Tareq S. Hajjaj
Mondoweiss / July 22, 2023
The EU Envoy to Palestine paraglided onto a beach in Gaza and told Gazans that “Everything is possible.” But some things are only possible for people with immense power, not Palestinians living under a crippling Israeli blockade
Up in the sky over Al-Zawayda village in central Gaza, there was a surprising scene of a man flying in a parachute overhead, descending towards the beach below. People in the area stopped their cars and parked on the side of the road to watch, while families and bystanders on the beach below pulled out their phones to record the unusual scene.
It was the first paragliding experience in Gaza, something that is totally foreign to the people in the besieged coastal enclave. Paragliding and other similar sports are forbidden in Gaza, prohibited by the Israeli authorities who control its borders, and everything that comes in and out of the strip.
Paragliding, ballooning, water bikes, or any other similar sport, would no doubt be amazing set against as the picturesque Mediterranean coastline that spans the 41 kilometers of Gaza’s territory. Yet most of these materials are not allowed into the strip, and most of the families wouldn’t be able to afford it — such sports are a luxury when more than 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Before the man in the sky descended onto the beach, Gazans down below speculated that it must be someone who with a lot of power — no ordinary Gazan could ever get away with such a stunt, let alone gain access to a paraglider. When the man touched down on the beach, those suspicions were instantly confirmed. It was not a Gaza citizen who parachuted down onto the beach, but a white European man — the European Union Envoy to Palestine, Sven Kühn Von Burgsdorff.
Upon his descent, Von Burgsdorff jubilantly claimed: “[This is the] first Gaza paragliding flight in history.”
“What does it tell us?” he asked. “You can fly here … Everything is possible in Gaza.”
Judging by the look of satisfaction on Von Burgsdorff’s face, he must have found his stunt to be quite impressive, or even inspiring to the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza’s open-air prison.
With credit to Von Burgsdorff, it is true: everything is possible in Gaza. But he missed a crucial follow-up clarification. Everything is possible in Gaza if you aren’t Gazan.
You can certainly fly, Mr. Von Burgsdorff. Unfortunately, we cannot.
The thought of is a mere dream. If we ever wanted to partake in such a sport, we would need to travel to a nearby country like Turkey and find a beach there — that is, if we are so fortunate as to be let out of Gaza. For those of us who live here, when we look up in the sky, or into the vast sea, we do not see endless opportunities. We see the Israeli siege that strangles us, our seas, our skies, and our land. If any resident of Gaza even attempted to bring a parachute into Gaza, either via Egypt’s Rafah crossing, or through the Israeli Erez crossing, we would have it immediately confiscated by both authorities — perhaps we would even be accused of trying to smuggle in goods for the purpose of “terrorism.”
Right now, the only people who can fly in Gaza are Von Burgsdorff and the Israeli drones that constantly buzz over our heads, waiting to drop bombs on us.
We, too, believe that everything is possible in Gaza, or rather, that it could be possible, were it not for reasons out of our control. What we have instead is a long list of things that are impossible to have in Gaza.
The word “possible” has two very different meanings for Gaza residents and EU officials like Von Burgsdorff. For him, it is possible to envision a Gaza with free skies, because the skies are already free to him. But he has no idea of the reality back down on earth in Gaza, where we spend over 10 hours in the heat every day without electricity because of the devastation that Israel’s siege has wreaked on our infrastructure.
While ordinary Gazans suffer from daily power cuts, visiting diplomats and foreign officials like Von Burgsdorff enjoy the best locations and hotels in the city, with all the amenities they could possibly need. His view of Gaza, from the air and on the ground, is very different from the one we have.
In his remarks on the beach, Von Burgsdorff told Gazans that, “once there is a free Palestine, a free Gaza, you can do exactly the same thing.”
“And that is the reason I did this, to show you the way forward,” he concluded.
But Mr. Von Burgsdorff, I ask you, when will there be a free Palestine and a free Gaza?
You do not need to show us the way forward. We, the people of Gazan, who have been suffering under Israel’s siege and apartheid for decades, have been begging the world to let us show them the way forward for years, but no one, including the EU, has listened.
We know the way forward is one where Israel can no longer be allowed to suffocate an entire people because of their identity and desire for freedom. We are the ones working towards a brighter future every single day, fighting for our basic rights. We do not need a European official in a parachute to show us what our future could look like. We do not need you to fly in our skies to show us what is possible. We need you to act.
Your stunt on the beach successfully demonstrated one thing: that you have the power, more power than anyone in Gaza, to break our siege and change the course of our future.
Repeating the envoy’s statement, I say: “Everything is possible in Gaza.”
Breaking the siege in Gaza is possible. But it will only become a reality when international powers, like the EU, take a stand against Israeli apartheid and the oppression of the Palestinian people, and demand an end to the siege and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
When that happens, maybe we can join you in the sky.
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union