Gaza's donkeys under threat from tuk-tuks

By Jon Donnison
BBC News, Gaza City

media captionDonkeys have been an essential method of transportation in Gaza for decades

Dawn at the frenetic livestock market in the small town of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip is not a place for the faint-hearted or sensitive of nose.

With the sun rising through the dust and detritus, farmers go toe to hoof jostling for space with sheep and goats.

Traders tout and tussle to get the best prices. To add to the chaotic atmosphere, a huge bull bucks violently through the crowd having slipped its leash.

And it is also here that you find, in considerable number, Gaza's most iconic beast - the donkey.

Through decades of conflict, poverty and instability in Gaza, the donkey has proved to be an ever-dependable means of getting about.

When there were fuel shortages the donkey was there. When the importing of new cars was banned because of Israel's blockade the donkey was there.

But the Gazan donkey is facing troubled times.

"Prices have dropped from as much as $1,000 (£626) a donkey to less than $300," cries Fati Bedwan, a seasoned-looking market trader with a pirate beard and a weathered complexion.

The traders and farmers are blaming one thing.

image captionTuk-tuks are arriving in Gaza through smuggling tunnels from Egypt

"It's the damn tuk-tuk," says Bedwan. "It is killing our business."

The tuk-tuk is the new kid on the block in Gaza. It is basically a motorbike with a cart attached.

Thousands of Chinese-made tuk-tuks have been smuggled into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. Across the strip, they are now everywhere to be seen.

"I'm selling between 10 and 15 tuk-tuks a month," says Samer Fajem, one of dozens of tuk-tuk dealers who have set up in the past year.

Standing in front of the dealership he runs in southern Gaza, he admires a line of chrome-trimmed tuk-tuks glistening in the sun. Fajem says for a just $1,500 you get a product that far out-performs a donkey.


"They are clean, reliable, you don't have to feed them and above all they are much quicker," he says.

This can clearly be seen on Gaza's roads with tuk-tuks laden with all manner of goods flying past lumbering donkeys.

image captionAtala Aziz Darbour says he will trade his donkey in for a tuk-tuk

In the Jabalya refugee camp close to Gaza City, I come across Atala Aziz Darbour and his steed.

On most days Darbour and his donkey travel about 20km (12 miles) selling and delivering cleaning products. He makes a few dollars a day.

"Myself and my family are totally dependent on the donkey to make a living," he says.

But despite the beast having seen him through war and all manner of hardship, he says he will trade her in for a tuk-tuk if he can save enough money.

The secret of the donkey's success in Gaza has been its dependability under difficult circumstances. It is the tortoise to the tuk-tuk's hare.

The question is, years from now, will the tuk-tuk prove to have had the same staying power?