Gaza rooftops   [59 x 106 cm]

Source of image: Design by Adham Jaber [Hirbiya], Gaza, Palestine
Embroidery: Hekmat Ashour [Gaza], Gaza

This panel features products of Gaza – oranges, dates, fish and earthenware pots – and the 12th century Sayed al-Hashim Mosque (Masjid as-Sayed Hashim). It is one of the largest and oldest mosques in Gaza, located in the ad-Darraj Quarter of the Old City, off al-Wehda Street.

Long ago in Gaza

To have lived in Gaza is to have loved Gaza.  In 1969 and 1970, when I was in my early 20s, I worked for two years in the UNRWA Palestinian refugee camp in Jabalia in the Gaza Strip.  It was one the most remarkable and enlightening times of my life. The people were among the most generous, loving and fun people I have ever known.

The land along the length and across the breadth of The Strip was cultivated with every fruit and vegetable imaginable. The soil was lovingly tended by the farmers and their families with what little they had to work with. The sea was plentiful with its fruits. Small family-owned fishing boats could be seen on the horizon all day, and at night, with their lights, they were known as ‘the road to Cairo’.  The Gaza Strip was a bustling, busy place with a food market, shops and falafel stalls, and wonderful restaurants with delicious Palestinian cuisine. The beach, with its sparkling yellow sand, was used by all to eat al fresco and spend lazy afternoons sleeping in the sun.

The Strip was under military occupation by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) at that time, following the IDF’s attack on Egypt via Gaza in June 1967.  By 1969, the Palestinian people had picked themselves up and had begun to accommodate to the new reality of military occupation.  The darker side of life came after 6pm every day when the whole of the Gaza Strip was placed under curfew. The IDF occupation, with its half-tracks, tanks and guns roamed the streets of The Strip like prowling predators. The night and darkness gave up sounds of rolling and roaring tanks and of shooting and bombing. Flares were used to search for anyone who dared to venture out into the streets. The occasional dog bark or human yell would be heard.  Of course, we who worked for the United Nations were not subject to the curfew and were allowed to go out at night to visit friends, and we certainly did so. Our UN-registered VW Combi was stopped many times by jumpy, trigger-happy young soldiers who, with shaky hands, took our UN passes to check our permits. The beach – sparkling by day- -was patrolled at night by Israeli soldiers. Every evening, along the whole of its length, the beach was raked by half-tracks. Any footprints discovered by the IDF on this nocturnally forbidden land would lead to attempts to track down the trespassers.

Over the half century since I lived in Gaza, the Palestinian people have been crushed time and time again by Israel – their buildings destroyed, their homes made unliveable, and their streets made dangerous and unpassable. Since 2007, Israel and Egypt have imposed a siege, with the result that there are shortages of food, medicines, water, electricity and fuel, and yet, like a phoenix from the fire, Gaza people rise.  Admire them, salute them, and demand their right to live peacefully in their land.

Jan Chalmers, Founder, Palestinian History Tapestry Project. (2021

Era: Sumud - Steadfastness (1948 onwards)

Further reading