‘A golden age’: Young Gazans dream of cinema’s return

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Updated 12 April 2018
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‘A golden age’: Young Gazans dream of cinema’s return

  • There have been no screenings in Gaza since 1987
  • Al-Samer Cinema opened in 1944

GAZA CITY: Every day tens of thousands of Gazans on foot or in cars pass the boarded-up and shuttered Al-Samer Cinema on the main street of Omar Al-Mukhtar.

The golden age of going to the movies in Gaza has long passed and there have been no screenings since 1987, when cinemas shut down after the first Palestinian intifada or uprising began.

Samir El-Efranji, 75, used to work at the Al-Samer, which opened in 1944. He reminisced about the public’s excitement while sitting in front of his television to watch an old Egyptian film that he screened in the cinema in the 1970s.

“It was a golden age when the cinema was operating in Gaza. We worked all day and the audience was unique,” El-Efranji said. “Sometimes the overcrowding was bad, but that was before the outbreak of the first intifada.”

Palestinians were most interested in films brought from Cairo when Egypt ruled the Gaza Strip after 1948, he said. From 1967 and the Israeli occupation, Chinese and American films were brought in from Jerusalem.

“With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, some cinemas did reopen, but political differences with the Islamic parties led to their closure again until now,” said El-Efranji.

He started work for the Al-Samer cinema as an accountant. He then managed his own cinema, the Al-Nasr, from 1983 until 1987. There used to be 10 cinemas in the Gaza Strip — six in Gaza City, three in Rafah and one in Khan Younis.

With the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, any hope of reopening the cinemas faded while the Islamist party clamped down on activities it said were incompatible with Islam.

Some artists and institutions have tried to organize their own screenings in halls, but they often face severe restrictions on bringing in films. Exceptions include films relating to the Palestinian cause, such as “Paradise Now,” the 2005 film directed by Hany Abu-Assad, a Dutch-Palestinian director, that was nominated for an Oscar.

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for the past decade while the ruling Hamas party remains bitterly estranged from the opposing Fatah party.

The thirst for cinema has not diminished, even though entire generations have never viewed a film in a cinema. Some have seen movies when traveling to neighboring Arab countries, but television has been the only viewing option for many. Gazans also watch Arabic-language and foreign movies downloaded on the Internet or from discs.

“I have never in my life seen a movie in the cinema and I hope that I have this opportunity soon,” said Mahmoud Al-Saadi, 23.

But others seemed to agree with Hamas and said cinemas might violate prevailing customs and traditions. “Opening a cinema means allowing the mixing of the two genders and opening the door to various kinds of moral corruption,” said a friend of Al-Saadi.

Khalil Al-Kurdi, 57, would like to see a cinema reopen in Gaza and recalled watching movies in Rafah. “I made many friendships outside the cinema and I pity the young generation for not having a chance to watch movies inside the cinema.”

Rawan Al-Louh, a 21-year-old student, saw two films in the cinema when she traveled to Egypt with her family. “I had a strange feeling the first time I went in,” she said. “At first, it was not the film that caught my attention and I watched the audience.”

 


Coalition hits back over reported civilian deaths in east Syria

Updated 18 November 2018
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Coalition hits back over reported civilian deaths in east Syria

  • 43 people were killed in the strikes launched by the coalition
  • The US-led coalition has consistently denied reports by the Observatory in recent days

BEIRUT: The US-led anti-militant coalition hit back Sunday at reports its air strikes on a Daesh group holdout in eastern Syria had killed civilians, appearing to blame their deaths on regime forces.
More than seven years into the country’s civil war, multiple offensives have whittled down the swathes of Syrian territory Daesh once controlled to a small pocket in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the Iraqi border.
A Kurdish-led alliance backed by the coalition is battling to expel Daesh from that holdout, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.
Russian-backed regime forces have been fighting the militants west of the river.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said coalition strikes on Saturday killed 43 people, including 36 family members of Daesh fighters in the village of Abu Al-Husn.
But the coalition denied that its air raids there had killed any non-combatants.
The US envoy for the coalition, Brett McGurk on Sunday appeared to blame regime forces stationed “across the river” for the civilian casualties.
“Reports of civilian casualties attributed to coalition strikes are false. All other forces should cease uncoordinated fires from across the river immediately,” he said on Twitter.
In a statement late Saturday, the coalition reported 19 coalition strikes on Daesh targets “free of civilian presence” between late Friday and Saturday afternoon in the militant enclave, which includes the town of Hajjin.
The coalition’s “initial assessment following the strikes is that there was no evidence of civilians near the strikes,” it said.
But the coalition “detected a total of ten additional strikes in the same area of Hajjin that did not originate from the coalition or partner forces,” it added.
It called “on all other actors to cease uncoordinated fires across the Euphrates.”
The Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, said regime forces and Daesh fighters exchanged fire across the river on Saturday, but pro-government shelling did not hit Abu Al-Husn.
The US-led international coalition has consistently denied reports by the Observatory in recent days that its air raids have killed civilians.
It says it takes allegations of civilian casualties seriously and investigates each one thoroughly.
Daesh overran large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in land it controlled.
But the militant group has since lost most of it to offensives by multiple forces in both countries.
On Saturday, Syrian regime forces retook control of the group’s last holdout in the country’s south as the militants retreated into the desert after months of fighting, the Observatory said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Since 2014, the US-led coalition has acknowledged direct responsibility for over 1,100 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, but rights groups put the number much higher.