News in Gaza


MIDEAST: And Still They Run These Taxis
By Eva Bartlett


And so with the rest of the taxi. 

Credit:Emad Badwan/IPS

GAZA CITY, Aug 3 (IPS) – Salleh wonders how he will pay for a replacement car part he bought from the tunnels black market.

“It cost over 1,000 dollars. Before the siege, it would have been 500 to 1000 shekels (roughly 125 to 250 dollars), at most 250 dollars. Anyway, I had to buy it; you need to maintain the car when you use it all the time.” 

The father of five drives one of Gaza’s many run-down taxis, working round the clock but earning just enough to get by. “I work day and night, but only for 20 shekels (five dollars), or sometimes 50 shekels (12 dollars) per day. That’s only enough to buy food and cover my children’s needs.” 

Salleh lists the other expenses his meagre salary will not cover: “I can’t afford a licence or car insurance, they’re very expensive. I’ve gone four years without them. If I have an accident, I could go to jail for not having the licence on insurance.” 

Rami Dawoud, translator for Adnan Abu Oada from the Ministry of Transport says the ministry offers discounts to some people whose financial situation is dire. But a licence which costs 100 shekels, and insurance that costs 1,500 shekels or more are beyond the reach of many like Salleh who can’t make ends meet as it is. 

Even though six months have passed since Israel’s brutal three-week bombardment of Gaza, Salleh, like many other Palestinians, has not been able to repair the damage. “I can’t replace the windows and doors in my house, they were broken during the war. For the most part you can’t find them in Gaza, and if they’ve been brought in through the tunnels then they’re far too expensive.” 

Facing the debt of an unpaid car part, needed insurance, and daily expenses, the driver is considering other ways of making money. “Maybe I’ll have to sell my wife’s only jewellery to pay the bills. Maybe I’ll have to sell our refrigerator and television. That might bring 700 shekels (under 200 dollars).” 

Salleh isn’t alone in his financial worries. “It’s not just me. All of the drivers have problems: problems getting spare parts to service our cars; problems earning enough money; even problems giving correct change. Every day I have difficulties because of change: there are almost no half-shekels in Gaza any more.” 

The copper pieces equivalent to about 12 cents are indeed scarce in Gaza. This is a part of the siege-induced currency crisis which is affecting all Palestinians in Gaza. “Some customers don’t care about the change. I give others items worth half a shekel, like gum or tissues. 

“But some people want the half shekel…maybe they are students, jobless, or poor, so they need it. But what can I do if I can’t find them?” 

Awad Zarga has eight people in his family to care for. Two of his children are in university. “Each semester costs 400 dollars per student. My kids need 10 shekels a day to go to and from university and for their expenses.” Zarga drives a taxi which he says earns him 50 shekels on a good day. Within five minutes of driving, the car stalls twice. “It’s the Egyptian petrol,” he says. “It’s no good.” But this fuel which comes through the tunnels is cheaper, at 2.5 shekels a litre. Israeli fuel, when it’s allowed into Gaza, costs six shekels per litre. 

Zarga’s route takes him over some of Gaza’s ruddier streets, pot-holed and in need of re-paving. Many of Gaza’s roads have long been in a state of disrepair, or were more recently torn apart by invading Israeli tanks and bulldozers during the war on Gaza. 

Issam drives a beat-up two door car. Torn plastic sheeting replaces the rear window, the fumes of cheap gasoline permeate the car. The windshield has two large crack points, obscuring the view outside. Bits of tape are plastered on doors and surfaces, somehow holding things together, including the door panelling. 

The left back passenger door must be opened from the outside. And the ignition has stopped working, meaning every time the car is turned on or off it has to be done by hot-wiring it. 

“We pay rent for our house. Whatever I earn goes towards our daily needs and the rent. I dream of owning and farming my own land, but with this kind of money that’s impossible,” he says. 

