Page last updated at 19:36 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Bleak outlook for bombed Gaza Zoo


Scenes of damage at Gaza's zoo, museum and beach

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza

Hundreds of Palestinian schoolchildren used to come to the Gaza Zoo every week, but not now.

Tanks rolled through the area during the Israeli offensive. Much of the zoo was badly damaged, most of the animals died.

Cage after cage lies empty.  Ostrich feathers are strewn close to a crater in the ground, beside the mangled steel bars of what was the birds' pen.

The remains of a camel lie inside its former enclosure.

"Some were killed in air strikes," says the zoo's manager, Emad Qassim, "but some of the animals were shot dead."

Remains of a camel in Gaza zoo
The remains of the camel have yet to be removed

"Thank God our two lions survived, but we used to have over 400 animals and birds, now there are just 10 left."

Many of the animals died of starvation.

The zookeepers say that for more than two weeks, Zeitoun, the southern suburb of Gaza City where the zoo is located, was simply too dangerous to access because of the presence of troops and tanks.


During the conflict the Israeli army released footage from the zoo in which soldiers pointed to what they said was a fuse running along one line of cages.

The white cable led out of the compound to the school next door, a building the soldiers said had been booby-trapped by militants.

That is why troops carried out their attack here, the army said.

In the 22 days of the offensive, which Israel says was a response to rocket fire from Hamas, Gazan authorities and human-rights groups say 1,300 Palestinians died, hundreds of them children.  Thousands were injured.

Many had their homes damaged or destroyed, but other aspects of the territory's infrastructure were affected too.

That includes those places, like the zoo, where people in Gaza could go to escape the considerable troubles of daily life here.

Perseverance and trauma

Just a few months ago, Gaza's first archaeological museum was opened in the northern part of Gaza City.

It is an impressive building, especially considering that it was constructed during the last year and a half of harsh sanctions.

One of the owners, Jawdat Khoudary, collected the stone with which the museum was eventually built from old demolished homes in Gaza.

He had also spent years collecting artefacts from Gaza's ancient past, paying the locals who had happened upon the many Roman, Bronze age or Byzantine finds.

Look at people's faces in Gaza now and they seem like they almost died
Sohail al-Saqqa, joint owner of Gaza Museum

 "We were determined to develop a nice place for Gazans to come to, whatever the circumstances," says his business partner, Sohail al-Saqqa.

"We managed to open this place, but we didn't have long before the war started."

Staff say that when a tank shell fell close by, items that had survived centuries were destroyed.

Bronze age vases still lie, shattered, on the floor of the main exhibition hall.

But while such physical damage is limited, business at the museum and its restaurant has come to a standstill.  Mr Saqqa insists he will persevere.

"We don't have another choice," he says.  "We have to have hope that this will end and people here can come back to life.

"But look at people's faces in Gaza now and they seem like they almost died."

Playground in Gaza zoo
The war torn children's slide at Gaza zoo is unused now

Gradually, following the ceasefires declared by Israel and Hamas, some in Gaza have been heading back to the coffee shops and, those who can afford it, to those restaurants that have reopened.

But the sense of shock in this society is still palpable.

Gaza's coastline has the potential to give people some sanctuary, and the numbers of families seen going for walks on the beach is undoubtedly increasing.  But even here there are problems.

With more damage done to Gaza's ailing sewage system during the war, millions of litres of raw waste continue to flow straight into the sea every day.

For a population that is unable to leave this territory, there are very few places to turn, without being reminded about the trauma of the conflict.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific