Iman Safi, 19, sits on a bench inside a specially equipped passenger bus, watching a film for the first time in Gaza, thanks to a mobile cinema project launched by the Save Youth Future Society, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization.
“Attending a film screening is a glimmer of hope,” said Safi, a media student at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University.
It was “an exceptional event that came amid a complete absence of cinemas in the Gaza Strip for religious and societal reasons,” she added in a phone call with Al-Fanar Media.
The “Cinema Bus,” Palestine’s first mobile cinema, hit the road in March 2020, after the Save Youth Future Society raised funds from the European Union.
The bus can accommodate about 50 passengers, and includes a wheelchair ramp to assist the disabled. It has an integrated security system, with emergency doors, alarms, firefighting equipment, air conditioning, and ventilation, and uses solar energy to run the projectors.
“Our goal is to enhance the presence of all aspects of culture. We hope that this mobile cinema will support the mental health of all residents of the Strip.‘‘Mustafa El Far
Media spokesman for the Save Youth Future Society
The aim is to “revive art and culture in Gaza and promote positive concepts within Palestinian society.”
Cinemas Closed in First Intifada
Four years ago, the Save Youth Future Society hired a hall to screen animated films in a popular neighborhood in Gaza, as part of a community initiative. This led to the mobile cinema project, after large numbers of parents and children showed great enthusiasm, says Mustafa El Far, media spokesman for the Society.
“Our goal is to enhance the presence of all aspects of culture,” he told Al-Fanar Media in a phone call. “We hope that this mobile cinema will support the mental health of all residents of the Strip.”
The first cinema in Gaza was built in 1944 and by the late 1960s there were ten more. Many Arab, Western and Asian films were screened under Egyptian rule of the Strip, which ended with the Israeli occupation in 1967, according to Mervat Ouf, a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza. (See a related article, “Palestinian Education Is Impeded Under Protracted Conflict With Israel.”)
Gallery: Movies on the Move
“Disputes among political forces and Islamic parties caused the closure of cinemas, during the first Palestinian intifada (in 1987), and they remained closed due to government and political restrictions on calls for reopening them,” added Ouf.
The films selected for the mobile cinema are vetted by the Ministries of Education and Culture in Gaza according to criteria agreed with the Save Youth Future Society.
El Far sees cinema as a means of entertainment, and a way to spread positive ideas, “as long as the screened films are purposeful and positive, and could be watched by all groups.” (See a related article, “‘Open Gaza’ Seeks to Reconnect Gaza Through Architecture and Imagination.”)
For her part, Ouf believes that with the Islamist movement’s taking control of Gaza, the population has become religiously conservative.
Mahmoud Al-Harbawi, coordinator of the “Cinema Bus” project for Save Youth Future, said: “Our Society avoids selecting films that clash with politics and religion,” and chooses only films that “serve the community and promote positive concepts.”
“Our Society avoids selecting films that clash with politics and religion,” and chooses only films that “serve the community and promote positive concepts.”Mahmoud Al-Harbawi
Coordinator of the Cinema Bus project
Al-Harbawi defended the right of the Ministries of Culture and Education to choose films. “The selection is made with great caution, through a committee assigned by the society to determine the list of films to be shown for the three target groups: children, teenagers, and youth,” he said in an interview with Al-Fanar Media via Zoom.
In the past year, Save Youth Future has screened films in eight refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of more than million, according to the latest official statistics.
Thanks to the encouraging response of the target groups and the Gazan community’s celebration of the project, Al-Harbawi said the organizers hoped to extend the project to all cities in Gaza, even if funding is cut off.
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However, El Far ruled out the idea of equipping an independent cinema hall in Gaza, due to “limited financial support, and people’s preference for a mobile cinema that reaches everyone in their areas.”
For her part, Ouf believes that the experiment will find support and welcome at the official and popular levels, as long as the content of the project’s films fits the “conservative nature approved by the authorities.”