November 11

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Gaza Dispatch: The Reliable Mediterranean

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Last week, writer Mona Abu Sharekh toured me through the Shati Refugee Camp, or ‘Beach Camp,’ in Gaza City. “I can’t imagine how anyone can live away from the sea,” Mona said as we walked along the road edging the shoreline. For Gazans, the sea provides the only glimpse of a horizon. Hemmed in by walls and barbed wire to the north, south and east, the sea remains the only open space Gazans ever sea. Mona said she once looked down at Gaza from a hilltop near the border fence, but the view troubled her. The city sprawled out before her all grey, compressed and claustrophobic. She didn’t like seeing Gaza this way. She prefers her seashore vista.

My friend Lara shares Mona’s affection for the sea. “It is a place where I can breathe,” she said. Lara told me about late night swims, under the generous cover of darkness and away from ruthlessly conservative eyes. “Also, the sea is nature,” something that Gaza has in short supply.

But Nidal, another friend, disagrees. “The sea is for dark things,” he said. Nidal points to the Israeli navy vessels visible in the near distance off-shore and reminds me of the people those ships killed during last year’s war. He reminded me, too, of the fishermen who Israel forbids from entering the richest fishing grounds. The sea provides nothing, Nidal said. No boats arrive or depart from the shore. Nothing comes or goes. The sea offers a view, but no escape. It is a window, perhaps, but not a door.

“My color is green,” Nidal said. He comes from a farming family in Beit Lahia, a region famous for its strawberries and citrus groves. Nidal prefers a row of fruit trees – one after another after another – to any distant horizon. For him, the trees represent the farmers who work hard to feed their families in spite of the challenges of this place. Nidal especially loves the fields in the winter. The oranges grow cold on the trees, and he drinks tea and smokes sheesha in their shadow. There is nothing for him in the maritime distance. Everything he needs is here.

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