Under the Israeli-led siege on Gaza, import of spare parts for all types of machinery including automobiles has largely stopped, save via the tunnels. Replacements are expensive and of poor quality. 

Rami Dawoud confirms that no cars, new or used, have been allowed into Gaza in the last three years. Gaza currently has around 45,000 cars, of which many are worn-down, damaged, in need of parts unavailable in Gaza, or on their last legs. According to the Ministry of Transport, 1,197 cars were damaged during the war, another 565 were completely destroyed. 

“The only new vehicles we’ve gotten in the past three years have been donations from the convoys entering Gaza or other outside supporters,” said Dawoud. “We used to get spare parts for car maintenance from the West Bank, from Egypt, and from Israel. But that has stopped.” 

Nabil, a central Gaza resident, drives only at night. “I can’t afford the insurance,” he says, “and I’m worried that if I drive during the day, the police will stop me and take away my car.” 

Before the borders between Gaza and Israel were sealed, Nabil worked as a taxi driver in Israel. When he was relegated to finding work in Gaza’s destroyed economy, he opted like so many others to drive a taxi, one of the few remaining types of work. The 25 years old car he bought for 1,200 dollars suffices for the task, but requires upkeep. 

The father of 18 struggles on the 40-50 shekels he can earn per night. From this income, Nabil must spend roughly 200 shekels per month on car maintenance and fuel. 

“When I do get stopped by the police, I ask them: ‘How can I pay for the insurance? Where will I get the money? I can barely feed my kids.” 

Nabil also fails to pay his water and electricity bills, and cannot afford the wheelchairs his two 18-year-old disabled twins need. Thirteen of his children are in school, and over the school year have different expenses. Four of his sons sometimes get work with fishers, if the haul is good. On such a day they might bring home another 20 shekels for the family’s needs. 

If he had the choice, Nabil says he’d take any type of employment. “I just want to work without problems with police, like in construction. Work like anyone else.” 

Taxi drivers in Gaza, many of whose former professions are no longer possible, can either wait for the day when borders open, or make do with the cars they have, such as they are. (END/2009) 

 

 

MIDEAST: Piecing the Injured Back Together 
By Eva Bartlett


At the artificial limbs centre in Gaza. 
Credit:Emad Badwan/IPS

GAZA CITY, Aug 10 (IPS) – On a Saturday morning in Gaza city, the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre (ALPC) is filled with people waiting to see the director, Dr. Hazem Al-Shawwa.

Following consultation with him and with the specialist in prosthetics and orthotics rehabilitation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), many will begin the long road to treatment. 

“It was the second day of the war,” says Omar Al-Ghrub (24), referring to the three weeks of Israel attacks in the winter of 2008-2009. “I was working that day,” he said. By day he worked in the Al-Waleed marble and granite factory northwest of Gaza city, and by night served as its watchman. 

A missile struck, and Ghrub lost both his legs. Six months later, he waits for the stumps to heal enough to begin the process of fitting artificial legs, and learning to walk anew. 

Loay Al-Najjar, 22, also lost both his legs. At 11 pm Jan. 13, Najjar was trying to help his sister evacuate a house that had been hit by shelling in the Khoza’a region, east of Khan Younis. “I was hit by a drone missile,” says Najjar. His legs were lacerated with shrapnel. But he is one of the luckier ones; he was able to travel to Saudi Arabia where he received treatment for three months, and artificial legs. 

Ghrub and Najjar are among the many waiting for a consultation this particular Saturday. The artificial limb centre is unique in that it makes and fits the limbs on the premises. With the help of staff from the ICRC and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), it also provides physiotherapy and other support. 

The centre is overcrowded – it is the only one of its kind. The waiting list has lengthened dramatically since the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Gaza’s Ministry of Health says between 120-150 new patients have had to have amputations following the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Gerd Van de Velde, head of the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation team in Gaza, says the number could rise with patients whose wounds worsen. 

