Metro in Gaza
Whenever there is traffic congestion in Gaza, Mohamed Abusal thinks of a metro station sign. It would be perfect if an underground metro were built to transport people and baggage! Such a project would entail having power generators as well as high standards of cleanliness, order, punctuality, and passenger safety. These elements are vital despite the raids, the poverty, and the intensification of the blockade. Abusal’s musings are the product of a momentary, dreamlike, and visionary state brought on by his being in the very spot where he envisions a metro sign.
Abusal proposes a network of seven metro lines to connect the various areas of the Gaza Strip. Line 1, or the Green Line, stretches in a straight line, passing through numerous stations and extending along the entire Gaza Strip to connect Erez Checkpoint with Rafah Crossing. A line of this sort would need to be direct, central, and fast in order to enable the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip to arrive at the main crossings as early as possible. Travellers on Line 1 would be able to change at a central station in the heart of the Strip so that they could then use Line 2 or Line 3. These lines would be winding so that they could reach the areas on either side of the Strip. They would also pass through most of the cities and the main areas of Gaza, reaching the border cities and the other crossings, including Jabalia, Al-Shate’, Al-Breij, Al- Maghazi, Al-Nseirat, Deir Al Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah. These would be the stations in the proposed metro system, and they are also the refugee camps that witness a lot of comings and goings as the population there can reach up to 55,000 inhabitants per square kilometre.
Line 2 begins from the coast but terminates at the Philadelphia Route (which extends along the Egypt-Gaza border), at two stations called Al Anfaq A and Al Anfaq B. These are also known as the Commercial Anfaq (tunnels) and are used to smuggle people and goods alike in and out of Gaza. The two lines that run along the coast (Line 6, in blue, from the north, and Line 5, in pink, from the south) traverse the whole of the Strip from its narrowest point to the east of Al Maghazi by passing through the central station. In the event that the airport is rebuilt, then Line 7 (in black) would be responsible for transporting passengers to the airport.
Abusal made an illuminated metro sign in the form of a red electric pole, and at the top he affixed a large letter M. He wavered between using the Latin letter “M’ as a sign for the metro and using the Arabic letter م. In the end he decided to use the international symbol “M” with the words Metro Station written on an illuminated plate underneath it. He set off to fix this sign wherever he imagined the metro stations should be. He hesitated after having been warned by some advisers that he may come under suspicion from the Israeli surveillance teams who could mistake his Metro pole for a rocket that could be used to launch an attack on nearby settlements. He discovered that it is impossible to carry an iron pole and roam around freely, despite the fact that this is an art project.
In a move akin to a freedom fighter’s military operation, Abusal had planned to photograph his one metro sign in various locations: near a garden, a petrol station, a thoroughfare, a market, at the entrance to the city, at the site of a new development, near the beach, in front of a poster about freed prisoners, on Victor Hugo Street, in front of a primary school, near boats, in front of sweet shops and amusement parks, and at tunnel exits. These locations would become stations on the imaginary metro line. He documented these stations as well as the public’s reactions to them. There were two photography sessions: one during the daytime and another at night. After 13 hours of interesting, tiring, and surprise-filled fieldwork, the project came to an end. Despite his having authorisation from the Ministry of Information, Abusal was unable to photograph in all locations.
After gathering a mixture of reactions - positive, funny, naïve, and pessimistic - from the public, Abusal was able to document what it would mean to Gazans to have an underground metro. Abusal’s project is a daring, critical, and scathing commentary on what is deemed permissible in terms of technology and civilisation in Gaza today.
Text, originally in Arabic, is written Ala Younis.