By Samah Sabawi
Gaza is one of the most reported on and yet least understood places on earth. Its mere mention conjures up images of war victims, war criminals, piles of rubble, militants with guns, dead children and weeping mothers. A simple google search will bring up disturbing images of heart break, terror and destruction. But all of this is an infliction on a place that has neither surrendered its identity nor lost its beauty to decades of violent Israeli occupation.
Gaza is a city of many tales. While some are about loss, grief and misery, many others are about enduring love, triumphant moments, tenacity, passion, music and hope that lives beyond the confines of the siege and the occupation. If you dig deeper than the negative headlines and the devastating news reports you will find many pleasant surprises. You can take a walk along Gaza’s gorgeous fields, enjoy its magical sunsets, get to know its warm people, visit its ancient sites and eat its delicious dishes. You will find in Gaza everything that would make you love life with a passion! So join me here to explore some of Gaza’s unknown side.
There is a common belief that Gaza’s art scene is all but dead. While it may be true that art in general is not a great priority for the people in Gaza who are too concerned with bigger financial and political issues, Gazan artists continue to create and to excel in their fields. There is also an appreciation of the need to encourage art in children starting from a young age.
One establishment worthy of salutation for supporting the arts is the Qattan Centre for the Child in Gaza. This cultural centre is an oasis for the hearts and the minds of children. Equipped with a large library painted in vibrant colors and comfortable eye soothing furniture the QCC in Gaza focuses on developing the children emotionally and intellectually through visual art, music, education, cultural events and much more.
Below are some images of the QCC in Gaza. Keep in mind all of the paintings you’ll see in some of these photos were in fact painted by children under 15 years of age at the centre.
The Qattan center was built on land donated by the Gaza municipality and has succeeded in meeting its goal of creating an educational and stimulating space for children and their caregivers. Parents are encouraged to join their children in the library, engage with them over art and craft activities, or just watch them proudly as they perform their song and dance routines.
Membership at the QCC is free of charge to all children in Gaza from all walks of life and some of the classes offered charge a small symbolic fee. Many of the events are also free of charge such as the concerts captured in the video below that took place as part of the winter camp activities in January 2013. In this video below you’ll see a variety of instruments, you’ll hear music of both Arab and western origins ranging from Gershwin to Darweesh.
Also worthy of special salutation is the Gaza Music School and its incredible teachers and talented children. The children featured in the next video are nine years of age. They are very dedicated to the art they practice in spite of all the challenges they face including Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Music School in 2009.
The Gaza Strip is densely populated mostly by refugees who fled Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes since. As the population continues to grow in the besieged strip the natural landscape changes to make way for more cement structures and buildings to accommodate this growth.
However, population growth is not the only challenge facing Gaza’s green spaces. Agricultural land is shrinking as Israel usurps more of Gaza’s water supplies and if that’s not enough, Israel’s siege, blockade, frequent bombardment and occasional land incursions have left their mark on many of Gaza’s farming land. A recommended report that sheds great light on this is the UNISPAL report Farming without Land, Fishing without Water.
Below are two pics of bombed trees in our farm in Gaza. The first depicts a tree totally uprooted from the power of a one ton bomb blast. The second photo depicts a tree that was uprooted from the blast, flew in the air and actually landed straight on top of another tree.
Despite all of the challenges and the uncertainties of Israel’s incursions and bombings, some farmers have insisted on maintaining their land. When visiting their farms you get a sense of what Gaza’s landscape looked like before Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing began. You can imagine how before the refugees were chased into the far corners of their homeland to settle into camps under occupation, how most of Gaza’s natural landscape would have looked like.
Perhaps the most important feature of Gaza is its sea. It is the only landscape that remains unchanged, unaffected by the occupation and the aggression. The sea is an open recreational space that is free of charge. For Gazan families the sea is a cure for all of life’s problems.
Finally, no matter where you go to in Palestine, you will always be overwhelmed with warm hospitality and great food. Gaza is no different. Here are some pics of some of my favourite dishes, but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list along with recepies I highly recommend you visit The Gaza Kitchen. Bon appétit or as they say in Gaza Saha we afya!
What a beautiful land, thank you for sharing it with us.