Hopes and dreams on the Gaza coast
By Ayman Mohyeldin in Gaza
‘At a time when Gazans are under a siege… the coast has become an important psychological tool’
Every day, as the sun sets on the coast of Gaza, people make their way to the coffee shop-lined beaches and the pot-holed streets that run parallel to its coastline.
On the terrace of the famed Al Deira Hotel, patrons jostle for position, sipping sweet Arabic coffee as the sounds of legendary Arab musicians delicately waft through the air, mingling with the aroma of flavoured tobacco.
They all share one aim – to gaze out into the Mediterranean Sea as its turquoise waters transform into blue, then purple and then disappear into the moonlit night.
Another day has passed in Gaza.
For the few minutes where the sun and water meet and the sky glows warm, people here are moved by a deep beauty and for those few minutes, the beaming smiles of children frolicking in the sand, the laughter of friends and the line of fishermen setting out into the horizon suspend Gaza's seemingly eternal suffering.
It is that time of year again, when temperatures rise and where the coast of Gaza takes on a whole new different meaning.
"In this tiny territory caged in by Israel on two sides, north and east, and by Egypt to the south, Gaza's west coast becomes its gateway to a world of possibilities" In this tiny territory caged in by Israel on two sides, north and east, and by Egypt to the south, Gaza's west coast becomes its gateway to a world of possibilities and a painful reminder of its limited realities.
Gaza's shoreline is a deceptive one. Its long, white sandy beaches are the ideal location for luxury hotels, trendy cafes, a vibrant nightlife, boutique shops, a palm-tree lined promenade for the health-conscious jogger, the inspired artist seeking to capture its beauty or the local street vendor selling traditional Palestinian handicrafts.
With its year-round, perfect Mediterranean weather, rich history at the crossroads of continents and civilisations and Arab hospitality, Gaza should be a tourist haven and entrepreneur's dream.
Businesses, corporations and financial towers should be vying for this prime real estate.
Instead, today its 41km-long poorly paved corniche road is marked with potholes. Sections of it have been destroyed by Israeli air raids over the years.
A journey from its northern border to the south can take hours to travel, as you zig-zag through the destroyed stretches of road and the rubble of buildings levelled during Israel's recent war.
All along the coastal stretch, crowded and dirty refugee camps edge closer to the water, squeezing every inhabitable inch available.
The drive along the coast is marked by the smell of raw sewage spewing out into the sea at various points. The coast's most underdeveloped stretches are the scars from where Israel maintained its military outposts and illegal settlements that were a chokehold on the Gaza Strip.
When the Israeli military and settlers pulled out in 2005, they left behind the land and the coast but left Gaza in ruins, caged in and cut off from the outside world.
Since 2006, when Hamas won democratic elections that were recognised by international observers as free and fair, Israel has imposed an increasingly stifling siege on Gaza, restricting everything that comes in and out of the strip.
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