During the six months I’ve been in Gaza, there have been three separate threats to kidnap foreigners who work here. I hear about these threats via a daily online security bulletin.
My family and friends back home always assume these threats are issued by Hamas, but they’re wrong. As I explained in my last blog, Hamas have made the streets of Gaza much safer, and have no intention of kidnapping foreigners. No, these threats are made by armed splinter groups, often associated with large families or clans, who want either money or publicity, and see foreigners as a cheap ticket to both.
When I heard about the first threat, I’d been in Gaza for only about a month, and I was really quite scared. I spent the next three weeks traveling everywhere by taxi, or being accompanied on the street by a friend. I never went out alone. Even when I was told the threat had been dropped from ‘High’ to ‘Moderate’ I was still anxious for days afterwards. The second threat was part of a general security alert issued a couple of months later, and I didn’t find it as stressful. ‘Don’t be frightened, just be careful’ advised my friend, Samir, and that is the best piece of advice I’ve ever received about Gaza.
Samir and my other Gazan friends tell me they are ashamed of these threats being issued against foreigners who come here to work alongside local Gazans. ‘We despise these people,’ they tell me. ‘They are not part of us,’ and this in turn supports me a lot. When the third threat was issued last week, all I was told was that the risk of being kidnapped has suddenly gone up again. And that really sums up the situation... although Gaza is definitely much safer than it was a year ago, there is always some risk of being kidnapped here; it’s not always a very high risk, but, like a dormant virus, you always need bear it in mind. Feeling defiant, I went for a stroll alone last night, just to a nearby store to buy myself an ice-cream. I stuck to the main street, kept my eyes open and arrived back safely less than an hour later, having bumped into a friend by chance. He knew nothing of this third threat, but still offered to walk me home. I thanked him, but said I’d be fine walking alone. I was already nearby my home, I know these streets well - and I’m always careful.