From earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and in Morocco, flooding in Libya, and the Israeli war on Gaza, it has been a difficult year. Despite everything, we haven't gotten used to such scenes. In the era of social media, others’ pain becomes visible to us, closer than we could have ever imagined, almost within arm's reach. It is just a scroll or click away.
In our year-end review, we had hoped to look back and see moments of joy documented through photography, but this proved challenging considering the current situation in the region. Below are ten of the most striking images of 2023 from the Arab world. It is our hope that 2024 brings solace for every moment of sorrow the world has experienced this year.
1- She was wearing a green sweater during the Syria-Turkey earthquake
Many pictures emerged after the earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6, 2023, including that of a gravestone marked “An unidentified body. A child wearing a green sweater.” This image quickly spread across social media, prompting collective introspection. The child did not survive, she did not choose this death, nor did she want to be buried as an unknown person, in an unmarked grave. Syrians have experienced much tragedy since 2011, and in the wake of the earthquake, many wondered how much more these people could take.
From Issam Abdallah's last selfie, to the grave of "an unidentified body.. A child wearing a green sweater" after the Syria-Turkey earthquake, and ending with "What if Christ had been born today?"... The year 2023 in ten pictures across the Arab World
2- The earthquake in Morocco that raised questions about infrastructure
Photograph by Fadel Senna, Agence France-Presse (AFP)
This photo of an elderly Moroccan woman circulated on the morning following the earthquake that struck the southern regions of Morocco on the evening of September 8, 2023, registering a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale. The quake claimed the lives of at least 2,946 people, and prompted questions about the vulnerability of the country's infrastructure, the quality and age of the buildings, and delays in the government's response to aid the victims, as well as the difficulty reaching victims trapped beneath the debris in the dark.
3- A visual contrast: Libya before and after the devastating floods
This side-by-side comparison illustrates the devastating impact of the floods that swept through eastern Libya between September 9 and September 11, 2023. The floods were a result of the Mediterranean storm Daniel, which ravaged most areas of the eastern region, and resulted in the deaths of at least 4,352 people, displaced over 43,000, and another 8,000 remain missing. Additionally, the country suffered massive losses to its infrastructure, with many buildings destroyed and swept away by the floods. On December 6, 2023, Human Rights Watch emphasized the urgent need for an independent investigation into the Libyan authorities' shortcomings in dealing with the floods and the widespread destruction.
4- Issam Abdallah: Moments between sharing a 'story' and his murder
Many have been moved by the selfie Issam Abdallah, a Lebanese photojournalist for Reuters, shared on social media minutes before he was killed by Israel on October 13, 2023. His murder transported him from behind the camera, as the messenger of news, to the news story itself. Abdallah, along with a number of other journalists, was deliberately targeted by Israel. The journalists killed that day were clad in press vests and helmets, to cover the clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the village of Alma El Chaab, southern Lebanon.
Many were pained by Issam's death, especially since Reuters, the agency he had been working for, initially published an obituary with no mention or accusation of Israel. It was not until December 7 that Reuters published a report officially stating that Abdullah was killed by Israel.
Issam's selfie remained visible on his Instagram account for 24 hours, long after news of his murder had spread. While we do not know how many times it was viewed, we can only imagine the number of users who viewed it over and over, still in disbelief that the person who had shared this image moments ago was no longer alive.
5- Death alongside the scent of food
Photograph by journalist Ahmed Hijazi
On the night of October 17, 2023, Israel bombed the Al-Ahli (Baptist) Hospital in Gaza in a direct attack, killing hundreds of civilians, including the child whose image circulated in the media. This image remains ingrained in the minds of many. The child was still holding onto what remained of his meal.
At the time of the bombing, the hospital was partially as a shelter for the displaced seeking refuge from Israeli airstrikes on their homes. Survivors of this attack have since faced multiple bitter journeys of displacement.
In this year-end review, we had hoped to look back and see moments of joy documented in photos, but it seems challenging today given the current situation in the region.
6- In Gaza: Rose water vinegar for treating wound infections
Photograph by Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta
In this image, posted by Palestinian doctor Ghassan Abu Sitta on October 19, 2023, the severity of the situation in Gaza is clear. Dr. Abu Sitta disclosed that given the lack of necessary medical supplies, he has been forced to use “rose water vinegar from the corner shop to treat pseudomonas bacterial wound infections. It's come to that.”
Until he was forced to leave Gaza on November 8, Abu Sitta consistently shared updates from the ground on social media. He documented how the healthcare sector was faring amidst bombardments and medical supply shortages, and used his platform to detail some of the atrocities committed by Israel.
“I left Gaza yesterday.
My heart and my soul are still there with my patients. I remember their names and their wounds. I will fight until they receive the treatment they need and the justice they deserve.
My heart is broken in ways I never knew was possible.”
He continues to talk about Gaza, and gave a testimony to a British war crimes investigation unit as a witness to war crimes in Gaza.
7- Motaz Azaiza: "What more can I show you?"
Photograph by Mustafa Musallem
This image was widely circulated on day 30 of the Israeli war on Gaza. Photographer Motaz Azaiza shared it to convey the palpable combination of fatigue, disappointment, grief, and the question, “what's next?”
Alongside the image he shared, he wrote words that still resonate today:
“I just don’t know what more should be done. What more can be lost? Or what more can I show you?
We will all be killed, and the terror will destroy us from the inside, and no one will stop this genocide.
To the entire world, stop giving advice. It’s been a MONTH!”
Photograph by Arafat Barbakh, Reuters
During the 7-day long ceasefire, children in Gaza were able to enjoy a moment of calm, play and laughter. This photograph was taken at an event organized by volunteers on November 28 to entertain displaced children in Khan Yunis. The fate of the children in the photograph is unknown, after recent renewed airstrikes leveled most of the city.
9- “If Jesus were born today, he would be born under the rubble’
Photograph by Pastor Munther Isaac
“Christmas celebrations are canceled this year. It is impossible to celebrate Christmas while our people in Gaza are going through a genocide, when children are being massacred in such a brutal manner.”
This is what Pastor Munther Isaac, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (Beit Lahem), said while sending a message to the world by altering the nativity scene this year. While the world prepares to celebrate Christmas in various ways, “this is what Christmas looks like in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ […] If Christ were born again today, he would be born under the rubble in Gaza, in solidarity with the people of Gaza.”
The patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem announced Christmas would be canceled this year, “limited to prayers and religious rituals.”
10- Raseef22 enters its 10th year
From the global to the personal, let's step back for a moment.
In August this year, Raseef22 turned 10. This photograph marks a small celebration with some of our team members, spread across a number of different countries.
On the occasion of our 10th anniversary, we published a special file entitled On the Road (Raseef) of the Future, focusing on what lies ahead. Thinking optimistically might seem like an almost impossible task today, but we wish to remain optimistic, just as we have been in the past, and just as we will continue to do so tomorrow.
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