By BEN HUBBARD
2009-01-27 10:48 PM
"The drone hit him," said his cousin, Abed Bedawi, 21, referring to the unmanned surveillance planes often seen in Gaza's skies. "He was laying a bomb for a tank when the drone fired a missile at him."
Now they are all memories, their faces rolling off the presses at the Nibras print shop.
The shop prints customized, full-color posters and banners commemorating the dead _ a Palestinian tradition for people killed by Israel. In the wake of Israel's 22-day Gaza offensive _ which killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians _ the shop is one of Gaza's few businesses experiencing a postwar boom.
A steady stream of customers flowed through the shop's simple walk-up office on a recent afternoon, all of them men, most of them bearded, some wearing military-style pants and jackets. A few admitted affiliation with Gaza's armed groups, and the vast majority of their orders commemorated fallen fighters.
Bedawi unfurled his poster to reveal a large photo of his stern-looking 20-year-old cousin, ringed with silhouettes of palm trees and birds in flight. "As a farewell," the text read. In the top corner was an emblem of Islamic Jihad, a small, militant group backed by Iran.
Bedawi said he'd give it to his aunt to hang in her house. Others told similar stories.
"They were out on a jihad mission, then came back and a missile hit them at the door of their house," said Yusuf Mustapha, who was picking up 1,000 posters for 10 Islamic Jihad militants killed in the Zeitoun area south of Gaza City.
"The families of the martyrs will take them, and we'll hang them all over to decorate the neighborhood," Mustapha said.
When asked where he got the 3,700 shekels ($925) for the order, he smiled and said, "from the good people." When pressed, Mustapha, 25, said that he, too, was an Islamic Jihad member.
Palestinians consider those killed by Israel to be "martyrs" and have long commemorated them by hanging posters bearing their names and photos in homes and neighborhoods. But rarely have so many died so quickly, causing the rush at Nibras.
Co-owner Ahmed al-Hor said he got the first orders before an informal cease-fire between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers stopped the fighting on Jan. 17. The shop reopened two days later, he said, and has been busy ever since. Before the war, about 30 percent of orders were for posters, he said, the rest being shop signs and labels for products like tomato sauce, dish soap and baby food. Now, posters of the dead are 90 percent of his business.
While not comprehensive, the posters enter a new element into the debate over how many militants were killed by Israel. The Israel military says it killed 700, while Hamas and other militant groups say they lost 158. In its final report on the death toll, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 223 of the 1,285 killed in the war were fighters.
Although the shop hasn't kept records, al-Hor guesses he has done posters for 350 people since the war's end, about 250 of them militants, suggesting the militant groups lost more fighters than they acknowledge. Other say the groups often claim the dead as members of their movements even when they were not.
One thousand copies of a full-sized paper posters sell for 3,700 shekels ($925), but most customers now prefer durable plastic banners, which cost 50 shekels ($13) per square meter.
This is double what they cost before the Islamist militant Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 and Israel imposed a tight blockade on the seaside territory. Since then, the shop has bought supplies smuggled in through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, boosting costs.
Al-Hor knows the boom is temporary.
"This will continue for a month or so, then we'll go back to the usual stuff and only 30 percent will be martyrs," he said. "They (the martyrs) might get less, but they don't go away."
To place their orders, customers bring in digital photos on flash drives and look on while al-Hor and his partner use Adobe Photoshop to build the desired tableau. Most bring several photos: the departed in a suit and tie on his wedding day, for example, plus a few of him toting a rocket launcher or wielding an automatic rifle.
These are combined with stock images, the most popular being the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Others opt for graphics of militants firing rockets or verdant natural scenes invoking the heaven the customers believe the departed have achieved.
Most of the posters are paid for militant groups, all of whose emblems the owners have on their computers. The shop is careful to avoid taking sides in the often fractious Palestinian political scene, for fear of losing customers.
"We do business," al-Hor said. "Anyone who wants a photo, we do it for him."
This is clear in the office, where a glass case holds plaques of appreciation from both Fatah and Hamas, two Palestinian factions that fought a brief but bloody civil war over control of Gaza in 2007. On the other side of the computers hang colorful posters for Gaza's three largest armed groups.
One bears the bearded faces of 24 Hamas fighters over a vivid graphic of dead and wounded Israeli soldiers.
Another shows nine Islamic Jihad gunmen, some wearing black berets, above pictures of camouflaged militants launching rockets.
But not all the posters are for militants.
Next door, printer Mahmoud Istewi pulled up computer images to send to the shop's industrial printer, used for making huge plastic banners.
"These are new ones here, all one family," said Istewi, 26. The image on the screen read "Martyrs from the house of Deeb" above photos of two men, three boys, two girls and four roses, representing women.
The text under the photos read: "Those who were raised to the heavens during a hateful Zionist strike on Jan. 16, 2009."
Istewi knew nothing else about how they died.
"We just print them," he said with a shrug. "They give us the work and we do it."