I was starving after work today, so I went straight to the Al-Deira Hotel for a sandwich and a cold glass of melon juice. The Al-Deira is on the seafront, next to the old Gaza harbour: it is an elegant old hotel with swish rooms and a huge terrace overlooking the sea, and the local hang-out for delegates and journalists who come to Gaza. Now that it’s midsummer, the Al-Deira is packed from dusk onwards, but the customers are mostly local.
As we plunge into summer, I expect many of you are thinking about having holidays, either in your own country or abroad. After six months in the Gaza Strip, with its lush Mediterranean climate and conservative Islamic culture, I’m looking forward to going back to England for my holiday. But in Gaza people do not go on holiday, because the overwhelming majority of Gazans can’t leave the Strip, and there is nowhere to take a vacation inside these walls. Khalil Shaheen is a well known local human rights activist and I’ve been talking to him about freedom of movement.
It’s 8.30pm, and I have just returned from lunch. I was at Hannah’s house; she is a friend and colleague, and she invited eight of us over for lunch after work today. Gazans love their food, and so they should; it’s a wonderfully succulent and sensual diet of vegetables, meat, fragrant rice, salads and fruit, laced with garlic, lemon and olive oil, and served on enormous, tempting platters. Hannah cooked enough to feed about 30 of us.
Ten days into the Tahdiya, or ‘Calm’ between Hamas and Israel,
we haven’t seen anything change here inside Gaza. In fact the only real
difference I’ve noticed is that over the last couple of weeks the power
cuts have been worse than ever. Like many other people, I have power
cuts at home for eight hours at a time now. So the food in my fridge
gets ruined and wasted.
Please tell me how that contributes to security in Israel.
The Arabic word tahdiya means ‘calming’ or ‘quieting.’ Hamas and the Government of Israel agreed to a six month tahdiya a few days ago, just after the first anniversary of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Hostilities on both sides would cease, and the Israeli siege of Gaza would gradually ease. The Tahdiya started at 6:00am on June 19. I was startled out of sleep about fifteen minutes beforehand by a familiar sound– the pounding of bombs. Israel was bombing the northern Gaza Strip, just a few miles away from where I live. At six o’clock exactly, the bombing stopped. But it didn’t bode well.
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.
This week marks a year since Hamas bludgeoned their way to power in Gaza. It has been a hell of a year here, with Israel sealing the entire Gaza Strip and imposing a crippling siege on 1.5 million people, whilst the so-called ‘International Community’ shamelessly continues to look the other way. It’s easy to forget that, before they took over Gaza, Hamas was democratically voted into office because the previous Palestinian Fatah Government was rotten with corruption, and Palestinians wanted a new political era.
Most of the bad news you hear about Gaza is true. There are chronic fuel shortages here: this week I’ve seen hundreds of men queuing to refill their empty canisters of cooking gas, so they can cook at home, and hundreds of drivers queuing outside one gas station in Gaza city, desperately hoping they can refuel their cars. There are constant shortages of electricity, fresh drinking water (because the electric water pumps keep shutting down), fresh milk, medicines and hearing aids - which the Government of Israel won’t allow into Gaza for ‘security’ reasons. Israel has also banned construction materials, which is why a lot of the Gaza Strip literally looks like a bomb site.