GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In an attempt to preserve the environment and benefit from the resources available in the Gaza Strip, a group of artists established the first eco-friendly rest house on the beach of Gaza City on five dunums. The rest house is called Al-Bahr Elna, which translates into “The Sea Is Ours.”
The rest house operates on a bartering system, which means visitors bring their own food leftovers and items they no longer use in order to be able to enter and enjoy the free services, which include hot or cold drinks and a view of the beach.
The rest house also includes a library, theater, recreational playgrounds and a popular fish restaurant that’s under construction.
Ali Muhanna, an actor and a theatre director who is also leading the rest house’s team, told Al-Monitor, “The rest house seeks to get more artists in Gaza to spread awareness among Gazans about the need to preserve the beach and keep it clean at all times.”
He said they used some 300 tons of solid waste to build the rest house, which they managed to get in cooperation with the Gaza municipality, financiers and citizens who appreciated the rest house’s idea and its importance in motivating people to preserve the beach.
Muhanna said they recycled wood containers, car tires, plastic baskets, road stones, iron containers, and doors of damaged refrigerators and washing machines, which they used in an artistic and attractive way to decorate the rest house.
“The project also provided many young people with job opportunities,” he said.
Once inside the rest house, one can see the walls adorned with plastic paintings, pieces of clothes, and small wooden and stone pieces. The chairs are made of used tires; others are made from boxes painted in bright colors.
Muhanna’s office is made of used wood with a door of an old refrigerator and washing machine doors used as windows. The ceiling is made of palm tree branches, with a water fountain made of large shipping frames and some wood and remains of war.
Ornamental plants are placed in huge plastic jugs previously filled with fuel, flammable materials and paints. One of the rest house’s walls is made of two trash dumpsters that were recycled and filled with different plants.
He said they also managed, in partnership with the CIVITAS Institute, to get a grant as part of the Majalat initiative with the support of the SOLIDAR Foundation that is funded by the European Union, stressing he and his team seek to engage many community institutions to contribute to the rest house.
Muhanna said the rest house’s goal is to enhance individual social responsibility, noting that any change in society needs incentives.
“Through the rest house, we are trying to create a model for individuals’ cooperation and teamwork,” he said.
“The rest house offers services almost free of charge. Vacationers can make financial contributions through a fund at the rest house that helps young people to keep doing their work. The rest house is open to all provided the place is kept clean. Several institutions are now holding their workshops and training sessions at our place,” he added.
The team also established two libraries inside the rest house. The first is called the Green Library, which is an area filled with plants bearing their scientific and common names. The other library is dedicated to children’s short-story books.
“We managed to collect books and stories from personal and individual donations,” Muhanna said.
He said the rest house also has a dog, cat and chicken to create some sort of natural balance in the place, and the animals feed on the leftovers from visitors.
“We are planning on opening a restaurant to sell and cook fish at prices suitable for the rest house customers,” he said.
Muhanna said he got tiles for the restaurant from one of the old houses that were bombed in the last round of escalation on the Gaza Strip on al-Wahda Street.
He said comedian Hana al-Ghoul is also a founding member of the team, in addition to several other artists who offer entertainment shows for visitors including zajal (oral poetry) songs, stand-up comedy, hakawati (oral histories) shows and national songs that send awareness messages.
Speaking of hardships and obstacles the team faced in establishing the rest house, Ghoul told Al-Monitor, “Working on the beach under the scorching sun was extremely stressful. We also did not receive a prompt response from institutions and individuals to support and finance our project at the beginning.”
Ghoul said she is trying to collect the stories of all the women who visit the rest house in order to document them in a book, adding that young women open up to her when they are alone and pour their hearts out in amazing tales.
“Any young man or woman can volunteer to work in the rest house as we seek to develop and expand,” she said.
“We also put on theatrical plays sending awareness messages of the need to keep the beach clean,” Ghoul added.
She pointed out that the deteriorating economic conditions in Gaza affected the artistic shows performed at the rest house, as some artists have been having a difficult time in paying for transportation.
Wissam al-Shawa, coordinator of the Injaz Palestine organization in Gaza, which holds training sessions for several volunteers in educational institutions, said she decided to hold the organization’s events at the rest house as she greatly admires the team and the project.
“Holding events in such a location is a contribution to its founders and the team running it. We usually raise awareness on the importance of recycling,” she said.
Rania Ibrahim has become a regular visitor to the rest house, where she usually goes with her children.
“I really like the place here. It does not cost me much to get in. I usually bring leftovers or stuff that I don’t need at home like plastic bags, empty bottles and cans, and old clothes,” she told Al-Monitor.
“It’s a place where I can visit to have some leisure time with my family, and I also help preserve the environment,” Ibrahim added.