Despite the unprecedented media coverage and growing audience that the Palestinian cause, most specifically Gaza during the siege (2007 and ongoing) and the war (2008) have been given, there is still a lot that people do not know about Gaza. The media portrays Gaza the way it wants the world to see it- a tiny spot on the map, plagued with poverty and hunger, governed by yet another ‘Islamic’ group, and besieged by Israel. The image created by media agencies, regardless of how different their views are, is always the same: a bleak image of a city you would not want to spend more than a few days in, and also a city whose residents you should definitely feel sorry for.
Well, we cannot blame the media for the bleak image it has created of our city because frankly, and based on previous experiences, we have no reason to expect much from it. Subsequently, we, the residents of Gaza, should rely on our own ability to broadcast the true image of our beloved city and hope that people of the free world will help us in spreading that image.
This is no endeavor to paint a rosy picture of Gaza, featuring a blooming economy, a successful political system, and more importantly, a free population. This is, however, a genuine account given by one of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians, free from any political affiliations or influence, or an interest to portray Gaza in any way that it’s not.
So what is Gaza, for those who know it and for those who don’t? It is a city like any other, but its significance is due to several reasons. These include its strategic location between Asia and Africa, which for centuries and centuries made it a supreme crossroad for the civilizations of the world. Lying on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Gaza, at least at one point in history, was one of the most important and most active Mediterranean cities. For example, it was home to one of Rome’s schools of rhetoric (led by sophist Choricius of Gaza) during the sixth century, and was also a major trade hub throughout history, having been a major exporter itself.
Living in a city that is so rich in history makes up for the city’s poverty in other things, such as the political system and the economy. True, our city does not offer job opportunities for every person in the labor force, nor does it guarantee us a life under the best political system possible, but at least, if we look carefully, we could find that our city, unlike many other cities, offers an alternative. If we wish to fill that vacuum, we could definitely fulfill our desire by walking around the Old City of Gaza, the beach, or reading one of the many history books about the city. This method, which could be described as some form of self therapy, is highly effective, as it teaches the person doing it to love the Gaza that exists in his/her mind if the Gaza he/she lives in fails to be up to standard.
Where else in the world can a person use history in such a beautiful way? Where else in the world does the present clash so ferociously with the past it’s almost surreal? Better yet, where else could the most perfect incarnation of modern day surrealism be found? Your peaceful observation of the blue waters of the sea, cordially combined with beautiful red roofed houses, could only be disturbed by noticing an ugly black hole in the roof, which was a result of some careless Israeli bomb. It could also be disturbed by hearing that bomb go off, or actually seeing it. But really, what difference does it make? We are so indulged in this life that things like bombing have become as cyclic and as repetitive as the dullest routine. There is no point in fretting because there is nothing we can do about it but go on.
In fact, there is no point in fretting over anything. This is more of a life lesson than a general statement, a life lesson that you can only learn in Gaza. Here, you learn that beauty lies in the simple joys of life: being around your family and your friends, and spending priceless time with them at your house, on the beach, or in any of Gaza’s many restaurants and cafes. Here, you understand why happiness can never be bought, and that certain lifestyles are not guaranteed to make you happy, but that you need to lead your own lifestyle into happiness. You do that by learning how to appreciate everything you have, from the people around you to your morning coffee. You learn that just the fact that your beloved ones are well and alive, and are around you, you have reason to be the happiest person on Earth. It doesn’t really matter where you are or what you do, as long as you are internally happy and satisfied.
Reaching that level of satisfaction and internal peace is a huge achievement that only the wise can achieve. In Gaza, you learn how to do that at a very early age. Bearing witness to bombings, incursions, wars, and death, leave a deep scar in the hearts of the eyewitnesses, but it also teaches them to appreciate what they have no matter how little or small. This, combined with internal happiness and self therapy provided by the rich history of the city, present priceless treasures that people elsewhere can only learn about in Self-Help books. And still, people wonder what makes us stick so firmly to Gaza.
Its not that we cannot leave, its that we do not want to leave. What guarantees do we have that life elsewhere, in a city not besieged by a brutal force, or in a highly advanced and developed city is going to be as fulfilling and rewarding as life in Gaza? That is a wrong materialistic presumption that we also learned how to refute by proving to the world that life in Gaza can be as beautiful as life anywhere else on the planet, only for those who wish to lead a beautiful life.