In the Gaza Strip, the sea has been the only refuge for the besieged residents for more than 15 years. It’s where everyone “escapes” to find a sense of tranquility, freedom and peace—even if we know it’s essentially an illusion.
Unfortunately, the pollution of the sea with sewage eroded that sense of escape. According to the Environmental Quality Authority in Gaza, 60% of our beach water is unfit for swimming and other recreation. The culprit? Again, the blockade. We lack both the materials and fuel needed to maintain and operate waste-processing and water-treatment plants. The Gaza Strip requires about 500 megawatts of electricity for normal daily life, for which our sole power plant (reliant itself on fuel purchased by Qatar) is able to contribute only 70 megawatts. Another 120 megawatts is obtained from Israel and another 30 from Egypt. Likewise, Israel prevents the entry of necessary and construction materials for the maintenance and development of existing water treatment plants or the establishment of new ones.
This persistent crisis has motivated residents and local institutions to launch initiatives to helprestore the cleanliness of the beach. One of them is l the "The Sea is Ours,” created by Ali Muhanna, 32, and his friends. It’s an “eco-friendly” artistic retreat on the seashore in the al-Zawaida area of Gaza. The young men cooperated with the Gaza municipality to collect and repurpose solid waste from the city’s warehouses, such as discarded refrigerators, washing machines, car tires, plastic gallon containers and wooden poles. By the time the retreat was finished, it incorporated about 270 tons of these “lost-and-found” items.
“We chose to name this project ‘The Sea is Ours’ to remind other young people that the sea belongs to all of us and we are required to preserve it,” explains Hana al-Ghoul, another organizer. "A lot of the time, people in Gaza come to the sea for recreation, but they destroy and pollute it when they leave waste behind on the beach or in the water."
Hana hopes that showing how waste can be repurposed will inspire others to do the same, and thus protect residents from infection from dumped waste.
According to a 2015 report from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, average household waste in Gaza is 716 tons per day. “Meanwhile, the population in Gaza is growing by about 3% a year,” comments Hana. “The waste grows with it, and there aren’t suitable places or ways to dispose of it.”
Besides being an environmentally friendly lounge, the "Sea is Ours" includes a library, a small theater and a hall for community activities. Built on about three dunums (three-quarters of an acre) of seashore, it has become a popular space for artists and singers to perform.
“We say welcome to all creators,” says Hana. “Artists can come to this space and paint or express whatever they want in whatever way they want. We don't ask them for money; they can bring their own food and drinks and use our kitchen, as long as they keep it clean. And if they bring plastic utensils, old lamps and other things they don't need, we repurpose and reshape them into artistic forms of aesthetic value, thus promoting the importance of recycling."
Hiyam, a recent visitor, says he discovered The Sea is Ours through a friend. “I work as a project writer in a local institution, where I have organized a literature club. I wanted to take the members on a trip to the sea, but I was worried about the expense, The club had just started, and we didn’t have any money. So, my friend told me about the Sea is Ours, which hosted us for free. Ever since then, I’ve become a regular visitor. I come with friends to have a cup of coffee and to relax.”
It makes me happy to know there are people who are aware of the possible ways to protect and preserve our environment in Gaza. It’s all we have.