The first impression a foreigner gets upon entry into Gaza via the Erez crossing to the north is the smell of a desolate landscape.
Following that is the stark contrast between the lush greenery and ever-constant agribusiness on the Israeli side and the bombed-out patch of land that greets you upon entry into North Gaza.
You enter via a concrete barrier tunnel that intermittently shields you from the sun with patchy tarpaulin.
You come out into what seems like the smash and burn ruins of war.
Greeted by taxi drivers who run their cars either on diesel (petrol is an unattainable commodity here) or on potentially explosive calor gas canisters, you cruise into Gaza City past long-closed shops, houses teetering on their foundations, and mountains of rubbish.
You’ll find the odd family trawling though the rubbish for something useful or edible and the odd scrap metal merchant gathering rusty springs or corrugated iron in the hopes he can sell them on when/if the borders open.
Around 4,000 factories have been forced to close due to the lack of raw materials.
“Welcome to our open air prison!” Ramzi greets me with a smile tinged with that ‘Palestinian resilience’ often spoken about and far too often seen.
“This man here makes the best foustouk and simsimiya in all of Gaza!”
Foustouk is a sticky peanut snack joined together with generous amounts of syrupy sugar. Simsimiya is its sesame-based cousin.
Staple food items such as flour, sugar and rice are allowed into Gaza – but only enough to ensure that Gazans don’t completely starve.
Ramzi works for Save the Children. With nearly half the population of Gaza under the age of 15, he’s a busy man.
I get the usual VIP treatment – tours of sewage lakes where three boys drowned, a zip past the raw sewage pipe flowing into the sea, a show and tell of where four boys in Jabaliya were killed by an Israeli airstrike while they were playing football.
The father of one of the boys killed in Jabaliya has become a local media celebrity. Every news camera pounded their way to his door in the days after the death of his son.
I declined to see the T-shirt he keeps with him to remind him of his boy. That’s war porn.
I caught the woman making my coffee scraping the bottom of a tin. She’ll find some more when the next foreigner comes in bearing chocolates and the like.
She shows me a picture of her grandson…he’s wearing a shahada bandanna and posing with a toy gun looking no different to any other boy photographed wearing his best cowboy outfit.
In a place where a hunt for constructive and educational toys led only to the odd colouring book and red marker pen, its hardly surprising.
Gaza’s a marketing disaster – the adverts on show are old, faded by the sun or blasted by dirt and airstrikes.
The images kids have to look at are either contained in a black plastic box filled with moving pictures or the paste-ups of martyrs in the street.
And the Islamic graffiti. I pull out a tester can of spraypaint and daub “Banksy is dead” on the side of a building.
This article was originally published on Sky News Online on 17 March 2008. All rights reserved.