(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
Gaza is often associated with crises. And crises are something this coastal enclave, squeezed in between Israel and Egypt, has known for decades. A quick search on the web results in nothing but stories about the struggle for existence and a working everyday life in a hard-to-find conflict area.
Stories of poverty, war and distress also dominate when the Gaza Strip, home to nearly 1,85 millions of Palestinians and one of the most densely populated areas in the world, is mentioned in social media.
For those who know the city, the story is different. Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani summed up the situation well when he wrote that "everyone in this city has a role to play".
This narrow strip of land is adorned with sandy beaches and caressed by the southernmost part of the blue Mediterranean. It also offers a less flattering view that is more familiar: heaps of gray concrete buildings and narrow, warm alleys.
But when the summer pressures worst, hordes of Gaza residents head to the beach to get a cool break from the heat and the pressures of daily life. Then it boasts of stalls and street vendors offering everything from ice cream and slush with lemon flavor to grilled corn cobs and sweet potatoes.
Along the beach there are rows of cafes and restaurants that start the day playing the songs of Fairouz, a well-known Lebanese singer.
Summer also brings life back to the rest of the city. A stroll downtown is characterized by the aroma of grilled kebabs mixed with the spicy aroma of freshly fried falafel served with green salad and Gaza's strong chili paste. Back at the beach there is also full season run in the wedding rooms, where the music of world renowned artists goes over the speakers. Rai king Cheb Khaled's "C'est la vie", Indian Shah Ruk Khan and Britney Spears all help to make the streets festive, especially when the wedding parades made up of rows of floral-decorated cars play loud music and hiss in tune with the music.
At the northwestern end of Gaza City, facing the beach, is the Shati refugee camp, which huser nearly 100 Palestinian refugees. There, a group of young artists has started a project to do something with the sad, gray walls in the camp. The refugees who live here are those who were forced from their homes in Jaffa and other coastal cities when the State of Israel was established in 000, and their descendants.
A history of destruction. The artists have painted the gray walls, and decorated with potted flowers that give associations to the flower festival in the Spanish city of Córdoba. "This decoration gives a glimmer of hope to a generation of young people who have never experienced peace and security. The only thing they have experienced is violence and war, "says one of the artists, Mahmoud Qannan, to Ny Tid.
"Colorful flowers and butterflies are something they've only seen on TV and in school books," he adds.
"There are a lot of kids in this camp, and I think they're going to like these pictures. They are meant to create a belief that life is not just gray and black, ”says Mohammed, who is a guitarist and studies music at Gaza's only college of music.
"Many might think that Gaza consists only of militant, masked young men sitting behind bombers. But there are thousands of other people here, people who love the sounds of nature, music and life, ”he continues.
Mohammed and sister Ghada Shoman, who is also a guitarist, meet weekly children in the western part of the camp. They play songs that the kids learn by heart. Wearing a colorful dress and a decorated shawl, Ghada wants to "show the beauty of life and play music that is a stark contrast to the sound of bombs that Gaza has experienced for decades," she says.
In 2014, hundreds of civilians were killed, leaving tens of thousands homeless during the so-called Operation Protective Edge, a fierce Israeli attack on land and air forces. Large parts of the population of Gaza, most of whom are refugees or descendants of refugees, rely on international aid – but only short-term solutions are offered, according to a recent report by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ( UNRWA).
"Gaza has the right to enjoy freedom, if only for a while," says secondary school teacher Tayseer Abu Nema as he picks up his monthly ration at UNRWA's aid center. "Gaza has been the subject of strife ever since the Mongol invasion of 1260. Then came Napoleon Bonaparte and ravaged in 1799, followed by the British mandate in 1922, and finally a series of wars from Israel from 1948 to 2014."
The airport provided the Gaza Strip with short-term access to the rest of the world until it was completely destroyed by Israeli bombers, tanks and bulldozers in the early 2000s. Now all traffic to and from the Gaza Strip, which is only 40 kilometers long and a few kilometers wide, is completely controlled by Israel and Egypt.
"Colorful flowers and butterflies are something they've only seen on TV and in school books."
Prevents progress. During the past decade, the border crossings Rafah, controlled by the Egyptian authorities, and Erez, controlled by Israel, have only occasionally been open to passenger traffic. For the past three years they have been open a few days at a time; The Rafah transition has so far this year been open three days in total. According to Palestinian authorities, 30 people are currently waiting to leave Gaza, most of them for medical treatment or higher education abroad.
A 2014 UN report bleakly predicted that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020 due to the extreme population density combined with a lack of basic services such as drinking water and a sanitary sewer system.
And yet – against all odds, people do as best they can to make life go on.
Tamara is a ballet instructor, originally from Ukraine and married to a Palestinian, and has settled in Gaza where she teaches young people to dance. With her ballet company of 16 girls in toe shoes and pink ballet skirts, she is a striking contrast to Gaza's reality. "These kids need to express themselves through dance and other art to keep the negative emotions at bay," says Tamara.
In another part of town, a small movie theater shows a Palestinian movie. The cinemas have returned to Gaza after an almost 30-year absence following the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987. Taghreed Waheed, a young woman in her early twenties, is in cinema for the first time. She sits with an astonished expression throughout the film. "It was an exciting experience," Waheed says afterwards. "I can hardly wait to see more movies on this movie now – I think you can learn a lot through movies, such as about other cultures and ways of life other than the one we have in Gaza."
There are also cultural expressions that seem less pleasant, such as underground in an olive grove on the southern part of the Gaza Strip. A caliber 120 mm bomber is placed deep down in a hole in the ground, surrounded by three jihadists in camouflage suits and headlights. They shoot salve after salve as part of a military show, which is regularly organized by armed groups in Gaza to challenge Israel.
Possible progress in Gaza is always effectively halted. For example, Gaza has an urgent need for cement, as 20 homes were destroyed during the last war. But Israel bans the supply of cement on the pretext that it will be used to build tunnels for smuggling and attacks.
"I lost both my privacy and social life when I had to move into a tent after my house was destroyed by Israeli bombs during the summer war," Fatima Hammad says. Her tent is pitched in Beit Lahia, north of Gaza.
A resilient hope. After Hamas won the elections in 2006, Gaza has experienced a very difficult economic and political situation, followed by an intensified blockade launched by Israel in 2007.
Thousands of people in Gaza also suffer from severe mental health problems, says psychologist Ola Hassab Allah.
"The Israeli wars aimed to make Palestinians either physically dead or deprive them of all life values so that they could die psychologically," he says. He also says that many are immensely focused on finding glimpses of hope after several wars and times of division also within the population. "Many people hold on to the idea that the situation will not always be the way it is now."
Every day everyone tries to continue – they play their roles, do their daily dont and try to make everyday life routine and reliable, over and over again. Every day, it is the alternation between death and people that gives Gaza hope. And I think that someday they will reach the goal of a good everyday life – for this is a people who think a lot about their path to freedom, and who all other people on earth long for peace and a secure joy of life.