Sami Abu Jayab is struggling to take care of his family.
For six years, he had been working as a carpenter in the Maghazi refugee camp of central Gaza. He lost that job a few months ago.
“My boss apologized and told me he can no longer pay my wages,” he said.
Aged 31, Abu Jayab is a father of three.
“One of my children has epilepsy,” he said. “The medicine is expensive and we have to take him to the doctor regularly. Now that I’ve lost my job, I don’t know what to do.”
When his employer’s firm was doing better, Abu Jayab used to make $15 per day or more. Though his income was modest, it was sufficient to meet his family’s needs.
Abdullah Tilbani owns the workshop that employed Abu Jayab. “I found myself obliged to lay off Sami though he was a clever and experienced carpenter,” Tilbani said.
The furniture industry has suffered greatly from the siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza since 2007.
“The business flourished in the past,” said Tilbani. “My father and his colleagues used to export to Europe. They earned good money. But now the situation is going from bad to worse. Most of the work I do here now is to repair, not to make new furniture.”
The problems facing his business have been exacerbated by the restrictions that Israel has placed on imports. On the pretext of security, Israel is preventing numerous items from entering Gaza.
The list of such items is long – it includes metal sheets, drilling equipment and wooden planks thicker than 2 centimeters.
In recent months, some Israeli media outlets have reported that the list has been shortened. The human rights group Gisha has, however, investigated this matter and found that no items have been removed from the list.
For Tilbani, it has become extremely difficult to secure basic raw materials.
“When I have to make furniture for a bedroom, it takes me at least two weeks to get all the stuff I need,” he said. “That is longer than it would usually take to make the furniture itself.”
Ali al-Hayek, head of the Palestinian Businessmen Association, has complained that Gaza’s private sector is operating at a fraction of its capacity due to the Israeli siege.
“Before the Israeli blockade worsened in the last five years, we would receive 700 trucks loaded with raw materials on a daily basis,” al-Hayek told The Electronic Intifada. “These deliveries were crucial for many of our local industries. Now we barely receive half this number.”
During September, the UN’s Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov suggested that unemployment had fallen slightly in Gaza this year: from 47 percent to 46.7 percent.
His claim has been treated with skepticism by some human rights monitors. They attribute the “drop” to a new method for calculating joblessness being used by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The new method only considers people who are “actively seeking” work as unemployed. People who have been without work for long periods and feel discouraged from applying for new jobs are, therefore, excluded from the unemployment data.
Ordinary people have certainly not discerned any improvement in their situation. The risk of becoming unemployed in Gaza remains acute.
Maher Abu Gharqoud, 26, used to have a job with a small technology company, where he designed websites and repaired faulty laptops. He was paid between $200 and $300 per month.
“I loved my work, he said. “But I was let go because the company wasn’t making a profit.”
Today, Abu Gharqoud sells cookies and sweets at a stall in the city of Deir al-Balah. He set up the stall, using the meager savings he had put aside from his old job. His daily income is now often as low as $1.50.
“Losing my job has ruined my plans,” he said. “I was planning to save money to get married. But now I will have to delay getting married. For the past three months, I have been trying to find another job that matches my qualifications and interests. So far I haven’t had any luck.”
Salim Abd al-Raouf, 23, is unemployed after the clothes shop in Deir al-Balah where he used to work closed down in recent weeks. He is finding it hard to cope with his new circumstances.
Abd al-Raouf had been with the clothes shop for the past 18 months. His wages gave him a sense of independence.
Being out of work means he will have to rely on his family more.
Abd al-Raouf had stopped going to university two years ago. He was hoping to resume studying with the help of his savings.
“Now I have to ask for my father’s help to pay for my tuition,” he said. “I want to get a marketing degree so that I will have a good chance of working in a big company when the conditions get better – if they manage to get better.”
“Life without work is empty,” he said. “When you wake up in the morning, it is good to know you will have work to do that day, work that will benefit you. Now, I feel stranded.”
Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.