June 26, 2015  .Salem Saoody, 30, is getting his daughter Layan (L) and his niece Shaymaa 5 (R) in the only remaining piece from their damaged house, which is the bathing tub. They now live in a caravan near the rubbles. By Wissam Nassar.
June 26, 2015  .Salem Saoody, 30, is getting his daughter Layan (L) and his niece Shaymaa 5 (R) in the only remaining piece from their damaged house, which is the bathing tub. They now live in a caravan near the rubbles. By Wissam Nassar.

At Home in Gaza

text By paul moakley | Photographs by Wissam Nassar

Wissam Nassar, a Gaza-born photojournalist who has worked in the coastal enclave for the past eight years, has seen it all. He lives a life surrounded by war and reconstruction but finds the most authentic images he makes as a photographer in the subtler moments of reprieve.

“My family and I are refugees,” Nassar tells TIME, as he recalls growing up in Gaza as one of eight children from what he calls a very “working class family.” Nassar was first inspired to begin documenting Gaza’s most turbulent times while in college. He began his professional career covering the past three Israeli-Hamas wars in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

Nassar’s photographs show his homeland mired in a slow-motion recovery from the weekslong conflict that started July 8, 2014, and formally ended with an Aug. 26 ceasefire that has largely held since. Even so, daily existence is like life during wartime: This summer, Gazans have electricity only two to four hours a day, their power supply caught between rival governments in Israel, Egypt and the West Bank. In this surreal landscape, Nassar finds familial scenes; a young father bathing his kids, children playing, families sharing a meal.

“I focus on how the people want to live normal lives,” he says, “spending time at parks, beaches and coffee shops despite the rubble scattered everywhere.”

<span class="credit">Donkey's are eating near destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip on Strip, 31 July 2015. By Wissam Nassar.</span><span class="caption">Donkey's are eating near destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip on Strip, 31 July 2015. By Wissam Nassar.</span>

Donkeys graze near destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2015.

Young men practice parkour among the ruins of buildings that were damaged in the most recent conflict in Gaza, June 30 2015.

Young men practice parkour, June 2015.

Nassar, 32, began making photographs back in college while studying journalism at the Islamic University in Gaza. “There wasn’t a department that taught photography,” he says. In 2003, his freshman year, he began training with international photo agencies. “That was the greatest classroom for me,” he adds.

One of those agencies was Ma’an, a respected local news agency. “Ma’an had an agreement with AP and so my photos were then being published on the AP wire and I was also working with Xinhua, a Chinese news agency,” he recalls. “That is when other news outlets began to reach out with assignments.” He started taking photographs regularly for The New York Times in 2012, covering the assassination of the Hamas official Ahmed al-Jabari, and the ensuing war.

A key turning point in his career really came during the war in 2014 when his pictures began to make the front page of the Times. “A moment that I will never forget,” Nassar recalls, “I was photographing Sumaya Hasna, a four-year-old girl whose home was destroyed. Sumaya was separated from her family at the hospital and I followed her as she was being treated. She was scared, all alone and lost in the chaos at the hospital’s emergency room.”

“The last war left massive destruction in Gaza,” says Nassar. Nearly 142,000 housing units were impacted by the conflict, according to the United Nations—a level of destruction not seen in previous wars. “During the coverage of these houses, I witnessed people fleeing their home while others were still trapped under the rubble. I saw these devastated families, weeping, screaming and looking with great grief at the remains of their demolished homes.”

A palestinian man wearing a flag walks through the old central market in Gaza July 14, 2015.

A man wears a flag through a market, July 2015.

Masked Palestinian gunmen from Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing of Hamas, march during a rally marking the first anniversary of the Israeli war on Gaza, in central Gaza City on July 8, 2015.

The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, mark the first anniversary of the 2014 war, July 2015.

Palestinian fighters of the Izz Al-Din al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Hamas organization, sit around the bodies of seven fighters in Al Omari mosque during their funeral in Gaza City on January 29, 2016. Seven fighters from were killed after a tunnel built in the conflict with Israel collapsed.

Mourners from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades at a funeral of seven fighters in Gaza City, January 2016.

Palestinian father Yehiya Hassan and his son cry over the body of their two years old daughter and sisiter Rahaf Hassan during her funeral in the central Gaza Strip on October 11, 2015. An Israeli airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian woman who was five-months pregnant and her 2-year-old daughter. Four other members of the woman's family were injured when their home collapsed in Gaza City's Zaytoon neighbourhood, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said. The Israeli military said it targeted two weapons workshops after Palestinian militants launched a missile at the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.

Yehiya Hassan and his son cry over the body of Rahaf, 2, killed in an airstrike, October 2015.

During this time, Nassar’s experiences began to deepen his outlook. “I wanted to illustrate the resilience of the people of Gaza,” he says, “as they rigorously tried to continue their lives after such a devastating war. Many people did not wait for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, and instead returned to their dilapidated homes, setting up tents on the rubble of their completely destroyed houses fearing that they might be uprooted from their own birthplace.”

He explains that most people in Gaza, like anywhere else in the world, want to enjoy the finer things in life. “People abroad think that Gaza is inhabitable,” he explains, “and that the people of Gaza are desperate. However, Gaza is a very beautiful place with hotels, coffee shops and resorts overlooking the beach.”

“The main problem faced by the people of Gaza,” he says, “is the restriction of movement due to the continuous closure of the Rafah Crossing [to Egypt]. This has lead to a state of distress for many people who would like to find work, study or receive specialized treatment abroad or spend their holidays outside the country.” One day Nassar hopes to have more of an opportunity to make a name for himself outside Gaza and pursue international stories. In 2015, he was selected by a panel (which included the author of this article) for the World Press Joop Swart Masterclass in Amsterdam, where he studied with an international group of photographers and editors.

