MOST MEDIA IMAGES from Gaza show either perpetrators (masked militants firing rockets at Israel) or victims (bodies and rubble from Israeli airstrikes). Few show Gazans as real people, whose harsh but complex lives defy such stereotypical images. My favorite example: the surfer my friend spotted from our hotel window.
My pal’s employer prohibits him from going out sans security escort, but I have the freedom to hit the beach and discover that brah got his board from Jewish peace activists. About three minutes later, men I’ve never met beckon me to tea brewed over an open fire. They know my country gives Israel the bombs it drops on their cities, but it’s always ahlan wa-sahlan — “you are welcome.”
In the same breath, they denounce their coastal enclave’s Hamas leadership — they know how to separate people from politics. As several slip off to answer the evening call to prayer, others ask if I’m Muslim. La, ana masiihi — “No, I’m Christian.” The response, as always: Ahlan wa-sahlan. Later we all dance dabke, arms on each other’s shoulders. Another morning on the beach, I meet men straightening iron rebar recovered from bombed-out buildings — necessary because of Israel’s blockade on construction materials.
It looks like hard work, untwisting war’s wreckage. Taking a break, they offer me part of their falafel breakfast. I eat enough to be polite — they need it more than I do. Because of security protocols, some ex-pat friends who work in Gaza are not even allowed to visit the homes of their Palestinian co-workers for dinner. But in my walks along the Gaza City beach, taking (reasonable) risks to reach out is almost always rewarded.