find work and must resort to making local crafts. It is estimated that 1/3 of the population in Gaza is handicapped- mentally and physically. Mohammed Ashqar, 33, from Beit Lahiya, was deaf and an active club member. He was one of the 10 people killed during the air raid at the UN school that was bombed by the Israelis. Abdullah, who is also from Beit Lahiya, and who isn't deaf, helped him to find his way there, but left soon enough.
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    On the street at an angle to the U.N. school south of Jabaliya camp, I pick up an x-ray of someone's chest. Creased and scratched, its transparency has been hidden by caked mud and grey dust. It's no longer a view into someone's entrails, but rather a pastiche of matter and time. The individual has given way to a fabricated presence, his body a slim excuse for a profession of faith, however informed it may be by empirical observation. As I stop to ponder my trove, I am overtaken by secretive whispering and two young men follow in step. "You must wait for her, don't push it, or else you know what her brother has in stock for you," insists the speaker.

    The staff at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza remember how during Operation Cast Lead they were besieged at the Hospital, forced to stay there, surviving off sweetened water, unable to go home to help their own families.
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    The tunnels at the Rafah crossing are known to allow passage to goods of almost any dimension. "They cut the roofs off cars in Egypt and solder them back on in Gaza," blue-eyed Nasser told me as we descended the littered staircase to the ground floor. Outside, evening was falling and the sidewalks were teeming with families and returning workers. "I'm meeting the Wall Street Journal correspondent tonight and we're driving down to the tunnels," he added. Lit by the lamps of passing cars, Nasser looked pale and when he took my hand to say goodbye, his skin was damp and cold. We stood holding hands, silent and still, until a car stopped at the curb and Nasser opened its hind door, stepped in and fell back in the seat between dark faced men, secreted by the blackened windows.

    Tawfiq's number is zero five nine nine four eight eight six three three.
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    In Gaza, only after three days have passed will your host ask how long you plan on staying. Courtesy is inborn and part of the social landscape, the same way that upward mobility is seen as the natural replacement of an aging professional population and the fulfillment of one generation's promise to another. Mofeed's quite particular about whom he chooses to invite for tea in his tranquil office at Ramattan. In his cordial manner, he always seats his guests opposite himself, across the impeccable desk, facing the window that looks northwards, across Gaza City, the outlying Jabaliya Camp, and further still, over the faintly discernible border with Israel.

    As I write, the asthma-riddled large boy comes by with more tea, replacing my empty cup with a full one. He does so on the hour, every hour.
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    Al Shifa Hospital's emergency room. Three brothers stand shrouded at their sibling's bedside. A covered nurse stands opposite. The men face their relative; the woman faces the standing men. The monitored patient lies with his eyes closed. Unlike the others, his chest is bare. Like hers, his head is covered. The bandages refer to something that has happened; the hijab points at what may still occur and its denial. Her condition is as much self conscious as it's imposed; his is unconscious and un-beckoned. Both may never disentangle themselves from the roll of the dice.

    Dr Hani Hamada, Al-Shifa Hospital's Operating Theater director, halts the impromptu tour of the facility, faces me and recalls: "At one point, 180 wounded came in at the same time and we even had to operate on the floor. You've heard of Mats, the Norwegian Surgeon? He operated 3 days straight, non-stop. He trembled so much that by the end he just gave out orders- do this, do that." Over 1200 surgical procedures were carried out during Israel's Operation Cast Lead at Gaza's largest hospital.
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    Last night I headed the press corps as we walked out of the theater after not being allowed to report on a visiting Syrian actor's gesture of solidarity with Gaza's troubles. I smiled at the irony of having had to travel to Jesus's backyard to begin a life of union leadership.

    Friday is a day of rest and the pace at Ramattan seemed to wallow. A welcome release, as if history had taken its foot off the gas for a few hours. "Good morning boys," wished Sami over his shoulder as he smoothly waltzed in and let his elegant frame slide onto an empty chair. I looked up and for a moment could swear that I was in Edward R. Murrow's CBS newsroom. It gave me thought as to the sense of urgency and duty with which the reporters that I had met in Gaza make their motivation resist surrender. I realized, there and then, that there was too much for me to learn.
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    A child looks into the sun. Eyes closed, head upturned, a toothless smile announces a coming of age. Optical cones put on a private pyrotechnical display of reds and blues and greens, dots that flicker and glow and turn into line drawings behind the closed eyelids. A man watches and decides to follow. The same upturned head and curtained look, but as the tepid, setting sunlight touches his skin, his thin lips tighten shut and his brow grows furrowed and moist. Sulfurous, gasping for life, his eyes burst open and quickly dart from side to side, above and below, and find solace in being able to put a name to what was unknown.

    It's like everyone's dried up inside, all the kindness and gentleness made hoarse from being rendered expendable, leaving nothing for no one. I see a small boy crying desperately, and for all his attending family, only an older man, someone as foreign to him as I, has the humanity to hold the child and make him feel that much less wretched.
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    "As long as there's money you can always get you what you want," Ismail had told me earlier on the way to Mohammed's apartment. Never truer, I thought, as the smell of freshly ground coffee wafted over the counter, up the stairs and across the mezzanine at Masaj, Gaza's more refined coffee shop on Omar Al-Mukhtar Avenue. As I sat looking out onto the bustling thoroughfare, patrons sipped from amber colored glass cups, and unhurriedly volleyed and returned remarks. Impeccably uniformed waiters diligently replaced emptied plates with fresh sweets. I listened and from the hanging speakers, over the subdued chatter, and without a hint of resentment, heard Tracy Chapman talk about a Revolution.