If you enter Gaza, one thing you will immediately notice is how everything is old-fashioned. By "old-fashioned," I mean old ways of thinking, old styles, old music, old cars (and all other kinds of machines), old …. You get the idea. It's as if time has been waiting for Rafah Crossing to open (like everyone else), so it can enter and update this land and people that seem trapped in a period somewhere between the 1990s and 2007.
When my family returned to Gaza from the UAE seven years ago, it took about four years of persistence before I felt comfortable being too public with my “foreign” ideas about women’s freedom and tastes in music and dress. When I wore my skinny jeans, my cousins would ask, “What are you wearing, some kind of underwear?” But I persisted, because I didn’t want to change just to please others. Plus, I wanted people here (especially girls my age) to get used to different ways of being. (Eventually, the fashion changed even in Gaza. I saw other girls in my neighborhood wearing skinny jeans, or at least some kind of jeans without hiding them under a layer of Islamic dress.)
I often wondered why Gaza is so stuck in such old ways. At first, I thought poverty was the cause. But, while this is a contributor (most can’t afford the latest trends), I don’t think it’s the main driver.
I noticed that when offered a choice between two different items or ideas—one modern and one traditional—Gazans almost always pick the dated option, describing the alternative as weird, unappealing or outright wrong.
My conclusion is that they just don’t see many other people wearing, using, doing or listening to modern choices, so they aren't comfortable with them. That’s the consequence of being cordoned off from the world by the blockade, with very few visitors or residents who have traveled.
Yes, there is a breath of change every now and then, especially when Rafah Crossing opens and people come in from the outside and share a bit of their culture or the items they purchased elsewhere. Gazans then enjoy what I like to call a “getting-up-to-date" event—when they experience for a rare moment what it’s like to be current with the rest of the world. Along with that comes the shock of "aha" moments, the inevitable comparison between their condition and that of others.
However, these infusions from the outside are few and change happens so slowly—too slowly to keep in tune with progress in the rest of the globe. If I were to make an analogy, I’d say Gaza is like a very isolated person living only with his or her ideas, which bounce back and forth inside his own mind for years. “Repetitiveness” is the predominant pattern you notice here. Even people seem like mere copies of each other, with few differences. And when an individual attempts to break out a bit, he or she is regarded as strange, even inappropriate—enough so to pressure the person to conform.
I’m not blaming Palestinians or Gazans specifically. This result is a totally expected consequence of isolation. If you were to cut off any people—say, the Germans—from the outside world, I bet you’d get the same result. All you need to do is close the borders for years, suffocate the economy so most adults can’t find employment, wage periodic wars so the society is conditioned to think only about survival, and allow only four to six hours of electricity per day (and thus ensure limited WiFi, which connects the people to the outside world). The result: occupied minds—free of goals, innovative ideas and critical thinking.
Psychologically speaking, when you live in survival mode, your mind automatically re-organizes your priorities list: The first task is always "to survive”; then, and only then, can you move to priority No. 2, like “nonessentials—such as challenging internal social norms. (If you studied psychology, this is basically Maslow’s hierarchy.) Gazans never seem be able to move past survival. That's why changing from within is not that easy.
Since the international oppression of the people shows no sign of ending, Gaza will stay old-fashioned, trapped in a time-and-mind loop.