I had forgotten how beautiful Gaza is. Or perhaps, I had never noticed. The first time I came to Gaza was in the wake of Israel’s December 2008 Operation Caste Lead. It was winter then, and I was constantly jumping at the sound of Israeli F-16s dropping bombs on Gaza. Buildings had become rubble, and the road from the border, in the south, to Gaza city, in the north, was littered with craters. The people had become quiet and the children had distant, vacant stares. The smell of white phosphorous lingered in many places, a scent that reminded me of lower Manhattan after September 11.
How had I missed the beauty of the Gazan cactus? Twisted, tangled, prickly green cactus, that grew tall like trees and formed mangled hedges sculpted into neat walls delineate one person’s land from another’s or the road. How could I have missed this wonderful cactus? I love cactus. I come from a land of cactus.
And then of course, there is the sea! The Mediterranean is right there and it startled me with its beauty. I stepped out onto the street yesterday morning, and there it was: sparkling blue with yellow sand. Beach sand pervades all in Gaza, the streets, the sidewalks. Little mounds of it are everywhere. But of course, the Mediterranean may as well be a mirage, as the people cannot play on the sand and swim in the sea. Since imposing a naval blockade on Gaza in 2007, Israel has prevented the importation of sanitation equipment into Gaza, and so its waters are highly polluted. According to a 2010 report by B’tselem, 95% of the water in the Gaza Strip is polluted. http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/20100823_gaza_water_crisis This became apparent today when the smell of sewage slapped me in the face as I took a taxi along coastal road down south. It hit me again on the way back, in some sandy area away from the coast. Perhaps, we had passed one of those sewage cesspools I had read about.
And so, while 30 miles away, Israelis in Tel Aviv can spend this beautiful fall weekend splashing in the Mediterranean, here in Gaza, the sea tempts us with her beauty.