“Even now we are getting new patients,” says Van de Velde. “Some patients are having problems with their stumps as they were not cared for properly during their initial treatment due to the hectic situation. At the time, treatment was focussed on life-saving.” 

In January 2008, five to ten patients came on a Saturday; now there are at least 30. ICRC figures show that in 2008, 63 patients received 71 prosthetic limbs (some had multiple amputations), and the centre served 1,500 patients. In the first half of 2009, 1,018 patients have come to the centre, 53 for prosthetic limbs. 

“We have 146 patients on the waiting list, including 101 with war wounds,” says Van de Velde. “Of these, over 50 percent are above the knee amputations.” Blast injuries become even more complicated, because shrapnel must be extracted from the stump of the limb before it can heal enough for prosthetics treatment. 

A few years ago, the centre used its funding to pay all the costs of the materials. Nearly all came from a specialist company in Germany, some were bought at twice their usual price from an Israeli importer. 

Now, the ICRC, which began working with the centre in November 2007, supplies most of the materials, buying directly from the manufacturer, and also facilitating transfer through Israel. The centre also gets help from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Handicap International and Islamic Relief. 

Van de Velde sees early hospital care, or the lack of it, as the origin of the problem for many of the patients. In a crisis, he said, “patients are evacuated quickly to make room for new patients. They did not receive the treatment and follow-up physiotherapy that they needed.” 

The ICRC has now taken on a second, hospital-based project. “We’ve started with Shifa hospital, and hope to expand to Gaza’s other hospitals, focussing on quality of post-surgical physiotherapy care and ensuring that patients receive the treatment that they need.” Likewise, MSF is working throughout the Gaza Strip to provide post-operation wounds care and physiotherapy. 

At the artificial limbs centre, taking a pause from casting and sculpting limbs, Nabil Farah and Mohammed Ziada, two of four specialists in prosthetics, take turns to demonstrate work at the centre. The specialists have both studied abroad, in Germany and in India, and want the trainees here to be sent for specialised studies. But with the siege on Gaza and the sealed borders, it has become difficult to leave Gaza. 

Likewise, says Farah, many specialists want to come to Gaza to train technicians in making and working with prosthetic limbs, but they cannot enter because of the siege. But on Jul. 1, after much coordination with the Israeli authorities, the ICRC was able to send two Palestinians to India for an internationally recognised 18-month training programme. Van de Velde says the ICRC plans to send three more to be trained next year, with the aim of building a pool of qualified technicians. 

All sorts of people were injured in the last assault. “During the first and second Intifadas (Palestinian uprisings, 1987-1991 and then from September 2000), most of the injuries were among the shebab (young men),” says Mohammed Ziada. “But in this last war, most of the injuries were people other than shebab: elderly, children, women…” 

While the current focus is on people injured in the assault, the artificial limb centre also tackles birth disabilities. “Each month we normally make 20 to 30 braces for straightening legs,” says Farah. “This cures more than 80 percent of patients.” 

Farah points to several siege-related difficulties the centre faces. The artificial limb centre uses hundreds of different parts, plastics and materials to make the prosthetic arms and legs. “Without even just one of the materials, the limb cannot be made. We don’t have the materials or the chemicals in Gaza to make the limbs.” Israel often prevents or greatly delays materials from entering, says Farah. 

Walking through a storage room, Farah points out various empty shelves. Among clusters of different weaves of stocking net cloth used in the making of limbs, size 10 shelf sits empty. “We haven’t had size 10 for the last month,” Farah says. 

Also absent are artificial foot parts L23, unavailable for the last 10 days, and R24 and R25, depleted for the last two months. “We help first those who need help the most,” says Farah. 

Gerde Van de Velde says, however, that “not one patient had to wait because of a lack of material.” Items like the cloth can be substituted by a closely related size, he says. He admits there are restrictions on certain chemicals, but adds that these are more related to international law, and delayed by other bureaucratic procedures regarding the transport of chemicals. 

