A Mayday alert from Gaza

The exact amount of damage caused to Gaza and its economy may not be known for some time. 

Khaled Daoud APA images

On May Day, workers in many countries held parades and enjoyed some time off.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics marked the occasion with a statement containing words one does not often associate with number crunchers.

Collating data on labor amid a war that has impacted an entire economy is “unrealistic and useless,” the statement read. The statement noted that unemployment had already hit 75 percent in Gaza when Israel began its genocidal offensive on 7 October.

One effect of the war is that many people are undertaking work vastly different to what they had previously done in order to feed their families.

Sameh used to teach at Gaza’s Israa University. It was destroyed by Israel’s forces during January.

Like so many others, Sameh has been forced to leave his home in northern Gaza. He and his family are now in the southern city of Rafah.

They are living in a tent.

Sameh receives some canned food in aid from a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). That food is inadequate to meet his family’s needs.

To make a small amount of money, he has set up a stall from which he sells candies.

“It was not easy for me to change my social status,” Sameh said. “I have gone from being a university teacher to being a seller of food.”

“I felt ashamed when one of my students came to buy some food from my stall,” he added. “The student was surprised. I felt he was looking down on me.”

Sameh’s mother has nerve pain. The medicine prescribed to her is unavailable in Gaza’s pharmacies.

Through a friend working for an international organization, Sameh has nonetheless been able to find some of the medicine. It costs $200 per month.

Sameh has some money in his bank account and is using it to buy his mother’s medicine. He wants to keep some savings for difficulties that may lie ahead – such as the ground invasion of Rafah which Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is threatening.

“Before the war, we used to help people in need,” Sameh said. “Now we are among the people receiving aid. Life is dreadful.”

“What will happen when my savings run out?”

Abu Khaled used to work as a builder in Israel.

On 8 October, he was taken into detention by the Israeli authorities. He was brought to Ofer, an Israeli jail in the occupied West Bank.

For almost a month, Abu Khaled was repeatedly tortured.

“During my detention, the Israeli soldiers asked me weird questions about the Palestinian resistance,” he said. “They asked me where the Hamas tunnels are located, where the rocket launchers are placed and how the fighters move around Gaza.”

Abu Khaled was not allowed to contact his family while he was in detention. They were under Israeli bombardment back in Gaza.

When he was eventually released, Abu Khaled was returned to Gaza, where he was reunited with his wife and children.

Abu Khaled used to be paid approximately $1,300 per month.

Without any income, he has opened a small store selling falafel. He cooks using a wood fire.

Abu Khaled has a daughter with thalassemia. The medicine she needs now costs $700 per month.

The meager amount which Abu Khaled makes from selling falafel is not even enough to feed his family. He is spending money that he had saved from his old job on medicine for his daughter.

“I don’t know how I will provide my daughter with the treatment she needs when my savings run out,” he said. “I am afraid that I will lose her one day.”

Naim owned several clothing stores in Gaza before the war.

All of his stores have been destroyed. He estimates the loss to his investments is as high as $7 million.

Despite Israel’s evacuation orders, Naim has remained in Gaza City. He, his wife and seven children are living in a tent on the grounds of their old home, which is now rubble.

Since the war began, Naim has spent most of his savings on food for his family.

When he ran out of money, he set up a stall. There, he sells cookies made by his wife.

At first, the experience was humiliating. Naim felt that everyone was taking pity on him “because of the change in my social position,” he said.

He decided to persevere after friends, neighbors and relatives encouraged him.

“My social position doesn’t matter,” he said. “The important thing is that my family are not starving.”

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.