Category Archives: Stories From Gaza

One Boat Left

By Mohammad Arafat, in Gaza. This article is from our partners at We Are Not Numbers.

Solidarity with Gaza fishers is proud to introduce an ongoing series featuring the work of these young Palestinian journalists.

The Gaza Strip is home to hundreds of unsung heroes. They are artists resisting the Israeli occupation with their brushes, poets using their words to envision a different future for their people, and teachers arming their students with the knowledge they will need to sustain an economy—if they are ever allowed to do business. They also are fishermen who sail into the Mediterranean Sea every morning, seeking to earn a living despite the ever-present risk of their boats being confiscated and their lives being stolen by Israeli bullets.

After trying to contact him for almost three days, I finally met Zaky Taroosh. He was accompanied by his youngest son, Abdul Latif, who had followed in his father’s footsteps to become a fisherman. Although I first saw them only from a distance, sitting on a scooter puffing black smoke and groaning in resistance near the Bank of Palestine in the Al-Remal neighborhood of Gaza City, I had already begun to sense the pain they have endured.

I hurried to shake their rough hands. Zaky shook my own warmly and gave me a big smile. Abdul Latif was silent due to reasons I could not determine at first.

The two were perspiring heavily in the afternoon heat, so we sat down on a broken bench in Al-Jondi Square, where most of Gaza’s bored, unemployed youths hang out. The three of us sat on that seat under the shadow of a very tall, old tree, whose shade helped us relax. We sipped a cup of unsweetened coffee purchased from a peddler.

Zaky has eight children, four of whom are sons and fishermen. Sipping a little coffee with his right hand and wiping away his sweat with his left, he started telling Abdul Latif’s story.

“A year ago, Abdul Latif was fishing near Al-Waha, a region near the northern beach of Gaza, and he caught a tremendous number of fish. He was so happy he didn’t realize he was crossing the border line between Israel and Gaza!”

I held my breath, anticipating what would come next.

“As soon as my son saw the Israeli cruiser approaching like a storm, he started to paddle his small boat,” Zaky recounted.

I looked at Abdul Latif, who was sweating as if what his father described was happening in front of him. I turned back to Zaky, who took a box of Royal cigarettes from his torn right pocket, then lit one with an old lighter; I learned later it had been handed down from his father, who was killed in 1967 by the Israeli occupation forces. Zaky was just 3 years old at the time of his father’s death.

“The Israeli navy started pumping water at his small boat, so it capsized—injuring my son [with a gash to his head],” Zaky resumed,.

The Israeli forces arrested him and seized his boat. Abdul Latif was taken to an unknown place in the city now called Ashdod by Israel, where he was treated and interrogated. One day later, he was sent home through the Israeli crossing called Erez.

In Gaza, the government’s internal security department kept him in custody for about a week to investigate what he had endured and what he may have said. It is not unusual for Israeli “security” officers to try to recruit Palestinians as collaborators.

Abdu Latif finally was allowed to return home, but his boat is still in Israel until today.

About a year later, Zaky and his family lost a second fishing boat when another son, Zayed, was fishing with his friend, Mahmoud Bakr.

“Together, they had a good day of fishing; the Israelis had just decided that week to increase the fishing zone (from six miles) to nine,” Zaky explained, taking a last drag on his cigarette before throwing it down and stamping it with his black sandal.

I wanted Abdul Latif to join the conversation, so I asked him when this incident occurred. He was hesitant to talk, but then told me it was April 2016.

Zaky continued: “The Israeli army attacked their boat and arrested Zayed and Mahmoud. Their boats were stolen and they were kept in prison for three months.”

I stared at Zaky in disbelief.

“The Israeli authorities accused the two boys of attacking the army in the sea,” he continued. “An Israeli judge asked for proof, in the form of video footage from the camera installed on the cruiser. The footage was brought in and the judge found nothing that documented the accusations against them, so the two boys were finally released.”

However, Zayed’s boat was never returned.

I urged Zaki to buy a new boat to join his sons’ last remaining vessel. He laughed bitterly, telling me that one small boat costs about 30,000 shekels ($8,500).

“Even if I get a boat from a humanitarian organization, I cannot work anymore,” he said flatly.

