*essential rehabilitation equipment, broken for nearly 2 years, needing servicing outside of Gaza
A Diary: May 2-9, 2009 1st published By Eva Bartlett
In the Rafah region where homeless Palestinians have tired of the siege, and of waiting for cement to ever enter Gaza, I meet Jihad, the man who is introducing mud-house-building into Gaza. He says:
We have waited over two years for cement, but because of the siege there is none available. What could we do, wait forever?
His home is simple and practical. He makes use of something that even Israel can not ban from Gaza, like clay and straw. That said, the house does have expenses due to the metal, which is also scarce in Gaza. The straw is mixed with mud, but the straw is increasingly used as animal fodder, since proper animal feed is on the list of banned items.
* wheat husks, used like straw in mud-brick building
I visit the Deir el Balah disability centre, which serves deaf and physically disabled Palestinians. In addition to their rehabilitation, training programs and radio station, they have a small bakery, which produces delectable chocolate, cheese, and zatar (thyme) pastries. The treats are sent out daily to kindergartens and nurseries in the region, an effort to combat the soaring rate of malnutrition among Gaza’s children.
Yet the siege exists within. Although the rehabilitation rooms have state-of-the-art equipment, a number of pieces lie dormant – unused for the past 2 years. They need servicing abroad or in Bethlehem, from where they were originally sent, but this is out of the question.
It has been a few weeks since I have seen Mohammed Kahawish, and his family in Gaza city, so I take a taxi up to Sahaa and walk from there. The Sahaa market is busy; full of people trying to eke out a living from the produce and perfume stands, to the men selling telephone credit.
Here, people face unemployment with revulsion: no one wants handouts, no one wants to beg. Elderly men walk the streets at traffic lights selling tissues, chewing gum, and candy bars.
I continue through the beginnings of the streets of Tuffah district, until I come to the alley leading to the Kahawish home.
A quick glance at their roof assures the presence of the nylon that a worker put up months ago to cover the holes in the asbestos tiling. Their house was not destroyed in Israel’s war on Gaza, but its weight-bearing walls were deeply cracked, and the asbestos roof fell in.
Like so many Gazans, Mohammed is waiting for permission to leave, so he can have surgery on the cataracts on his eyes. It is not life-threatening, but it does make daily life a greater struggle for him. I explained why none of the money a donor outside has offered to send to Mohammed’s family has yet arrived:
Bank transfers aren’t possible because of the siege.
In central Gaza’s Bureij camp, I meet a family – exemplary of families all over Gaza: just getting by on the most basic of foods –rice, lentils, bread …all UN handouts. They tell me they have not been able to buy tomatoes and other vegetables, let alone meat or fish, for days. Their house is riddled with cracks, holes in the roof, broken windows, and has no decorations, no frills. They live hand to mouth, day to day.
I go to Johr Dik, along Gaza’s eastern border, part of the area Israel has dubbed a ‘buffer zone’, which since the war on Gaza has extended to at least 1 kilometer. Gunshots prevent Gazans from utilizing this most fertile of agricultural regions. The imposition of a no-go zone, particularly after the destruction of Gaza’s agricultural sector, means more and more Gazans are dependent on food aid that is not allowed to enter, or on buying produce from Israel, when it finally enters.
I see patches of land which were burned 2 days ago, set fire to by the Israeli soldiers who fired bombs into the parched fields, just before they were to be harvested. One farmer tells me he lost 30 dunums of wheat, olives and pomegranate trees. The next family reports that 65 dunums of wheat were destroyed by the fires. They tell me it took just a few minutes for the fires to eat through their crops. They ask how they are going to feed their families.
I go to visit Rafiq, where there is a fisherman who was shot twice in the back at close range on February 14, 2009 when Israeli naval soldiers attacked his small rowboat-sized fishing boat. The exploding ‘dumdum’ bullets broke into numerous pieces around his spine and lungs, causing serious damage. They remain in his back to this day. The impact of the shots caused him to fall out of his boat, sinking 7 meters into frigid waters.
His family, including his pregnant wife, depended on his income. Now out of work and convalescing, he has no relief from the biting poverty affecting over 80% of Palestinians in Gaza. The fishing industry in particular is near-finished, because of constant daily Israeli shooting attacks, shelling, arresting of fishermen and confiscation of fishing boats and equipment. Israeli authorities have also unilaterally decided that Palestinians do not have the right to fish beyond a few miles offshore; drastically downsized from Israel’s Oslo agreement to 20 miles.
Rafiq was only 2 miles off the coast when the Israeli navy attacked him. His family lives on dry food aid, and whatever handouts they get from neighbors.
We accompany farmers from the Laytamaat region east of Khan Younis, starting early in the morning. They are keen to harvest their wheat, but whenever they go out alone, and the Israeli soldiers begin shooting, the farmers leave the fields, afraid. This is understandable because since the end of Israel’s war on Gaza alone, at least 12 farmers and civilians in the ‘buffer zone’ have been seriously injured or killed.
The farmers, mostly women and children, work very quickly, ripping the rough wheat out with bare hands. Two Israeli military jeeps and a hummer park a few hundred meters opposite to us, watching us, then shooting both in the air and near enough to us that we hear the bullets whiz past. We stay, hands in the air, and the farmers continue to work.
It is not really a victory: farmers and civilians should always be able to access their lands, but Israel has driven them off, running. Some of today’s laborers get this work only once a month, at 20 shekels ($5) a day. Without Israel’s military presence, farmers and farm-workers could work daily, earning a living and growing the food that is so expensive or absent in markets.
*one of the children helping to harvest wheat, subject to Israeli soldiers’ fire.
Each time I visit Zarka Street I learn of another family in dire need, reinforcing the knowledge that crippling poverty prevails in Gaza.
Today I meet a woman who lives alone in one small room, without an income, without a husband. She gets UN dry food every 3 months, but otherwise relies on the goodness of people around her for food. They, however, are nearly as impoverished.
*street near the sea where 10 were killed during Israel’s war on Gaza.
There is farming again in Laytamaat. There are 5 military jeeps, and some shooting. No one is injured today, wheat is harvested, but poverty outlasts the temporary success.
After farming, I return to Deir al Balah, this time on a visit to friends.
I learn that my friend’s brother died last year: he had cancer. He was not able to leave for treatment.
At the sea nearby, the stories continue.
“Do you know how this coffee shop was built? We used to work in construction, but because there is no cement, we have stopped. We opened this coffee shop for some source of income,” Ahmed’s uncle explains, gesturing to the walls made from no-longer-used scaffolding. “We had no use for it without cement,” he explained, saying they had to change their work.
The siege continues.
*Abu Tariq, standing where his house used to be until it was bulldozed by the Israeli army in 2004.
*scorched palm tree, burned during one of Israel’s arson attacks on Palestinian farmland adjacent to the border.