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Out in the cold

Out in the cold

Saleh Al-Naami details the harsh conditions that Gaza residents will endure this winter


Awatef Al-Assar filled bags of sand to hold down the sides of the tent in a failed attempt to stabilise it. Her children still remember how hard she tried to hold on to the pole of the tent that was sheltering her and her family last winter as the winds blew hard to uproot it. Meanwhile, trying to help, her husband was shaking with cold and fear from the thunder outside. Rainwater swamped the tent as their efforts failed and the tent collapsed on the heads of the children. The entire family was forced to seek refuge at a nearby house.

Like thousands of others, Al-Assar's home was destroyed during Israel's war on the Gaza Strip. Even now she fears a repeat of the same punishing experience of last winter. Her neighbour, Hajja Fatma Hamdan, who is at the same refuge camp with her family, remembers how she was surprised by the amount of rain filling up the tent while her family slept. They awoke startled, and all they could do was abandon all their possessions and seek shelter elsewhere.

The residents of the refuge camp, which lies close to Beit Lahia, said that uprooted and torn tents resulted in many health problems for the homeless, especially children. The young suffer from vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Nehaya, who was widowed when her husband was killed during the war, said that for a long time she was continuously taking her children to a clinic in Beit Lahia for severe cases of colds.

As winter approaches, the occupants of this camp -- like those in other camps -- complain that there are not enough warm blankets. Suleiman Al-Masri, whose home in Beit Hanoun in northeastern Gaza was destroyed, said his family of 15 only received seven blankets from a charity organisation. Nine months after the end of the war, many homeless families still return to their destroyed homes in search of more blankets and warm covers under tons of rubble. Most of these attempts end in failure, either because everything inside is scorched or is buried too deep in the debris.

These families have no refuge except the camps set up by the Hamas government, UNRWA or charities working in Gaza. Camps for those who lost their homes have become widespread in Gaza. In fact, camps were constructed in every area destroyed during the war.

While those whose homes were completely demolished during the war suffer the winter cold, those whose homes were not completely obliterated during the assault also suffer. Windowpanes need to be replaced in many homes to block the bitter cold of winter, but because of the siege the supply of glass is limited and only available via smuggling. This has raised the price of glass unreasonably. The windows of Ghassan Abu Samha's family home, located in Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in the centre of Gaza, were destroyed by the Israeli onslaught. The eight members of his family will be exposed to the winter chill as the cold season approaches and no repairs have been possible.

Abu Samha told Al-Ahram Weekly that he could not afford to repair the windows with the available glass, which is of poor quality anyway. "It costs 2,500 shekels [$700] to repair, which is a huge sum for me," he continued. "I have no other choice but to cover the windows with plastic which doesn't cost more than 100 shekels." Abu Samha's 10- year-old son Ahmed remembered how he could hardly sleep last winter because of the plastic on his bedroom window. Nonetheless, using plastic to cover broken windowpanes has become the common remedy for many families in Gaza.

Meanwhile, hundreds who live on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and whose homes are intact, have decided to leave out of fear of being bombed by Israel. They feel especially vulnerable because their homes are located opposite Israeli army bases on the demarcation line.

Zaidan Sarar, who lives in Om Al-Gamal on the border, is one of those who chose to leave their home and move to a rented apartment out of fear of the Israeli army. Sarar moved to an apartment block in Deir Al-Balah and abandoned his home, telling the Weekly he preferred spending all his income on rent rather than risk his safety. "When I recalled the corpses of children who were killed in the last war, I decided to do anything so my children don't suffer the same fate," he said. "This is why I sought to rent an apartment and leave my home which I spent all my life's savings to build."

Other families are grappling with overcrowding after opening their doors to homeless families. Gamal Al-Masri, 29, waits until night before returning to his home in Al-Nosayrat Refugee Camp in the centre of Gaza. Al-Masri's home currently accommodates his parents and younger siblings who sought him out after their home in Al-Maghazi Camp, east of Al-Nosayrat, was obliterated in the last war in Gaza. Al-Masri, who is married with five children, told the Weekly that he tries to spend as much time outside the house as possible because his three-bedroom home now houses 17 people. As winter approaches, his ability to stay out with co-workers or neighbours is diminishing, but he is still unable to live in the overcrowded house. Al-Masri's biggest problem is a shortage in warm covers to shield everyone from the harsh winter cold.

Al-Masri is not the only one who was obliged to take in his family after the Israeli army destroyed their homes during the war. In fact, he could be considered luckier than most who have had to house many more family members because of the war. Adel Sala, 43, had no choice but to take in two of his brothers' families after the Israeli army destroyed their homes in two separate air attacks. With 25 people now living in his four-bedroom house in Al-Qarara village, each room houses one family while the three men sleep in the fourth room. Sala admits that the living conditions are very difficult, complicated and awkward. For example, going to the bathroom requires prior scheduling, while he and his brothers go to the mosque for ablutions to avoid any embarrassment.

The scenes of hardship this winter are endless, not least of the children whose homes were demolished and had to move far away from their areas of residence. Now they must commute for long distances to reach their schools and also lack sufficient winter clothing to protect them against the bitter winter cold

The link:  http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/971/re5.htm.

 

 

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