Gaza City – As the summer vacation drew to a close on Friday, thousands of people headed for the beaches along the coast of the Gaza Strip, getting one last afternoon of seaside enjoyment before the start of a new school year.
The Gaza seashore is the only escape for the people living there, especially during this summer, which saw a sharp rise in temperatures that made living conditions even more unbearable for people already living under a suffocating Israeli blockade.
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Many families bring their own umbrellas and seats, some arriving early to stake out prime spots where they can keep an eye on children darting in and out of the waves, the younger ones giggling and running away from small waves lapping at their legs.
Other families rent their umbrellas and chairs from enterprising folks who run up and down their rows of real estate.
The enclave’s infrastructure has seriously deteriorated in the years of siege, resulting in long power outages that make staying at home an overheated proposition. So, people head out to the beaches to make the best of things.
“The sea is our only refuge in Gaza,” said Umm Khalil Abu al-Khair, a 43-year-old mother of six.
“During the summer vacation, hours of power outages increased unbearably, coinciding with the sharp heatwave that hit the world, and the sea was our only destination.”
Umm Khalil was visiting the beach with her family, pointing out that it was an easy and inexpensive day out because they could go to the free public beach and avoid the paid beaches.
Some families do go to paid beach spots, which vary in cost from more expensive to nominal fees, but a sizeable number just head for the sands of the public beach, saving the entry fee money for other uses.
The concentration of people coming to the beach gives it a carnival air, reinforced by the profusion of colourful umbrellas with hawkers and carts selling beach toys, cold drinks and snacks weaving their way through them.
Not everybody has or can afford a swimsuit, so they plunge into the water in the most suitable attire they can find, relief from the heat outweighing everything.
Those who do not necessarily want to swim, can hire a boat for a quick ride or even jump on a camel that will take them up and down past the rows of people enjoying the day.
Yamen Mohammad, 36 years old and father of three, told Al Jazeera that he came to the beach to “say goodbye to the summer vacation” with his children.
“We live in the Gaza Strip [and] look for places of entertainment to spend time away from the pressures of life and economic deterioration and the reminders of Israel’s repeated aggressions on the Strip.”
Among his most fervent wishes for this new school year is to have one that is “calm, without any wars or military escalations”.
About two million people live in the Gaza Strip, an area of 365sq km (141sq miles) that has withstood several Israeli assaults during the past seven years, the last of which was in May 2023 when 35 people were killed, including women and children, and dozens of housing units destroyed.
The residents endure power cuts averaging 12 hours a day, especially in periods of intense demand, like the summer.