The first home i enter is extravagant by the standards of most in Gaza (80% of 1.7 million are food aid dependent and, needless to say, live in barebones accomodations). Rich wood and tasteful carvings and art from around the world, an inset wood fireplace, nice furniture, nice rugs, nice everything.
But although not among Gaza’s poor, the family has suffered from repeated Israeli bombings of the Saraya complex less than 20 metres across the road. Every time (three times now in the 4.5 years they’ve lived there) Israel bombs the Saraya, windows and glass shatter, window frames warm, plaster cracks, fixtures loosen, and this time the door blew out. Replaceable, not the end of the world, but also not something anyone deserves, let alone repeatedly.
The female of the house is gracious and out-going, doesn’t hesitate when i buzz her doorbell from outside and explain that i am a (stranger) freelance would-be journalist who wants to interview her. If i hadn’t rushed off to interview others, she’d have had me sitting drinking coffee (to go with the chocolate she gave me), then surely tea, then hey, lunch…
At the sweets shop down the road, I stop to talk with Hani Lulu, owner of the shop. After the questions and before leaving, he shows me around the single-room shop, pointing out the different Palestinian speciality cookies (most of which i know from Ramadan): date-stuffed, cookies, walnut-stuffed cookies, crushed almond and walnut cookies…And has them boxed up for me before I can say otherwise. I ask about a bag of wheat on his counter and he explains they grind it to make doqqa, the amazing ground wheat-pepper-sesame-citrus…and in his case also cilantro (!!) powder one dips olive-oil drenched bread into for a tasty morning meal. Although I’ve eaten, he insists i taste, opens a bag and has me dip my finger in. No formalities here. It’s gorgeous.
It’s a tight taxi ride, the 2 front passenger seats occupied by a father and his infant son on the way to Shifa hospital for something related to the ill boy. Another man get in, taking the 2nd seat. Near the end of the ride, the child wakes, face red from sleep and illness, lined with the pattern of his father’s coat. The driver, a stranger, extends his arm and gently strokes the child’s cheek, a gesture any Palestinian male or female does here without a second thought. No accusations, no dirty looks from worried parents. Children are loved here and parental duties like picking up a fallen child are more-or-less shared by whoever happens to be nearest.
Emad is working on cementing the bottom of a fire-pit he and a brother have built, but because the brick material he needs is–along with cement and other building materials–one of the many items hard to get in Gaza under Israeli siege (it does enter, for a fortune, through the tunnels, those life-saving and life-taking tunnels) he has to improvise, as you do in Gaza. After 20 minutes or so of bashing some old blocks into dust, his dry cement is ready, the fire-pit he’s built gets a rock-bottom layer, to help retain the heat.
His brother and father, one morning, are heads stooped over the children they hold, immersed in the world of a child, blissfully temporarily ignorant to the reality of adult life.
Every time another brother’s new baby is within sight, all the adults in the house, men first, break into cooing and clapping to get the girl smiling. It works.
Come to Gaza, meet the people who the world’s insolent dub scary but who anyone who has spent time in Gaza, Palestine, knows are friendly, hospitable, generous, loving, fiery, human, imperfect, damn funny human beings they are.