A Tourist’s Guide to Gaza: Not Your Lonely Planet

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An acrobat of Egyptian Al-Nobi circus performs during a show in Gaza City on 1 November 2012. (Photo: AFP - Mohamed Abed)

By: Taghrid Atallah

Published Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gaza StripGaza: Gateway to the Levant is unique among travel guides. Even the paper on which it is printed is a luxury due to the Israeli siege which prevents basic goods – not to mention tourists – from entering the strip.

The book, published recently by the Hamas government’s Ministry of Tourism, features large photographs, bold headlines, and a detailed map, which, as a whole, give the impression of a peaceful coastal strip steeped in history. There is no mention of the whirr of Israeli helicopters or the wails of funeral processions.

The guide’s insistence on highlighting Gaza’s rich culture and vibrant history appears to be a concerted effort by Gazans, and particularly the Hamas government, to bolster a sense of normalcy and even pride in the face of hardship and daily Israeli violations.

The title is a nod to the work of Yaqut al-Hamawi, a famous 13th century geographer who once described Gaza as a gateway for invaders of the Levant. Hamawi’s Lexicon of Countries is an encyclopedia of the Muslim world that depicted Gaza as a strategic point between North Africa and the Middle East.

Historical sites featured in the guide include the Umayyad Mosque, the Mamluk era Barqouq fort, and the ruins of Napoleon’s fort, as well as over 35 other mosques, churches, palaces, shrines, historic homes, and relics. The guide also details artisanal practices such as mosaic, which adorn the floors of many Gaza churches from the Byzantine era.

Dr. Mohammed Khalleh, spokesperson for the tourism ministry, told Al-Akhbar the guide is really intended more for Gazans than tourists as a means of raising awareness about the historical importance of such antiquities.

A group of archaeological experts spent over two years compiling the guide, which Khalleh described as an important reference for researchers, students, and anyone interested in the subject.

Some have described the guide as wishful thinking on the part of Gazans who yearn to have a city like any other, where visitors come as normal tourists, not as voyeurs, journalists, solidarity activists, or human rights monitors.

Others see it as an important testament to Gaza’s hidden beauty, a map of the “City of Invaders’” treasures.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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