Farah cites some sample costs: a below-the-knee prosthetic is about 800 dollars. An above-the-knee limb is twice as much. An arm costs 1,200 dollars. Yet these seemingly expensive limbs cost a fraction of what they might in other countries. 

“Our salaries are very low,” says Farah. “We aren’t working for the money, obviously. We’re working for the many Palestinians who need limbs and therapy.” (END/2009) 

MIDEAST: Finding Fish, But Israelis Too 
By Eva Bartlett


A fishing boat hacked by Israelis. 
Credit:Emad Badwan/IPS

GAZA CITY, Jul 1 (IPS) – “They told us ‘go west or we will shoot you’,” says Ashraf Sadallah. “Initially, we refused, so they began shooting very close all around our boat.”

At 6am on Jun. 16, Sadallah and his brother Abdel Hadi Sadallah, in their early twenties, went roughly 400 metres out to sea off the coast of Sudaniya in Gaza’s northwest. “We wanted to bring in nets we had left out the night before,” says Sadallah. 

Their small fishing boat, known as a hassaka, was in Palestinian fishing waters when three Israeli navy boats approached the brothers. 

“After they opened fire on us, we paddled about three kilometres west where a larger Israeli gunboat was waiting. When we were about 30 metres from the gunboat, Israeli soldiers ordered us to take off our clothes, jump into the water, and swim towards them.” 

The gunboat, Sadallah said, moved half a kilometre away after the two fishermen had jumped into the water. “We swam for about 15 minutes to reach it,” he said. “Then they took us aboard and handcuffed and blindfolded us.” In illegal detention later in Israel’s Ashdod port, the two were interrogated, but not charged. They were released at the Erez crossing more than 14 hours after their abduction. 

The Sadallahs’ hassaka remains in Ashdod, along with what Palestinian fishermen attest are an increasing number of their fishing vessels. 

The hassaka will cost 4,000 shekels (about 1,000 dollars) to replace, double the normal price because of the siege on Gaza. The missing nets cost more: 6,000 shekels. “And fishing is our only source of income,” the now jobless Sadallah says. 

Jihad Sultan, also from Sudaniya, spoke of his abduction by the Israeli navy a month earlier, on May 27. 

“It’s the third time I was abducted,” he said. “The Israelis accused me of crossing into the ‘no-go zone’, but I didn’t.” In Ashdod, Sultan said he saw “a building filled with nets which I’m sure are stolen Palestinian nets.” 

Zaki Taroush and his 17-year-old son Zayed were fishing 600 metres off the coast and 200 metres south of the closed zone the same day Sultan was abducted. They were likewise forced under the live fire of Israeli soldiers to paddle their hassaka west to a waiting Israeli gunboat where they underwent the same, standard, procedure: strip, swim, abduction, handcuffing and blindfolding. 

In detention, they were accused of being in off-limits waters, in what is known as the ‘K’ zone. Tarroush had been abducted along with seven other fishermen just three months earlier, on Mar. 13, under similar circumstances, also losing his net when Israeli soldiers cut the ropes. Following that abduction, the Israelis kept his hassaka, returning it nearly two months later, the 150 shekels transport of which he had to pay. 

Under the Oslo interim agreement, Palestinian fishermen were accorded a 20 nautical mile fishing limit, one which Israel has since repeatedly, unilaterally, downsized to as little as three miles. 

In Sudaniya, Jihad Sultan explains his work on a beached, broken hassaka. “This was taken by the Israelis. When it was returned to us, it had been badly damaged. I’m certain it was dropped on cement,” he said, pointing to long splits in the wood. “It needs to be entirely rebuilt.” 

One of the problems now, Sultan explained, is the lack of materials for repairing the boat. “It will cost nearly 3,500 just to repair the boat.” Fishing nets also are comprised of several unavailable or highly expensive parts. 