I asked him why, since he is still young and his children can help. He remained silent for five seconds, then told me he had been injured himself by the Israeli navy when his boat was attacked, and that bullet fragments are lodged inside his body.

“The fragments hurt so much when the weather gets cool,” he groaned.

I realized then what it means to be a Palestinian fisherman living in the Gaza Strip, spending nights and early mornings being chased by the Israeli navy and afternoons knitting his tattered nets.

I decided to try one last time to persuade Abdul Latif to talk. Soon I learned he has been engaged for a year and a half and cannot marry due to lack of money. The entire family—Zaky and his wife, his unmarried daughter, his four sons and three daughters-in-law—lives together in one apartment that is barely fit for animals. The daily electricity blackouts seem to be an omen for a bleak, unknown future.

A family of fishermen – minus one

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By Leen Abu Said, in Gaza. This article is from our partners at We Are Not Numbers.

WANN_logoSolidarity with Gaza fishers is proud to introduce an ongoing series featuring the work of these young Palestinian journalists.Majed Bakr and his granddaughter [photo by Ezz Al Zanoon]

On May 15, 2017, Israeli naval forces shot dead a young fisherman from Gaza while he was in his boat. Below is an interview with Majed Bakr, the father of the victim—also a fisherman from Gaza and a member of the family of the four little Bakr boys killed by an Israeli missile while playing on the beach in 2014.

 

Could you introduce yourself to my readers?

Majed: My name is Majed Bakr. My four sons and I have suffered due to Israel’s [restrictions on our livelihood] since 2012 [when the first of the attacks on our boat occurred] until the 15th of May of this year. As our ability to fish becomes more complicated, each day becomes another day of suffering for us. [Note: For so-called “security” reasons, the Israeli military prohibits boats from Gaza from sailing out more than three to 9 nautical miles, depending on their whim. However, the best fish are found 11 or more miles out.]

What happened on the 15th of May?

Majed: As usual, my sons Omran, Fadi, Saddam and Mohammed sailed out to sea to fish. This is how we make a living. They were 400 meters away from the Israeli-imposed nine-nautical-mile limit. Suddenly, an Israeli patrol boat started shooting live bullets at their  boat. One of them hit my son, Mohammed, in his heart. Obviously, the others who were with him are not doctors and couldn’t save his life. They shouted to get urgent help. He was already vomiting blood and his heart had swelled like a balloon by the time the  Israeli navy came to take him to a hospital in Majdal, a city in occupied Palestine.

If they wanted to save him, then why did they shoot at him in the first place?

Majed: This is their policy: to ruin with the right hand, then to fix with the left. Therefore, their position looks as if it’s legal and humanitarian internationally. (Majed heaves a deep sigh.) And he died.

I’m sorry.

(Long silence.)

1502908588Mohammed Bakr

How old was he?

Majed: He was born on the 19th of February in 1992, and he died on the 15th of May. He was 25 years old. He has two daughters: Joud, 3 years old, and Majeda 10 months. On the day of the funeral, Joud saw his father’s dead body and said, “Dad is asleep. He went to the sea. He is not back yet.”

Do you still sail now?

Majed: I sail every day with my sons. I am a 57-year-old man and this is my life. But then one day, I said to Omran, “Son, you all are young men now. You can depend on yourselves.” Four days later, they went fishing without me and the accident happened. The Israeli navy boat was so fast; it was as if my sons’ boat was not moving. My son told me how Mohammed hugged the motor of the boat so the Israelis would stop shooting, but to no avail. We had taken out the boat as a loan in Mohammed’s name from the FATEN (Palestinian Credit and Development) Association, planning to buy it. But it was shot with seven bullets, and Mohammed died. I wish the boat was gone instead!

Why did they shoot him? Did he exceed the sailing limit?

Majed: A fisherman never intends to exceed the limit, but it happens very easily. The sea is naturally unstable. While a fisherman sails, the current pulls the boat as much as 300 meters in any direction. When we see an Israeli boat, we try to escape quickly. But the Israeli boats are free to shoot at us; sometimes they do, other times they leave us alone. This time, I was not with my sons, but the other times—since 2012—I was.

What else happened during that time?

