It was once the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, but now the site has been turned into the Gaza Strip’s first ever paintball park.
The arrival of the strategic action game in Gaza is offering Palestinian youths a chance to try something new.
But bringing the relevant equipment and protective clothing into the blockaded territory was no small achievement: everything had to be smuggled in through one of the 1000-metre (yard) underground tunnels that link Gaza with Egypt.
“We brought it over via a very hard route, via the tunnels from Egypt, so that we can play games that are played all over the world, so that the youth of Gaza can play games that are played around the world. This is a peaceful game and it’s really, really fun. There’s no danger whatsoever,” said paintball referee Rami Eid.
Palestinian youths have been teaming up for a chance to play the new game, which involves hiding behind positions laid out in a field, before jumping out to spray competitors with balls of colored paint.
“We came to play paintball today. It’s the first time I’ve played it and it’s a really fun game, a really nice game. We were a big group but it’s a nice game with suspense, preparation, action and war. Young men like us like these kinds of games. It’s a nice game and we’ve enjoyed it a lot,” said participant Ahmad Abu Ryaleh.
Paintball has become increasingly popular around the world in recent years, with national teams going head-to-head in regional and world tournaments.
Enthusiasts say it is a game of skill and team-work – something Gaza’s new participants are just discovering.
“I am really happy, I hope there will be more things like this because it is better for young people to use up their energy playing these games, rather than getting up to no good somewhere else,” said Abu Ryaleh.
But with an entrance fee of 10 shekels ($2.5), 50 shekels ($12.8) to rent the paintball field and 30 shekels ($7.6) for 50 paintballs, the experience is beyond the reach of most Gazans.
A recent U.N. report said tougher Israeli policies and settlement expansion were pushing all Palestinian territories deeper into poverty.
Amid persistently high unemployment, one in two Palestinians was now classified as ‘poor’, the UNCTAD report said.