Videographer's 'Happy' View Of Gaza Turns Tragic

Jul 24, 2014
Originally published on July 24, 2014 7:39 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Whether you'd like to or not, you have probably heard Pharrell Williams' hit song, "Happy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY")

PHARRELL WILLIAMS: (Singing) Because I'm happy. Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.

INSKEEP: All right, after that song came out last year, people worldwide made "Happy" dance videos of their own. Somebody even made a "Happy: Gaza" video just a few months ago. NPR's Emily Harris found the producer of that video yesterday, as he viewed a tragic Gaza where more than 700 people are now dead and thousands wounded in the war between Israel and Hamas.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Palestinian Anas Hamra grew up in Gaza. He made the "Happy: Gaza" video last April, shortly after he'd come back from studying in New York.

ANAS HAMRA: Once I came from the U.S., I had that so-high, positive energy to come back to Gaza and make some change, at least draw a smile on people of Gaza's faces, you know?

HARRIS: And even in a land of salty tap water, high unemployment and sharp restrictions on travel, life in Gaza was not all misery. That was one message of the video, Hamra says.

HAMRA: Showing the happiness that we still - humans, we feel happy, although the tough times we're living at. And the second message, that we deserve to live.

HARRIS: At that time, the threat was the slow death, as many Gazans call it, of the economic blockade by neighbors Israel and Egypt - not the current, quick death of war. Hamra and I are talking in Gaza's biggest hospital. He just spent 24 hours here with his video camera, and he's suppressing any emotion.

HAMRA: Maybe we are becoming cold, but I have to. Yeah, I have to.

(CROWD SHOUTING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

HARRIS: Hamra came to the hospital for an online project documenting what happens here - a man with a bleeding stomach carried from one car, a dusty child, eyes open, from another. Hamra interviewed a father whose three children were burned in an Israeli strike. He ran into friends here at the hospital and was unprepared for what he heard.

HAMRA: I came to cover stories, but I didn't expect to cover my friends' stories.

HARRIS: One story in particular he cannot shake.

HAMRA: Someone of my friends works with NGOs. He got a call to evacuate their house. OK, let's try to call some friends in the international community to help us because bombing was everywhere surrounded by house.

HARRIS: They didn't get any help.

HAMRA: They got the airstrike. And he's the only one who survived among his wife and his mother and his children.

HARRIS: Hamra says the worst moment in 24 hours at the hospital was when an airstrike hit nearby. The "Happy" video he made in April has many scenes of cheerful children dancing by the sea. But even children at the beach are now linked to sorrow in Gaza, after an Israeli airstrike last week killed four boys playing on the sand. On his laptop, Hamra pulls up a picture an Israeli artist created to remember. It shows shadows of four boys running by the waves.

HAMRA: Just four children and a ball and the beach. And, of course, it's going to be sad because there's no bodies - it's just about the shadows.

HARRIS: "Happy" is, needless to say, not a song stuck in Hamra's head right now. If he were making a dance video now, he said, he might choose this song by Swedish DJ Avicii.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE ME UP")

AVICII: (Singing) So wake me up when it's all over, when I'm wiser and I'm older.

HARRIS: Wake me up when it's all over, whenever that may be. Emily Harris. NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.