Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life in Gaza

"Locked in: Life in Gaza"


(Pal Telegraph) -- Munzer al-Dayyeh is a 40-year-old mechanic living in Gaza. In a land of ruin and disrepair, Munzer is kept busy fixing generators and repairing motorbikes. In June 2007, Israel placed Gaza under siege and imposed an unprecedented blockade on nearly all movement and supplies in and out of the Gaza Strip.

Munzer is a traditional man from a conservative society where inter-marriage is common.

In Munzer's case, inter-breeding has brought hereditary problems - most of his children are either visually impaired or physically handicapped.

Munzer can not find any way to get his children out of Gaza to get medical treatment.

Petrol is increasingly expensive, motorbikes not cars are becoming popular. Electricity is sporadic and infrequent, generators are becoming popular. Munzer fixes both.

But while the effects of war and ongoing siege may be good for his business, it has frustrated his attempts to secure medical treatment for his disabled children.

His eldest daughter is blind and clings to the hope of travelling to London for specialist treatment. His eldest son is suffering from muscular disorder.

Besieged in Gaza, neither has the hope of medical treatment abroad.

This film offers an insight into an everyday man struggling to make a living and to find a solution for his family in the unique difficulties of the Gaza Strip.

Al Jazeera spoke to some Gazans about their daily lives, their hopes and dreams for the future, and how the siege affected them:

Doctor Mustafa Al-Hawi, 50, lecturer at al-Aqsa university

Mustafa al-Hawi, holds a PhD in environmental management and he currently works as a lecturer at al-Aqsa university.

He lost a job opportunity in Spain due to the blockade.

"I feel very traumatised, pissed off and very sad for not being able to travel and to have the freedom to do whatever I like," he says.

Fadi Bakheet, 27, Hip hop group manager

Fadi Bakheet is the manager of a hip hop group called "darasheen, the Arabian revolutionary guys."

His group missed out on an opportunity to represent Palestine in a festival in Copenhagen due to the siege.

"I don't think I would leave Gaza if things were better because this is my home, the worst thing about being here is being trapped and not be part of the world community," he says.

Iman Salem, 22, Medical student

Iman Salem is a medical student at the faculty of medicine at al-Azhar university.

She lost her scholarship in Jordan university because she could not leave Gaza.

"In these circumstances that we live under now, I would leave Gaza to pursue my dream to become a doctor," she says.

Ahmed abu-Hamda, 39, TV producer

Ahmed abu-Hamda is a TV producer, he feels paralysed under the siege because he does not have the freedom to leave whenever he wants.

Due to the siege he has not been able to see his parents who live outside Gaza, and they have not seen their grand child.

"it is an awful feeling to be under the siege, you feel paralysed," he says.

Mohammed el-Sharif, 39, Executive director

Mohammed el-Sharif is the executive director of the society for deaf children.

He is a Palestinian-American, but he is unable to get his daughters their US citizenship because they can't get out to start the process.

"Living in Gaza means that you can not exercise your right, everything is out of reach," he says.

Watch it on Al jazeera TV

Locked in Gaza can be seen from Monday, October 19, 2009 at the following times GMT: Monday: 1230; Tuesday: 0600, 1930; Wednesday: 0830; Thursday: 0330; Friday: 1630; Saturday: 2330; and Sunday: 1030.


"Family who lost 29 members in Gaza war: We envy the dead


Richard Goldstone visited the Gaza City neighborhood of Zaytoun in late June to tour the compound of the extended Samouni family, the subject of coverage here in recent weeks ("'I fed him like a baby bird,'" September 17; "Death in the Samouni compound," September 25). Twenty-nine members of the family, all of them civilians, were killed in the Israel Defense Force's winter assault - 21 during the shelling of a house where IDF soldiers had gathered some 100 members of the family a day earlier.

Salah Samouni and the owner of the house that was shelled - Wael Samouni - took Goldstone around the farming neighborhood, showing him its devastated homes and uprooted orchards. In a telephone conversation this week, Salah described how he had shown Goldstone a picture of his father, Talal, among the 21 killed in the house. He told the Jewish South African judge and head of the United Nations inquiry team into Operation Cast Lead, that his father "had been employed by Jews" for nearly 40 years and that whenever he was sick, "the employer would call, ask after his health, and forbid him to come to work before he had recovered."

The Samounis were always confident that, in the event of any military invasions into Gaza, they could always manage to get along with the Israeli army. Until 2005, before Israel's disengagement from the Strip, the Jewish settlement of Netzarim was located right next door, and several family members worked there from time to time. When the joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols were active, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian security officials sometimes asked the Samounis to "lend" them a tractor to flatten a patch of land or repair the Salah al-Din Road (for example, when a diplomatic convoy needed to pass through). While Samouni family members worked on their tractors, gathering sand, the soldiers would watch them.

"When the soldiers wanted us to leave, they would fire above our heads. That's what experience taught me," recalls Salah Samouni, who lost a 2-year-old daughter in the IDF attack, along with uncles and both of his parents. The older men of the family, among them his father and two uncles who were killed by IDF soldiers on January 4 and 5, worked in Israel until the 1990s in different localities, including Bat Yam, Moshav Asseret (near Gedera) and the "Glicksman Plant." They all believed that the Hebrew they had learned would assist and if necessary save them during encounters with soldiers.

As was reported here last month - on January 4, under orders from the army, Salah Samouni and the rest of the family left their home, which had been turned into a military position, and moved to the other, the home of Wael, located on the southern side of the street. The fact that it was the soldiers who had relocated them, had seen the faces of the children and the older women, and the fact that the soldiers were positioned in locations surrounding the house just tens of meters away, instilled in the family a certain amount of confidence - despite the IDF fire from the air, from the sea and from the land, despite the hunger and the thirst.

