If there wasn’t the sea. "How did you spend your vacations?" In Gaza this is a somewhat tactless question. How should it be spent, here in the 40 by five kilometers where one and a half million people are cooped up on the most densely populated strip of land on earth, without any possibility to leave. Here are not many ways to spend your vacation. Vacations are thus one of the rarest topics of discussion here in Gaza. Lucky is the one who has some, because it means that he has work, which is rare as well, with unemployment reaching up to 45% since the blockade. So if you have vacations, in theory, then it doesn’t mean you’re also keen on taking them, where should you go after all, you can’t leave anyway, and here in Gaza there is no place that is not crowded with people, with dirt, and with noise. So its better not to mention vacations, something you learn quickly here in Gaza.
But in Gaza there is the sea. And if there wasn’t the sea, then there would be no place you could go with your family, your friends, on a winter day or a summer evening. But there is the sea, so you can pack a picnic basket, or a barbecue or your swimsuit in the summer, imagining for a moment that your life is normal and free, without daily terror, poverty, or so many lost dreams for the future. You can spend a day at the sea as if you had a normal life of hope, comfort, dignity and pleasure.
However, you should not cherish the illusion that the beach of Gaza would be a nice place. There are about 40 kilometers of beach in Gaza, for one and a half million people living locked up, which all decide, from time to time, that they are free, with all of the expectations of life, but would like nothing better than to spend a day at the beach with family and friends, a barbecue maybe. Or a winter afternoon, wrapped in a warm jacket, but surrounded by waves and sea air, and not by the noise of the generators. The beach is therefore not so much different from the rest of Gaza, it’s crowded, it’s dirty and it’s loud. And you’re reluctant to enter the water, because the things you need for sewage treatment plants have been declared possible terrorist objects by Israel, so their imports are prohibited. Which means millions of liters of sewage flow daily into Gaza’s sea. But there is the sea. If there wasn’t the sea.
You should also not cherish the illusion that the people of Gaza were safer on the beach, that their lives would be less in danger there than at any other place of Gaza, or at any other time. In 2006, the 11 year old Huda Ghalia and her family spent an afternoon there, having a picnic. Why ever a family with a blanket full of food and playing children was targeted by Israeli soldiers , they hit the beach from their war ship with eight artillery bombs that exploded close to the family. Huda Ghalia was the only survivor of her family, all the other nine people died and around over 30 were wounded. One of the worst crimes that happened at Gaza’s beach, but certainly not the only one. And that is on your mind when you sit there, your feet in the sand. But there are no safe places in Gaza, so this certainly doesn’t stop the people from going to the sea, any attempt to forget the terror, for a day, or at least for a few hours.
But what makes the sea of Gaza so significant is not really that it offers the only leisure activity. The sea of Gaza is the only option that people have to dream. Anyone who has ever sat there on the beach one evening, watching the blood red sun sinking down into the water knew once again that
there is beauty in this world. When you sit there and look out to the sea, and watch the small wooden fishing boats near to the beach, and farther out the lights on the sea, then you don’t think about the fact that these lights are from Israeli warships. Then you don’t think about the fact that you can watch these little fishing boats so well because they can’t go out further without getting in danger of being shot by the soldiers on these warships, and that they can’t get closer to the beach without losing their livelihood completely. You don’t think of the bilateral Oslo agreement in which the fishermen of Gaza were granted 20 nautical miles to fish in, or the fact it was unilaterally reduced to six, and since 2008 has been limited to only three nautical miles. Nor of the family you have visited, whose 19 year old son was shot at 2.5 nautical miles while fishing. Or of the many fishermen recently kidnapped at sea, forced to lie handcuffed on the wet floor of their boats and brought into Israeli prisons for interrogation. There they had to point at their house on photographs from Gaza, taken in detail by a drone, and describe the port. They were sent back after days without their boat, and thus without a future. But even that you can forget, for this moment.
You sit on the beach and watch the blood-red sun as it sets into the sea, and greet the fishermen around who already know you. The fishermen who have cast their nets on the shore, or are there with a fishing rod, and you can share their happiness when they’ve caught something, which is not very often, and now the family has something to eat. You hope, perhaps, that you won’t see them again in the hospital when they were shot in the leg by Israeli soldiers because they were standing too close to the border. But actually it's much too beautiful just to sit there and watch them, as they cast their nets at dusk, while you can feel slightly warm sand under your feet, even in winter.
But why the sea is so special, here in Gaza, is perhaps not even the feeling as you are sitting there watching the waves breaking, reminding you of the beauty of this world. The significance of the sea in Gaza is that you can see the horizon. The horizon, which recalls the feeling of freedom that you had almost forgotten here. Which the young people of Gaza don’t dare to hope ever to have because they have never known it. But there on the ocean unlike every other frontier, you see no borders, no walls and no gun towers, but infinite space. You have the feeling that you can finally breathe again, instead of suffocating slowly in this narrow and crowded place, and you realize that the world is more than a small strip of terror, violence and fear. Yes, when you sit there and see the horizon, you start once again to dream of freedom. In your thoughts, you fly then like a bird above this endless water to distant countries, which you perhaps will never see, but can imagine, in this moment.
That the people of Gaza still dream is manifested in this beautiful text of a young Palestinian woman, to be found at http://fidaa.me/?p=136
Vera Macht lives and works in Gaza since April 2010. She is a peace activist and reports about people´s daily struggle in Gaza (Vera.Macht@uni-jena.de)