Majed: Israel has destroyed five of my boats, in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and, now, the fifth one this year. We paid only two months of the loan on the boat. We do not know how we can afford the rest now. It is a loan tied to Mohammed’s soul. (Note: In Islam, the soul is tied by any debts it has in life. When the dead person’s siblings pay his debt, his soul is liberated and becomes free from punishment.)

What does each boat cost?

Majed: It costs at least $10,000. We repaired one of the boats, which was brought back destroyed. That cost us 8,000 NIS [about $2,200].

Does fishing deserve all this sacrifice?

Majed: I adore the sea. Fishing is the profession of my ancestors. If I fish five hours a day, I earn just 30 NIS [$8]. But it’s better than working 12 hours a day as a construction worker and making the same amount. It is enough to live ok in Gaza. Here, even the employer whose daily salary is 400 NIS [$110] is in debt. Each son can never marry and have a family if they live in separate houses. So, with each one of them making 30 NIS, the total allows us to live in one house comfortably and to eat together. Only Allah blesses our days. But our lives are controlled by Israel’s mood.

Why does the fishing limit differ from one time to another?

Majed: The Israelis are not idiots. They know that the area in the sea where there are the most fish is found 11 miles or more from shore. We know this because we fished up to 14 miles before the siege on Gaza began. And not all of Gaza’s sea is open even up to 9 miles. They also prevent us from fishing in the entire sea during the reproduction season.

The fish usually stay in calm waters. So, we see the fish but we can’t fish. The Israeli navy officers say loudly in Hebrew, “The fish are ours, not yours.” But we never see any Israeli fishermen! Sometimes the Israeli navy uses water cannons to turn the boats of Gaza fishermen upside down, making the motors wet and obstructing the fishing process.

When will these attacks stop?

Majed: They will never stop. We are attacked daily. Since the beginning of the siege until now, I’ve lost six of my friends, and now my son. Mohammed is not the first martyr to the sea, nor will he be the last. Fishermen in Gaza have started losing hope. Some are selling their boats for one-third of their real cost. But we can’t stop fishing. We must go back to the sea to feed the family. To try to live is much better than to die without trying.

How is your family now?

Majed: We are all depressed. My wife wakes up crying and falls asleep crying. Mohammed’s wife can no longer live among us. I, as a man, look strong but my heart is broken. When I used to shout at Mohammed, as his father, his mother would stop me by saying, “When I gave birth to him, I lost my vision [fainted] for two hours.” And now, she loses her vision as she cries for him.

How will you live after this?

Majed: I don’t know exactly. Life is hard. One time, the wives of my sons gave me their wedding jewelry to sell so I could use the money to buy a new boat.

How do you feel now toward the sea?

Majed: I cannot look at it. I want to go to the Gaza port, but when I arrive, I turn around and go back home right away.

I have one last wish: I wish that no one has to bury his son or daughter while he is alive. No one, neither a friend nor an enemy.

 

A man and his boat

By Tarneem Hammad, in Gaza. This article and the video below (The Sea is our Refuge) are from our partners at We Are Not Numbers

WANN_logo

Solidarity with Gaza fishers is proud to introduce an ongoing series featuring the work of these young Palestinian journalists.

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I am Rajab Abu Riyala, a fisherman from an early age. I am in love with fishing and I’d l be lying if I said I would rather do another job. The sea is my “talent” and if you take me out of the sea, just like a fish, I’d die. It’s not because I come from a family of fishermen and fishing is our livelihood, no. It’s because of my love of marine life and sailing. Half of my life was spent on Gaza’s sea and the other half on paying the price of the first half.

At the age of 15, I used to work side by side with my father on his boat while studying for my school exams. When I finished my last year at high school, I wished I to further my studies in university. But the odds were not on my side. My dad was getting older and weaker, so I decided to help him and pursue my passion for fishing.

The first time

One day, at 6 a.m. during a cold winter in 2005, my father and I set out to sea off the coast of Rafah for our morning catch. We remained within the Israeli-imposed 12-nautical-mile limit (today, it is much less), but suddenly we saw an Israeli naval boat heading toward us.

“All fishermen! Stop the boats! I said stop the boats or we’ll open fire!” a soldier on the boat boomed at us through a megaphone.

