A new year for Gaza? Waiting for a miracle

Originally published
View original
This entry was posted by Karl Schembri on January 1st, 2010 at 8:00 am and is filed under General, Humanitarian, News Blog,

One year since Israel's 22-day assault on Gaza, the coastal strip is still struggling to survive under a crippling blockade. Karl Schembri writes about the hardships the 1.5 million people of Gaza are still being forced to endure in this cruel and protracted man-made crisis.

A stone's throw away from the Israeli border in Shajaiya, a group of young men are rummaging among the steel and concrete that remains of the Sarayo Biscuits Factory.

Hasan Ahmed Al Awadi, who worked here as a watchman, now sits looking at the rubble. He is using part of the former offices to raise some poultry.

"I can't give you biscuits but I have some chickens," he tells me smiling.

A year ago, Israeli tanks and fighter planes reduced the factory to rubble, leaving 50 workers jobless and Hasan's colleague dead.

Further down the road, Al Wafa Hospital has just managed to get a consignment of cement and glass smuggled from the tunnels to be able to repair the extensive damage to the new state of the art four-storey building for physical rehabilitation and the elderly.

"We had a totally new building that was meant to be inaugurated in January 2009," says the head of rehabilitation, Dr Kamees Al Issi. "The Israelis 'inaugurated' it for us. Not one window pane was left intact."

Facing the hospital is the Gaza juice factory. The cold store was totally burnt down and most of the equipment destroyed. The factory now employs half of the 100 workers it had before the war, and they are manually capping and labelling bottles through new equipment they managed to get through the clandestine tunnels under the border with Egypt.

In Zeitoun, Sameh Sawafiri had a poultry farm of 30,000 chickens providing most of Gaza's supply of eggs. Israeli soldiers flattened them all in their cages with their tanks. Now he has managed to reopen with one-third of the chickens had a year ago and a lot of debts.

The owners of El Bader Flour Mill in Beit Lahiya were not so lucky. Israeli planes targeted the central nerve of the mill, leaving it totally out of action.

"Since the war we had to stop completely," says Hamdan Hamada who still pays 25 of the 85 workers in the hope they will be able to resume work soon. "We need iron, cement and equipment, but Israel is not allowing us to get anything. We are waiting for a political decision from Israel to get the material to reconstruct our flourmill. So far we only got promises."

A year since the war on Gaza, most of the coastal strip is still at a standstill, waiting for a political decision from Israel, and for pressure from the rest of the world, for the blockade to be lifted. Billions of dollars pledged for reconstruction remain out of reach, making significant reconstruction and recovery impossible.

Driving through the streets of Gaza, the rubble is still everywhere, with many of the bombed buildings still standing like skeletons, memorials to destruction. In some parts, the rubble has started being cleared in the last few weeks, but Israel's and Egypt's ban on construction material makes it impossible to rebuild the 3,535 homes that were totally destroyed last January.

Mohammed Zaid Hader's family from Izbet Abed Rabbo is one of around 1,000 still living in tents. It is their second winter facing the cold and the rain. Left totally impoverished since his four-storey house was destroyed, he has become one of the 80% of Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid.

Nawer Thabet from Juhor Ad Dik lost her mother and only sister when their house was shelled. One year on, she is still in trauma, recounting, in tears, how she is unable to go back to the house where her mother always welcomed her. (Read Nawer's blog)

"I remember this tragedy everyday, I can't get it out of my mind. I still can't go back to our house in Johr Al Deek, I can't face it," she says.

Everyone says they were used to attacks from the Israeli army, but this was something else altogether. The attacks were coming from everywhere, leaving nowhere to escape as people were forbidden to leave the Gaza Strip to seek refuge far from the conflict zone.

Children are perhaps paying the highest price. The war taught them that not even their homes were safe, and not even their parents could protect them. Ahmed Hdeir, father of six from Beit Lahiya, told his children the war was just a computer game.

"But when they hit our house I couldn't keep up that story," he says.

They still suffer from nightmares and he takes them to psychologists for counselling every week. During the Eid festival in late November, thousands of children were playing in the streets with toy guns. Gazan psychiatrists are concerned about both the widespread trauma and the potential radicalisation of those that may now choose the path of the martyr when everything is lost.

A whole generation of children has never been out of Gaza. Unlike their parents, most of whom used to work in Israel and have Jewish friends, the only Israelis they have seen were armed soldiers keen on destroying their houses and killing their relatives.

Now, the Egyptian government is reportedly erecting yet another wall in Rafah - an iron barrier meant to stop tunnel smuggling. Tunnels are the only lifeline left for Gazans, and in their resourcefulness they might also find a way around this latest obstacle.

Gazans are known for their resilience and creative ways of getting by against all odds, but they are paying a very high price. Even before the war, the blockade was collectively punishing an entire population, leaving scars that will take decades to heal. But the healing cannot begin until Gazans are given that chance, until the blockade comes to an end.