Once plentiful, chickens now rare in Gaza

Palestinians inspect a chicken farm destroyed by Israel’s attacks on Gaza in the al-Zaitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, 18 January. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

The continuing shortage of cooking gas due to Israel’s border closures, along with the destruction of at least seven major poultry farms during the recent military siege, has made an important food item scarce and unaffordable for most of the Strip’s 1.5 million residents.

“Today [Friday, 13 March] is the first time in more than one month that I can bring this quantity of chicken for my clients. All the people who used to buy chickens could not afford to do so for the past several weeks, as the price of chicken has doubled. Just today, as the prices got lower somehow, some of my clients dared to buy,” explained Abdallah al-Bayoumi, 75, owner of a poultry store in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Umm Omar, an elderly woman also from Nusseirat, was shopping for chicken at al-Bayoumi’s store for her eight-member family. She explained, “I heard that the prices somehow were lower today, so I am here to buy some chicken. But even if it is available, I can’t buy more than two chickens, because the price is still high for me. Before this crisis, we used to buy chickens four times a month, but over the past several weeks we couldn’t buy any.”

Even before Israel’s three-week invasion of Gaza at the beginning of 2009, during which the poultry farms were destroyed, prices for chicken had doubled because of the border closures. This greatly impacted the access of Palesitnians in Gaza to chicken where most are reliant on food aid. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average household size in Gaza is seven, with an average daily income of $2.50.

It is a similar situation in the nearby al-Bureij refugee camp, as Muhammad Khallaf, another major supplier of chicken, complained of the impact of high prices on his business. While serving a single customer, Khallaf stated that “During the weekend, I used to sell quite a lot, but for the past several weeks I have hardly sold 80 to 100 chickens. As you know there has been lack of chicks, cooking gas and even fodder.”

Nahed Aqel, a father of four and a worker at a cookie factory, said that this is the first time that he has bought chicken for one month: “I am here today just to buy one chicken; the price is for 20 shekels [$5] for a kilo, which means If I buy two chickens I might pay more than 60 shekels.”

The high price and scarcity of chickens is felt throughout the tiny coastal territory, not only in the most impoverished areas. In the wealthy al-Rimal district of Gaza City, which is the center of politics and commerce, Marwan al-Sawafiri, owner of the al-Sawafiri chicken store, explained that he used to sell almost 300 to 400 chickens a day. He said, “I now can hardly sell 40 to 50 chickens a day. Yesterday, for example, I only sold two chickens for 130 shekels [$32].”

The lack of chickens has also affected other sectors in Gaza, mainly restaurants and food delivery stores in the region. The Beirut Food Delivery store on al-Nasr Street, which has been in business for eight years, has felt the impact of the shortages. Yehyia al-Khatib, owner of the store, explained that “The situation is very difficult for us and for the customers. These days, one chicken with some rice costs a customer more than 50 shekels [$12]. Therefore, we have had very few customers. To find chickens, I tour all regions of the Gaza Strip, like Nusseirat, Maghazi, Rafah and Khan Younis, but I only get a few chickens. This has really affected us.”

In the Gaza City neighborhood of al-Zeitoun, which was devastated during Israel’s recent invasion, the Shafout restaurant had only a few customers in its two-story dining hall mid-day Thursday, normally a peak time for customers. Nader Azzam, Shafout’s manager since 1982, said that the situation for his work is the worst yet. He explained, “I have stopped serving chicken since the end of the war. One chicken costs us about 35 shekels [$8.50] and this is no longer affordable to my customers, either the rich or the poor.”

Dr. Adnan Awehaidi, the clinical director of the Ard al-Insan Benevolent Society in Gaza, which is concerned about family health care, warned of the growing malnutrition among households caused by Israel’s blockade of the Strip. According to Dr. Awehaidi, “We are currently witnessing multiple forms of malnutrition among children and adults in the Gaza Strip. According to recent indicators, there is an increase in anemia. We believe that the lack of chicken is not the only problem — there are many food items that are unavailable. This is an escalating problem and I am not optimistic towards having it solved soon.”

Raed Fattouh, chief of the Palestinian Committee for the Coordination of Goods’ Entry into Gaza, said that despite the fact that Israel allows dozens of trucks loaded with food and aid into the Strip on a daily basis, it is not enough to meet basic needs. Fattouh explained, “There are many items that are still lacking here, as Israel only reopens one crossing six days a week. It is the Karem Abu Salem, or Kerem Shalom crossing, in southern Gaza. The items that enter are mainly less essential goods, such as diapers, tissues, fruits and other goods. For instance, there is one million gas canisters in Gaza that have been waiting to be filled for the past several weeks.”

Israel claims that there are certain items which it does not allow into Gaza because they could be used in weapons or rocket manufacturing. However, according to a Palestinian official coordinator of the entry of goods to Gaza, there seems to be no specific list of banned goods, as almost every day the Palestinians are surprised by new items that are forbidden entry.

Rami Almeghari is contributor to The Electronic Intifada, IMEMC.org and Free Speech Radio News and is a part-time lecturer on media and political translation at the Islamic University of Gaza. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor-in-chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari A T hotmail D O T com.