Watching Gaza collapse

Palestinian women mourn during the funeral for Ekrami Abu Eisha, a Hamas activist who according to the Israeli army was killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire at two armed men near the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, 8 August 2007. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

4 August 2007

Today I went with my cousin’s wife and her children to Gaza’s social welfare office to pick up her monthly paycheck from the government. My cousin was killed last September by an Israeli sniper while he stood in front of his house. Overnight his children and wife became eligible to receive 375 NIS (a little less than $100) a month from the Palestinian government because their father was now a martyr.

This is our third time coming to the office in the last month, because every time we go it’s closed. The gates are open with guards out front, but the office isn’t operating and there were no staff members to help us. “Why closed?” I asked one of the guards. “On strike,” he replied. “So what do we do now?” I asked. “Hope we get paid so we can come back to work,” he replied. I glared at him with frustration but I knew I could not really blame him or the office staff for not coming to work. He was just like any other employee in Gaza. I guess the government staff had enough; after all, they haven’t been paid since January 2006 but yet still come to work. I’ve met people who would borrow from their neighbors just to pay for a taxi to take them to a job for which they don’t even get paid.

Every attempt I make to write about Gaza to give the world an idea of what the people here are going through is overwhelming. I am never sure where to begin to give readers an idea of life in Gaza and the accelerating humanitarian and economic crises. Do I begin by describing the effects of the border closures that are, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, the reason that Gaza is on the verge of an economic collapse and if there are no changes in the upcoming weeks the entire population will be completely aid dependent? We can all certainly feel the closure’s effects as all we have in the market are a few vegetables and are forced to rely on UNRWA’s food packages of flour, rice and cooking oil. We cannot even grow our own food if we wanted to because farmers have run out of supplies, including fertilizer. However, Israel does allow Israeli-grown fruits and vegetables into Gaza when it so chooses. We are forced to purchase and eat out of our occupier’s hand and support their economy while watching ours collapse. Divestment isn’t an option here in Gaza.

Or maybe I should write about the 1,000 Palestinians still stranded at the Rafah border, away from their families and running out of money as they sit and wait for the border to open. Maybe I should describe how they are living in unsanitary conditions which mean the sick are getting sicker, and the healthy are falling ill. News reports fail to mention that people’s skin is peeling from being in the sun all day without drinkable water or access to water for bathing.

How can I describe the effects of the government workers going on strike, including those from the municipalities and waste management, as Gaza’s trash has not been picked up for the past two weeks and how flies, cockroaches and rats run around in our streets and homes? We have to keep everything refrigerated, including sugar, because of the rats. Gaza has even run out of rat poison of all things. How can I describe how pharmacies have run out of certain medicines which you can’t really appreciate until you watch your uncle in his bed, unable to breathe, because he does not have his heart medication, or your neighbor’s six-month-old baby is hospitalized for normally treatable diarrhea?

And God help those who are not refugees, Gazans who were in Gaza before 1948. At least refugees are eligible to get food and medical aid from UNRWA — non-refugees are not. Instead they have to rely on the government and with the government’s hospitals closed, many do not have access to medical care. And so the women sit there with their children at the doors of the government’s medical clinics hoping the doctors decide to come in today out of the kindness of their hearts since they too have not been paid since last year.

Or how do I begin to explain that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ government has completely denied the recognition of all documents coming out of Gaza, including passports, licenses, and degrees? Just the other day 1,000 college students graduated from Gaza’s two universities, yet their degrees are not recognized internationally, or even locally within their own country, the rest of occupied Palestine. Aligning himself with Israel and the US, Abbas has sold Gaza and the Palestinian people for his own political gain. He has personally ordered the Rafah border remain closed despite the cries of more than 4,000 Palestinians, cutting Gaza off from the rest of Palestine. He ignores the very people he claims to represent.

People here have run out of money. Even if their basic food needs are met, people have no funds to buy clothes or school supplies for their children, or enough money to pay tuition, or pay rent. They have no jobs, and no money and so they spend their time going back and forth to Gaza’s beach because there is nothing left to do in Gaza.

Gazans are being denied every fundamental human right — the right to live freely, not under the thumb of occupation, without fear; the right to an education; the right to work and to provide for their families; and the very right to govern themselves and their lives. All the while, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya are being bulldozed away and we are being terrorized by the tanks which sit at our borders and the F-16s that roam our skies. How do I describe the planes that fly low at random hours of the night to frighten our children who then scream for the rest of the night?

Everything has been taken away from the people of Gaza to the point that if a young man wants to work as a taxi driver because there are no other employment opportunities, he cannot even get a license because they can no longer be issued in Gaza. Yet, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with self-described Palestinian leaders but failed to include deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or Hamas in the talks. Gazans were not represented or included in the negotiations. We had no voice. Our needs are not heard, or even considered. We could not even rely on our own president to give us our right of representation. So I ask Abbas, Rice, Fayyad, Bush, Blair and the rest of the world:

What about the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza?

Yassmin Moor is a Palestinian-American writing from Rafah, Gaza. She is currently working to implement a gardening project through an organization she co-founded, Save Gaza. Yassmin can be reached at yasminemoor A T gmail D O T com.