Anything for a bath, anything for fuel

Gazans lineup for gas. (Mohammed Omer/IPS)

GAZA CITY (IPS) - The girl, about 16, is wandering about Jabaliya refugee camp, picking up anything she thinks can burn. She cannot find enough bits of wood, so she gathers plastic bags, old notebooks and even a pair of broken plastic sandals.

“I want to heat some water,” she said. “I want a bath.”

Not far away, Mohammed Abu Elenin, 23, exhaustion all over his face, prepares for a fourth night outside a gas station to refill his canister. His brother Nour has sat up with him. Earlier he could get half a fill. Now he doesn’t know what may come, but waits.

“Some weeks ago, I managed to get a half cylinder of cooking gas,” he says. “It lasted just one week. Now we have nothing to cook with.”

His family, like others, have turned to cooking over makeshift fires. That fills houses with smoke, and it is dangerous. And now firewood too is scarce.

Umm Othman, 43, mother of nine, waits like the others. “It’s become impossible for me to feed and take care of my children and my husband,” she says. Her sons are not at home, she has sent them to wait for gas.

And amidst all this, come questions who is to blame, Hamas or Israel. “I can’t stand it,” says a woman sharing a crowded taxi on way from Rafah border crossing to Gaza City. “There is no gas, and there is no space to make a fire.” “This is Palestinians’ choice,” says a man in the taxi. “We voted for Hamas, and now we should take the consequences.”

At once, several passengers turn against him. They accuse him of trying to turn people against the democratically-elected Hamas. Another passenger, Mosbah Abu Dayiah, 43, speaks against Hamas. “If they can’t manage, they should leave the government to others who can.” The others turn now against him, and insist they will stand by Hamas.

Gaza is on the brink, and Israel is keeping it that way. Israel makes sure Gaza gets just a fraction of its needs of fuel, says Mahmoud al-Khozendar, vice-president of the Petrol Station Owners Association. And when it does come in, the priority is fishermen, bakeries and farmers.

But he finds this is doing Hamas little harm. “The fact that Israel has created the cooking gas and fuel shortage is actually helping Hamas maintain support,” he says.

Following the visit by the UN fact-finding mission led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Israel has allowed a little more fuel in, says Khozendar. But shortages are being exacerbated now by a diversion of cooking gas to run cars.

One taxi driver began running his car on expensive olive oil. He asked his passengers therefore to pay more. And that led to arguments with passengers. “I also have a family to feed,” he pleaded. He begged the passengers to consider also that his car will be ruined if he uses too much olive oil.

In home after home, in street after street, such struggles continue. Abu Dayiah doesn’t see it getting any better. “The world doesn’t care.”

All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2008). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.

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