“The steel bits on the netting cost 15 shekels a kilo, versus six shekels before the siege. But they are very hard to find now. Rope used to cost 20 shekels per 100 metres, but now it’s 50 shekels and completely unavailable. Sometimes it is brought through the tunnels, but the quality is poor. Even the buoys which hold the nets up are triple the price, at two shekels apiece, and can’t be found in Gaza.” 

With so many parts unavailable in Gaza, Sultan said that to make a ‘new’ net fishermen sew together bits from old nets. To worsen matters, “when the Israeli soldiers don’t find any fishermen to arrest, they often cut or take our nets.” 

On the beach near Sultan’s broken hassaka, Awad Assaida’s bullet-latticed hassaka sits unused, waiting for repairs. “I was in the boat when the Israelis attacked,” said Salim Naiman. “They shot at me for around 30 minutes, from all around me.” Naiman said that when the Israelis finally left, a Palestinian fishing launch nearby towed the boat to shore. Over 50 bullet holes punctured the sides, top and interior of the hassaka. The attacks are by no means limited to the northern areas, but occur all along Gaza’s coast. Nor are the attacks limited to recent times – they go at least a decade back. The Israeli navy’s policy of assault and intimidation has killed at least six fishermen in the last four years, including Hani Najjar, shot in the head by Israeli soldiers in October 2006 while fishing roughly 2.5 miles off the coast of Deir Al-Balah. 

Since Jan. 18 this year when the assault on Gaza ended, five fishermen are known to have been wounded at sea, five more injured on the shore, more than 40 abducted, at least 17 boats taken, and dozens more damaged. Of the boats that have been returned, all have suffered damage or theft of equipment while in custody of the Israeli authorities. 

Sultan believes one reason for the severe attacks on Palestinian fishermen is political. “The water near the ‘K’ area is rich in fish. The Israelis know this and don’t want Palestinian fishermen benefiting from it. It’s part of the siege.” (END/2009) 

 MIDEAST: Attack on Water Brings Sanitation Crisis
By Eva Bartlett


A cesspool in Gaza arising from Israeli bombing. 
Credit:Emad Badwan

GAZA CITY, Jun 18 (IPS) – ‘Biddun mey, fish heyya’, they say in Arabic for a universal truth: ‘Without water, there is no life’.

While diminishing water resources are a global concern, in Palestine the struggle for water is not against global warming or multinational corporations, but for access to water, and against contamination of what precious resources there are. 

Mohamed Ahmed, director of the Water Control Department in the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), says “there continues to be a very rapid depletion and deterioration of ground water.” 

The main source of water is the coastal aquifer and ground water, which serves Gaza’s agriculture, commercial, industrial and public sectors, says Ahmed. But through the three weeks of Israeli attacks on Gaza last December and January, much of the water network infrastructure was destroyed or damaged, rendering already scarce water all the more scarce. 

The destruction caused by Israeli shelling, tanks and bulldozers throughout the Strip further damaged Gaza’s sanitation network, causing 150,000 cubic metres of untreated and partially treated sewage waste water to flow over agricultural and residential land and into the sea during the attacks. The daily average of wastewater being pumped into the sea is still a staggering 80,000 cubic metres. 

The water treatment crisis has been a catastrophe in the making for decades. In 2004, a report on water alternatives published by the Islamic University of Gaza’s Department of Environment and Earth Science said groundwater had already “deteriorated to a limit that the municipal tap water became brackish and unsuitable for human consumption” throughout the Strip. 

Techniques introduced for improving water quality included desalination and reverse osmosis, importing bottled water, and collecting rain water. But these initiatives have been rendered increasingly futile in the face of years of Israeli assaults on Gaza’s infrastructure, combined with its sanctions and siege regime, heightened since June 2007 when Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip. 

The siege has meant an increasingly long waiting list of spare parts, pipes, and building materials. This directly affects Gaza’s ability to maintain its sanitation and water treatment facilities. 

