Amar Battran, wife Nadah, and 2 of their 9 children.
I met Amar Battran (39) selling green, plastic I.D. card covers, the kind every Palestinian outside of occupied Jerusalem and Israel carries (where they carry blue I.D. covers). I had no need of one but listened as Amar spoke of his poverty.
I’d been at the bank, withdrawing donation money, and at the Western Union collecting other donated funds, all for cases I’d written about. Amar waited outside as I went between bank, w. union and the money changers (no shekels in the bank ATM). A woman, Alia, also loitered, hoping for some help.
I asked the teller in the western union office if he’d seen the man and women begging outside before. He told me ‘every day’. I asked if they were truly poor. He said ‘desperately’.
This level of grinding poverty is still relatively new enough in Gaza that Palestinians aren’t accustomed to begging. There was less need when families had work, when buildings weren’t so thoroughly-bombed and destroyed, when borders were open, when life was possible.
I avoid just throwing what money I have around, both to not give the idea that all visitors to Gaza can do this but moreso to preserve the dignity of those begging. So I asked the western union man if the two could come inside for a few minutes, to speak with them.
Amar’s speech was slurred, as if he’d had a stroke, and was thus hard to understand, although my Arabic was adequate for it. Fortunately, a few of the men on the street who’d been curiously watching came inside and offered to translate.
In 1987, Amar was going in to work in Tel Aviv (back when that was possible, before every means of earning a living was cut off to Gaza Palestinians) when he got caught in some sort of shooting. The details were sketchy, but it seems Israeli soldiers/police were shooting at a Palestinian car and Amar was caught in the middle. He was hit in the head, leg and hip and was in hospital for a few years for his injuries. He’s fortunate to have survived, but his speech is impaired by the shooting, as is his walking.
“I have 9 children,” he’d told me by the ATM. He repeated this, adding that most of them were in school, ages 3-12, and he had no work, no money.
One of the men translating for me, Salim, suggested going with them at that moment to Amar’s house. And while I was due in Ezbet Abed Rabbo at a friend’s house, to continue on to another case, time is so limited these days that I agreed the present time was the best. Alia, who was with us in the western union office, is also poorer than possible and with a large number of children. I gave a little, and promised to return to hear her story.
The neighbourhood is a new one to me, I hadn’t even heard its name until today: just slightly out of Gaza city proper, Amar and his family live in a run-down area on Sharka street.
He is truly poor. The house is barebones, no frills, and it seems he has been living like this for a long time. The walls are stained, windows gone (blown in the war on Gaza?), dresser cupboard missing doors, and all the supplies in the most basic form. A naked light bulb lights the dining room with its plastic table and chairs.
Leaving Amar’s house, I was called into a neighbouring hovel which could not be described as a ‘house’. Hamsa (22), a relative, lives in one bedroom, which also serves as his kitchen and dining room, with his pregnant wife (16) who is due to give birth in 2 months. He mentioned her pregnancy to me, asking how he was going to afford it, where he was going to even get food for tomorrow.
They have one room, in which is their bed (two thin mattresses), clothing, and the few plates and kitchen utensils (piled on the floor along one wall) and food items they have (no fridge, of course, and no gas range let alone gas).
Hamsa was heating water over a fire when I stepped into the small, dirt-floor and cement wall courtyard. They cook everything over the fire, when they have food and wood.
Leaning on one wall of the courtyard, behind some large bags which might have held grains, was a bicycle. Hamsa earns money by scavenging for plastic and metals, which can bring him 10-20 shekels ($2.40-4.80) per day, on average.
The people who’d driven me to the area were in a hurry, so I had to leave before I could learn more about his situation. But it was fairly clear: he is able-bodied and there is no work. He does what he can to get by, and so far has only just gotten by. When soon a baby comes into his family, it will be a different story.
As we left, we passed another relative sitting on the narrow cement stairs across from Amar’s house. He, too, is extremely poor they told me.
The poverty Gaza has sunk into is overwhelming. In Gaza city coffee shops it is less noticeable, but 80% of the population is living under the poverty line now, and Israel’s internationally-backed siege on life continues in Gaza.
* beside Hamsa’s bedroom, this space is the closest to a second room the couple has.