Gazans take respite from war’s destruction at dinosaur park

Friday 24/07/2015
Gazan children playing at Dino Park.

Gaza City - Gaza Strip residents are taking a step back — way back — in time to find a respite from the con­stant reminders of the dangers of life under occupation.
They are visiting Dinosaur City on Gaza’s Mediterranean shore. Since its mid-June opening, the “Dino Park” in the gigantic Sharm Amusement Park on Gaza’s south­ern shore has drawn thousands of visitors.
Less than a year after a war, which Israeli said was in retalia­tion for the firing of rockets from Gaza at its cities, the park offers a chance to briefly leave behind the fighting that left more than 2,200 people dead and rendered 20,000 homes uninhabitable. The fighting left thousands of children in Gaza suffering post traumatic stress dis­orders, which have symptoms such as depression, anxiety, lack of sleep and fits of rage.
It is rare for Gaza’s children to be exposed first-hand to models of huge creatures they have only seen on television.
“I’m so happy to be here because it is the first time in my life I visit a place like this,” said 11-year-old Lina Mattar.
“I want to thank Sharm Park be­cause it gave the children of Gaza this beautiful gift,” she said, beam­ing a smile as she, her parents and three siblings watched a screeching dinosaur.
“We need places like this not only in Gaza but in all of Palestine.”
Visitors enter through an effigy depicting the head of a dinosaur with its mouth wide open. The short tunnel portraying a dino­saur’s throat leads to a lush jungle garden. There, 15 different Chi­nese-made model dinosaurs make loud sounds, violently shake their heads and tails and open their big mouths, bringing sounds of joy, laughter and clapping from specta­tors.
Lina’s father, 36-year-old Deyaa, said 2014’s Israeli war “badly dam­aged the psychology of our children and traumatised them. This is a good getaway place.”
“These parks help change our children’s moods,” he added, point­ing out that not many Gazan can af­ford to take their children to such parks. Entry to the “Dino Park” costs about 80 cents per child; tick­ets for adults are $1.80.
Mohammed Assar, Sharm Park’s director of public information, said there were similar dinosaur parks in China, the United Arab Emirates and Britain.
“The park takes the children from the world of books to the world of virtual reality, where they can watch the dinosaurs move and hear the sounds they make,” Assar said.
He said the park came to exist­ence to “give visitors a real image on how dinosaurs lived”.
More than 700 species of dino­saurs have been identified. How­ever, palaeontologists predict there are many species still to be discov­ered. Dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago.
At Dino Park, the 15 different di­nosaurs on display are huge and each produces a different comput­er-generated sound, which Assar said “is not hazardous” for visitors.
Assar said the park was the brain­child of four Gazan engineers, who carried out the $100,000 project with financing from local investors. Building materials were imported from China through Israel.
“The difficulty we faced is the wait time for the material to come,” he said. “We were not sure that Israel would let us bring the dino­saurs and the other raw materials, such as melting bars, wood, metal fences and rocks.”
Much of the material is prohib­ited under an Israeli blockade im­posed on Gaza’s Hamas rulers fol­lowing their violent takeover of the strip from the moderate Palestine National Authority in 2007. The Israelis ban materials it says might be used to dig smuggling tunnels or mount attacks on Israel.
In addition to being an amuse­ment area, the park should also be seen as a “cultural and educational facility that helps schoolchildren understand and learn more about these ancient species”, Assar said.
Near each dinosaur on display, there is a sign explaining the type and name of the dinosaur, where it lived and where it originally came from.
One of the models, of a dinosaur called the Ptiranodon, is the one that “welcomes” visitors to Dino Park. This species of dinosaur lived about 89 million years ago. It fea­tures what looks like a hammer on the back of its head and its wings are about 9 metres long.
Assar said having such an attrac­tion in Gaza “gives children some­thing to be proud of: their own di­nosaur park”.