This is a tale of conflict and survival told principally through the stories of two couples during the 2008 Gaza war.
Jomana (Helen Sawires) is a Palestinian journalist in Gaza who meets American born Palestinian doctor, Rami, (Osamah Sami) who arrives on board one of small boats that breaks the Israeli blockade.
Ali (Reece Vella) and Lama (Emina Ashman) are residents of Gaza. He loves her but she’s unsure whether to marry him or not.
The play traces the development of these two relationships amid the death and destruction that is everyday life in Gaza.
Samah Sabawi has created a potent narrative that brims with raw examples of the reality of living under a hostile authority. She explores relationships and family values in a place where people fight to retain some sense of normality amid the daily death toll; where “funerals and weddings have become part of daily life”. Read more
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are aware of and strongly affected by the hostile campaign brewing against them in neighbouring Egypt. Especially disheartening for Gaza’s Palestinians was General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to close the Rafah Crossing hours after his speech that ended Mohamed Morsi’s rule on 3 July. For the residents of Gaza, this was enough of an indicator to expect a “return” to the dark days of Hosni Mubarak.
The driving force behind such accusations and outright incitement to murder is Hamas’s allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood, now deemed the enemy of the Egyptian revolution and democracy. This anti-Muslim Brotherhood fanfare has made it easier for anchors on Egyptian state and privately owned TV channels to lump the Palestinians into a single group of Hamas.
Israel’s siege on Gaza and the subsequent closure of most commercial crossing points made Egypt the lifeline and only gateway for the vast majority of the Gazan population. The besieged people of Gaza not only depend on Egypt for travel purposes, but also for most of their goods and construction materials.
Today, an atmosphere of apprehensiveness is enveloping the Strip. Instead of watching Egyptian TV drama series customary in the month of Ramadan, Gazans are glued to news channels, speculating on events as they unfold in Cairo and all over Egypt.
For now, life in the Strip seems to have come to a standstill with travel plans either cancelled or postponed and prices of basic commodities soaring due to the recent military crackdown on the tunnels that link Gaza and Egypt. The crackdown, which caused total destruction or damage to 80 per cent of the tunnels, comes in response to allegations that Hamas militants smuggle themselves into Sinai and Cairo to aid the Brotherhood. This claim, however, has never been substantiated despite numerous claims by army officials about “investigations” into the purported attacks.
To make matters worse, Palestinians in the Strip are now forced into filling their vehicles with Israeli fuel, which is twice as expensive as its Egyptian counterpart. Any rumour about Egyptian fuel at Gaza’s gas stations means kilometres-long queues of vehicles, sometimes blocking roads from the early hours of the morning. This has also led to increased profits to Israeli suppliers directly involved in the colonisation of Palestinian land.
But the economy is not the only side of Palestinian daily life affected by the unrest in Egypt. Politically, Gazans are observing Israeli reactions to the military stepping into the political scene again, weeding the Muslim Brotherhood from electoral politics, with great concern. The Israeli government seems to be satisfied with the Egyptian military’s moves, despite that the Muslim Brotherhood maintained relations with the right-wing government of Israel under Morsi’s rule.
This has caused further anxiety among Gaza’s Palestinians who deem Egypt’s relations with Israel a thermometer by which to measure and expect Egypt’s policies towards Gaza and its residents now and in the future. This feeling of anxiety is coupled with mistrust towards the Egyptian army whose long-standing security cooperation with Israel continues to suffocate the Palestinians.
Because of the military-instigated anti-Palestinian propaganda, Gazans not only fear for themselves but also for their children who are studying or working in Egypt. Today, many Palestinians in Egypt find themselves under the threat of being arrested or attacked merely because of their origin.
To further complicate the situation, students who left Egypt to spend the summer vacation with their families in Gaza are worried about the prospect of not being able to return to their universities when classes resume in September.
