Reel Life in Gaza
It is not often I would ask you to read the rest of an article that begins “The 57-year-old Gaza vendor Adnan Abu Beid was preoccupied with showing his watermelons,” so bear with me.
The 57-year-old Gaza vendor Adnan Abu Beid was preoccupied with showing his watermelons, onions, fruits and vegetables at his little store in Sheja’eya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City to attract the purchasers to buy his merchandise.
But 20 years ago, Abu Beid’s customers were completely different. He used to run al-Nasser, the most famous and biggest movie house in downtown Gaza city, which had shut down as the first Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, erupted against Israel in December 1987.
After Israel signed Oslo accords with the Palestinians, when the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was established after the Israeli army withdrew from Gaza city, al-Nasser movie house was reopened for a few months, but later it was burned and destroyed by angry Islamic Hamas demonstrators in 1995.
Abu Beid says, although 20 years have passed, “I still keep a huge amount of film archives that are worth 1.5 million U.S. dollars.” He stores the film archives together with his watermelons and onions in a small upper floor in his little vegetable store.
He told Xinhua that his archives “are the only that remained after all the movie houses had either shut down, or been destroyed by Hamas activists during demonstrations in Gaza city in 1995.”
“After al-Nasser movie house was burned and destroyed, I hid my film archives and decided to become a vegetable vendor,” said Abu Beid.
Elderly Gaza population still remember when movie house business flourished during the period between 1960, when the Gaza Strip was under Egypt’s administration, and 1987, when the Palestinian Intifada erupted in the Palestinian territories.
“When I got engaged in 1965 in Gaza, I used to take my fiancee to the cinema,” said Abu Ahmed No’man, a 70-year-old Gaza resident, who has seven children and 20 grandchildren, and many of whom, born after 1987, have never been to a movie house.
Abu Beid said he used to bring films from Egypt, China, India, Israel, the United States and many other Arab countries into his cinema.
“I still remember, the situation in Gaza Strip was very good at that time, but now due to the bad economic situation in Gaza, it is hard to open a new movie house,” he added.
By 1994, after the PNA was established, there were nine movie houses in the Gaza Strip, which is now ruled by the Islamic Hamas movement that seized control of the impoverished and densely populated enclave in June 2007, and routed secular President Mahmoud Abbas’s security forces.
“I remember the movie houses of al-Nasser, al-Samer, al-Jalaa’ and Amer in Gaza City, al-Khadra and al-Hamra in the city of Khan Younis and three other movie houses in Rafah town,” said Abu Ahmed.
Famous Chinese and Indian films used to be shown in those movie houses, mainly in the 1970s. But most of the movie houses in Gaza have been closed down and turned into either places for people to throw rubbish or homes of stray dogs and cats. The deserted movie houses are full of mice and owls.
Just outside Amer movie house in Remal neighborhood in Gaza city, old remaining parts of Indian film ads are still stuck on the dirty wall of its front entrance, which was sealed by a built wall of bricks. Harmful grasses and plants grew up between the old destroyed seats.
The tickets window was also sealed off, which used to be busy during the nights of the weekends, where queues of fans stood outside to buy tickets for an old black-and-while Egyptian film in the early 1960s.
Palestinians, who consider themselves religiously conservative, believe that the movie houses circulate traditions that contradict with the traditions of the Palestinian society.
However, Abu Beid said, “nowadays, there is ignorance of movie houses and the contribution they could make in developing our culture.”
He went on saying that “many people who think about reopening movie houses in Gaza are afraid that it would be attacked, burned and destroyed.”
Radical Islamic groups have carried out in the last several months a series of attacks against internet cafes, coffee shops and other entertainment sites in the Gaza Strip, claiming that these places are used to spread immoral principles among the young Palestinian generations.
Ten days ago, Hamas produced its first two-hour film that talks about the life of one of its top militants who was killed in Gaza by Israeli soldiers in 1993. The scenario of the film, which is the first of its kind, was written by Hamas strongman in Gaza Mahmoud al-Zahar.
“I can reopen and operate al-Nasser movie house in Gaza, if Hamas government asks me to do so, but it seems that Hamas is not interested in reopening any of the closed movie houses,” said Abu Beid.
The minister of culture of Hamas government in Gaza Osama el- Eassawi conditioned the reopening of any of the closed Gaza movie houses with respecting the laws and the traditions of the Islamic society. “We support the art that respects the moral and religious traditions and cultures,” he said.
However, he denied that the spread of radical religious beliefs “is the main reason for closing the movie houses in the Gaza Strip, ” adding “there are economic problems due the deteriorated economic situation.”
“Movie houses are private sector and special associations. In case they apply for reopening, we will seriously consider their application if they show commitments to our conditions,” said the Hamas minister of culture.
So if anyone was truly interested in “freeing Gaza”, they certainly wouldn’t be cozying up to Hamas.