“We’ve been waiting for three years for these items to enter, along with desalination units,” says Ibrahim Alejla, media officer for Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities (CMWU). 

In its January 2009 Damage Assessment Report, CMWU speaks of 5.97 million dollars damage to Gaza’s water and wastewater treatment facilities and infrastructure. Some of the greatest damage was done in northern Gaza, where three new facilities were totally destroyed. Severe damage was caused to the North Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Plant, as well as to wastewater distribution networks throughout the north. 

Government sources say that more than 800 of Gaza’s 2,000 water wells were destroyed or rendered not useable from the last Israeli attacks. 

Central Gaza also suffered. The Sheikh Rajleen Waste Water Treatment Plant, the largest in the Gaza Strip, was shelled, causing pipelines to rupture and raw sewage to flood more than a square kilometre of agricultural and residential land. 

The CMWU says it had provided coordinates for all water and wastewater facilities to Israeli authorities. Yet throughout Gaza sites were hit. Much of the damage was to pipelines, torn up by Israeli tanks and bulldozers. Pipes are among the items Israeli authorities bar from entering Gaza. 

The PWA’s Mohamed Ahmed says the sandy nature of the Sheikh Rajleen region brought wastewater permeation into ground water. “Areas with clay and soil tend to slow the drainage, but in Sheikh Rajleen the sewage water very quickly drained into the ground water.” 

Ahmed says “we’ve found the presence of detergents in our monitoring wells, indicating that wastewater and ground water have mixed.” Monther Shoblak, CMWU director, said this type of contamination occurred also in Beit Hanoun to the north of Gaza City where facilities were destroyed. 

Central Gaza’s Wadi Gaza region is one of the most visible and noxious sites of sewage dumping. The black sludge streaming into the sea is seen and smelt by passengers on the ride south from Gaza city. 

Ibrahim Alejla of CMWU says the flow of sewage into the sea is not only dangerous, but wasteful. “If the borders were open, and we could get the chemicals and equipment needed to treat the water, it could be re-used in agriculture.” 

Mohamed Ahmed says nitrate levels have for the past two years been three times the World Health Organisation (WHO) limit. Nitrates are believed to be carcinogenic. 

“It is too soon to see all of the negative impacts,” says Mohamed Ahmed. And with Gaza’s Islamic University chemical laboratories bombed during Israel’s attacks, “Gaza has no facilities for testing water for the presence of heavy metals and other contaminants.” 

Ahmed believes numerous chemical pollutants will be found when the tests are carried out. “The war occurred during winter, during our rainy season. When it rained, the chemicals and pollutants in the air went directly into the ground water.” 

The CMWU and PWA say that many of the most affected areas have had their water networks repaired. “The municipalities chlorinate water to eliminate contamination,” says Ahmed. But difficulties arise when Israeli authorities prevent the entry of chlorine into Gaza. “Then the government issues advisories not to drink the network water.” 

Ahmed warns of the effect on rural residents from contaminated ground water. “Many people depend on wells for their drinking water,” he says. 

The water problems extend beyond consumption of tainted water. The Gaza health ministry and WHO have issued swimming advisories, listing seven extremely polluted areas as high-risk for diarrhoeal and skin diseases.

Khaled Al-Habil, a fishermen at Gaza city port, says the waste-polluted sea is destroying marine life. 

“If you open the fish up, they are black inside. Not like normal fish. The sewage is destroying the fish. People who swim in the water at the port, their skin becomes irritated, like a rash,” Al-Habil said. 

“I’m a fishermen, I know fish. But there are others who don’t know it’s from the port, who buy and eat them,” he said. 

(END/2009) 

the Little Things

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One day, and quite unexpectedly as with all nice surprises, a man I barely knew untied a black velvet pouch, to reveal the treasures he’d stashed inside.