All this has made many Palestinians feel obliged to reiterate examples of their long history of support for the Egyptian people’s struggles against foreign invaders and more recently, the 25 January Revolution. In fact, Palestinians were quick to condemn Mohamed Morsi for his November constitutional declaration in which he gave himself sweeping powers even over the judiciary. These statements, however, go either unheard or downplayed and belied.
It is also worth noting that people in Gaza are themselves divided over the crisis in Egypt. Palestinian secular elites and VIPs who flourished under Mubarak hope to see the old regime back in power — this means that they fully support the military takeover. Hamas supporters, on the other hand, are calling for the reinstatement of “legitimacy”. Leftists and moderates find both camps equally guilty of protecting the interests of Western imperialism in the Arab world’s most influential country.
Overall, a deep feeling of disappointment in the Egyptian revolution characterises most discussions, and many lament the uncritical dismissal of Palestinians as ungrateful “terrorists”. Meanwhile, the Hamas government is calling on the interim Egyptian government to open its borders to Palestinians. The Egyptian government, so far, has only agreed to allow patients and holders of foreign passports into Egypt.
Palestinian singer Mohamad Assaf, a finalist in the Arab Idol TV show has responded to the Israeli occupation army spokesperson Avichay Adraee denying the allegation that he faced pressure to withdraw from the competition by the Hamas government in Gaza. According to Quds news Assaf wrote an angry response on Avichay Adraee’s Facebook page saying he regretted being forced to visit Adraee hateful page which reeked of lies and deception, but he felt he needed to respond.
Assaf wrote that neither him nor his family were threatened or pressured to withdraw and he pointed to how his pictures are hung everywhere in Gaza as proof that the people in Gaza support him. Assaf also responded to Adraee’s comment about him having a ‘brilliant’ voice saying what would really be ‘brilliant’ is if you stop killing our children and stop occupying our land so that our people can enjoy hearing our singing and not the sound of your bombs falling.
It has become commonplace when reading about Gaza to come across descriptions of it as an “Islamist enclave” or “Hamas-controlled territory” and so on. In case someone exists who does not know what Hamas is all about, commentators make sure their readers understand that it is the “fundamentalist” group bent on the “destruction of Israel” and nothing else.
The Palestinians of Gaza, therefore, are often categorized as either ardent Hamas supporters or suppressed dissidents, including women, who receive the severest treatment imaginable, not only from the Hamas government, but also from misogynistic and backward average male residents. Such categorizations are then followed by sweeping generalizations about each of these stereotypes. Whereas the Hamas supporters consist of “terrorists” and “bloodthirsty barbarians,” the dissents are seen as peace-loving minorities who seek neighborly relations with Israel, the occupying entity.
A recent example of such portrayals can be found in a feature story published in The Independent on April 13. In “Tales from Gaza: What Is Life Really Like in ‘the World’s Largest Outdoor Prison’?” the author alledges to provides “a small snapshot into life in Gaza.” Before he proceeds, however, he assures us that what follows are “testimonies” by people “who can rarely get their voices heard.”
At the start of six interviews, the author makes clear that all of those featured are men not because that was his intention — he is a Westerner who believes in gender equality after all — but because in his two and a half days in Gaza, he could not find a woman willing to speak to him “independently.” In fact, the only occasion when he had the chance to speak to a woman, he tells us, was in the presence of a male guardian, the woman’s husband in this particular instance. Hence, while he was able to “give voice” to men, his attempts to do the same for women were all thwarted.
Such assertions play into Orientalist notions. This usually results from foreign journalists coming to Gaza with a set of preconceptions about the place and its people and then seeking to confirm them rather than verify them. While Gaza is, indeed, no haven for women or anyone else, there are thousands of educated women who are willing to speak for themselves and do so in every field, from medicine, theater, and politics to fishing and farming.
Just a few months ago, a play written by the renowned Palestinian writer Samah Sabawi was read at one of Gaza’s cultural centers, which continue to thrive despite Israel’s ceaseless attempts at cultural de-development. Nearly all the participants who performed the play were women, as was the case with the vast majority of the audience. They were not accompanied by husbands, brothers or fathers in order to attend or to perform.
Events like this, however, hardly ever make it into the mainstream media. Moreover, any mention of a considerable number of women going out without a hijab instantly provokes expressions of surprise by those who have only heard about Gaza through mainstream and particularly Western publications. To say women in Gaza are also allowed to drive would sound like a lie to many ears.
Women are not the only part of this story. To claim that Gaza is “Islamist” automatically dismisses the existence of the leftist and secular groups there, most of which denounce religion in its totality. Homogenizing “life in Gaza” could not be more obvious than in The Independent feature.
Of the six interviews the author conducted, one was with a Hamas official, while four were with blue-collar male workers, and the remaining one was with an unemployed man. Despite being at odds with Israel, five of them belong to the category of “ready to forget the past,” has no problem inviting former Israel prime minister Ariel Sharon for coffee, and even views Yitzhak Rabin — the man behind the Iron Fist that broke hundreds of bone in the lead up to and during the first Palestinian intifada — as a man of peace.
With the exception of the Hamas official, the interviewees followed suit in reiterating the same unconditional desire to achieve peace with Israel that one might think no other viewpoint existed. At the same time, they viewed Hamas as the primary source of their distress. Israel was seen as only secondary to their everyday ordeal.
That no evidence was provided to challenge the views in question suggests that there is none — just as the author claims to have found no women able to speak to him. Thus, portraying the residents of Gaza as a homogenous people who all experience life in the same way is condescending at best and Orientalist at worst. The views expressed in the article are undeniably extant but do not reflect the reality.
Israel, which has launched two deadly assaults on Gaza in less than five years, is rarely perceived as a friendly entity. The vast majority of the politicized and non-politicized segments of Gazan society are not ready to “forget the past” that continues to shape the lives of 1.1 million local Palestinians officially registered as refugees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Rana Baker is a student of business administration in Gaza and writes for the Electronic Intifada
The play Tales of a City by the Sea is a unique and poetic journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment during the winter of 2008. Jomana, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Shati (beach) refugee camp in Gaza falls in love with Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with many challenges forcing Rami to make incredible decisions the least of which is to take a dangerous journey through the underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt. Although on the surface this love story appears to explore the relationship between diaspora Palestinians and Palestinians under occupation, there is a broader and more universal theme that emerges – one of human survival and tenacity. Tales of a City by the Sea avoids political pitfalls, ideological agendas and clichés by focusing on the human story of the people in Gaza. Although the play’s characters are fictional, the script is based on real life events and is a product of a collection of real stories the author Samah Sabawi and her family have experienced during the events of the past several years. Sabawi has written most of the poetry in the play during the three-week bombardment of Gaza in 2008/2009.
The writer Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian published writer, commentator and playwright. She has travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt as though she was still trapped in her place of birth Gaza. The war torn besieged and isolated strip has shaped her understanding of her identity and her humanity. So what else could Sabawi do but to indulge in Gaza’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to tell the stories of her loved ones back home. Her most recent play Tales of a City by the Sea is dedicated to them and to all of those who still manage to have faith and hope even as the sky rains death and destruction.
The script is available to interested theatre makers upon request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Roughly 600 Gazan artists held a conference in Gaza City on Feb. 28 to form a new Palestinian artists’ union in a bid to preserve their work. The gathering of the General Union of Palestinian Artists is the first of its kind to be held in Gaza in two decades.
The conference sought to address Gaza’s neglected music and art scene, which has been hampered by war and Palestinian political division. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Yusuf Almeghari, a member of the conference steering committee, said that the gathering concluded with a series of recommendations, including electing a 78-member board, which would involve all the political parties in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
“I can tell you that many of those who attended had tears [in their eyes] because it was the first time we held such a gathering, which, we hope, will constitute the beginning of organized artistic activities across the territory,” Almeghari said.
Wars with Israel and political infighting between Hamas and Fatah have resulted in a lack of interest in Gaza’s art scene as well as funding for it. As a consequence, musicians in the Gaza Strip face significant challenges, including a dearth of professional training and fellow professional musicians.
