What Gaza looks like through four Gazans' eyes

A millionaire owner of Gaza's finest Arab stallions, a fluent English student, a farmer, and a respected human rights advocate share their views.

Rafael D. Frankel
Eyad Sarraj.
Rafael D. Frankel
Samer Abu Shaqr.
Rafael D. Frankel
Mohammad Abed Rabbo.
Rafael D. Frankel
Maamon Khozendar.

Gaza has known its fair shair of battles. For the past nine years – during the second intifada and following Israel's 2005 withdrawal – the crowded, impoverished territory was often a flash point in the fighting.

But in the eyes of Eyad Sarraj, an independent local politician and human rights advocate respected by both Hamas and Fatah, Israel's 2009 Gaza war was "unprecedented. It was comprehensive community terror."

While Israel insists the army took great pains to avoid civilian casualties, and that its enemy was Hamas and not the people of Gaza, most here echo Dr. Sarraj's sentiments.

Sarraj cut off from Israeli friends, colleagues

Sarraj, who – unlike the majority of his countrymen – was in recent years allowed to travel outside Gaza's 240 square miles, is now stuck here like the other 1.5 million people. Unable to gain a travel permit from Israel, he sits most days in his garden, a green outpost in the urban jungle of Gaza City.

Isolated from friends and professional colleagues – including some Israelis, he notes – Sarraj looks forward to the diplomatic forays of international officials who, if they are in Gaza, almost always call upon him. Recent visits from Sen. John Kerry and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon make Gazans feel as if they "are not abandoned," he says. "Because most of the time, you feel you are abandoned, that nobody cares."

Abu Shaqra: Even Somalia would be better

Samer Abu Shaqra is part of the younger Gazan generation that came of age in the post-Oslo peace process world of intifada, Israeli "incursions," and the meteoric ascension of Hamas. During the war, Mr. Abu Shaqra says, six of his best friends were killed in one second when an Israeli missile struck them in the street.

Since the fighting, people his age "now all have a pessimistic view about their lives," says Abu Shaqra, who wants to leave after earning his bachelor's degree in English from al-Aqsa University in September. "I would go to any country ... even Somalia."

Surrounded by 20 youths on the sand in front of al-Shati Refugee Camp, where he lives, Abu Shaqra says in smooth English that there is no leadership in Gaza worth looking up to. Only President Obama provides hope – and "just a glimmer," at that – for the people here. While once aspiring to teach English, he now predicts – given Israel's blockade of Gaza and Hamas's unyielding position – that in another four years he will be "doing nothing. Just sitting on the beach here in Gaza."

Abed Rabo dreams on makeshift bed

Mohammad Abed Rabo also sees a future of sitting – beside his destroyed home. Only if Hamas and Fatah reconcile and arrange to open Gaza's borders does he see a chance to rebuild. While Israel recently allowed some construction materials in for UN projects, residents are still unable to secure such supplies.

Of 14 family members here in January, only he and his wife remain on the land his grandfather farmed 120 years ago. Instead of their three-story home, they sleep on padded benches beside a prefabricated one-room trailer donated by Turkey. Immediately after the war, he received ¤4,000 ($5,700) from Hamas and $5,000 from the Palestinian Authority. Since then, nothing.

"I used to enjoy taking care of every plant.... Suddenly, I lost everything," says Mr. Abed Rabo, whose farm Israel bulldozed. "But where now, and how, can I keep growing and continue the previous life?"

Khozendar: Millionaire owner of Arabian stallions is in a rut

One year ago, Maamon Khozendar sat beside his pool – one of the very few in the territory – at his farm waxing poetic to this reporter about Gaza's resiliency. He spoke of better days ahead with Israel as a partner in building a joint future. But after his olive groves were bulldozed to the ground and his farmhouse leveled in the war, the millionaire owner of Gaza's finest Arabian stallions seethes with anger at Israel and says he is finished being "a reasonable man."

His skin now tanned from two months in the sun replanting olive groves, Mr. Khozendar, a former Fatah official whose family's roots in Gaza go back 700 years, no longer sees even a hint of a horizon for better days. Once his petrol business imported from Israeli companies. Now, he brings fuel into Gaza through the black-market tunnels originating in Egypt and regulated by Hamas.

"I want to be clean [not use the black market]. But I think to be clean in this country is forbidden," he says, smacking his hand on his polished wooden desk. "Gaza's place is in the dark. It is a jail where no prisoner knows the length of his sentence."


Find out why Gaza's moderates are losing hope. And watch the video: Gaza residents say recovery is held hostage by politics.

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