The vintage beige Mercedes would have attracted attention anywhere in the world, but on the streets of Gaza, an impoverished strip of land wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, it caused a particular sensation.
A group of children run behind the 1929 Mercedes-Benz Gazelle that Mounir al-Chandi, behind the wheel, has restored himself and try to touch its body.
“Everyone is surprised and people ask to take photos,” this classic car enthusiast told AFP.
“The repair could have been quicker, the quality and shape of the car even better if I had had the means,” adds the 42-year-old.
Israel has imposed a strict blockade on the Palestinian enclave since the Islamist movement Hamas took power in 2007. It prohibits the entry of many goods that it considers could be diverted for war purposes, including spare parts for cars. .
When he was able to find them, Mounir al-Chandi used mechanical parts available locally but he was also able to count on friends outside Gaza to obtain spare parts arriving via the Rafah crossing from Egypt.
“I had friends in the United Arab Emirates bring in spare parts for the car, which they themselves had brought from the United States, but it took eight months,” he recalls.
He started restoring the Gazelle in 2015, in his workshop east of Gaza City, and it took him a year.
The Gazelle, with its red leather and wooden interior, is not the only car owned by Mr Chandi, who also owns a 1946 Armstrong.
Passionate about vintage cars since childhood, he started working in a garage at the age of 15.
In 2003, he left Gaza for the United Arab Emirates, where he worked in a company specializing in vintage cars and collector cars, where he acquired great experience in the field.
In 2009, he returned to Gaza and opened a workshop where he invested his own funds to satisfy his passion: restoring old cars.
For two years, he has had a new project: restoring a British Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane, a luxury car produced between 1946 and 1953.
"The car has its original engine. I tried to return it to its original form by using some parts from other cars and modifying them," he explains.
Hanging in his workshop are the chassis of a 1960 German Audi and a 1951 American Ford, as well as a 1975 Swedish Saab.
The three cars are unusable but he is determined to restore them.
"It's a hobby. The cars are not for sale even though many people have contacted me from abroad and asked me to buy them, but getting them out of the (Gaza) Strip is impossible because of the blockade," says Mr. Chandi.
Several years ago, he applied for a permit to work in Israel, but was refused.
With a bigger salary, he could renovate more cars, he believes.
He now dreams of participating in an “international exhibition” of vintage cars.
08/09/2023 17:15:52 - Gaza (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP