A man and his baby on a beach in Gaza City on September 7, 2014 (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

At the beach in Gaza

This is part of a year-end photo series spotlighting images of beauty or hope, taken in times of war, crisis and upheaval.

GAZA CITY, December 29, 2014 – I have just spent the summer photographing the last war in Gaza. Fifty days of shots of children crushed in the rubble. Parents weeping beside lifeless little bodies. Death. Destruction. Funerals of men, women, children, sometimes very young children.

And suddenly, on the same beach where an Israeli missile killed four children playing football, to the horror of the international media, I see an image of pure joy: a happy father throwing his laughing baby up into the air.

A child playing on the beach in Gaza City on September 7, 2014A child playing on the beach in Gaza City on September 7, 2014 (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

Ten days after the end of a war that killed 2,200 Palestinians, I understand that it is over, that I am looking at peace, at calm once again. The war that devastated Gaza in July and August – the third in six years – is far away.

Faced with such an image of happiness, I don’t approach the father and son. I don’t want to ask them any questions, to know their story, to remind them of the war we have just escaped from. I just savour the moment, and I am happy to see their happiness.

The sun is out, the father has stripped off his shirt. He is in a vest. His son is wearing bright summer clothes. The sea is blue. I have a beautiful picture. A beautiful picture and a beautiful story.

A Palestinian man plays with his baby on a Gaza beach on September 7, 2014A Palestinian man plays with his baby on a Gaza beach on September 7, 2014 (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

The beach is packed. All around us, families are set up on the sand – which lay deserted for 50 days as Israeli jets bombed Gaza relentlessly. Who would walk along the beach, who would swim, during a war?

In times of peace, the Mediterranean is the only open horizon we have in Gaza. To the north we are blocked by the crossing into Israel. To the south the border with Egypt is nearly always closed.

For these families, there is the beach. Gaza’s fishermen must not venture too far, or risk being shot at by the Israeli navy which has the territory under a maritime blockade. But swimmers can venture out to sea, and today the water is full of people, enjoying themselves for a little while longer, until the sun goes down.

Among them, this father and son, who found a taste of happiness at the beach. Of freedom. Until the next war.

Mahmud Hams is an AFP photographer in the Gaza Strip.

Families on the beach in Gaza City on September 7, 2014Families on the beach in Gaza City on September 7, 2014 (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)
Mahmud Hams