Hey, the kids do look happy.

July 3, 2010

In News

Driving along a dusty, potholed track in southern Gaza on the way to meet one of the territory’s most prolific lovers, we were lost. We stopped to ask directions.

“Do you know Abu Talal’s house?” I shouted out of the car window to a young boy by the side of the road.

“Yes, he’s my grandfather,” the child beamed.

Quite a coincidence you might think – until you hear that 82-year-old Abu Talal al-Najar says he has more than 430 grandchildren.

He also has some 30 children and has racked up some 11 wives over the years. Currently he only has four.

A legend

The law in Gaza, as well as Shariah religious law outlined in the Koran, says the maximum number of wives a man can have at any one time is four.

But actually it is very uncommon for Gazan men to have more than one wife.

Arriving at his house, a half-finished looking structure near the town of Khan Younis, we found Abu Talal kneeling in the corner of the yard, facing east and praying.

He bent down, placing his forehead on the ground, his arms outstretched in the familiar ritual – still flexible even at 82.

After several minutes he rose to greet us, a sturdy, bull-like figure with a wide grin and a firm handshake.

Abu Talal is something of a legend in southern Gaza. With his many children (another 11 died over the years) he has spawned one of the strip’s largest families.
‘A hobby’

“I was an only child myself,” he tells me. “So I wanted to have a big family – plus it has just become something of a hobby,” he laughs.
A beach in Gaza City – 18 June 2010 The population of the crowded Gaza Strip is rising rapidly

The octogenarian’s youngest child is only two years old.

With the help of some of his grandchildren he is just about able to remember the names of his surviving children, 17 girls and 13 boys.

“Every time a child is born in this family we sacrifice a goat in celebration,” says Abu Talal.

Bad news if you happen to be a goat in southern Gaza, I suggest.

The population of Gaza is rising by about 5% every year. Some 1.5m people live squeezed onto a strip of land 40km (25 miles) long and 6 to 12km wide.

Many people live in poverty, with unemployment at around 40%, according to the UN.

Does Abu Talal not worry about bringing children into such a world?

“No, because if I lose 200 of my grandchildren, I will still have 200 left.”
Palestinian infighting

At least five of his family were killed in last year’s major conflict with Israel, in which the UN estimates about 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

Abu Talal also lost 10 family members during the fighting between Fatah and Hamas in 2007.

The Islamist movement, Hamas, took control of the Gaza Strip after forcing their secular rivals Fatah from the territory. Hamas had earlier won parliamentary elections in 2006.

Abu Talal was born in Gaza in 1928 during the British Mandate of Palestine.

“The British were bad. The Israelis were worse, but the biggest danger for my children now is the continuing disagreement between Fatah and Hamas – Palestinians fighting amongst themselves,” Abu Talal says.

He has had eleven wives during his lifetime.

Some of them have died, and some of the marriages have ended in divorce.

The youngest of his current four wives is about 50 years younger than him.

As to when the father of 30 might call it a day, he chuckles. “I still think I could manage another 10 or 15 kids.”