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.
International delegates are still coming to town, but there are barely any foreign journalists here: there are no ‘new angles’ or ‘ground-breaking’ stories to cover in Gaza, so the hacks have left town. We were expecting them to arrive back in droves last week, alongside Tony (you know who I mean – the grinning ex-UK Prime Minister with the Christian fixation who has a part-time job as a Middle East Peace Envoy). But Tony didn’t turn up in Gaza, so neither did the hacks.
Do you ever wonder what happens when the journalists leave a war zone or occupied country? Well, life of course continues, with its tragedies and victories, and the fight for survival and justice goes on. Very little has changed in Gaza since Israel and Hamas agreed to a Tahdiya or ‘calming’ in June. The death toll has certainly dropped, but many Gazans tell me that for them life had already stopped.
I once read a comment on war written by a former child soldier. ‘War is not just the shelling and the bombings,’ she wrote, ‘war is what happens to us afterwards.’ It wasn’t until I moved to Gaza that I could appreciate what I think she meant: the mainstream news agenda moves on, but in a chronic armed conflict like Gaza, people are meanwhile snared between the hope that things could improve and the fear that this spiral of violence will erupt once more.
But as I pack my bags to go to England on holiday, there is, literally, a light on the horizon: a small vessel will set sail at the beginning of August from Cyprus towards Gaza, even though the crew expects to be intercepted by the Israeli military en route. This maritime act of solidarity probably won’t make the international news, or bring the hacks back to town – but if these maverick human rights activists do actually make it to Gaza, the people here will give them a hell of a welcome.