Chinese dissident artist documents Gaza's 'plight'

Ai Weiwei films in Gaza as part of his global refugee crisis documentary, while lamenting 'long history' of 'Palestinian refugees.'

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Ai Weiwei in Gaza
Ai Weiwei in Gaza

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Thursday he felt compelled to visit the Hamas terror enclave of Gaza to understand its part in the global refugee crisis for a documentary he is filming.

While Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans have formed the bulk of the thousands of people fleeing to Europe, hundreds of Palestinian Arabs have also made the journey.

And Ai said he could not ignore the decades-old reality of "Palestinian refugees" due to their "long history" - in a reference to the Arab residents of Israel who left in the 1948 War of Independence to allow the invading Arab armies the chance to destroy the fledgling Jewish state.

"It is a big population and has such a complexity of political conditions and affects a huge society," he told AFP.

"If we are doing a documentary film we have to search (for) what happened in this refugee situation in the global sense and Gaza is a very, very important location we have to film in."

Gaza is home to more than 1.7 million people, over 1.25 million of whom are "refugees," according to the United Nations.

While the UN established UNRWA, a special body to help "Palestinian refugees" that does not naturalize them in host countries as it does with all other refugees, it has ignored the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were violently forced from Arab countries following the establishment of the modern Jewish state. 

Most "Palestinian refugees" in Gaza come from families who left their homes during the War of Independence in 1948, and Ai joked that he arrived "late" to the story.

Gazans "want to go to Europe"

While the global film world has been focused on the Cannes Film Festival this week, the dissident documentary maker, who was jailed for 81 days over his support for democracy and human rights in China, entered Gaza.

He traveled to a number of parts of the Hamas-rune area, including Jabalia camp in northern Gaza where he met "refugees" and displaced people whose homes were destroyed in Hamas's third terror war against Israel in 2014.

Hamas has likewise siphoned off humanitarian goods intended for Gazan residents to build up its terror infrastructures, in a cruel exploitation of its civilians.

Ai also visited the Rafah border crossing with neighboring Egypt which Egyptian authorities opened temporarily for two days from Wednesday morning, where he interviewed a number of "refugees" crossing from Gaza.

Egypt has been operating a massive buffer zone inside Gaza since late 2014 to prevent smuggling and terrorism over the border with Sinai.

He shared a series of photos from Gaza on Instagram, ranging from armed men to a starving tiger in a Gazan zoo.

In another photo, he poses with a number of young Palestinian women by the port in Gaza City.

Mona Karaaz, a medical student at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, was among them and said she was considering leaving for good.

"I want to travel to Germany or any European country to find a job there. In Europe maybe I can become a scientist," she said.

6,000 Palestinians leaving for Greece

The Hamas terrorist organization, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has ruled Gaza since winning elections and forcibly seizing control in 2007 from Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction.

The two groups have remained intense rivals, even after Abbas torpedoed US-initiated peace talks with Israel in April 2014 to sign a unity deal with Hamas.

"We lost hope in the (Palestinian) Authority and Hamas and all the factions," Karaaz said, adding that she hoped Ai "can take our message to the world."

More than 6,000 Palestinians last year arrived in Greece, a major migrant gateway to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.

But Chris Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, said competing UN remits meant they often "fall through the cracks" and do not get the help they need.

Dozens of Palestinians from Gaza drowned when their boat to Europe sank in late 2014. "Amid the massive refugee flows today, the Palestine refugees are the invisible refugee crisis," Gunness said.

"We have to coexist"

Ai's film, which he said is expected to be shown next year, discusses refugee issues across the globe.

He said he had faced a number of obstacles on his global tour, in which he conducted hundreds of interviews with refugees in Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, Macedonia and elsewhere.

"To shoot (video) in refugee situations is not easy," he said. "All the refugees are oppressed by political powers."

"We had problems but we always overcame those problems," he said.

Ai also shared online photos of his entry and exit visas from Palestinian and Israeli authorities, which are nearly impossible for many Gazans to obtain due to security measures over the blatant dangers of terrorist infiltration.

And he called for Israelis and Palestinians to understand each other better.

"We are living in the 21st century. We have to accept all humans are equal. We are not different from each other," he said.

"We have to coexist. We have to understand and to be inclusive to other people - different types of people - because humanity is the only thing we have."

In an ironic twist given Ai's comments and his support for Gaza's "plight," Hamas's charter calls for the genocide of the Jewish people, and its strict Islamist approach has led to a serious suppression of the freedoms of its civilians.

AFP contributed to this report.

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