Gaza audiences enjoy first night out at the movies in 20 years

Mon Feb 29, 2016 7:31am EST
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are enjoying their first night out at the movies since political tensions led to the torching of cinemas in the enclave 20 years ago.

Hollywood blockbusters have yet to return and Hamas Islamists, who now rule Gaza, are looking out for anything they consider immodest. Nevertheless, the projectors are rolling again, in a newly-opened cinema whose shows have been limited so far to films about the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

About 150 people took their seats last week in the Red Crescent Society hall, usually a venue for celebrations or traditional performances, to watch "Oversized Coat". The 2013 film by Jordan-based Palestinian director Nawras Abu Saleh examines Palestinian life between 1987 and 2011, a period of failed peace efforts and two anti-Israeli uprisings.

Tickets cost 10 shekels ($2.50) each.

In the audience, Alaa Abu Qassem, a Gaza student who had never been to the movies before, reveled in the new experience.

"I am very happy," said Qassem, just a toddler when the last of Gaza's cinemas were burned to the ground during fighting between rival Palestinian factions. "But where is the pop corn?"

Cinema once flourished in Gaza. Back in the 1950s, when Egypt ran the enclave, residents used to frequent movie houses to watch Arab, Western and Asian films. Those cinemas were set on fire in 1987 when the first Palestinian uprising erupted. All were repaired, but were torched again during internal violence in 1996.

Faded movie posters, some in Hebrew and dating back two decades when Gaza was under Israeli occupation, still hang on the charred walls of what had been one of the territory's biggest cinemas.   Continued...

Palestinian spectators watch a movie at Red Crescent Society hall in Gaza City February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem