Adapting to calamity
Israel’s siege has destroyed Gaza’s economy, and there is no end in sight,
writes Saleh Al-Naami
Hadeel, 21, hesitated several times but she had no choice except to call her uncle, Eid, to ask him to turn on his power generator so she can continue studying at his house for her term exams. For Hadeel, a third-year university student who lives in the Berket Al-Wez district in the centre of Gaza, there were no other options if she wanted to pass this important exam after an unannounced power cut in her area. She is one of tens of thousands of Palestinian students who suffer regularly from blackouts that could last up to 12 hours before final exams.
The power outage came after the sole power station in Gaza, which had been working at a third of its capacity because of lack of fuel, broke down. There is even a possibility that it will stop operating altogether in light of the fact that the EU has announced that it will stop paying the bill to the Israeli fuel company that supplies the station. This would spell disaster for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.
Many Gaza residents have adapted their lives to power outages, relying on other sources of energy such as wood and coal for heat in winter, instead of electric heaters. Few own their own generators, which leaves most relying on simple solutions such as candles. Another form of adapting to blackouts is ensuring that family members go to bed early. Ghassan Ibrahim, a teacher at a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that his children go to bed right after the night prayers, at around 7.30pm.
As a result of the siege, many Palestinians are working jobs that had never existed in Gaza, such as collecting shingle and debris from homes that were destroyed in the last war to be used in construction or sold to construction companies. Rami Al-Dakka, 19, roams the streets of central Gaza with his donkey cart in search of rubble that he sells to construction companies. In turn, the companies pound the rubble down in crushers to produce shingle used in construction, especially reinforced concrete and bricks.
Al-Dakka told the Weekly that he sells each plastic container for 15 shekels ($4) and he barely fills one container a day. Nonetheless, he appears content with what he does. He is not the only young man who made a profession out of sifting through rubble. The siege has forced many in Gaza to take up this line of work, especially after the demand for construction materials rose. Success in smuggling large amounts of cement into Gaza revived construction activities, in terms of restoration rather than rebuilding.
Since no one has thought of smuggling shingle into Gaza, the only way to acquire it is either by going through existing debris or digging for it in the ground. Others pursue a more complicated route by exploring for it underground, specifically in deserted areas by the seashore.
Ibrahim Al-Aghbari, his wife and two sons make their way to Al-Mawasi district every day at dawn. When they find shingle, which they call al-hasma because it is mixed with sand, the mother and children sift it to get rid of the dust and place it in plastic bags. The bags are then transported by donkey cart to the crushers that pound it into various sizes. Those who follow this more difficult method reap higher revenues. Collectors sell each batch for six shekels ($1.5), while construction material companies sell the cut shingle at 12 shekels ($3) per batch.
Al-Aghbari told the Weekly that despite the hard labour of his family he is very pleased with what they do. After a bitter period without a job, he is now able to meet the needs of this household. Families that rely on this kind of work for their livelihood compete to find locations that are rich in shingle. Some families, however, find nothing.
The siege has also resulted in a noticeable drop in the purchasing power of Gaza residents. Jamal Meeli, 47, a greengrocer in the heart of the town of Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, was highly agitated that half way through the day no one had come into his shop. Meeli complained to the Weekly that customers no longer buy their fruit and vegetables in town, but prefer to go to weekly farmer markets across Gaza because the produce there sells for less. The fruit and vegetables there are displayed in makeshift stalls in the street, which cuts costs for traders, making their produce cheaper.
This is the same story at most shops in Gaza. The owner of a fresh poultry shop next door to the greengrocer orders his staff to quickly see to the two customers who just walked into the shop. “The buying power of customers has considerably dwindled,” the owner told the Weekly. “Yesterday, Friday, I did not sell more than 100 kilogrammes of poultry. In the past, we used to sell 1,000 kilos of poultry on Fridays.” He continued: “people buy more frozen meat and fish because of the large difference in prices.”
There is certainly a larger crowd at a shop that sells frozen meat at the end of the street. Salim, 38, a civil servant, was patiently waiting to get some service. He explained to the Weekly that in the past he would have never considered eating frozen meat, but now he and his family rely on it because of economic conditions resulting from the siege. He revealed that one kilo of frozen meat costs 12 shekels while the equivalent in fresh meat is a whopping 50 shekels. Two of his sons are in college, which is costly, hence he is cautious how he spends his income.
Recession has not only affected trade but also healthcare. The European Eye Centre is one of the largest and most prominent ophthalmology centres in Gaza. In the past, it was visited by many customers seeking eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other services. But on Saturday, it was almost completely deserted. Many now head to eye centres affiliated to private clinics at charities that sell eyeglasses for far less than other shops.
This is also the case at private dental practices, which have lost most of their patients who now chose to go to UNRWA clinics, which offer free dental care.
On the occasion of marking 1,000 days of the siege on Gaza, the Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS) published statistics regarding the effects of the blockade on Palestinians. PCAS Chairman Jamal Al-Khudari revealed that 500 Palestinians have died as a result of the siege, unemployment has reached 80 per cent, and the average daily income per person is $2. Al-Khudari noted that the Palestinian economy was dealt a harsh blow, with 140,000 new jobless Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and one million Palestinians living on Arab, international or UN assistance.
“The siege has hurt all aspects of life, whether in terms of healthcare, society or the environment,” he stated. “It targets workers, factory owners, companies and economic institutions.” Al-Khudari added that 50 per cent of Gazan children suffer anaemia and malnutrition, while fishermen and farmers struggle, and 3,500 factories and workshops have shut down. He urged for intensified action in all world capitals to end the siege.
The link: https://sites.google.com/site/weeklyahramorgegissue990/region/adapting-to-calamity