Dwindling art in Gaza
In 1986, Mohammad Abu al-Seoud, a 50-year-old local musician in the central Gaza Strip town of Deir Elbalah, began composing and writing melodies for patriotic songs, but the veteran composer stopped working in 2004, citing a lack of support from authorities.
“I have spent all my life in music, and I have performed many melodies, even on Palestine TV prior to the 2007 political split in Gaza. Yet, I have increasingly felt disappointed as the musical scene in Gaza has become worse than ever, mainly because of the lack of music schools and professional training,” Seoud told Al-Monitor at his modest family home.
One band that took part in the conference was the National Band for Folkloric Palestinian Arts, which is one of the few leading national bands in the occupied Gaza Strip that primarily performs patriotic songs.
“Our band was established in 1996, and since then it has taken part in a series of performances locally and regionally, including festivals in Haifa, which was a Palestinian city prior to 1948, as well as in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia,” said Walid Ataiya, the band’s deputy director. The band consists of 35 members, including 7 women between the ages of 18 and 25, who perform the folkloric Levantine dabka dance.
In addition to producing new content, the band also revives famous Palestinian nationalist poetry, such as the late Mahmoud Darwish’s “We Can Never Forget Our Ancestors, We Can Never Forget the Days of Dignity,” Ataiya explained. The band’s ability to perform in Gaza, however, has been routinely disrupted since 2006 due to the political climate.
Fatah-Hamas split harms music scene
According to Swailam Alabsi, a well-known scenarist and film director in Gaza, the composition of patriotic songs has suffered because of a lack of patronage by the relevant authorities, as well as the absence of music schools, as reported by Asmaa al-Ghoul.
Patriotic music, once a hallmark of Palestine’s national resistance movement, has fractured along factional lines, according to Alabsi. “I personally have written hundreds of patriotic songs since 1967. The songs used to promote national trends, but since the Oslo peace accords, unfortunately, patriotic songs have begun to appear in different forms and colors, each representing a political faction,” he said.
Regardless, the national band continues to write patriotic songs that “only go with the national aspirations of the Palestinian people,” Alabsi explained.
“Even in the time of Oslo itself, I personally composed a song that was anti-Palestinian Authority corruption during the time of late President Yasser Arafat himself. Arafat told me, ‘Do not worry Swailam, the situation will get better,’” he said.
The internal split among Palestinian factions resulted in the national band being used as a political weapon of Hamas and Fatah. The band has faced restrictions in Gaza and an attempted takeover by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
“We have been facing lots of restrictions from local authorities here. For instance, they will not allow us to broadcast a certain song on a local radio station, or they prevent a certain singer from performing a certain song. We want real patronage of patriotic clips or songs that reflect the national Palestinian scene independent of any political affiliation,” Alabsi said while calling for Hamas and Fatah to repair their differences.
Nahed al-Hour, director of the national band, revealed that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had issued a decree three years ago to place the band under the auspices of the Ramallah-based authority.
“So far, such a decree has not seen the light for reasons that we do not know,” he said, appealing to all parties concerned to support his band and respect its non-partisan stance.
Union brings hope
The formation of the new union is in response to the neglect and politicization of Gaza’s art scene. Among the recommendations are, according to Almeghari, establishing acting and music schools in Gaza, having musicians and actors participate in festivals abroad to represent Palestinian art and folklore, and holding local shows at public theaters to generate much-needed income for the continued development of the arts in Gaza.
Almeghari emphasized that those elected at the conference will represent the Gaza union at an upcoming general summit for the Palestinian arts, to be held in either Ramallah or Gaza. The new union is part of a growing movement of grassroots Palestinians frustrated with the continued political division between Hamas and Fatah negatively affecting Palestinian life.
“We deeply hope that the current political split will come to an end once and for all and that we Palestinian artists will have our own home for all of us, irrespective of political affiliations,” Almeghari said.
Editor’s note: Yusuf Almeghari is a relative of the author.
The long walk to South Africa’s freedom is marked by two immensely tragic events: the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto Uprising in 1976, both of which led to the galvanizing of internal and international resistance against the apartheid regime. Ultimately, these events would lead to the long-called for release of Nelson Mandela and to the end of one of the most inhumane systems the world has ever seen.
Without Sharpeville and Soweto, among other landmarks towards victory over settler colonialism, South Africa would still be ruled by a minority of fanatic, white settlers claiming to fulfill the word of (their) God.
Palestine’s long walk to freedom has gone through similar harrowing events, beginning with the 1948 Nakba to the latest eight-day onslaught on Gaza.
In order to understand Gaza in 2012, one ought to trace its origin back to 1948. Two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were kicked out of their cities, towns, and villages in 1948. In After the Last Sky, the late Palestinian thinker Edward Said argues that every Palestinian knows perfectly well that what has happened to us over the last six decades is “a direct consequence of Israel’s destruction of our society in 1948…”
The problem, he argues, is that a clear, direct line from our misfortunes in 1948 to our misfortunes in the present cannot be drawn, thanks to “the complexity of our experience.”
At 139 square miles, Gaza is the largest refugee camp on earth, a reminder of the ongoing Nakba. The inhabitants of Gaza have become the most unwanted Palestinians, the black heart that no one wants to see, the “Negroes” of the American south, the black natives of South Africa, the surplus population that the powerful, macho, white Ashkenazi cannot coexist with.
In 2008-9, Gaza was bombed by Apache helicopters and F-16 jets for 22 days, killing more than 1400 civilians. As if that was not enough, Israel decided to return to Gaza in 2012 and repeat the same crimes in eight days, this time killing more than 175 civilians and injuring 1399. These are massive losses for a population of just over 1.5 million people.
Israel’s airstrikes, which damage essential infrastructure and terrify the civilian population, are a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Even more, they are war crimes forbidden under international humanitarian law, specifically the Geneva Conventions.
Yet Israel consistently gets away with war crimes. The official, government-based “international community” does not seem interested in the suffering of the native Palestinians. The much-admired, “better than Bush” American president, Obama, thinks that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” The same right does not apparently apply to Palestinians.
Likewise, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes that Hamas is “principally responsible” for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end. This is in spite of the deadly siege imposed on Gaza for more than five years, so much so that Israel even used calorie counting to limit the amount of food that entered Gaza during the blockade.
The fact that Palestinians in Gaza are not born to Jewish mothers is enough reason to deprive them of their right to live equally with the citizens of the state of Israel. Hence, like the black natives of South Africa, they should be isolated in a Bantustan, in accordance with the Oslo terms. If they show any resistance to this plan, they must be punished by turning the entire Strip into an open-air prison.
Both the US and the UK display deliberate and unconscionable ignorance in the face of the brutal reality caused by Israel to Gaza. As a result of Israel’s blockade on most imports and exports and other policies designed to punish Palestinians, about 70 percent of Gaza’s workforce is now unemployed or without pay, according to the UN, and about 80 percent of its residents live in grinding poverty.
Obama is fond of saying Israelis are entitled to defend themselves. But are they entitled to steal even more of Palestine, terrorise its inhabitants and continue to consolidate a racist apartheid state…? Was South Africa also entitled to be a racist apartheid state, was the American south entitled to slavery, India to Hindu fundamentalism?
The only option for Palestinians is to follow the same route as the South African struggle. The South African internal campaign aimed to mobilize the masses on the ground rather than indifferent governments around the world. What hope could they have gotten from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Helmut Kohl? It was left to ordinary South Africans and global citizens to show their moral rejection of crimes committed by the ugly apartheid system.
In South Africa’s long walk to freedom, there was no compromise on respect for basic human rights. Apartheid’s attempts to point fingers at “black violence” and “intrinsic hatred” toward Western civilization and democracy, did not hold water.
