If the plans proceed on schedule, [Gaza's] Al-Rashid Road, popularly known as the Beach Road, will be transformed into a scenic seaside promenade, or corniche, in the style that has made the meeting between land and sea in places like Beirut, Alexandria and Nice tourist attractions and a gathering place for their residents.I have a feeling that the people who are up in arms about Israel evicting Bedouin squatters who build illegal housing will not say a word about Gaza's government doing the same.
Sami Abu Hamdah, one of the project supervisors, talks enthusiastically about the corniche and its surrounding infrastructure, which will cut a swathe of 40 meters (130 feet) over two kilometers (1.2 miles), as well as plans to extend it deeper into the city in the next phase.
The narrow asphalt strip will be widened to a grand boulevard helping to ease the traffic congestion. Sidewalks along both sides of the street will be widened and a seafront promenade 11 meters across will run along the length of the beach. Parking areas are being built for visitors as well as a series of tunnels that will deliver beachgoers to the seashore away from the noise and cars of the street.
Once this phase is done, says Mugani, officials have ambitious plans to turn large parts of the city side of Beach Road into parks and gardens that will encourage tourism projects in Gaza.
But widening the road and adding new attractions has to come at a cost, and Abu Mahmoud Al-Ara’ir is one of the people paying it.
More than a decade ago he squatted on a piece of shorefront property, building a small house out of simple materials and fencing off the area around it with pieces of plastic and wood. The fence has come down as Abu Mahmoud is undertaking a strategic retreat in the face of warnings from the city to surrender all his property.
“After all, I don’t own this land and the municipality isn’t even obliged to compensate me according to the law,” he told The Media Line. “But the fact that I have been living here for the past 11 years makes me the owner, I think, even if I don’t have ownership papers or actually paid for it.”
Not all of the area’s residents are taking their loss with such equanimity. While the beachfront would normally be desirable real estate, many of those living in the area are poor.
Interviewed by The Media Line, many expressed the view that they should be entitled to squatters’ rights and that even if the authorities compensate them with other land, they don’t have the money to build themselves new homes on it. “Don’t we have the right to accept or refuse or even choose the location or compensation? Why can’t they just leave us alone and do this project somewhere else?” asks one.
Gaza’s municipal government is not sympathetic. In a statement issued in response to the complaints of angry beachfront residents, it said: “Ninety percent of these ‘owners’ don’t actually own their land. They took it and built simple houses on it over the last 10 years. The governments left them there because they had no place to live and the lands weren’t needed. So we aren’t obliged to offer compensation.”
At least future anti-Israel activists will have a nice promenade and park benches from which to write their eyewitness accounts of the horrors in Gaza.