Report On The Wine And Spirits Trade In The Gaza Strip (2000)
Yesterday I went to a beer dealer, part of the Gaza underworld. He operates out of an ordinary-looking house, but inside there is beer! We hung around outside for a bit, looking shifty. A fat man with a moustache appeared, very miserable-looking.
"I'll do the talking," I whispered to my friend.
"Supposing that a hypothetical chap was wanting, ahem, something to drink. Where would a chap like that go, in this town?"
He understood immediately. "Want beer?" he asked. We said that we did, and he led us into his kitchen and opened a fridge which contained a preposterous amount of beer, only two brands, smuggled from Israel. It cost seven shekels per can, which isn't much, but is a lot when you consider that a ride in a taxi is only one shekel. I purchased the beer and left. I drank it in secret, in my home.
Drinking in secret, at home. That's how Dad's problem started. I'll have to watch that.
I am surprised he gets away with it. Drink is far from socially accepted, and Gaza is the biggest stronghold of Hamas. We had a class the other day in which the word "pub" cropped up in some context or other. What were these "pubs", they wanted to know. So I did my best to explain how pubs work. They doubted it would catch on in Gaza. "If anyone opens a "pub" here, I will kill him," said one man, shaking with rage. It wasn't clear to me what he meant by he would "kill" him; whether this meant, "give him a piece of my mind," or "butcher him like a goat." I am thinking of going one step further and opening a massage parlour, selling whisky, pork chops and copies of the Satanic Verses. I'll make a fortune if they don't chop my head off for me.
They wanted to know if I had ever drunk beer myself. I admitted that yes, on a couple of occasions, I had experimented. But why, they asked. Why do people drink beer? I thought about this for a moment. "It makes you feel... optimistic," I said," although in the long run it makes you fat and stupid." I think I summed up the pros and cons quite well.
There are apparently three or four of these beer dens in Gaza. The people who run them are Palestinian Christians. Next time we visit the lager man we're going to turn our noses up at anything he has to offer, and haughtily demand gay drinks like Pimms and Creme de Menthe. He is such a miserable old anus that it will fun to wind him up.
After dinner, washed down with illicit beer, we went out, to a live show. It consisted of six gloomy-looking men, who sat on chairs, hitting tambourines and blowing into recorders. And that was it; that was the entertainment. There had obviously been a disagreement about what to wear. Two wore waistcoats, another was dressed like a Muslim cleric, one was in surf gear, and another had a big white shirt, like Lord Byron. I am sorry, I would like to support events in Gaza, but six loonies with percussion instruments simply isn't entertainment, except in a special hospital.
After a while the loonies went away, and another man came on, bearded like a Hezbollah commander. I thought he was going to start shouting about how the Jews took his land, but instead he took out a flute and gave us a solo of Indian snake charmer music, which went on longer than I would have believed possible, producing some of the most intense boredom I have ever experienced.
At least it can't get any worse, I thought; but here I miscalculated. A wheezing old man appeared, lugging a cello. He bowed, then staggered as though he might keel over. We clapped, politely, and he suddenly came to life, plucking frenziedly at the strings. It soon became obvious that he was still a long way from having mastered this instrument; but he moved his shoulders back and forwards, in an ill-advised attempt to be cool, as though he was a slave to the rhythm (such as it was.) This produced the same kind of sensations one would get from seeing Tony Blair stand up in the House of Commons to sing Little Orphan Annie's, "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile." A burning feeling of shame.
(This beer house got attacked by an enraged mob when the second intifada started.)
- posted by Harry Hutton @ 4:38 pm