Today our friend Haidar has invited us to visit his “shack” that he has recently built on a small parcel of land about 20 minutes south of Gaza city. A few miles out of the city we stop for figs. Our friend, who knows the seller, comes back with a big box of figs that were picked only hours before. He puts them in the back of the car and we try our best not to start salivating.
We drive on the coast road, a road in a much better condition than that of the one we had used to drive us from the border to Gaza city the day we arrived. Apparently this road has been recently finished due to a donation of the Palestinian cell phone company Jawwal. As they are prevented from paying taxes to the Hamas government (due to the blockade upheld by Israel, US and Europe and legitimised by the Quartet), they managed to by-pass this restriction by instead donating money to build up this road. Presumably the materials were brought in through the tunnels. (I have not been able to find sources on this – will update once I do).
Being half Irish and having spent much time in Ireland, I have driven on many a beautiful coastal road, and I would say that my favorite road strips in the world are all coastal. I can now add this one to my list of top favorites. It is stunning. We drive as the sun, past its zenith, descends in a golden haze toward the deep blue. The time and place are magic. A few forlorn anglers try their luck by throwing in a line or a net from the shore. Haidar says he loves this stretch and tries to drive down every day. I don’t blame him. It is a stretch of road where the metaphorical but very real prison walls seem invisible. We near Khan Younis refugee camp, and looking to the left we see the incredibly close nit systems of ramshackle buildings that we had already seen on our previous trip organised by the university. Many are out in the street. We see women preparing food, and men simply sitting around (over 45 % of unemployed in the Gaza strip). The poverty is distinctly visible, even at the speed we are going past. I try to capture some images in spite of the bumpy road.
We arrive at Haidar’s “shack”, which is a few hundred metres inland, –apparently this short distance from the coast cut the price by more than half. The last stretch is on a sandy path. We pass a scooter holding two people that skids and almost falls over. Looking back I see why: tied to the rack on the back is a small crate holding a sheep!! Another poor animal tagged for sacrifice for the Eid starting tomorrow. (I wasn’t quick enough for a snapshot.)
The ‘shack’ is a one room house with a small bathroom and a kitchen counter, tiny, but heavenly. A paradise. Haidar says it is his contribution to building ‘facts on the ground’. Apparently we are the first visitors, as the shack has virtually just been finished. We feel very honoured indeed. (Did I already mention the overwhelming hospitality we have been experiencing everywhere in Gaza? Everyone welcomes us and opens their doors.) Soon we ascend the stairs to the roof terrace, where we finally get to eat the best figs any of us has ever tasted. We sit there, talk, sip Haidar’s delicious Turkish coffee (contrary to us earlier in the morning, he manages to make it with the mandatory creamy foam on top). The palm tree right beside the ‘shack’ is majestic. Many more palm trees far off, beautiful against the sun set. The images tell it all. It is a moment of peace and happiness. I see why our friend comes here every day he can.
After dark we drive back into Gaza city. Before he leaves us off at our place, he brings us to his apartment in the Tel al-Hawa district. We take the elevator up the high-rise, now powered by a generator. From his tiny balcony he shows us various landmarks, the Islamic University, al-Aqsa university, which is not well visible. The Al Quds hospital (see following post). He points out the places that were hit during the 2008-2009 bombing by Israeli forces (massacre, as he and many others here call it). We stand in awe, imagining the terror people must have felt. Our friend says that at one point he was no longer able to sleep. He ended up leaving his home to stay with relatives further off. He also recounts of a man being thrown off the roof of this building by an extremist group.