Cinema returns to Gaza for first time in decades

Cinema returns to Gaza for first time in 30 years
3 min read
27 August, 2017
Palestinians in Gaza went to the movies on Saturday night for the first time in more than 30 years, as a one-off screening drew crowds of hundreds.
There are currently no functioning cinemas in Gaza. [Getty]

Palestinians in Gaza went to the cinema on Saturday for the first time in more than 30 years, as a one-night only screening drew crowds of hundreds.

The Samer Cinema, the oldest in the besieged coastal territory, has been closed for decades but hosted a special viewing of a film about Palestinians in Israeli jails.

More than 300 people attended the screening on a hot and humid evening, with men and women not segregated by gender.

There are currently no functioning cinemas in Gaza, where two million people live in cramped conditions under a decade-long Israeli blockade.

'We need to live like humans'

An organiser of the screening, Ghada Salmi, told AFP that the one-night showing was "symbolic" of wider efforts to bring the "idea of cinema" back to Gaza.

One member of the audience, Jawdat Abu Ramadan, said he wanted to see a permanent cinema in the enclave.

"We need to live like humans, with cinemas, public spaces and parks," he said.

The Samer Cinema was built in 1944 but shut in the 1960s. 

Gaza's remaining cinemas closed in the late 1980s during the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Gaza branch, from which Hamas developed, held its founding conference at the Samer Cinema in 1946, according to French historian Jean-Pierre Filiu's 2012 history of Gaza.

There was a fire at one cinema in 1987 which was widely thought to have been the work of religious fundamentalists, who consider cinema ungodly.

"The rest of the cinemas were scared to show films after that," Salmi said.

Creating space for art

Ten Years - the feature-length film screened on Saturday - was made in Gaza with volunteer actors and tells the story of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Salmi said it does not focus on the wider politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead telling a human story.

Saturday's showing went ahead with the approval of Hamas.

Nermin Ziara, an actor who appeared in the film, said she wanted to see a cinema open as "society needs to develop through films and documentaries".

Ziara said she did not think Hamas should or would block such moves.

"I don't think there is a problem with opening a cinema with Hamas as it is a place of art," she told AFP.

"We as Palestinians need to have a large space for art."

A rare festival in May showcased films focusing on human rights issues, with outdoor screenings at Gaza City's port.

Other films have occasionally been shown in rented halls.

Gaza is still recovering from three Israeli wars in six years, with large swathes of the territory still destroyed amid delayed reconstruction efforts.

2014 Israeli military operation left more than 2,200 dead in Gaza and destroyed or damaged more than 96,000 homes.

Around 280,000 Gazans were internally displaced at the height of the conflict, while public infrastructure was devastated.