By on April 16, 2010

It’s a curious coincidence of history that the most anti-American parts of the globe are so dependent on old American cars. Havana is the classic example of this, and its still-rolling examples of classic American cars have become photographic icons, simultaneously representing both the failures of the communist government and the excesses of the preceding (but long-gone) American-backed regime. Another example of history written in the automotive landscape comes to us today from The BBC, which hosts a slideshow of cars from the Gaza Strip.

Mahfouz Caberetti is like any other classic car nut: he’s deeply proud of his still-running, classic Oldsmobile, and he gains intense satisfaction from wrestling with the wiring on his 1961 Mercedes. Unlike western car enthusiasts though, he must reckon with an Israeli blockade of Gaza, which prevents him from obtaining the spare parts he needs to keep his impressive collection of old iron running. And keeping these old cars running is more than just a hobby for Caberetti. Gazans young and old live under intense pressure and hopelessness, he says. Fixing old cars gives residents, especially teenagers, an escape from their 140 square-mile pressure cooker; it takes their minds off the constant stress of their situation. Though the travails of life in Gaza might be hard for American car nuts to fully understand, this escape into the simple pleasure of working on old machinery is a universal coping mechanism, crossing all lines of race, class and culture. And this rare point of common enthusiasm reveals our differences to be much smaller than we might otherwise imagine. In short, classic cars have succeeded in building cross-cultural bridges where 40 years of political negotiation have failed. That’s something every car nut should be extremely proud of. [Make sure to check out the slideshow, complete with commentary from Caberetti at The BBC’s website, Hat Tip: reader Ron Lason]

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17 Comments on “The Curbside Classics Of The Gaza Strip...”


  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    And this rare point of common enthusiasm reveals our differences to be much smaller than we might otherwise imagine.

    What a ridiculous and insulting statement. The people in Gaza don’t consider their religious beliefs small. Over the past forty years they have watched the world pass by and have chosen self governing that reflects their religious beliefs. They chose this route, died for it, and that’s not small.

    The problem is that this journalist is over-imagining and under-appreciating the very real world differences between us and Gaza.

    What’s next? This journalist will start reporting from crack dens, then tell us how we and addicts have a common need for medicines?

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I think you completely missed Paul’s point.

      No matter how different we are or what we believe and do in life, we are still able to appreciate the same things and equally enthusiastic about it.

    • 0 avatar

      And this rare point of common enthusiasm reveals our differences to be much smaller than we might otherwise imagine.
      What a ridiculous and insulting statement.
      I’m afraid you rather prove my point. Our differences are very real, but the majorities on both sides of the cultural/historical divide tend to see (or at least focus on) only these differences, as you have. In the context of nearly a decade of explicit “culture clash” between the US and the Muslim world (and decades of tension preceding it), I think it’s worth celebrating these kinds of admittedly minor points of common interest, especially when they cast the world of cars in a new light. They won’t overcome the political crisis between Gaza, Israel and the West, but I stand by my statement that they help put those differences into the context of our common humanity, which is the first step towards real progress. Of course, you are free to disagree…

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      I’d rather not go political on this hot topic, but… “Chosen this route”? you are aware that the Gaza strip is a refugee camp? That the people living there have been occupied for the last forty years? That there’s nowhere else to go?

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      I think you completely missed Paul’s point.

      First, it wasn’t Paul’s point I am challenging. It is this BBC reporter’s. Secondly, I get the point completely. Lastly, I utterly reject the point this BBC reporter is attempting to make, because I have enough wisdom to understand that whatever auto enthusiasms I share with residents of Gaza, I am not so dim-witted to believe that our differences are smaller than either of us imagined.

      This reporter’s need for a happy, peppy, world doesn’t rescind reality, and should require that he recognize that.

      So, it’s really not about politics. It is not about Gaza. It is about a journalist naively making naive statements based on a naive world view. That is what I am pointing out.

      you are aware that the Gaza strip is a refugee camp?
      By your definition, so is Israel. Gaza is a refugee camp of a refugee camp. Israel wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the need of a Jewish refuge.