We stopped our boats and what happened next was very humiliating. The soldiers commanded that we take off our clothes and jump into the water, or we’d be shot. Everyone else did, and were taken out of the water and onto the Israeli naval boat with their hands tied and blindfolded. Then they were subjected to hours of investigation, while their boats were confiscated.

But my father and I refused to take off our clothes and give up our catch. We refused to be taken It was very cold and windy; I was wearing three pairs of socks and a rubber suit, but still it felt like I was freezing my tail off.

Israeli soldiers yelled at my father: “I command you to stop the boat now!” My father kept driving our boat and the Israeli navy followed us until our boats crashed. The Israeli soldiers opened fire and I fell off of our boat into the sea. My father managed to pick me up out of the water, and I lay there in pain while still hearing the shots of the Israeli soldiers. 

Tarneem interviews Rajab copy

Then the pain worsened and I began screaming, while holding my hands to my chest.  My father ripped apart my clothes and found a bullet hit my chest. Words cannot describe the way my father felt or even looked. All I can say is that he flew into a rage and began shouting and throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers while they were still shooting. My father turned on the boat again and the Israeli boat chased us for five kilometers. However, you can’t race a father running for the life of his son. 

My dad managed to reach the shore and rush me to Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Albalah, where I was immediately rushed to the operating room. Doctors removed the bullet and said I was lucky because the injury had penetrated all the way through but failed to puncture my heart. I believe I was lucky because I had a very old but very brave man at my back: my dad my hero.

I fully recovered after two months of medicine and treatment.

The second time

That is, until a few months later. This time, the allowed fishing distance was only nine nautical miles, but I remained within the limit. I was with three other boats in the sea off of Khan Younis. Again, an Israeli naval boat stopped us, commanding us to take off our clothes and jump into the water. One of our crews followed the order, but when it was my turn to do so, I remembered my father’s example. (I was in charge that day, since my dad was too ill to sail with me.) I said, “NO!” It was impossible for me to let all of our sweat and fatigue be in vain. There was no way I would return home empty-handed. So, I continued sailing and the Israeli soldiers chased me, firing toward my boat for 15 minutes until I reached Gaza. But then, all of the sudden, a bullet made it to my knee.

I felt nothing at first, but I saw blood inside my boat. I thoroughly examined myself for any injuries and I saw the wound in my right knee. I turned off the engine and stopped; I could see the shore, but the Israeli soldiers boarded and took me to their boat. A doctor on board bandaged my leg and gave me some pills, which at first I refused to take. But he said it would ease my pain until we get to a hospital, so I did. He was wrong, because the pills eased nothing and I screamed all the way to the occupied town of Asdud (a trip of 42 kilometers).

We finally reached a hospital at 7 a.m., but they chose to leave me bleeding until 5 p.m.

I could take it no more and I shouted, “If you’re going to leave me bleeding, let me go back to Gaza to be treated.” The staff put a splint on my knee, with the bullet still inside, then took me in a jeep to the Erez crossing. From there, I was transferred to Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Doctors there finally removed the bullet and I recovered after five months of treatment. However, I still have some shrapnel inside. I can’t stand the pain in winter, and I limp when it rains.

The last time

On January 3 of this year, there was another incident. Now we were down to an allowance of six nautical miles. I was 10 kilometers away from the solidarity with Gaza fishersGaza shore and my boat was filled with fish; I was overwhelmed with joy that my long hours of fishing had borne fruit. I wanted to get to land quickly to sell my catch. But then some Israeli naval boats—small, but very fast–surrounded mine and started to haphazardly shoot both live and rubber-coated steel bullets. I felt four rubber bullets graze my back; it was impossible to protect my body, because they were shooting like crazy. I only wanted to protect my face and not lose consciousness. I grabbed an empty fish box and held it in front my face, but the boat rolled and I lost balance. The box fell and I caught a bullet in my right eye.

Two days later, I woke up in an Israeli hospital. I was told that the bone under my eye was broken, my retina was destroyed and my sinuses also were damaged. But I only wanted to know if I’d be able to see after the gauze was removed. My sight is all I have.

I wanted to call my parents and I wanted to cry an ocean of tears from my one good eye. I begged for seven days to be allowed to call my parents, but I was never permitted to do so. I felt so lonely and weak. After the seventh day, Israeli soldiers transferred me to Erez crossing. There, the Hamas government forced me to stay for an investigation into what had happened that lasted the whole night. (This is normal procedure, since Israel tries to force fishermen to divulge information about the resistance in the Gaza Strip or, even worse, to become spies,)

I have one wish: Give me back my boat. It’s not just a boat to me. It’s my whole life. I spent three years building it piece by piece. I bought the fiberglass and made it with my own hands. It was very fast and strong. I made it to last forever; my wife sold her jewelry so I could finish building and we could live happily ever after. My dream cost me $12,000 and I achieved it, but the Israeli occupation stole it from me.

It’s just a dream now. Without my boat, I can’t work anymore. These days, I’m not able to afford my rent, but the landlord is patient with me. I’m 30 years and I have three children and the fourth is on its way. I love my children and I’m ready to go back to the sea over and over just to draw a smile on their faces. Just give back my life…Give back my boat.

Note: Rajab no longer sees from his right eye. You can help him and others by supporting the Solidarity with Gaza Fishers campaign, a project of the Freedom Flotilla.

Fishing in the World’s Largest Prison

 

An edited short version of a 2012 video (Doors to the Sea) produced by our partners at the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Gaza (who represent Palestinian fishers), this short video shows the experience of Gaza’s fishers under blockade, confronted by Israeli warships, sharp restrictions on their areas for fishing, and the political, military and economic blockade of Gaza. Directed and produced by : Nacho García, Inés Grocin, Anxela Iglesias, Carlos Sordo.

Don’t Shoot, We’re Fishing!

 

An edited short version of a 2012 video (Doors to the Sea) produced by our partners at the Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Gaza (who represent Palestinian fishers), this short video shows the experience of Gaza's fishers under blockade, confronted by Israeli warships, sharp restrictions on their areas for fishing, and the political, military and economic blockade of Gaza.

Palestinian fisher in Gaza dies after being shot by Israeli navy

Mohammed Majed Bakr, 25, dies after being shot by Israeli navy for 'deviating' from Israeli-imposed blockade zone.

A Palestinian fisherman from Gaza was fatally shot and four others arrested on Monday by the Israeli navy, which claimed their boat had breached its blockade off the northern Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Majed Bakr, 25, died hours after being shot on his boat off the coast of northern Gaza. His four crewmates were arrested.

The Israeli military said the vessel was fired on when it allegedly "deviated" from its designated fishing zone, imposed as part of a blockade of the strip.

It then ignored warning shots, the military said.

"As a result of the fire a Palestinian was injured and was evacuated to an Israeli hospital for immediate medical treatment."

UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions, but Israel says it is needed to keep Hamas, which runs the strip, from importing weapons or materials used to make them.

The size of the fishing zone was set at 20 nautical miles by the Oslo accords of the 1990s. However, it has been reduced by the Israelis to three miles.

Palestinian fishermen collect fish from their nets in Gaza City on January 27, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED

Israel's blockade has impoverished the 4,000 Gaza's fishermen. The International Committee of the Red Cross says 90 percent of them live below the poverty line.
From: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/gaza-fisherman-dies-after-being-shot-israeli-navy-1513462499

The female fisher of Gaza

Story Written by: Nisreen Al-Khatib

Image of the Port of Gaza, from wearenotnumbers.org

"The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore."— Vincent Van Gogh

I believe, if Van Gogh was alive and to say that today, he'd be describing Gazan fishermen.

If you visit the Gaza seaport, you will see a variety of young and old, black and white, and injured and disabled fishermen who come from all areas of the Strip, forming a large and lively community despite an Israeli blockade that limits how far boats may sail. And you'd probably be surprised to see a lone female fisher among the roughly 2,000 men, because in Gaza it’s a male-dominated profession.

This is Madline Kullab, the 21-year-old female fisher from Gaza. Because we are the same age, and since life on the sea interests me intensely, I interviewed her recently to find out more about life as a female fisher in Gaza. Madline took me to her favorite place on the seaport to talk—the rocks by the shore. Colorful walls and blocks, decorated with graffiti by painters from some youth initiatives, were behind us and the tranquil sea was in front. A group of fishermen were chatting with each other to our left.

