Cinema screenings are being prepared in a disused theatre space in Gaza City.

Things are pretty grim at the moment but we search daily for good news. Perhaps this is a good news story. The image above is taken from the website of The National, an English language publication based in the UAE with an international digital presence. The story is by Nagham Mohanna and Rosie Scammell and the photograph is credited to Majd Mohamad. You can access the article here.

Gaza is one of those territories (and there are arguably more than you might think) where there are no public screenings on a regular basis. It wasn’t always the case in Palestine. After the Nakba in 1948 and the expulsion of Palestinians by the forces of the new state of Israel, Gaza was designated as land for Palestinians under Egyptian control with a ‘buffer’ separating the small strip from Israel to the North and East and a border with Egypt to the South. More than 70 years later Gaza has a population approaching 2 million in the strip with the third highest density of population worldwide. As in the West Bank and Jerusalem, there were cinemas in Gaza from 1948 up until the First Intifada in December 1987. Gaza had ten cinemas (see this Al Jazeera article from 2016) but just as in the West Bank, cinemas were closed because of opposition from religious groups. In the 1930s and 1940s, cinemas in Mandate Palestine had shown Egyptian films alongside those from Hollywood but in the post-war period films had to be imported through Israel and this increased the opposition. Cinemas in the West Bank and Jerusalem have re-appeared and several are mentioned on this blog (see this post on a Nablus re-opening and this on a Jenin cinema operation). In all there have been four or five cinemas operating in the West Bank and Jerusalem during the last twenty years (see also this 2012 re-opening in East Jerusalem). I don’t know how many of them have survived until the present but I’ve seen an announcement about screenings in Palestinian cities in 2021.

I know that there have been screenings in Gaza in various venues (including bomb sires and a mobile cinema van) since Hamas were elected as the local government in the territory but none I think that have endured as permanent cinemas. Apart from religious objections, many buildings have also suffered from Israeli attacks. I do hope a permanent presence can be established. Gaza’s residents and especially its large proportion of young people, have difficulty leaving the territory and experiencing what the wider world has to offer. The social experience in watching films with an audience is an important human right and it is certainly necessary in order to inspire new Gaza-born filmmakers. Palestinian cineastes face many problems in making films in Palestine and usually must rely on co-funding from Europe, the Gulf or North America. It is to their credit that Palestinian cinema is so highly regarded in Arabic language film culture, but it is important that their films are shown in Palestinian cinemas. I wish the cinema at the Holst Park and Cultural Centre in Gaza the best of luck in establishing itself.