Photographer Asim Rafiqui is a photojournalist based in Sweden. He is currently in Gaza documenting the effects of Israel’s blockade and military operations on Gaza’s medical infrastructure, working with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. He writes about his discussions with Palestinians while smoking a water pipe (also known as a “hookah” or “narghile”) in this war-torn region.
The Defiance Of The Nargila
The water pipe has many names.
In the balkans it is called a ‘lula’ or ‘lulava’.
In Egypt and the Persian Gulf it is often referred to as a ‘shishe’.
In Iran it is called a ‘ganja’ pronounced as ‘ghelyoon’.
In India and Pakistan it is called a ‘huqqa’.
In Jordan, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Israel, it is called by the beautiful name of ‘narghile’ — a word that has its roots in sanskrit.
But I doubt if it has ever been called a weapon of defiance.
In 2003 I decided to rent an apartment in the city of Rafah, Gaza and document lives of the people living along the border with Egypt.
These mostly refugee neighborhoods were under assault from Israeli armored bulldozers and tanks – all part of the construction machinery being used to build the steel wall along the Philadephia Corridor – the code name the IDF used to describe the stretch of land it controlled between Rafah, Gaza and the Egyptian border.
Today it is the stretch of land that is being used by the Palestinians for the construction of tunnels, and the area the Israeli Air Force concentrated on as it attempted to destroy these tunnels.
One afternoon as I walked around these neighborhoods photographing displaced families, destroyed homes and the bulldozers working the area, I ran into a group of Palestinian men preparing to sit and smoke a narghile. They had spread out, in sight of a group of Israeli tanks protecting a bulldozer demolishing yet another Palestinian home in the area, a small blanket on the edge of the construction area, but within the 100 meter ‘no go’ zone the Israeli’s insisted on enforcing between the steel wall and any Palestinian building or person.
The men invited me to join them.
I hesitated, knowing full well that within minutes the tanks would approach this group of men and either threaten them or simply shoot at them. And sure enough, before we had managed to take our first few puffs of the narghile we saw the tanks starting to move towards us to investigate. We were soon forced to pack and leave.
When I asked the men why they had chosen to smoke there where they were sure to provoke the Israelis they laughed. To me it had seemed a careless act of bravado. I suspect that it was also a small act of defiance – to be where the Israelis had warned them not to be.
Last night in Gaza City, I went out for a narghile with some young Palestinians I have come to know while working here documenting the aftermath of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.
We sat and talked about ordinary things. The Palestinians always ask me the most ordinary questions; how do you spend your time with your wife? What do you do when you are not working? How do you play with your daughter? What games do you enjoy?
In turn, they tell me about their most important aspirations, and I am always struck by the ordinariness of them; The desire to find a good wife. The hope of finding a job that will bring them financial security. The hope of children, many children.
Ordinary things that over a narghile become the thing of dreams. And the water-pipe, a small act of defiance in the face of the incarceration and deprivation of life in Gaza.
An object that enables pleasures still available to the people here; companionship, conversation and the laughter of friends.
And in the aftermath of the horrors of this last confrontation with Israel, a small act of living life, a small act of defiance.
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