In the steamy depths of a centuries-old bathhouse beneath Gaza's crowded streets, Murad Awad channels positive energy by prying toxins from tired flesh.
The bathhouse, known as Hamam al-Samra, has survived centuries of conflict, and these days Awad uses Asian massage therapy to ease the more recent pain of war and isolation in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave.
As he smears rosewater on fingers and squeezes lemon juice over toes, he speaks of a symbiosis of mind, body and universe and discusses forces that transcend the toxic political disputes gripping the territory.
"This place has nothing to do with the outside world. It's for people who love beauty," the heavy-set 33-year-old says as he applies sharp pressure to the feet of a young man laid out on a stone bench, who moans from the pain.
A stone plaque on the wall says the bathhouse was last renovated in the 13th century during the Mameluke empire that ruled from Cairo. Its owner, Selim al-Wazir, claims it has stood for 1,000 years.
huge portrait of the iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his one-time deputy Khalil al-Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad, one of the owner's famous relatives who was assassinated in Tunis in 1988.
Al-Wazir family mostly supports the late Arafat's secular Fatah movement, but the hamam welcomes Palestinians of all political persuasions, including the Islamist Hamas which has ruled Gaza since 2007.
"Hamas comes here all the time. Their men and their women come here," says Wazir, a jovial man who enjoys good relations with everyone.
The hamam has survived decades of Israeli incursions, unscathed except for a bomb dropped during the 1956 war with Egypt that punched a hole in the roof, Wazir says. The damage has since been repaired.
"They know that the man who built this hamam was a Jew from near Nablus, so they don't attack it," he says, adding that Israelis used to come before the outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising in 1987.
The name al-Samra refers to the Samaritans, an ancient religious community in the northern West Bank with close ties to Judaism.
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