In Gaza, a dream of sailboats meets land's limited horizons

Mahfouz Kabariti spent years trying to round up a fleet of sailboats for Gaza's children as a distraction from their violent life. The boats arrived, but remain beached in his yard.

Christa Case Bryant / The Christian Science Monitor
Antique car collector Mahfouz Kabariti points out the license plate on his 1956 Oldsmobile, which was registered before Israel took over Gaza in the 1967 war with its Arab neighbors.

This is the first post of a new weekday feature from the Monitor's Jerusalem bureau chief, Christa Case Bryant. Read the introductory post for more explanation. 

When life gets tough in Gaza, Mahfouz Kabariti takes refuge in his garage.

It’s not that it’s all that safe in there; last fall when Israel pounded the coastal territory with airstrikes during an eight-day conflict with Hamas, a piece of shrapnel came flying through the garage’s one tiny window and shattered the back windshield of Mr. Kabariti’s old white Fiat.

Fortunately his 1938 British Standard – the oldest car in the Palestinian territories, he reckons – was unharmed.

But it’s here, in this dusty den of antique motor cars, that Kabariti tinkers away and leaves behind the pressures of living in perpetual conflict.

“The happiest place I spend time is here,” says Kabariti, who repaired the Standard’s engine himself. “When you concentrate on something like this hobby, this makes you feel calm.”

This closet collector is by no means a hermit. Outside the garage sit six sailboats – three Olympic standard and three kids’ boats – part of a 10-boat fleet for the new youth sailing center he opened last fall.

The average 13-year-old here was born against the backdrop of the second intifada against Israel and was just finishing first grade as Palestinian rival factions Hamas and Fatah factions clashed in vicious street battles that ultimately led to Fatah’s ouster. The next year, Israel retaliated against persistent rocket fire with a fierce three-week war on Gaza, in which more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed. Just as the youth became a teenager, Hamas and Israel entered another round of violence last fall.

Since Hamas assumed full control of Gaza in 2007, Israel has blockaded the territory, citing security concerns. It took Kabariti more than four years to get his sailboats to Gaza; much of the time they sat idle in Cyprus. In the end, he brought them into Egypt via the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and sent them overland to Gaza.

He won’t say they came through the illegal tunnels along that border, which are used to smuggle everything from motorcycles to weapons. But there is no other way, since the sole legal crossing is open only to people, not goods.

Now the kiddie boats are nestled in the corner of his seaside compound, next to a 1971 VW bug with a gaping hole in the left front fender – another casualty of the November conflict. In all, he has half a dozen antique cars, but he doesn’t drive any of them because the Hamas-run Ministry of Transportation would tax him as if they were brand new. That means about $400 per year for his 1956 Oldsmobile, and another $300 for insurance. In a territory where the per capita income is less than $1,000 per year, that’s a lot.

But despite the flaws of the Hamas government and the pressures of living in a state at enmity with Israel, Kabariti says he’ll never leave.

“Maybe to travel, for leisure,” says the businessman, enjoy coffee amid his flower beds. “But to stay forever and live, I don’t prefer any place [to] Gaza.”

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