No beach for Palestinians

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Summer vacation has almost come to an end and the Gheith children have not gone to the beach once. Over the years, every Thursday, they would pile into the car and drive off to the Jaffa seashore. But this year, they have been confined to the simple entertainments of their own home. For the past 11 months, they have not taken one swim.

“My children have been home all summer,” says Noora Gheith, mother of five. “They are not used to this. Our weekly excursions to the beach were always happy and full of life. But his year, all I see is misery and boredom on their faces.”

Noora says the current situation and the Intifada have prevented them from making their weekly trips. “Not one day goes by without a new martyr and not a month goes by without a retaliatory operation inside Israel. So we are scared to go across the Green Line,” she says, even though Noora and her family hold Jerusalem IDs, which allow them to travel inside Israel.

Anyway, Noora says, it is better this way. “Better my children be bored than to take them out and have them put into danger.”

The geographical division of the country has put most beaches and leisure areas – the Mediterranean Sea in particular – inside of Israel proper. The only Palestinian area that borders on the sea is Gaza, and that is still patrolled by Israel. Nonetheless, Palestinians from East Jerusalem and even the West Bank would still make their way to the waters of the Mediterranean, a cool refuge from the hot Middle Eastern climate.

But the current conflict has cut the number of visitors to a record low, most of whom are Palestinian and who are confined to their cities, tows, villages or camps by a strict military siege, which prohibits them from traveling to Israel and even out of their own areas.

Amneh Obeida, Noora’s friend says she also used to go to the beach with her children and would sometimes couple up with the Gheiths. She says it is not only for security reasons that she and many Palestinians have halted their excursions to the beach, but it is a patriotic decision as well. Obeida says she feels guilty even contemplating going to the beach nowadays.

“How can I go when other Palestinians are not able to move because of the tight siege, like in Gaza?” she asks herself. “People can’t even leave their own neighborhoods sometimes.”

She continues, “How can I go to Israeli areas, to areas which belong to people who are killing us daily with no mercy? I consider this a betrayal to the steadfastness of our people.”

Obeida also says Palestinians are staying away for financial reasons. Many people are now without jobs and are thinking only of getting food on the table. “Thinking about entertainment and leisure are no longer important.”

In spite of these circumstances, there are still a few families who venture across the border and to the sea. Um Ashraf from Jerusalem was at the Jaffa beach just two weeks ago. She admits that there are barely any Arab families frolicking on the sandy shores anymore but maintains that she will not be afraid of the Israelis. “This is our sea and Jaffa is our city. It is a Palestinian city and will always remain so.” Um Ashraf says she is ready to go again if she gets the chance. But Abu Ashraf is not as enthusiastic, especially after the recent increase in the number of operations inside Israeli, which he says has only fanned the flames of hatred between the two sides.

A recent example of how Arabs inside Israel suffer after each operation against Israelis, he says, is the Druze man who was attacked along with his family at an Israeli mall because he was speaking Arabic to his wife. Event though he clarified that he served in the Israeli army, this did not save him from their rage.

So now Abu Ashraf thinks twice before taking his family on a trip inside the Green Line.

Amneh Obeida says her only alternative was to put her kids in a Tae Kwon Do class since there were no summer camps in her area this year. Obeida feels that these classes may not be the best thing for her children at the moment, given the martial nature of the sport. “They do not need a violent sport when the entire situation around us is violent, but the children wanted it.”

So for the vast majority of Palestinians who are stuck in the house and cannot travel even from one Palestinian city to another much less inside Israel because of the siege, the only alternative, according to Noora, is family and friends.

Noora has been visiting friends and family more and more often. Not a day goes by without someone visiting someone else. And they always take their kids with them.

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