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Tuesday, November 14, 2006 

The Gypsies of Gaza

Did you know that there are Gypsies living in the Gaza strip? Neither did I! But as this AFP article I found shows, there really are some Gypsies who live in this area, and unfortunately, they're being persecuted:
GAZA CITY (AFP) - Seated on her doorstep in a neighborhood in Gaza City, Narem puffs discontentedly on her cigarette, then sighs: "We used to be dancers and singers. Now we are nothing."

In Europe, they are called Gypsies or Roma. In Gaza, they are called the Nawar, a people with an ancestral tradition of song and dance who have been scattered for centuries throughout the Middle East.

But here, the rise of Islamist doctrine that accompanied the start of the second Palestinian uprising six years ago has sounded the death knoll for the Nawar way of life, pushed them into begging, and rendered them second-class citizens in a society regulated more and more by rigid rules.

"Our life was among the best. We wore the most beautiful dresses, we ate the best dishes. We sang Um Kalsum, Abdel Halim Hafez during marriages and celebrations. We were free," says Narem, 35, quickly throwing a scarf to cover her dark, flowing hair whenever a car passes.

"We didn´t learn in schools, but in the home. With us, you begin to sing and dance while still a child," she says. "My mother danced, my grandmother before her, and my great-grandmother also."

For decades, the Nawar wandered from city to town in the Gaza Strip and the wider Middle East, showing off their singing and dancing.

Fatima, 49, was a singer.

"We went from city to city, to Rafah, Khan Yunis, Jabaliya. We would set up tents and would play the oud and the drums. Some of us wandered as far as Egypt, Syria and Jordan," Fatima sighs.

"Life was as sweet as honey," she whispers, raising her eyes toward the sky.
This being from the AFP, it's not surprising that a bias can be found in here:
The establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, following the Oslo peace accords between the Israelis and Palestinians, made it even sweeter.

Buoyed by the belief that they would soon get their own state, the Palestinians were in the mood for celebrating.

"With the arrival of the Palestinian Authority, clubs were constructed on the sea shore. There was the Sunset, the Baida," says Sheikh Abu Mohammed, the patriarch of Gaza´s Nawar quarter.
Is this some sort of a PLO spokesperson who's quoted here? And are they trying to lump the Gypsies in with the Muslims? That sugary talk about nightclubs is certainly exaggerated or totally false, since after the PLO first took over, poverty soon took over, much more than beforehand. I wouldn't be surprised if the AFP did take it out of context.
But the eruption of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000 led by the Islamist Hamas movement -- changed all that.

"The extremists burned and closed all the clubs. They said it was ´haram,´ ´forbidden´ that girls dance and sing," Abu Mohammed says, dressed in his worn, faded long robe.

[...]

After the start of the second intifada, cinemas in Gaza were shut or burnt down, sale of alcohol banned, bathing suits on the beaches replaced by long-sleeved shirts and pants, and Nawar performances no longer welcomed.

[...]

Today the Nawar in Gaza live under the eye of a society that despises them at a time when violence and death have replaced celebrations.
It certainly is sad that they're living under the kind of oppression they are, and which may have gone on for much more time than the article implies.

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