The recent hot, dry winds made me think that summer was coming early this year. I started thinking of things like summer clothes for the kids, the joys of showering in cool water and sitting on the beach with the children, playing with the sand (we can’t swim in the sea because its polluted from the sewage). But this lovely image of Gaza is not the whole picture: since Gaza’s borders were sealed, its people have endured Israeli incursions and air strikes as well as a lack of basic commodities like medicines - including vaccines - and paper for books.
On my way to work today, I saw long queues of cars in front of the petrol stations. Many of the people, who had been waiting there since the early hours, were taxi drivers much disgruntled because they hadn’t been able to work for weeks owing to the fuel shortages…and they had families to support. Although we had heard that fuel was available, it seems the petrol station owners had been keeping it to sell on the black market at a higher cost. I feel lucky that I don’t have to go to work by taxi. The pictures of university students, patients and old women waiting in the street for hours for a taxi are devastating and heartbreaking.
Since Hamas’ take-over of the Gaza Strip last June 2007, things have changed dramatically. The unemployment rate has risen to 90% and the majority of Gazans are now dependant on welfare and humanitarian organizations for food supplies. If any of these organizations were to experience a sudden funding crisis, many Gazan families would find themselves begging on the streets.
Prices in Gaza’s markets have doubled if not trebled. In fact, the markets are almost empty due to the closures - you can rarely find good quality clothes, food or medication. It took me days to find some summer clothes for the kids - not because I am a picky person, but because there was nothing left to buy. It has become particularly problematic to find shoes as there is not a single functioning shoe factory in Gaza due to the lack of raw materials.
Even before this siege of Gaza, we were suffering from a shortage of clean drinking water; however, the situation has become much worse. Now it is not only a question of the lack of clean water, it is also the chemicals that are being added to treat the water so that people can drink it. I’ve heard many warnings that we should boil our water. Since then I’ve noticed that the water we use for washing, cooking and showering smells, but I can’t not use it as I don’t have an alternative.
Gaza, April 2008
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.