Despite being witness to so many periods of war and recovery, Nassar says, “a strong feeling in my heart motivated me to keep working.”

Thirty five meters under the ground, a Palestinian smuggler is trying to pull water out of a tunnel, which is linking Gaza with Egypt, after it was flooded with sea water by the Egyptian Authoriites in Rafah in southern Gaza, October 2, 2015.

A smuggler pumps water out of a tunnel flooded by Egyptian authorities in Rafah, October 2015.

Palestinian groom Mohammed Yousef Al-Masri, 23, and his bride Zekriat Hamza Al-Masri, 20, pose for a picture next to their makeshift tent housing near their destroyed houses, which were damaged during the Israeli war against Gaza in the summer of 2014, during their wedding in Beit Hanun town in the northern Gaza Strip, October 1, 2015.

Mohammed Yousef Al-Masri, 23, and his bride Zekriat Hamza Al-Masri, 20, pose by their makeshift tent, October 2015. Their homes were damaged in the 2014 war.

Samah, while hugging her 8-year old Daughter Enshirah, who is suffering from Brain Cancer and living in very bad economic circumstances. Samah hopes that Enshirah recovers and become able to go to school. Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip.

Samah, holding her daughter Enshirah, 8, suffers from brain cancer and lives in poverty in Beit Hanoun.

General view for the Cravans community in Khuzaa, east of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip where people live in a critical situation since they were displaced after the Israeli military offensive over Gaza last summer on July 6, 2015.

A view of Khuza’a, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, July 2015.

A sand storm shrouds the Gaza strip, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. An unseasonal sandstorm hit many countries in the Middle East with a blanket of yellow dust on Tuesday, sending hundreds of people to hospitals with breathing difficulties and causing the deaths of two women, officials said.

A sandstorm shrouds the Gaza Strip, September 2015.

Ahmed Zayara 39, smokes inside his house during cold weather in an impoverished area in Al-Zitun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, February 4, 2016.

Ahmed Zayara 39, smokes at home in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, February 2016.

Sara Abushawish, aged 9, is looking through the window of her family courrugated iron sheet house beside candlelight in al-Zaitoun Nieghborhood in eastern Gaza Strip.on Aug. 12, 2017. Most Palestinian in Gaza Strip use batteries, generators or candles to light their homes. Residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, experience some 20 of electricity outage per day. According to reports, the Gaza Strip sole functioning power on 16 April 2017 ran out of fuel and stopped working. The Gaza Power Generating Compan. By Wissam Nassar.

Sara Abushawish, 9, at her family’s corrugated iron sheet house in the Zeitoun area, August 2017.

Eman Darabi 32, cooks food in the kitchen for her children in Beit lahyia northern gaza strip on on September 14, 2015 during a power outage. Residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, have been experiencing up to 15 hours of electricity outage a day for the past two weeks due to fuel and power shortages.

Eman Darabi, 32, cooks for her family during a power outage in Beit Lahia, September 2015.

Al-Najjar family are breaking their fast at a cravan where they are staying since their house was demolished last summer on July , 6 2015.

The Al-Najjar family breaks their fast in a caravan where they are staying since their home was demolished, July 2015.

A Palestinian child riding in a colourful electric cart in Gaza port on June 1, 2015.

A girl rides in a colorful electric cart, June 2015.

Ahmed Atawna going down at the stairs of their demolished house in Al-Shaaf area. The family live in a tent near the damaged house. in the east of Gaza on, 01 July 2015. By Wissam Nassar.

Ahmed Atawna on the stairs of his demolished house, July 2015. The family lives in a tent nearby.

Palestinians dressed in costumes perform during an event for children in front of destroyed houses in Gaza City's Shujaiya neighbourhood on July 8, 2015 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas' militants in the summer of 2014.One year ago, a new war erupted between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the third in six years. In the course of the conflict -- the longest, deadliest and most destructive -- 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 551 children. More than 10,000 were wounded and 100,000 were left homeless. On the Israeli side 73 people were killed, of whom 67 were soldiers. Up to 1,600 were wounded, according to the United Nations. By Wissam Nassar.

Performers in the ruins of the Shujaiya neighborhood on the first anniversary of the 50-day war, July 2015.

Gazan citizens gathering around 2 Cubs "Baby Lions" to take pictures with them for half a dollar at the "Unknown Soldier" square mid of Gaza City.on May 28, 2015. BY Wissam Nassar.

Residents gather at Gaza City’s “Unknown Soldier” square to photograph lion cubs a local man kept as pets, May 2015.

Palestinian young men set fireworks amid the rubble of destroyed houses in Al Shaaf neighborhood, in the east of Gaza City, Gaza Strip, July4, 2015. A group of Palestinians put their aims to light the darkness with fireworks at devastated urban areas in the Gaza Strip during the holy month of Ramadan. They were celebrating the graduation of public secondary students.By Wissam Nassar.

Young men set off fireworks during Ramadan in the Al Shaaf neighborhood, July 2015.

Ten years old Ahmad Al Atawna stands amongst the rubble of his family destroyed house before nightfall during a power outage, in Al Shejaeiya neighbourhood, in the east of Gaza City, 27 July 2015. Residents of Gaza, home to 1.8 Million people, have been experiencing up to 15 to 18 hours of electricity outage a day for the past two weeks due to fuel and power shortages. By Wissam Nassar.

Ahmad Atawna, 10, amidst the rubble of his family’s home during a power outage, July 2015.

— With reporting and translation by Rami Nazzal/Ramallah

Wissam Nassar is a photographer living in Gaza. Follow him on Instagram @wissamgaza.

Paul Moakley is TIME’s deputy director of photography and visual enterprise. Follow him on Twitter @paulmoakley.

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