Mohammed told me of a family living in Jabaliya, on the outskirts of Beit Lahia. “They’re very poor,” he’d said. “Can you please just visit them.”
By this point I’ve seen such startling and repeated poverty, I’m not surprised by the basic and depressing conditions of their home.
The building is unglamorous grey blocks, no paint job, no frills. The windows were blown in the war on Gaza, plastic sheeting covers some of the window spaces.
Except the front entrance door, there are no doors on any of the rooms in the house. A curtain drops down for bathroom privacy.
The parents, Amir and Shadhiya, sleep in one bedroom, a square just large enough for their bed. The four children, ages 6 to 11, sleep on mattresses on the uncovered ground in another, very poorly lit, room.
The front room, traditionally in Palestinian culture a room filled with sofas and armchairs and tables and sub-tables for beverages, is bare except for the woven mats on the floor and a mattress brought out from the children’s room.
They do have access to electricity and running water, so in that respect they are more fortunate than most. And now that the chilly nights are almost finished, they’ll have only the unbearable heat of summer to contend with.
I’m told the water and electricity bills average 150-200 shekels per month (roughly $35-48). Shadhiya needs medicine for her psychological problems, I learn. She needs the equivalent of 30 packets of her medicine/month, each packet costing 20 shekels, adding another 600 shekels to their expenses.
“I used to work in Israel,” Amir says. “Sometimes I get work with the UN work program, but only rarely.” Mohammed tells me the line is too long, those waiting for work opportunities. In the end, I’m told, many only get to work a little, in order to give everyone a chance to work.
The couple receives the UN dry food aid every few months: rice, flour, oil, sugar… And Amir’s brother gives food now and then.
But they are poor, among a sea of impoverished, never due to lack of work ethic or ability, but due to the siege, the destruction of every means of self-sufficiency.