Palestinians inspect the remains of the destroyed Dalloul dairy plant in southern Gaza City. (Rami Almeghari)
It was not a chemical plant, nor a nuclear facility, nor a manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction. But almost all the rubble of the entirely destroyed factory was covered in white, with white chunks everywhere. These were pieces of cheese, butter and yoghurt — some of the products made by the Dalloul dairy factory in southern Gaza City.
Israeli warplanes bombed the factory shortly after midnight last Thursday through Friday night, 1-2 April, leaving the building, all its equipment and the distribution van completely destroyed.
“At 12:30am we heard a very loud explosion nearby,” said owner Mutassim Dalloul as he inspected the wreckage on Friday morning. “I got downstairs to find my factory completely destroyed. Everything inside, including the machines, the power generator and all our products, [was destroyed].”
This was not the first Israeli attack on the factory.
“During the January 2009 war on Gaza, Israeli warplanes hit my factory, inflicting an estimated loss of half a million dollars. However, my brothers and I decided to rebuild it, so we now have a newly-destroyed dairy,” Dalloul said. He estimated the losses from the latest attack to be at least $100,000.
The Dalloul dairy is located in southern Gaza City, far away from the Gaza-Israel boundary. The factory distributed its products all over the city.
“At least 60 family members used to be supported from the work at this diary. I myself have a family of nine, including myself and my wife. My two brothers along with a number of other workers used to work at this factory, trying to get by under these harsh circumstances,” Dalloul patiently explained, despite his loss.
The attack on the Dalloul factory was part of about a dozen air raids carried out across the Gaza Strip in what Israel said was a response to rockets fired from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns (Palestinian resistance factions for their part say their rocket fire is a response to constant Israeli attacks on Gaza). Israeli leaders have publicly threatened harsh attacks on the territory after Palestinian resistance fighters killed two Israeli soldiers when an Israeli patrol made an incursion into the Gaza Strip last week.
International officials have warned in recent days against an escalation in violence, and the Palestinian prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, called for international intervention to prevent further deterioration. Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reported on 5 April that representatives of all Palestinian factions in Gaza, except for Fatah which declined to attend, had met to discuss a moratorium on rocket fire into Israel, while reserving the right to self-defense.
“I cannot imagine what my factory has to do with the ongoing situation,” Dalloul said. “Can you see a homemade rocket? Can you see a single bullet? Can you see a gun? Why did they attack my dairy?”
Since June 2007 — when Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza — the economy has sunk into a deep depression as unemployment has hit as high as 70 percent. Poverty among the 1.5 million residents has reached unprecedented levels with more than 80 percent of the population dependent on food aid provided by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. The dire situation is the result of Israel’s closure, according to numerous international assessments. Although Israel erratically opens border crossings for the import of food and other basic necessities to Gaza, only a fraction of the people’s requirements get in.
Dalloul’s was one of the few dairies meeting Gaza’s needs. In one corner of the factory, Haroun Dalloul, who worked at the factory, was picking up pieces of cheese. “I didn’t imagine I would get up this sad morning to throw the cheese into trash cans, instead of helping distribute it,” he said.
Mustafa al-Qayed, a local resident, expressed resentment at the attack: “The destroyed factory used to provide our neighborhood with milk and cheese daily.” He noted that the prices of the locally-made products were much lower than the Israeli products that were occasionally imported into Gaza.
According to economic assessments in Gaza, approximately 95 percent of Gaza’s local industrial facilities have been forced to shut down because of the closure of Gaza’s commercial crossings. The closing of the these facilities has rendered more than 70,000 Gaza laborers jobless. Dalloul’s dairy, along with several metal workshops Israel also destroyed in the latest attacks, were vital to Gaza’s economy.
During its December 2008-January 2009 attack on Gaza, Israel destroyed a number of other facilities central to Gaza’s food supply, including the al-Badr flour mill — the only functioning one in in the territory — and the Sawafiry chicken farm which supplied the vast majority of the territory’s eggs. The UN-commissioned Goldstone report found that these attacks, as well as others on Gaza’s water, food and agricultural infrastructure, appeared to be part of a deliberate pattern and constituted violations of the right to food, as well as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, manufacturers like Dalloul are determined to get their businesses back up and running.
“The same way we rebuilt our factory that was bombarded during the war, we are determined to rebuild this one,” Mutassim Dalloul said. “We are determined with a great deal of hope to resume our production, to say to our enemy that whatever you do will never make us succumb.”
Meanwhile, Dalloul greeted well-wishers arriving to the factory offering sympathy and support.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.