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‘Gaza Newton’ – illustration by Jude Montague after a Reuters News Story

Spirit of Invention 2024 – Looking at invention in Gaza

Jude Montague considers the spirit of invention in Gaza observed through the television news footage in years previous to the current escalation of the conflict. Montague was a professional archivist and researcher at ITN Source from 2006-2016.

I used to work at Reuters Television News on the archive, which at the time was part of ITN Source. While there I catalogued and archived many wonderful stories but those about ingenuity in Gaza really caught my eye. Because the people there have lived in siege conditions for so many years, many came up with ingenious and ecologically friendly approaches to recycling materials to provide power and useful objects and systems for running a modern and efficient life without access to the corporate landscape.

In a quick visit to the public Reuters news website I noticed these stories are continuing even in the current war conditions. On this occasion I was struck by the story below, which features a young inventor protagonist who is full of altruistic fervour to help the world:

‘RAFAH, Gaza Strip, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Using two fans he picked up from a scrap market and rigged to some wires, teenager Hussam Al-Attar has created his own source of electricity to light up the tent where he and his family are living after being displaced by Israel’s assault on Gaza.
In recognition of his ingenuity, people in the surrounding tent camp have given him a nickname: Gaza’s Newton.
“They started calling me Gaza’s Newton due to the similarity between me and Newton,” said Al-Attar, who looks and sounds young for his 15 years.’

The story of Hussam Al-Attar reminds me of a young John Logie Baird (inventor of televsion) who rigged up a generator in his family home to power the electric lights. Baird’s generator worked well until his father fell down the stairs in the half-light and went back to the more reliable gas. The problem with Baird’s generator had not been technical but one of human failure. A teenager with a selective attention, Baird had lost interest in maintaining its efficiency and had forgotten to turn it on.

Looking back over some of the Reuters archive material available to peruse online I see stories that I recognise. There is the tale of the tailor Majed Abu Hajeb who uses pedal power from a dismantled child’s bicycle to power his sewing machine.

One tale from Beit Yanai in Israel tells of a collaboration with ecological Israeli company HomeBioGas. The people from villages in off-grid areas on the West Bank are using anaerobic digesters to convert waste into fuel for cooking and lighting.

I look back on the hopes of 2010 and the ‘Made in Palestine’ exhibition where engineering student Naji Adel was showing his device to generate electrical energy from sea waves. This show was there to encourage new inventors in Gaza by giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their work at the Grand Palace Hotel with the Al-Nayzak Invention Organisation.

It’s heartbreaking that, despite the positive experience of invention, imagination and co-operation, the creative science community has been unable to change mindsets enough to enable us to avoid the terrible escalation of this conflict. War is not the answer to our problems. But characters such as Hussam Al-Attar and this motivation to improve the world for ourselves and others through practical problem-solving remain a fundamental aspect of humanity that inspires me and helps me believe in our future.

I no longer work for Reuters but the experience of processing so much international footage changed me forever and I still like to get my news outside of the conventions and restrictions of the national broadcasters. It’s free to register for up-to-date news material direct from agency-gatherers on the Reuters Television News website at


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Posted 11:10 Thursday, Feb 15, 2024 In: Arts News

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