Since 2006, zoos and parks full of different kinds of attraction have become a prominent feature across the Gaza Strip. Visitors may spend hours touring around without feeling bored. When they chance upon moving creatures believed to have been extinct for 200 million years they are surprised, and the cameras come out to preserve the taste of life in the past.
J G Ballard needed environmental change to bring the dinosaurs back to life in his 1962 novel The Drowned World. At Gaza’s DinoZoo, though, Palestinian engineers, with German support, have used animatronic technology to do just that.
Owner Iskander Abu-Karam has spent a lot of money on the attraction, not least because of the shortage of the resources needed. “I wanted to challenge the siege on Gaza and offer something new for my guests,” he explained. “DinoZoo is a very popular attraction that takes take our guests on a journey that started and ended millions of years ago.”
The Gaza Strip has been under a strict Israeli-Egyptian siege, backed by the international community, for eight consecutive years. The Palestinian residents are unable to travel for education, medical treatment, social visits or tourism.
“I thought about offering something, not only new, but also very special,” said Abu-Karam. “Most of the countries around the world do not have animatronic DinoZoos, including those in the West. I decided to make this affordable for the people in Gaza, who have never seen such things except in science fiction movies.”
Abu-Karam acknowledged that he had faced some obstacles in bringing such creatures “to life”, but stressed that the people in Gaza can deal with challenges much more difficult than making dinosaurs. “Gaza engineers carried out the most difficult parts of the task,” he said, “but because of the lack of the materials needed, we commissioned a German company to produce them.”
DinoZoo is part of a park full of different kinds of attractions. Charm Park is located in the south of Gaza City. According to manager Abdullah Joudeh, using modern technology was very expensive but the idea is to send a message to the world that Gaza residents appreciate life.
“Like other people, we adore life,” Joudeh insisted, “just as we adore our children. That’s why we decided to create something special, despite the cost, for them.” The attraction, he believes, keeps up with the zeitgeist of the modern world. DinoZoo has educational benefits as well. “We wanted to provide a visual educational resources to get our students out of the traditional education mould of ‘chalk and talk’ where they hear about something and have to believe in it without seeing it, especially with ancient history.”
The siege has had other effects on DinoZoo apart from the difficulties getting it built in the first place. “The Israelis confiscated several parts of the dinosaurs,” revealed Joudeh. “They took the machine that makes them get fire and steam out of their mouths and other spare parts. They do not want us to have a normal life.”
Since it opened, the attraction has had plenty of visitors. “We don’t advertise, they come by word of mouth,” said the manager. Even so, “several families” cancelled reservations because one or more members wouldn’t go into DinoZoo because they believed that the creatures were real. “Some people get inside and are so surprised with the sound effects and movement that they too run away.”
Mother-of-seven Khadija said that she is glad that she can find such places to take her children in the Gaza Strip. She spoke as she was walking around Al-Nour Park on land where the illegal Jewish settlement of Netzarim was built. She said that she and her children are happy, despite living in the besieged enclave. “I am happy to find such joyful places around the Strip,” she said. “Despite the siege, I can find places inside Gaza where I can make my children feel happy.”
Before the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, there were no parks and attractions for the Palestinians to use. “There were not enough empty spaces, and the Israeli occupation authorities banned the import of animals and even banned us from making large swings.”
Ali Abu-Yousef is a shareholder in one of the biggest parks in Gaza. He was offered all the necessary conditions for investing in the service sector. “Despite the siege, the Gaza economy related to the service sector, is rising, but very slowly,” he said. “If the Israeli siege was lifted, you wouldn’t see a single unemployed person in Gaza.”
Images and video by Motasem A Dalloul.
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