Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Gaza City

March 8, 2018

"Below you'll see a panorama of Gaza City as well as much of the Strip. Gaza City, with a population of over 500,000 is the largest city of Palestine. It is the commercial and economic hub of the Strip.

But, Gaza City is much more. In fact, the historical record of Gaza extends back to 3500 BC and reads like a Who’s Who of famed personalities: Rameses I, II, and III, Samson, Saul, David, Solomon, Alexander, Plutarch, Pompey, Caesar, Herod, Jesus, Antony, Cleopatra, Porphyry, Omar ibn Khattab, Hashim ibn Abd Manaf (great grandfather of Mohammed), Richard, Pasha, Napoleon, Ali, and Allenby—among many. The historical record begins with the Egyptians driving out the Hyskos in 1580 BC, and follows up through the time of Christ by subsequent invasions of Philistines, Israelites, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, and Jews.

This prominence reveals both Gaza’s historical honor and tragedy—both largely consequences, and casualties of its geography. Gaza was the chief center of the frankincense trade as early as 500 BC, as well as the commercial center for many other products. It was famed for its fairs, theatres, and school of rhetoric, which was at the time the basis of all higher education. So important was Gaza in Roman times that it had its own calendar.

The inscription on one coin minted at Gaza around the turn of the millennium read: “The city of the Gazaeans is sacred, and an asylum and autonomous, faithful, pious, brilliant, and great.” Five hundred years later, Antoninus Martyr wrote: “Gaza is a splendid and beautiful city; its men most honest, liberal in every respect, and friendly to the pilgrims.”

Yet its strategic location between Asia and Africa has also made it a coveted lynch pin for incessant military conquests across the millennia. Throughout it, the record makes clear that unlike many other cities in the region Gazans have been unusually defiant. Alexander the Great lost 10,000 men taking it; Napoleon was injured in his assault on it; it took Allenby three full days to take it." 
(c Brian K. Barber)

Erez 4/4 to coast via Gaza City

March 8, 2018

Image result for 2017 map of gaza
This episode takes you along the 25 minute journey from the Erez 4/4 to Gaza City. The route begins on Salah El Din Street - the main road that bisects the strip from north to south (technically, northwest to southeast). As you'll see, this upper part of the highway is not well-paved, but soon will been. Qatar has been funding the modernization of this road, beginning from the southern Rafah Crossing. It is about 3/4 complete now - from Rafah to Nezarim. You'll ride on the road often in later episodes. Qatar has also funded re-doing the Beach Road on the coast. As you'll see later, it is also nearly complete.

The route continues on various streets into Gaza City proper, ending up at the sea. This is still the same dusty day as the crossing through Erez. It gets much better for the rest of the days. I'll shift to landscape view from now on.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Crossing Erez from Israel to Gaza

March 9, 2018

People are constantly asking what it's like in Gaza. I've described it verbally, by text, and still photos (see previous posts on this blog). Here, now is a video log of my current trip made to give you a real feel for Gaza.

(Note: As the locals do, I frequently use "Gaza" to refer to the "Gaza Strip" and use "Gaza City" when referring to the main city of the Gaza Strip.)

I decided that making the videos from the front seat of a car would be ideal so that you view, feel, and hear as you would if you came - complete with bumps, stops, jams, quick turns, ambient noise, etc. Forgive my primitive video skills - I get better over time as you'll see. Often I'll hold the camera close to me so as not to intrude and feel less conspicuous - resulting in a lot of dashboard!

In the clip below, you are finishing the 90 minute drive from Jerusalem, traveling on Route 3, then Route 4, then this turn to the Israeli terminal at the Erez Crossing. In the "old days" (i.e., when I first arrived in 1995) there was just a rudimentary check-point with a set of huts and concrete blocks. All one had to do was show a passport. Progressively, entry (and exit) has become stricter. Then this massive terminal was constructed in some fancy that there would be a lot of traffic in and out. But, fewer and fewer have been allowed in or out.

It resembles an airport terminal, with numerous immigration stations inside. No photos are permitted inside or in any proximity to the outside.

Erez is the only passenger crossing from Israel to Gaza. Now, it requires advance permission from the Israeli military, to be achieved on your behalf by a Gazan institution or INGO.

The process within the terminal has several steps: to one booth to get a paper copy of the advance permit; to another booth to check passport, etc; a long walk in a narrow passage; a turnstile the width of your shoulders (one learns over time how to navigate such stiles with baggage); a short walk until a second identical turnstile; then wait until a heavy iron gate slides slowly open.

