"What are we going to cook today?" 15 year old Sabreen Shakfah asks her mother. Wide-eyed and unblinking, her mother's reply is not unusual, echoing the voices of parents around Gaza: "There is nothing to cook today; we have run out of food." Moments later, Sabreen's father comes inside from his position seated on the doorstep but doesn't respond to his daughter's words. Suffering from psychological illness and no longer able to work, Mr. Shakfah nonetheless of course still cares for his family and wants them to live in dignity.
The nine-member family is no longer able to function, neither able to buy food nor meet the many other daily living expenses.
The Shakfah family of Rafah refugee camp lost their house during one of the Israeli military operations in the camp in March 2003 and are but one family among a third of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who are food insecure, according to a report by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
A March 2007 Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment study published by WFP and FAO found that about 34% of Palestinians cannot afford a balanced meal and another 12% are at risk of reaching this extremely impoverished state. The number suffering from food insecurity has dramatically risen to 51% of the population in the Gaza Strip, the area most affected.
WFP country director for the occupied Palestinian territories, Arnold Vercken, reported that: "The poorest families are now living a meager existence totally reliant on assistance, with no electricity or heating and eating food prepared with water from bad sources."
These days, in order to endure the crippling imposed sanctions which have led to the current appallingly dire state of affairs, Palestinians have resorted to several ways of coping: reducing food portions; eating just one meal a day - very common among many Palestinians; buying food of a lesser quality; and cutting back on nourishing vegetables, fruit, meat and fish. Other means of surviving such alarming circumstances include taking loans from family, friends and local shops and selling assets like land, jewellery and other personal belongings.
In Jabalya refugee camp, 15 year old Rana Q. collects wood, plastic and other things to light a fire. When I ask her family why she is lighting this fire, watching as she throws a pair of old shoes in to feed the fire, Rana's mother answers: "We do this to heat the water, so we can have showers from time to time. "The answer troubles me, and I see the girl approach with a water container, putting it on piece of iron to heat the water for her to bathe.
Anwar, 32, a fireman who has been working for seven years is now no longer able to function, as is the case of so very many Palestinians. "I take loans from the shops in the neighborhood, but do not receive my salary on a regular basis" he said. "Now, I do all I can by myself. I no longer buy candy for my kids, though I used to in the past. My youngest son has been asking me to buy some strawberries he had seen, but it's never easy to convince him that there is no money to buy those treats, let alone buy all that we need," he added.
It is widely believed that the children in Palestine are being forced to suffer solely as a result of their parents' choice in voting for the Hamas lead government. Thus it is that the politics of nations coupled with Israel's restrictions on movement and livelihood, set the course, ignoring the empty stomachs of Gaza's children and citizens. Willing and able men and women work and wait for the day that the sanctions are lifted, their salaries paid, and their fishing waters opened, allowing their children to be nourished.
Mohammed Omer Al Moghayer
Projects Officer NPA