    • 0 avatar

      Ingvar
      Ingvar
      April 16th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

      I’d rather not go political on this hot topic, but… “Chosen this route”? you are aware that the Gaza strip is a refugee camp? That the people living there have been occupied for the last forty years? That there’s nowhere else to go?

      Yes, chosen this route. Gazans voted for Hamas. They also have chosen to reject peace with the Jews. Oh, and fire missiles randomly into adjacent civilian areas of Israel.

      As for Gaza being occupied for the “last forty years”, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza five years ago. Gaza is under the rule of Hamas. When Israel withdrew, the first thing the peace loving Muslims of Gaza did was desecrate and destroy the synagogue that the Jews abandoned in the withdrawal.

      There’s not one Israeli soldier in Gaza and as far as any blockade is concerned, hundreds of trucks go into Gaza from Israel every day. The Egyptians routinely shut down the crossing into Gaza from their side.

      Perhaps Mr. Caberetti can ask Hamas if he can use some of the tunnels they use to smuggle in guns and missiles for a shipment of car parts.

      You raised the issue of refugees. In 1948, approximately 750,000 people were forced, under threat of violence, from the homes their families had known for generations. Refugees, displaced and homeless. You probably think I’m talking about Palestinians, but I’m talking about Sephardi Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries after their lives and livelihoods were threatened by their Arab hosts in the wake of Israel’s establishment.

      Though there were problems and discrimination, for the most part, Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Sephardim and they are well integrated into Israeli society. In contrast, the Arab world has used Palestinian “refugees” as a political tool, preferring the public relations value of squalor to actually helping people.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Havana is the classic example of this, and its still-rolling examples of classic American cars have become photographic icons, simultaneously representing both the failures of the communist government

    The next time in Cuba I’ll try to grab a few snaps and talk to some people. These cars really are very interesting, especially since they’re often running a modern powerplant (it’s not uncommon to see a Japanese or Korean four stuffed into a Bel Air). They’re usually in really (often frighteningly) good condition, too, despite the salt in the air and their daily usage. I have a buddy in Cienfuegos who has a 57 Chev and uses it as a taxi.

    That they’re further modified to run on sugar alcohol is another interesting “quirk” of Cuba’s status: they have a huge sugar market and yet they can’t sell squat internationally because of the American boot on their neck.

    A lot of Cuba’s problems can be landed squarely on the shoulders of Castro & Castro, but quite a bit has to do with how they’re a virtual pariah in the world economy. No corporation is going to risk the wrath of Helms-Burton (or the whim of politicians pandering to Florida) to invest in Cuba, despite the country having the healthiest, most educated and most stable and crime-free society in Central America.

    And yet no such sanctions are imposed on China. Or Iran. Heck, I think you’d have an easier time doing business in North Korea than Cuba.

    If you want a tale of the failures of communism in Cuba, though, it’s that hardly any of the Russian-made equipment that was imported into the country is still in use or running. You might see the occasional converted Soviet military truck, belching black smoke and leaking fluids, but very little of what the Russians made were deemed work keeping by the Cubans. This says a lot: a Lada is more likely to end up as rebar than be worth the average (and very industrious) Cuban’s time to keep working.

    Weird country.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with investing into a planned economy is that the great rulers can take away your investment on a whim, leaving you with NOTHING. See Venezuela, Cuba, etc.

      This is of course completely different than our unplanned economies where the great rulers can bail your ass out if you bumble into bankruptcy, leaving you with EVERYTHING and THEN SOME. See GM, Chrysler, etc. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      +1 psarhjinian I used to believe in the embargo against Cuba but realizing that it’s not hurting the ruling elite, just the common man. I applaud the ingenuity of the people of Cuba who have kept cars that were designed with “planned obsolescence” in mind running for decades upon decades. If we were to lift the embargo maybe they’d corner the market on all our old b-body GM products. Those would be a revolution to someone driving 50s American cars.