For all steps, one waits for access to be signaled by a green light triggered by the Israeli border police who observe everything directly from a command center on the upper level of the terminal or by video.

The clip below views back at the area of the iron gate, and then forward to begin the long journey into "No Man's Land."

In the old days, there was no structure for this passage of some 200 yards. It was simply an unpaved, dusty path that could easily turn an ankle and wreak havoc on any luggage wheels. About half way along, baggage carriers would approach and go the distance with you.

With donations from various countries, this passageway was first paved, then roofed and fenced, and then equipped with motorized carts to carry baggage and passengers.

In the clip below, I'm riding on the back of a motorcycle pulling a cart of baggage. There is little turnover among the baggage handlers. I know all of them well.

The journey continues. Forgive the long section showing the ceiling. I thought I had turned the video off and haven't had time yet to delete that portion. Please continue through it to see another segment of the journey.

Now the journey through No Man's Land ends, arriving at the Palestinian Authority immigration point to enter the Strip, known commonly as 5/5. This, and the coming 4/4 are dated call signs for these areas.

A look back from 5/5 to the Israeli terminal.

Before officially entering the Strip, we make the last leg of the journey by taxi from 5/5 to 4/4. Until last October, Hamas also required an entry permit to be achieved in the same manner as for the Israeli permit. 4/4 was its immigration point. As of October 2017, this was stopped as the initial phase of the reconciliation between the PA and Hamas set in; namely, the PA taking full control of the borders - Erez and the southern crossing with Egypt at Rafah. So, now, 4/4 effectively serves as second phase of 5/5, i.e., both are manned by the Palestinian Authority officials.

This last clip ends as you see to the right the former Hamas-staffed immigration buildings at 4/4. It is only after passing the new PA staff that you are officially in the Gaza Strip. Taxis wait there to transport you anywhere in Gaza.

The next post will be of my journey by taxi into Gaza City.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Feast Goes On in Khan Yunis

     There likely could not have been a better therapy for Gazans than having a respite from the punishing recent violence to enjoy one of the most sacred moments of the year: Eid al Adha (feast of sacrifice). According to Islam, this feast, or festival, honors Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael.
     I spent the three-day period with the Al Faqawi family, with whom I first lived 20 years ago in their Khan Yunis refugee camp home. Now, in Khan Yunis town east of the camp, their expanded family lives in the classic multi-level building, with each floor housing the sons' families. Theirs is one of the families I am writing the book about, tracing their lives across these decades. Hammam, the oldest son, is a central character in the book.
     Many of the photos are taken from the roof of their home, just a mile from the devastated eastern villages (see previous post). Still stunned by the shocking violence of the recent war, the town seemed starved for this moment of peace, harmony, and sharing.
Khan Yunis town
Sunset on eve of feast

Khan Yunis town, morning of feast

Calves to the slaughter

Gathering for morning prayer

3 generations off to prayers: Fuad, Hammam, Fuad, Omar

Early prayer, first day of feast

Early prayer, first day of feast

Simple feast: fresh kebab, hummus, and bread

Dates in various stages


Shadha and Hammam

Hammam and Shadha's children (Fuad, Mohammed, Omar, Habiba)

Fathima and granddaughter Fahtima (brother Wasseem's newbor)

Brother Hani, and sons Fuad and Mahmoud

Indispensable gadgets for the constant power outages

Father Fuad, Mother Fathima sorting just-harvested olives
BKB lending a symbolic hand

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Not to be Overlooked: The Destruction of Khuza'a and Abasan

This will be my only post specifically documenting the level of destruction of Gaza. Journalists have done it in part; but, otherwise, it would be too difficult to decide which of the several hundred photos I took--of Beit Hanoun, Gaza City, Shejaia, and the villages east of historic Khan Yunis Khan Yunis, including Khuza'a Khuza'a and Abasan--to share
(contact me if you'd like to see the full set of photos).
 Referring to these latter two villages--in the southern part of the Strip and both with histories of military destruction--Fuad, a friend from Khan Yunis, bemoaned all of the media attention to Shejaia (to the  north). "What occurred there was nothing compared to Khuza'a and Abasan."  (See yesterday's NY Times piece by Fares Akram Fares Akram).
 Here a mix of scenes, that need little explanation:



Crater from F-16 missile

Friday, October 3, 2014

Salvaging Strength in Gaza: The Rebar

As bone-tired as they are, Gazans waste no time moving forward and rebuilding--yet again.
Amid the fresh ruins of the flattened towers of Gaza City 
the recovery of rebar is crucial to building anew.





Tuesday, September 30, 2014