Similarly, international civil society, and some governments, have seen through Israel’s propaganda campaign where the aggressor is turned into the victim. Across the years, Palestinians have been completely dehumanized. Instead of Reagan and Thatcher, we have Obama and Hague, blaming the victim and condemning resistance to occupation, colonization, and apartheid.
But South Africans did not wait for the American administration to “change its mind.” The global BDS campaign, steered by South African anti-apartheid activists, coupled with internal mass mobilization on the ground, was the prescription for liberation, away from the façade of “independence” based on ethnic identities. Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2012, like Soweto 1976, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity.
Gaza 2012 has, undeniably, given a huge impetus to this process by making all Palestinians inside and outside of historic Palestine realize that “Yes, We Can!” We are no longer the weaker party, the passive victim who does not dare bang on the walls of Ghassan Kanafani’s trunk in Men in the Sun, but rather Hamid in All That is Left To You, the Palestinian hero who decides to act.
Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University and a policy advisor withAl-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
Original article appeared here https://talesofacitybytheseadotcom.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php
It cited reports of a bomb attack by Israeli forces on a football stadium in Gaza on November 10, which killed four teenage players, and said that two players from the club Al Amari had been detained in Israel “without charge or trial” since February.
“It is unacceptable that children are killed while they play football. Israel hosting the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, in these circumstances, will be seen as a reward for actions that are contrary to sporting values,” the statement said.
“Despite the recent ceasefire, Palestinians are still forced to endure a desperate existence under occupation, they must be protected by the international community. All people have the right to a life of dignity, freedom and security. We hope that a just settlement will finally emerge.”
Tel Aviv will host the European Under-21 Championship next June, when eight nations will compete in Israel.
European football’s governing body UEFA has already rejected calls to move the tournament from pro-Palestine groups including the disputed territory’s football association.
Valcke’s statement was criticized by Israeli media, which reported that the stadium was used by Hamas militants to fire rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Palestine’s bid for recognition was boosted last week when the U.N. general assembly voted to upgrade its status to that of a non-member observer state — a move which was opposed by Israel and the U.S.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The circus came to Gaza on Friday, accompanied by blaring music, juggling clowns and fire blowers — but getting it there required its own high-wire act.
No women performers were included for fear of offending conservative Palestinians and the Gaza Strip’s militant Hamas rulers, and the circus’ lone lion and tiger were left behind because of the high cost of transporting them legally into Gaza.
The Egyptian National Circus put on its first show of a month-long visit to the impoverished coastal territory on Friday, a sign of warmer relations between Hamas and post-revolution Egypt, which is governed by the Islamic group’s ideological parent, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Although it’s not state-sponsored, the Egyptian circus could only come because the country’s government loosened restrictions on the flow of passengers in and out of Gaza. More foreigners now enter Gaza, including the ruler of the resource-rich Gulf state Qatar earlier this week.
Once in Gaza, the Egyptians’ faced an unusual situation — most Palestinians here don’t know what a circus is.
“I think it’s going to be really surprising for most people,” said Riwa Awwad, 19, ahead of the opening night.
“Gazans are famous for not liking anything and I think they’ll do the impossible to entertain us,” said Awwad, who came with her extended family to the fairground on Friday.
In an ironic twist, the cheery circus with its flashing lights was held on the grounds of a notorious security prison that was destroyed during an Israeli offensive four years ago.
For the Gazans fortunate enough to see the opening show, it was a welcome relief from conflict and despair. The fairgrounds were packed with excited children in new cloths, women in glittery headscarves, others in black face veils, and men in suits and freshly pressed shirts. Families snacked on pumpkin seeds.
They hollered and cheered as a tight-rope walker wiggled his hips and belly-danced on a thread suspended above the ground. A performer hurled silver knives around volunteers. A red-clad fire blower shot whooshing, yellow licks of flame out of his mouth. Two clowns dressed in yellow-and-blue bumbled and fumbled as they tried to juggle, delighting children.
It took months to arrange the visit to the impoverished territory, where 1.6 million people live in a 25 mile-long sliver wedged between Israel and Egypt and face a punishing blockade imposed after Hamas seized control in 2007.
