It is not all gloomy at the Gaza Strip
Posted on: 26 Dec 2012
You have probably seen hundreds of pictures of the Gaza Strip, and even more video clips.
I bet that most of what you have seen is pictures of gloom.
Indeed there are lots of gloomy things about Gaza and it is both natural and fair that such photographs are taken and viewed from this perspective.
However, Gaza is not an all-gloomy place. It had a great past and it will have a great future. And my picture from Gaza tries to add to that positive spirit of Gaza.
This picture was taken at the Al Deira Hotel, one of the very few hotels in the Gaza Strip. This is mainly used by international humanitarian workers. In the evening, well-off people from the Gaza Strip come in here and the place becomes very lively. I took the picture one evening in 2010 as the sun was setting in the Mediterranean and the coffee shop was full with guests, both locals and visitors.
Sun has been setting over the Gaza Strip for billions of years. The Mediterranean has been there for millions of years. The Gaza itself is one of the oldest settlements of the world, with archeological records showing over 4000 years of history.
Gaza's history is shaped by its geography. Being on the narrow land crossing point from Asia to Africa, the control of Gaza was critical to many a trade and colonial ambition for millennia. Consequently, the control of Gaza has changed hands many times over the last four thousand years of history.
As a place which had so many rulers, it is not easy to get the history of Gaza right for anybody. Every version of history will be written from somebody's perspective. So I refer you to the crowd-sourced history in Wikipedia, where in theory, every can have a say.
'Originally a Canaanite settlement, it came under the control of the ancient Egyptians for roughly 350 years before being conquered by the Philistines, who made it one of the principal cities of their pentapolis in the 12th-century BCE. Gaza fell to the Israelite King David in about 1000 BCE, and with the division of Israelite kingdoms came under the dominance of northern Samaria. With the fall of the Kingdom of Israel in about 730 BCE, it became part of the Assyrian empire, and subsequently,
that of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Alexander the Great besieged the city for five months before finally capturing it in 332 BCE. Most of the inhabitants were killed during the assault, and the city, which became a center for Hellenistic learning and philosophy, was resettled by nearby Bedouins. The area changed hands regularly between two Greek successor-kingdoms, the Seleucids of Syria and the Ptolemies of Egypt. The city was besieged and taken by the Hasmoneans in 96 BCE.
After the Roman Empire began its influence in the area in 63 BCE, Gaza was rebuilt under the command of Pompey Magnus, and granted to Herod the Great thirty years later. Throughout the Roman period, Gaza maintained its prosperity, receiving grants from several different emperors. A 500-member senate governed the city, and a diverse array of Greeks, Romans, Jews, Egyptians, Persians and Nabateans populated the city. On the breakup of the Roman Empire, Gaza became
part of the Eastern Byzantine Empire. Conversion to Christianity in the city was spearheaded and completed under Saint Porphyrius, who destroyed its eight pagan temples between 396 and 420 CE.
Gaza was the first city in Palestine to be conquered by the Arab Rashidun Caliphate in 635 CE. The arrival of the Muslim rulers brought drastic changes, as its churches were transformed into mosques, the population adopted Islam as their religion, and Arabic became the official language. Under the Arab Muslims, the city went through periods of prosperity and decline. The Crusaders wrested control of Gaza from the Fatimids in 1100, and ruled until 1187, when the city was conquered by Saladin
and the Ayyubids. Gaza was in Mamluk hands by the late 13th-century, and became the capital of an administrative unit of Bilad ash-Sham, that stretched from the Sinai Peninsula to Caesarea. By the time of its incorporation into the Ottoman Empire in the 16th-century, it was but a small village. The Ottomans charged the Ridwan family with governance over the city in the early 16th-century. From the early 19th-century, Gaza was culturally dominated by neighboring Egypt, with significant numbers
of Egyptian Muslims moving in and Muhammad Ali of Egypt conquered it in 1831. His brief rule ended in 1840, after the Ottomans defeated his forces outside the city. The 20th-century began in Gaza with two destructive earthquakes in 1903 and 1914.
In 1917, the forces of the Triple Entente captured the city after a third battle against the Ottoman forces there. The city also expanded in the first half of the 20th-century under the Mandatory Palestine. According to the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, Gaza was assigned to the Arab Palestinian state. The population of the city and the Gaza Strip swelled as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. During the war the All-Palestine Government was declared in Gaza by the Arab League, and a Palestinian executive body was assembled in the city. After the war, it functioned as a client government of Egypt until incorporated into the United Arab Republic in 1959, de facto being absorbed into Egypt, though its residents were not granted citizenship. Egypt held Gaza until the 1967 Six-Day War, when it was occupied by Israel. Gaza became a center of political resistance in the First Intifada, and under the Oslo Accords of 1993, it was assigned to be under the direct control of the newly-established Palestinian National Authority. In 2007, Hamas emerged as the victor in Palestinian factional fighting with Fatah in the city and in the wider Gaza Strip and has since been the sole governing authority there …'
If you think the above is comprehensive of the history of Gaza, wait. In February 1799, the Napoleon Bonaparte captured Gaza as part of his Middle-Eastern campaign. But he did not hold the city for long as his troops suffered heavy casualties from Plague. I wonder why no Frenchmen thought it appropriate to give their part in the Wikihistory ?. May be the French version of the Wiki have the little General in.
As I sit in the Al Deira Coffee Shop and look at the beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean, I can visualize all those emperors, traders and generals who may have rested in this city before and appreciated that beauty. Then I projected time into future.
And I saw a time when Gaza is once again become a cross road of culture and trade. A city that bustles with traders in the day and tourists in the night. A city that thrives economically and culturally. A city that attracts people from far and wide.
And that is not just a dream. Gazans are an enterprising set of people, bright and hardworking. Given a chance in just five years they can convert this place into an economic prime mover for their country.
I still have that dream, that, one day I will be able to go back to Gaza with my family, sit in one of the many hotels which will be there by then and enjoy a shisha as the sun sets…