The pavement is fresh, hot and black with a sidewalk that reminds me of the boardwalk in Beirut that hugs the sea. For a moment I think I’m there.
“This wasn’t here last time I came,” I tell my friend who’s driving me around. People are still littered on the beach, enjoying the last few hours of the weekend by the sea.
“No, in fact it’s no more than six months old,” he says. “It was constructed by a telephone company that refused to pay taxes to Hamas. They said they already paid to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah so why pay taxes twice? So they struck a deal and decided to take some of their profits to build this road.”
We drive north and pass through some of Gaza City’s main streets. “Ninety percent of the shops have nothing but goods made in China. Compare that to twenty years ago, when most of the textiles, shoes, and other goods were made here in Gaza. We even exported them to the world.”
After a few minutes the road leads to nowhere. It suddenly stops and turns to sand. “You see this area on the left,” he points to open land surrounded by cacti. On what used to be a football pitch, sheep graze. “This used to be an American school. It was attacked, then it was destroyed it and now there’s nothing left.”
Most of his sentences either end with “now there’s nothing left” or “now it’s controlled by Hamas.” The old resort that used to sell alcohol still operates but sans booze. A stable created in Arafat’s time is now a wedding hall. We pass by a huge mosque right smack on the beach erected by a rich politician. Whatever’s left of the road we’re on gets cut up and diverted because of the construction of a sewage treatment plant. The newish Movenpick hotel changed hands because it could not be a five star hotel and sell booze with an open swimming pool.
During times of incursion, tanks and bulldozers trampled the streets with ripper shanks and cut the road in the middle. You still see the road opened up, left to decay and become part of the sand. It’s desperate, it’s desolate. Children fly makeshift kites, some fabricated out of sheets of paper. Others are crappy cheap plastic hexagonal kites most probably imported from China through the tunnels. Amidst the garbage, bald and burned tires, donkey shit and horseshit, arid land, smashed fences, emaciated sheep, makeshift houses made of scrap metal with old palm leaves as roofs. Flying a kite seems to be the only thing to keep children amused, to look up to the sky as a form of distraction of the miserable reality around them. It’s all they’ve got.