Aside from a circus’ brief visit in the 1990s, there’s never been anything like it since Israel captured the strip from Egypt in 1967. Israeli forces and settlers withdrew in 2005.
Businessman Mohammed Faris said he remembered seeing the circus under Egyptian rule in the 1950s, when Gaza was still a liberal place with casinos and bars. He said he recalled as a child seeing men walking on nails and female acrobats flying across stage.
“It was men and women – pretty women,” he said.
Not this time around.
Organizer Mohammed Silmi said female performers had to stay behind because the circus was worried that leaping ladies in tights would offend Gazans.
He said Hamas didn’t explicitly ban women but he was asked to abide by Gaza’s “traditions” when he petitioned to get the circus to come.
In practice, the circus wiggled a little around the no-women rule. At one point a man in drag, sporting a brown wig and red dress, sang and danced with Bunduk the clown.
After Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade that aimed to weaken the militants who seek Israel’s destruction.
Under international pressure, it was loosened after Israel raided a blockade-defying boat and killing nine Turkish activists aboard in 2009. Key restrictions still remain on exports and importing raw materials.
All the circus equipment came through the Rafah border crossing, but expensive fees and cumbersome paperwork kept the circus from bringing lions, tigers and horses across the border.
Gaza’s makeshift zoos and other merchants often bypass that problem by hauling animals through smuggling tunnels linking the territory to Egypt. In one famous scene captured on film, Gazans used a crane to lift a camel over the border fence as the animal twitched in the air in agony.
Animal welfare aside, Gaza’s main zoo recently turned to improvised taxidermy to keep its deceased animals on exhibit.
The area also continues to be violent. As circus technicians were setting up their tent earlier this week, Palestinian militants were fighting Israeli forces in tit-for-tat rounds of rocket fire and retaliatory airstrikes.
Egyptian technician Khalil Gomaa, 55, jolted upon every crashing boom. He told his children he was in Jordan so they wouldn’t be worried. “But I’m worried,” he said.
But the circus’ biggest challenge may be packing the 1,000-seater tent for the month-long visit.
A series of Palestinians interviewed didn’t know what a circus was, and the tickets — ranging from $5-$10 seats — are too expensive for most of Gaza’s traditionally large families.
Some 40 percent of Gazans live on less than $2 a day, a third are unemployed and most need U.N. donated food.
They include the mother of eight, Sabrine Baoud, and her unemployed husband. After the circus was explained to her, Baoud, 35, said she was glad her children didn’t know anything about it.
Though local elections are slated for the West Bank, Palestinians in Gaza won’t be casting ballots. Hamas, which controls Gaza, has boycotted the elections, leaving the 1.6 million people there in a difficult position.
Between piles of used spare parts and a container of motor oil, Munzer Al Dayya is working on a generator. The mechanic is a popular man in Gaza City, where power can go out for as long as eight hours a day, and he said he’s earning a decent living thanks to the blackouts.
“Every day that we get through is good, but no one knows what’s coming,” he said. “The only thing that’s clear is that the next day will be worse than the previous day. Why, how, and for what? Who knows? No one can explain what’s going on here.”
Al Dayya said getting an explanation for what’s happening in Gaza City depends on who you ask. But one thing is clear – Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and has expanded its control since taking power five years ago. Neither an Israeli blockade nor the US and European isolation policy has been able to change this.
Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the West, has developed its own bureaucratic structures, ranging from an administration to an all-round security service. Various observers have noted that the political separation between Gaza and the West Bank has been widened by the separate governing structures in the two regions.
No local elections in Gaza
Local elections scheduled to take place in the West Bank on Saturday are expected to widen the gap. Hamas is not taking part in the poll, leaving voters there to choose between the Fatah party and some independent candidates.
“The elections cannot be transparent and fair,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum. “Many of our Hamas leaders and members are in prisons run by the Palestinian Authority. These are Fatah elections – not Palestinian elections.”