At the beginning of any foreign correspondents’ career you are given one tip “your story is only as good as your fixer,” a fixer is a local producer who helps get access to any story. Ameera Ahmad Harouda is precisely the type of fixer any foreign correspondent hopes to come across. In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas requires all foreign journalists to work with a fixer, Ameera was the first woman to work in this predominately male role.
“I never thought I wanted to be a journalist but I felt it is the only way to change the idea about women in my society,” said Ameera. After many attempts at Skype interviews and her lack of decent internet connection we had to resort to facebook messenger from the Gaza Strip, the only means of communication she managed to have regular access to. “It wasn’t easy for the society to accept me and they started talking about my behaviour and honour which is a very sensitive issue in the Arab world, but my family give me huge support and they trust me and the work I do.”
Gaza has additional challenges for over 16 hours a day they have no electricity. Not easy for journalists who rely on being connected to the external world. For Ameera working as a freelancer and trying to bring up two children in these circumstances without a steady income is additionally challenging. She says drinking water is available but at a cost, good schools are scarce and the only one available to the average citizen is a private school, but with her rollerdeck of international contact and her being held in high regarded internationally she is often the first fixer foreign journalists call.
Last year the World Bank issued a warning that Gaza was on the verge of collapse, at 43% unemployment in the Gaza Strip is the highest in the world.
“As the borders are closed there is not enough building materials, food, cooking gas, fuel entering Gaza,” says Ameera. “The Israelis give us only what we need day by day so when it is war or it is the Israeli holiday we get nothing. Thousands need to leave Gaza Strip for work or study they can’t as it is literally like living in a prison.”
During the years Ameera has helped broadcasters such as BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera route out stories that male fixers could not access. In the early days her society would cause her problems if she worked at night but over time she realised being a woman got her access to stories men could never get access to and this became her strength. She gets into settings in a Muslim country that can only be told through a woman’s eyes.
Over the past decade Ameera has seen and accompanied journalists on many stories, including drug addiction in Gaza, the tunnels that once were a lifeline for Gazans but are now shut off by the Egyptians and obviously stories of war.
“Many stories move me especially stories about children. I covered many stories when the children are the victims of this war, and I still keep their pictures and videos,” writes Ameera. “I am a mother and it is hard for me to see these kids it comes to my mind the image of my own kids.”
Ameera has faced challenges few people will ever have to experience, and in February this year she was invited by TED in Canada to give a talk about her extraordinary life. At the age of 36 she made her first journey out of Gaza. She speaks about her dreams of being a pilot but as she lives in Gaza, a land without an airport this could never happen. Instead she is in charge of the many Western journalists who she guides through the streets of Gaza. She walks a fine line. She must ensure her charges remain safe and also that they do not cover a story that Hamas will not want covered.
The biggest stories for the international press occur when the Israelis bomb Gaza, a time Ameera is most busy. She says she feels a responsibility to be on the frontline, to bring the stories that are important to her society to international attention and of course she is aware of the precarious nature of her work.
“During the last war while I was covering the attack in Shyjaa’a Market and the Israeli start bombing again that day. I thought I would never make it so I called my mother to ask her to take care of my kids and to tell them how much I love them,” said Ameera.
Ameera has broken the taboo on women working in journalists and in the past 10 years many more have followed her into the business.
“Before many women they worked in other fields and some in journalism but only in offices or for special channels but not in the filed like me when I start but now yes we have some doing the same job as me and I am happy because of that these women they don’t have to face what I face that time,” she said.
For Ameera, it is not just that her job allows her to show the world what Gazans go through but to build a life for her eight years old daughter and very young son. Her daughter dreams to do her mother’s job and speaks English but life in Gaza is never certain and never easy.
“In Gaza you can’t imagine how is your future you may get killed or shoot in any war or attack, I don’t feel we have future we live day by day of course I want a better life for my kids but there is nothing I can do even if I am not working as Journalist I will be in danger as there is no safe place in Gaza.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Leila Lak is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and chief journalist of Revista Diaspora.