Out tumbled a number of fingertip-sized seashells, lovely in their ordinariness, but also in the details which the man had noticed: the smoothness of one, the ridged edges of another, swirls of colour in the next… and one toothlike shell into which he drilled a hole and fastened a clasp for a necklace. Picking up another long, twisted shell, similarly drilled, Samir explained, “I found these at the sea in the north. I walk a lot by the sea.”

From underneath the black velvet, Samir took the black string which had bound the pouch, showing how to attach it to the necklace jewels. “I love to make things. This was perfect for jewellery. “

One might not expect someone who has lived through a hell surpassing previous invasions and a life under occupation to notice the little things in life.

On a visit to Samir’s home another day, his artistic nature further revealed itself, as did its origin. Samir’s father was tending the different vegetables, herbs and trees he’d nurtured in what had been a vacant lot. The family, living nearby, had bought the land and truly made it flourish (not like all that mythology about making a certain ‘desert’ flourish from nothing, you know!?!).

During the heat of the day, the shade of what are now sturdy trees provided some relief, and a chance to see more of Samir’s work.

He is drawn to the sea, and his collection shows this. But his other crafts extend to wood etchings of traditional Palestinian life, and…cartoons.

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“I work as a cartoonist. I make posters, stories, and animation films for children,” he said. “I’m employed at a company in Gaza, like a small Walt Disney (but without the insidious side).”

This warranted a visit to his office.

The main production room, where a handful of young artists sat sketching and designing, is an airy, well-lit room, walls plastered with drawings and cartoons: some seem to be whatever has come into the artist’s head, mixtures of Palestinian and Western culture, and others are blatant copies of cartoons loved around the world: Tom and Jerry; the Simpsons; South Park; and Japanese animation style images. These are simply fun art, to decorate.

The work is aimed mostly at children, creating nice images and ideas for them. A boy on a swing surrounded by lush foliage and a shining sun. A child talking with his grandfather—dressed in traditional Palestinian clothes and head scarf –about weddings. In the multi-framed cartoon, the grandfather explains about the music, the dancing…It is a country wedding and tents have been set up (not Nakba tents, but festive ones) in a thriving forest. A tall, elegant flask of tea sits inside one tent. No tanks, no F-16s, no destruction.

Yet the political does come out in the artists’ personal sketchings. One artist draws a girl sitting in a house made of bricks of UN handout packages. Another sketch shows children in crushed buildings, terrified… A cartoon shows a boy, traditionally dressed, holding a key, Right of Return.

We move to another room to watch some of their animations.

The first: kids in space, riding on a star (drawing style reminiscent of the Little Prince), a white dove defying space and physics, flying alongside the kids, and colours. So many colours.

Another, for a TV channel, depicts morning prayer, children waking up in a colourful village, coming out of colourful homes, singing, dancing… There are butterflies, flowers, birds, a forest…It is, for Palestinians, a fantasy world of freedom, happiness, serenity, nature… No bulldozed olive groves or rotting cow corpses, nor rancid piles of chickens in bombed-out farms. No, it is a world of sound and colour and bliss.

But Samir explains this is not deceit, but giving hope. He explains the school-directed drawings and murals he does. “Kids understand things well thru drawing and cartoons. Its a means of communicating ideas to them.”

The UN commissions their work for UN-run schools. Subjects like showing children how to behave well; how to behave with teachers.

The images also make their way onto notebook covers, calendars, mugs, clocks, cell phones, and even baby bottles.

Aside from a determined effort at arts on stage and in studios, what strikes me in Gaza is the prevalence of murals, artistic graffiti, and cartoons on city and camp walls. Although the decimated landscape and lacerated homes first grab the eye, the random artwork in Gaza is one of the very compelling aspects of Gaza’s art.

From grey concrete cities and camps springs an abundance of colour, animated love, determination, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Sometimes it is the extraordinary beauty from ordinary people that amazes.

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