Travel agency in isolated Gaza recalls the 'golden' 1950s

Fri Feb 5, 2016 11:41am EST
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Nabil Shurafa's travel agency in Gaza was once packed with clients booking flights to London, Paris, New York or cities across the Arab world. These days, he's lucky if anyone comes in, as so few people can get out.

The posters of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and a map of the world look out of place on the walls, given the sense of isolation that pervades Gaza, a narrow strip of land hemmed in by Israel on two sides, Egypt to the south and the blockaded Mediterranean to the west.

"Once borders are closed, things switch off," said Shurafa with a sense of resignation. A plastic model of a passenger plane stands on his desk, next to the silent phones.

When Shurafa's father opened the bureau in 1952, it quickly earned a reputation as a helpful and reliable agency.

Back then, Gaza was governed by Egypt and there was not much of a border to speak of. Gazans could book a plane ticket and take a four-hour bus or train to Cairo to catch their flight.

The agency had a close relationship with BOAC, the forerunner of British Airways, and Air France and is general sale agent for each. It remains a member of IATA, the International Air Transport Association.

"The era from 1952 to 1967 was a golden one," Shurafa, 53, told Reuters. People used to travel to Gaza as well, at least until the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan.

"Gaza was like a duty-free zone, with Egyptians coming to buy goods brought by merchants from Lebanon," he recalled.   Continued...

Palestinian travel agent Nabil Shurafa speaks on a phone at his office in Gaza City February 4, 2016.  REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa