The Importance of the Sea (Gaza)
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.11.2011:
The Importance of the Sea
By Yasmeen J. El Khoudary
TWIP, June 2011
As young children, we all asked our parents or teachers why the sea looks blue when we look at it from a distance, but turns out to be colourless when we come near it.
We were all given the same scientific answer: Seawater is as colourless as the water we drink, but it reflects the colour of the sky, which is usually blue.
Regardless, we still developed a special relationship with the sea that grew with the years. This is particularly true with residents of coastal cities, who will tell you that even though they grow up and change over the years, just like their cities, the sea remains the same. It stands as a reminder of their childhood memories and is a calm resort of sanity for when one feels lost in the madness of the world.
Gaza is one of Palestine’s biggest and most beautiful coastal cities. Throughout the years, the Mediterranean Sea has given Gaza extra special geopolitical and economic privileges that have fortified its position and increased its international importance. Its ancient port city, Maiumas, gave it prominence in Palestine and across the region, such that many years ago, Gaza used to be one of the most active trade hubs around the Mediterranean. By geographic proximity, it was (and still is) the main city that connects Asia and Africa, the Levant to Egypt (the last city in the Levant on the way to Egypt and vice versa).
Gaza was also an old, well-established city that empires fought over for their security and well-being, and that grew in importance with the succession of civilisations. As a fortress of strength, it was able to repel foreign invaders and warriors. In ancient times as well as now, Gazan coins and jars could be found anywhere along the coasts of the Mediterranean. Throughout thousands of years of history, various peoples have inhabited this city and admired the beauty of its shores, just as we do today.
The inhabitants have changed, but the shores have not. How many seasons have these shores witnessed? How many years has the Palestinian coastline of Gaza City existed? I sit here thinking about all those who inhabited Gaza before we did, starting with the people of the early Bronze Age, through the Phoenicians, the Persians, and the Greeks, into the Hellenistic, Roman, and finally the Byzantine eras before the Muslim conquests reached Gaza, eventually leading to the Ottoman Empire and the present.
Thus we can safely assume that the sea knows all about the people of Gaza. It has witnessed their good times and bad, for thousands and thousands of years now. It has lived through these times with them and provided refuge during the most difficult times. The sea knows all about its people, the people of Gaza, and the people of Gaza trust the sea with that knowledge and entrust to it more knowledge every single day.
True, the sea is indeed colourless except when it reflects the blueness of the sky. However, it would be fair to say that Gaza’s sea reflects the emotions of its people. To someone who’s overridden with either sorrow or joy, the sea always seems to be on the same page. When a person is sad, the sea seems to be gloomy and quiet. When angry, its waves go crazy and it even sounds a bit scary. When happy, it shines like a field of pearls and reflects the most exquisite colours of the sun. The sea is our real big brother, with immediate reactions but no intentions but to listen to our secrets and keep them hidden forever.
It is a well-established fact that in Gaza, the sea has always been the only place where people can freely “breathe.” It’s one of the few places in Gaza where people can enjoy themselves, making it almost everybody’s favourite destination. For this and more, the sea is evident in everything that is Gaza: from souvenirs, books, and food, to music, art, and sports. The most beautiful ballads and traditional music brag about Gaza’s beautiful sea, or share their grief and sorrow with the sea (particularly songs related to the loss of Palestine and the Palestinian exodus).
Perhaps unwillingly, the sea also brought us many misfortunes. Israeli warships used it to attack our city and us. One story in particular, that of Huda Ghalia, is worth telling. While Huda was enjoying a day on the beach with her family, she went to swim in the sea while the rest of her family stayed on the beach. Scary bombing-like sounds forced her out of the water. She ran towards her innocent family to find that an Israeli warship had killed all of them – for no reason – while she was swimming.
Still, people in Gaza look forward to summer every year. Not because they have exotic vacation plans but because summer means that they can enjoy the beach at their will, free of any obligations (usually school or university). Hundreds of summer camps for children and teenagers are set up across the beach and attract most of the city’s youngsters. Tens of restaurants and cafés brag about their view of the sea and compete to offer the best view, food, and service. Visitors and residents alike get to savour Gaza’s Mediterranean seafood, which has a special taste during the summer.
Ask a photographer, a fisherman, or a chef, and they will all tell you that what’s even more beautiful than the sea are the fish that come out of it. True, Israel’s lack of humane and environmental consciousness has caused depletion in the fish supply and the purity of the water, but that, like everything else Israel attacks us with, doesn’t stop us. It doesn’t stop beautiful seashells and ancient pottery from swimming up to our shores either. Nor does it stop us from admiring the sunset, which leaves us with a new scene made up of different colours and shapes every day.
As the saying goes, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Most of the people living in Gaza would tell you that they have been hearing that for as long as they can remember, and that their response has always been, “Can it get darker than this?!” Unfortunately, it always has. However, the sea teaches us not to lose hope. Every day we bid farewell to the sun as it departs our city with its beautiful light and shine, knowing that it’s only a matter of hours before it returns. This beautiful scene that repeats every single day in Gaza is one of the few things that keep us sane, because it reminds us that the darkest hour is indeed just before the dawn; we only have to catch a glimpse of blue when it’s time.
Yasmeen J. El Khoudary is a writer and researcher in Gaza, Palestine. You are invited to visit her blog, A Voice from Palestine (http://yelkhoudary.blogspot.com).