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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Israeli air strikes damage Gaza arts village

Artists display works amid rubble in defiance

Palestinian artists display artwork in the courtyard of the damaged Arts and Crafts Village, which was hit by Israeli air strikes on July 14, 2018. AFP
Palestinian artists display artwork in the courtyard of the damaged Arts and Crafts Village, which was hit by Israeli air strikes on July 14, 2018. AFP

Jomma Alzaem was still looking frantically for his rare antiques amid the rubble in Gaza's Arts and Crafts Village on Wednesday, four days after it was severely damaged during Israeli air strikes.

Israel said the strikes across Gaza were against Hamas, the group that rules the isolated Palestinian territory. One strike hit an unfinished building right next to the village, where Mr Jomma owned a brass shop.

"I believe that Israel wanted to target the village, not the building. They targeted Palestinian heritage, a heritage that they don't own," Mr Jomma, 67, told The National.

"I spent years collecting the brass. I had items about 100 years old. My shop was considered as a tourist attraction, and now all of the brass and relics are under rubble."

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The village was set up in 1998 in Alremal district west of Gaza city to showcase and protect Palestinian heritage. Built from red clay with traditional design features, it contains four sections - for embroidery, brass, wood and carpets - and has a hall for exhibitions and cultural events.

Now paintings and historical objects lie scattered on the ground, along with shards of pottery. Some shops are partly destroyed - the ceilings collapsed, walls cracked. Inside the building, broken glass crunches beneath the weight of people's footsteps.

Nihad Shaqlih, director of the village, said it was completely damaged by the Israeli strikes.

"The village contains archaeological items and brass hundreds of years old but all of it is under rubble. It is an attempt by the Israeli occupation to destroy and erase our heritage, but we will rebuild the village again to protect Palestinian history," she said.

One day after the Israeli attacks a group of Palestinian artists began setting up a display of their work amid the rubble as protest.

"We want the Israeli occupation and local and international community to know that we will rebuild the village and we will keep producing great art," said Shareef Sarhan.

"Targeting the village is targeting all the artists in Gaza, it was a place for them to gather. We will rebuild the village because it will be a victory for us and for our heritage," the artist told The National.

"I used to come to this village to attend exhibitions and cultural lectures," said media graduate Marina Abu Saif, 24.

"It is considered one of Gaza's main cultural centres, which are rare due to the current situation. To target the beautiful places in Gaza … means there is a hidden hand [trying] to keep us youth from our heritage, but we will keep searching for our heritage and protect it from waste."

Mr Jomma said the village was better known 10 years ago, before Hamas took control of Gaza, but now "a lot of its activities are retreating".

The centre is under the municipality, which is controlled by Hamas. Gaza no longer has cultural venues such as cinemas and theatres and life in the territory has been badly hit by the blockade imposed by Israel after Hamas came to power. Before Hamas was elected, Gaza had cinemas and theatre productions.

Mr Jomma fears he will have a hard time reopening his shop.

"It will be so difficult now for me to rebuild and collect artefacts again. Because the economic situation in Gaza is so bad, I need an indemnity so I can reopen my shop," he said.

"When I went to the municipality for help they told me that only they can make recommendations [for aid]. When I went to the economy ministry they asked me to give them a missing list. I did it, but I don't know if they can help."

A woman inspects damage to a room of the Arts and Crafts Village in Gaza after Israeli air strikes on July 14, 2018. AFP
A woman inspects damage to a room of the Arts and Crafts Village in Gaza after Israeli air strikes on July 14, 2018. AFP