      Cuba should be thrown open to trade, it would likely do more to hurt the Communist cause than help it. And yes I have ulterior motives in saying this. I love cigars, I’ve never smoked a Cuban, and I’d like to be able to do it legally. I find it extremely hypocritical that JFK stockpiled Cuban cigars ahead of the embargo. That is akin to insider trading in my book.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      @educatordan

      I can probably bring back a few next time I’m down. Getting them to you might be tricky.

      You’re also able to get them yourself, albeit in a backhanded sort of way:
      * Get yourself to Canada. This is not hard to do, and you could even spend a little money while you’re here.
      * Fly from here to Cuba.
      * Inform Cuban Customs that you’re an American. Or don’t, actually. They don’t stamp people’s passports because they know the American government will hassle you if you have such a stamp.

      If you go, bring down some batteries, a few old radios, laptops, T-shirts. Stuff that’s not worth it to you. You’ll get asked by natives if you have any such things, and it’ll grease the wheels on your hunt. A few of these might get donated at customs, but that’s ok.

      Last time I was down there I pretty much wired up a small neighbourhood with the semi-functional laptops I bought down.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I like the good intentions of this topic, and I like the point that Ed is trying to make. But I fear this will be flame wars galore. There just isn’t a more flammable topic globally right now. But no matter what people believe in, we’ll have to make this world a better place, together. And yes, fixing cars is one way to do it…

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Not just cars, either. There’s the West-Eastern Divan Youth Orchestra as well:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West-Eastern_Divan_%28orchestra%29

    for an overview, or the group’s own website:

    http://www.west-eastern-divan.org/

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    A bit off topic, but someone in Gaza wanted a new car so badly, that they had a Hyundai Elantra smuggled in through a tunnel. The final price for the car was $27,000 USD.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Dang all I can say is, “Nice, Lark.”

  • avatar

    Unlike western car enthusiasts though, he must reckon with an Israeli blockade of Gaza, which prevents him from obtaining the spare parts he needs to keep his impressive collection of old iron running.

    It should be pointed out that Egyptians also control their border with Gaza pretty rigorously (well, when they aren’t taking bribes to ignore the hundreds of smuggling tunnels under that same border). The Egyptian authorities frequently close the border crossing at Rafah.

    However, if the Gazans can smuggle in rockets and missiles which Hamas and others use to bombard Israeli civilians, I’m sure getting a carburettor for a ’58 Oldsmobile shouldn’t be a problem.

    And keeping these old cars running is more than just a hobby for Caberetti. Gazans young and old live under intense pressure and hopelessness, he says. Fixing old cars gives residents, especially teenagers, an escape from their 140 square-mile pressure cooker; it takes their minds off the constant stress of their situation.

    You think Israelis don’t live under intense pressure and despair?

    In short, classic cars have succeeded in building cross-cultural bridges where 40 years of political negotiation have failed.

    Cross-cultural bridges? So Mahfouz Caberetti regularly invites Jewish car enthusiasts over to his garage to talk cars?

    This story is more about the BBC echoing the Palestinian narrative of being perpetual victims than about cars.

    Not just cars, either. There’s the West-Eastern Divan Youth Orchestra as well:

    Like Bridges For Peace and other similar groups, that orchestra was founded by a (leftist) Jew, Daniel Berenboim. When such groups start being founded by Arabs and Muslims I’ll think that the situation has changed.

    We’re supposed to feel sympathetic to a guy who has a hard time getting parts for his old car. For a long time Israelis couldn’t buy Nissans or Toyotas because those companies adhered to the Arab boycott of Israel. Malcolm Bricklin started doing business with Subaru (he was the first US distributor of that brand) because he wanted to import Japanese cars into Israel and discovered that the big Japanese car companies boycotted Israel.

  • avatar

    Ingvar +1
    It looks like this topic is too heated for the conversation to stay car-centered. No real surprise there.  In the interests of preventing a flame war, I’m going to close comments now. We have a good smattering of diverse viewpoints so far, and we’ve all learned the most important lesson of all: the bigger the problem, the less talking about it seems to help. Maybe we should just watch this and sing along instead.


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