Gaza’s ace athlete left with no track to run

Nader-al-Mouri with his father beside the rubble of their family home.   | Photo Credit: WISSAM NASSAR

Everything looked about the same in this town near Gaza’s northern border with Israel: piles of smashed concrete to the left and right, up ahead and in the rear view.

As we drove through the destruction earlier this month, Fares Akram, my Gaza-based reporting partner, somehow recognised a certain street as one we had been on four months before, to visit Nader al-Masri, Gaza’s premier distance runner.

There are few street addresses in Gaza, never mind Google Maps, but asking directions of passers-by will usually get you where you need to go. When Fares rolled down the window to confirm that we were in Mr. al-Masri’s neighbourhood, a series of strangers nodded and pointed the way — but not before clapping their hands against each other at an angle, in what has become a universal sign here. Roughly, it means “all gone.”

We had written about Mr. al-Masri in April, because Israel had denied exit permits to him and two dozen other runners who wanted to compete in a marathon in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Now, I searched the pile that had been his home for any sign of his vast collection of trophies and medals from 40 international competitions.

We found Mr. al-Masri at a United Nations school-turned-shelter not far away, along with about 80 of his relatives. He said they had left home July 21, the day after Israel dropped leaflets and sent text messages warning that the neighbourhood would not be safe.

When he took advantage of a halt in the hostilities to return, he said, “I did not recognise the street,” though he had lived there for 33 of his 34 years.

He said that he retrieved some of his awards from the rubble, but that others remained buried. He wore a fine black Adidas running shirt with yellow piping on the sleeves and “Palestine” in Arabic on the back, but his feet were in flip-flops; his sneakers were under the pile, too. His plans to compete in South Korea in October, where he hoped to run well enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, were fading. “All the places where I used to train are levelled,” he said. “I’m handcuffed.”

A serene oasis

The Khoudarys’ garden might be the loveliest place in Gaza, a serene oasis of lush fruit trees amid the city’s dingy concrete blocks.

Jawdat N. Khoudary is one of Gaza’s wealthiest men and boldest dreamers, the owner of a large construction company and the self-appointed protector of the territory’s antiquities.

As Palestinians demanded the establishing of a seaport in Gaza as part of a long-term truce, Mr. Khoudary wrote of Anthedon, an ancient Gaza port he said was built in the seventh century B.C. to be the main trade conduit between the Arabian Peninsula and Greece, Italy and Asia Minor. He said Gaza was among the first cities in history to mint its own coins. (Today it uses Israeli currency.)

In June, the family fulfilled one of the dreams Khoudary described in 2012: an exhibit and sale of thousands of cactuses that he collects from around the world and crossbreeds in the garden. Sabr, the Arabic word for cactus, also means patience, which Khoudary had said then “is what we need in Gaza.”

— New York Times News Service

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 9:43:27 AM |

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