Ramadan in Gaza’s boundary zone

Cooking over felled trees by a demolished home in Johr al-Dik. (Eva Bartlett/IPS)

JOHR AL-DIK, occupied Gaza Strip (IPS) - With power cuts up to 16 hours to full days, a soaring heat wave and unbearable humidity, the Israeli-led siege on Gaza is but one of many factors leaving Ramadan miserable for the majority of Palestinians in Gaza.

Abu Hani, 54, lives with his wife Umm Hani, 54, and three sons in Johr al-Dik, eastern Gaza, in the rubble of their demolished home, destroyed in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza.

“When we returned after the war, everything was destroyed. We have five dunams [one dunam is 1,000 square meters] of land, on which we had olive and fruit trees, chickens, sheep and some pigeons,” recalls Abu Hani.

“My children and grandchildren all lived together in our two-story house. When the Israelis destroyed it, they left nothing standing. Everything was torn up. There was nothing to distinguish our house and land from our neighbors’ land.”

In the last war on Gaza, more than 6,400 homes were destroyed or severely damaged by the Israeli army. In Johr al-Dik alone roughly 140 houses were demolished. Using bits of rubble and broken asbestos, the family created a small room from the rubble.

But the problems extend beyond targeted demolitions a year and a half ago.

“We live just a few hundred meters from the Green Line border between Gaza and Israel. Israeli military vehicles are always at the border, as well as the remotely-controlled machine gun tower. The Israelis randomly open fire on us.”

From January to August alone, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reports 37 Palestinians have been killed and 93 injured in Israeli attacks in Gaza’s border regions.

“Two days ago, they bombed open land nearby,” Abu Hani adds.

Save the Children reports that, since ten years ago, 70 percent of households in boundary regions have been either temporarily or permanently displaced by Israeli attacks or demolitions.

Umm Hani longs for her house again. “We salvaged a few pans and some plates from our wrecked house. But even those aren’t enough for all the mouths to feed.”

The family is living a barebones existence.

“Every day I collect wood from our destroyed trees in order to make a fire. But we have very little to cook. I wish we had milk and yogurt for our grandchildren, but it’s expensive and we have no income whatsoever.”

Aside from the children’s health, she has other worries. “There’s no place here away from danger. Our children play outside and the Israelis are always shooting.”

In the intense heat, the Gaza’s sanitation problems add another element of misery. “We have so many mosquitoes and flies, and no escape from them,” she says.

While the family have grown accustomed to their impossible existence, the month of Ramadan reminds them of their poverty.

“During Ramadan, people need to buy certain foods and juices to break our fasts with, like dates and yogurt. But we can’t afford these.” A kilo of potatoes costs 10 shekels [$2.5]. The cheapest dates cost 15 shekels a kilo. Yogurt runs 10 shekels a kilo and chicken 15 shekels a kilo.

Abu Hani recalls the harvest his land used to bring in. “This was an olive tree,” he says, holding a mangled stump. “The Israelis bulldozed all of them. We used to eat olives from these trees and press olives into oil. We could eat off of the land, without going to the market. Today, we don’t have anything and I can’t afford to go to the market.”

Aside from food, during Ramadan people buy clothing and toys for their children, as well as decorative lamps. “Of course we can’t buy those either,” says Abu Hani.

Desperate as the family’s situation is, a staggering 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza likewise live below the poverty line, and unemployment hovers at 65 percent. The average income per day per person is two dollars.

The United Nations (UN) reports that as unemployment and poverty rates increase, so does the price of many food items, including locally grown produce.

But Abu Hani is quick to point out that for his family, the siege is not the root problem.

“Even if the siege stopped and there was more meat and fruit in the markets, I still couldn’t buy it. I have no work. And it’s not just me, it’s all the workers like me who have been cut off from their employment.”

Like Abu Hani, tens of thousands from Gaza were employed in Israel. “When the borders closed, we were cut off from our work. I began farming our land. We made a little money from our olives, sheep and pigeons. But now we have no means, and none of my sons have work.”

Funds from foundations in neighboring Arab countries have trickled into Gaza for the month of Ramadan to provide food for Gaza’s poorest, as well as to rebuild 1,250 of the destroyed houses.

Umm Hani says they have not seen any aid since their house was demolished.

“No one sees what happens to us in the border regions or understands the danger we face or the problems we endure. No groups working to help children come here because it’s so close to the border,” she says.

At the moment, they are more distressed about not being able to help others. Giving to the poor is one of the most important concepts during Ramadan.

“In past years, we used to give poorer families olives, olive oil, and dates from our trees,” Abu Hani says. “But now I’ve got nothing: no trees, no olives, no oil … we can barely take care of ourselves.”

For Umm Hani, Ramadan brings little joy. “All my sons and daughters and their children used to gather in our house during Ramadan. But now, there is no place for them here.”

“And this is what the Israelis want: for us to leave this area. But we are steadfast and will stay on our land, this Ramadan and those to come.”

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