Madeline fishing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madline, fishing

"Fishing is an inherited job,” explained Madline. “My involvement started with my father. When I was a kid, he used to take me with him to the sea to help him. He was suffering from a disease since 1990, and it intensified when I was 13. He had to stop working, and because I am the eldest, and the one with some experience in fishing, I took his place."

When she first started, she said, “I faced some difficulties with people who didn't know me when I was a kid. Most of the young fishermen, policemen and others didn't accept me, since I was the first, and only, girl to occupy such a job. I had to prove myself and hold on until I earned respect. With the flow of time, they came to know me and things got easier. Nowadays, the relationship between me and my co-workers is very fraternal. We're one strong and loving family."

Madline pointed at a man sitting next to her. He had sharp eyes, a dark tanand black hair, and he looked to be in his 40s. She said, "Mr. Zakariyya is one of the people who helped me the most to endure all the hardships I faced." I looked at him curiously so he smiled and said, "I'm a father more than a friend of hers."

Zakariyya, or Abu Ayed, as everyone he knows calls him, is the coordinator of the fishermen's committees, a member of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and a friend of Madline’s father. He stood by her side during all of the hardships and taught her the fishing process step by step. "I used to take her with me when I went fishing to teach her how to be a professional fisher,” he recalled. “We mostly depend on the fishing nets in this job. We first prepare the nets and make sure of their quality before throwing them into the sea, often with the help of other fishermen. The steps seem pretty simple, yet the process is difficult. It takes as long as 48 hours to collect a good catch, and it requires patience and physical strength."

Gaza fishermen work with nets

Abu Ayed added that although Israel’s blockade on the Strip allows fishing only six nautical miles offshore, when the best fish are 12 or more miles out, the fishermen still manage to catchsardines, shrimp and different types of mullet. And they add a unique touch to the fishing process with their folk songs and chants, often invented by the fishermen themselves. When they throw their nets into the sea, or when the harvest is large, they start cheering or singing songs like, "Wele'dda? Bedhasardeen. Weldar? Walamalleen. WeljebaBedhadananeer" (What about equipment? It lacks sardines. And the house? It lacks money. And the pocket? It lacks pocks].Another goes like this: "Sallisalli, 'ala el-nabi, salli w soom, el-rezqydoom…" [Say peace be upon the prophet, pray and fast, so that the profit may forever last.]

Abu Ayed looked at Madline and said, "Madline herself is a story of struggle. From the beginning of the job she was one of the most professional in using a rowboat. She was just 8 years old when she tried it the first time."

Of all the difficulties with which Madline dealt , whether on her own or with the help of her family and Abu Ayed, there was one she could not solve: the Israeli occupation. "I can't recall all the dangerous situations I've been through while fishing,” she recounted.“Every fisherman [who] gets close to the border region [will] have his fishing nets or boat confiscated, and be shot or even detained by the Israeli naval forces. Personally, I had my fishing nets confiscated once and I have been fired at many times. So I try to avoid sailing near the six-mile mark."

Abu Ayed continued, saying, “During the last war, all the fishermen collected their boats and other materials on the shore and hid them in their rooms [a group of rooms built beside each other in a building, where each fisherman keeps his fishing equipment and other personal belongings]. But the Israeli navy targeted the rooms and caused great losses to all the fishermen. Madline lost her two boats."

There's a lot about Madline people don't know. Behind her tough and stubborn personality, there is a girl who likes to embroider, design clothes and swim. In fact, she was chosen as the representative of Palestine for a swimming championship held in South Africa. However, the blockade of Gaza prevented her from travelling to participate in the contest. Madline also is an activist who has met with a number of national and international notables who have visited the Strip.

As I got ready to leave, I asked Madline how she sees her relationship with the sea. Both she and Abu Ayed agreed that, "a true fisherman is like a fish. If you take him away from the sea, you're taking his life out of his body." As for the future, she said, " I wish I can stay here with the sea. No matter how much I have endured, and how much I will, I'm always ready for more."

Mentor: Harry Giles
Originaly Posted December 11, 2015 , 
on: http://wearenotnumbers.org//home/Contributor/85