Rana E. Manna
Last updated: 4 October, 2012

Gaza’s artists have lost iconic second home

Like all others in Gaza, artists are being faced with obstacles. One of them is the lack of an authentic place suitable for the development of their work.

It was just days ago when what used to be Gaza’s most popular café, and the home of many artists, suddenly turned into ruins. The café, known as the Al Etehad Gallery, was the only gathering point that granted the strip’s artists an ideal environment to express themselves. The Gallery will instead provide ground for a new hospital under the banner of the Gaza municipality.  

“This place was the home that inspired many artists such as myself,” said Mohammed Abu Nasser, who is also known as Tarazan. “It’s where it all began; in fact, I’ve been at the Gallery for as long as I can remember. With this place being our mere refuge, we have now been left with nowhere else to go.”

The inspiration of Tarazan, like many other artists, was built upon his day-to-day struggle in the besieged Gaza Strip in the attempt to fight the occupation.

“Amidst the terrible depths of injustice and despair, we here at the Gallery, through our wide range of diverse abilities, all have the sole vision of advocating for the human rights and freedom of Palestine,” he continued.

The result of Gaza’s rising population and lack of an adequate amount of land – 1.7 million people live on a total area of 360 square kilometers – has made it hard if not impossible to provide basic public facilities. 

“This piece of land initially owned by the municipality of Gaza city was handed down to the Gallery some years back. However, owing to the lack of sufficient land and over-growing population in Gaza, the municipality is now obliged to build a new branch of the Al Wafaa hospital,” said Dr. Hatem Al Sheck Khalil‏, a public relations officer of the municipality of Gaza.

“The location of the original hospital lies at the borders with Israel while this piece of land is in the center of Gaza strip. Taking what was already owned by the municipality for the purpose of building a public facility such as a hospital is what many would consider priority.”

Others claim otherwise.

“A cultural center such as this one, dedicated to the promotion of arts and culture is just as vital as any other facility. Societies without cultural facilities will not be of assistance to the country’s development,” said Ahmed Abu Alqomsan, the owner of the Gallery.

But culture doesn’t seem to be considered as one of the main priorities in Gaza, a likely result of the high poverty and unemployment rate. In a small heavily populated city with barely enough food and water supply, cultural events and activities are rather the least of their worries.

According to statistics, Gaza Strip has witnessed one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, peaking at more than 40% and nearly 60% living below the poverty line.

But despite the hardships, some of those involved with the Gallery remain optimistic. 

“In the end, we will carry on executing our cultural duties to our society no matter where they move us,” concluded Tarazan.

Rana E. Manna is Your Middle East’s Associate Editor based in Gaza.