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Gazans stage first-ever display of classic cars

By Karoun Demirjian

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In this besieged land where every bumpy road quickly reaches a dead end of fences and walls, vintage car collecting is not exactly a typical hobby.

But in a first-ever show here, Gaza’s small cadre of antique auto aficionados unveiled their classic roadsters this week and brought back memories of a time when Gazans weren’t hemmed in by impenetrable borders.

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Most of the 30 cars on display in a Gaza City parking lot date from the late 30s to the late 70s, and were purchased in Egypt — a previous ruler of Gaza — or in Israel, which captured the strip from Egypt in the 1967 Mideast War. They’ve weathered the elements since — along with two Palestinian uprisings and a recent war with Israel.

Import routes have been closed since 2007, when Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza following the Islamic militant group Hamas’ takeover of the tiny Mediterranean coastal territory. With nearly everything banned except essential humanitarian supplies, spare parts couldn’t come in either.

Gaza’s collectors brought in what they could through illegal tunnels connecting the strip to Egypt, but were also forced to do a lot of mixing and matching, said Mahfouz Kabariti, the show’s organizer.

Kabariti brought eight vehicles to the show, including the oldest car on display — a 1938 Standard Eight he rescued from the scrap heap. Fadel Dabba, 30, displayed a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle his father purchased secondhand in Israel in the 70s and which is still driven by his brother.

When Dabba couldn’t import classic Beetle wheel wells, he improvised with fiberglass, discarding the classic bulbous shape for an easier-to-manufacture boxy one that makes the car resemble a miniature Humvee.

Displayed in a lineup of near-pristine-looking 70s Beetles, Dabba’s car wasn’t that out of place. Other owners, desperate to keep their Beetles on the road, had replaced the insides of their German cars with Japanese engines from newer vehicles more widely present in Gaza.

Mechanic Ismail Khaldy explained how he and Kabariti used local materials to fashion an engine grate and seats for his 1938 Standard Eight. “We went on the Internet and looked at pictures of the original and made it look the same,” Khaldy said.

Khaldy, who once specialized in vintage auto restoration in Tel Aviv in the days before Hamas came to power, says he has only worked on a handful of vintage cars in Gaza.

The event is more about generating enthusiasm for Gaza’s motorized legacy than following strict standards of auto appreciation, Kabariti says.

To help that, he rounded out the collection of cars with military vehicles, motorcycles, and the personal helicopter of the late, iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — a bit of Palestinian pride on loan from the government.

“This is our heritage,” said Kabariti. “These cars are a nice reminder of our history before the Israeli occupation.”

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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