On the morning of Monday, January 5, Salah Samouni walked out of the house and shouted in the direction of another house in the compound that he thought other family members were still in. He wanted them to join him, to be in a safer place, closer to the soldiers. Nothing prepared him for the three shells and the rockets the IDF fired a short time later.

"My daughter Azza, my only daughter, two and a half years old, was injured in the first hit on the house," Salah told Haaretz. "She managed to say, 'Daddy, it hurts.' And then, in the second hit, she died. And I'm praying. Everything is dust and I can't see anything. I thought I was dead. I found myself getting up, all bloody, and I found my mother sitting by the hall with her head tilted downward. I moved her face a little, and I found that the right half of her face was gone. I looked at my father, whose eye was gone. He was still breathing a little, and then he stopped."

When they exited the house - injured, confused, dazed, fearing the fourth shell or rocket would soon land - determined to get themselves to Gaza despite the soldiers' shouts from nearby positions to go back, they believed only corpses remained in the house. They did not know that under the dust and rubble in one large room, nine family members remained alive: the elderly matriarch and five of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren - the youngest of whom was three years old, the eldest 16 - along with another kinsman and his son. They had passed out, some of them beneath corpses.

When they regained consciousness, 16-year-old Ahmad Ibrahim and his 10-year-old brother Yakub saw the corpses of their mother, four of their brothers and their nephew. Mahmoud Tallal, 16, had lost his toes; bleeding, he saw that his parents - Tallal and Rahma - had been killed. Three-year-old Omar, Salah's son, was buried unconscious under 24-year-old Saffa's dead body, explaining why they hadn't found him during the terrible moment of panic as they left the house. Ahmad Nafez, 15, recalled how when little Omar woke up and pulled himself out from under the corpse, he spotted his grandfather Tallal and started shaking him, crying: "Grandpa, Grandpa, wake up."

The previous day Amal, a nine-year-old girl, had witnessed soldiers bursting into her home and killing her father, Atiyeh. She had taken shelter in her Uncle Tallal's home and together with other family members was moved to Wael's house. She did not know that her brother Ahmad was bleeding to death in his mother's arms, in another house in the neighborhood.

The children found some scraps of food in the kitchen and ate. Later, Ahmad Nafez told his relatives how Ahmad Ibrahim had gone from corpse to corpse - his mother, his four brothers and his nephew among them - shaking them, hitting them, telling them to get up. Perhaps from the blows, Amal regained consciousness, her head bloody and her eyes rolling in their sockets. She kept crying out "water, water," said she wanted her mother and father, and beat her head on the floor, her eyes rolling the whole time.

It is too dangerous to remove the shrapnel embedded in her head - that is even what the doctors at a Tel Aviv hospital say. Now everything hurts her and will continue to hurt her: when it's cold, when it's hot, when she's in the sun. She will not be able to concentrate on her studies.

No one can reconstruct how the hours passed for them in Wael's bombarded house; some remained in a state of exhaustion and apathy. The first to recover was actually Shiffa, the 71-year-old grandmother. On the morning of Tuesday, January 6, she realized that no one was coming to rescue them anytime soon. Not the soldiers positioned just meters away, not the Red Cross nor the Red Crescent nor other relatives. Perhaps they didn't even know they were alive, she concluded. Her walker had been bent and buried in the house, but she managed to leave with two of her grandchildren - Mahmoud (his legs bleeding) and little Omar.

They hobbled out and started walking - along the silent street, among the vacated houses, realizing some were occupied by soldiers. "The Jews saw us from above and shouted to us to go into the house," related Shiffa. That was when they were walking down the street and passed by her sister's home. They went inside, but didn't find a living soul. The soldiers - firing into the air - came in after them. "We begged them to let us go home. 'Where is your home?'" they asked. She told them "over there" and pointed east, toward the home of one of her sons, Arafat, located closer to Salah al-Din Road. The soldiers let them continue on. "We saw people coming out of Arafat's house and Hijjeh's house. Everyone was a bit injured and the soldiers were shooting overhead."

At Hijjeh's house she found everyone crying, each with his own story of those dead or wounded. "I told them what had happened to us, how everyone had fallen on everyone else, in heaps, the dead and the wounded." She remained there with the rest of the injured for another night. Omar remembers this house fondly: He was given chocolate there.

Only on Wednesday, January 7, did the IDF allow Red Cross and Red Crescent crews to enter the neighborhood. They attest that they'd been asking to enter since January 4, but the IDF would not let them - whether by shooting in the direction of the ambulances that tried to get closer or by refusing to approve coordination. The medical teams, which were allowed to go in on foot and had to leave the ambulances a kilometer or a kilometer and a half away, thought they were going to rescue the injured from Hijjeh's house. But then the grandmother told them about the wounded children who remained behind, among the dead, in Wael's house. The medical team set out to rescue them, totally unprepared for the sight they found.

On January 18, after the IDF left the Gaza Strip, the rescue teams returned to the neighborhood. Wael's house was found in ruins: IDF bulldozers had demolished it entirely - with the corpses inside.

In a general reply to questions from Haaretz regarding the behavior of the military forces in the Samouni family's neighborhood, the IDF Spokesman said that all of the claims have been examined. "Upon completion of the examination, the findings will be taken to the military advocate general, who will decide about the need to take additional steps," the spokesman said.

Salah Samouni, during the telephone conversation, said: "I asked [Richard] Goldstone to find out just one thing: Why did the army do this to us? Why did they take us out of the house one at a time, and the officer who spoke Hebrew with my father verified that we were all civilians - [so] why did they then shell us, kill us? This is what we want to know."

He feels that Goldstone, in his report, lent the victims a voice. He did not expound on his frustration upon learning that the debate on the report had been postponed, but sought a way to describe how he feels nine months after the fact. "We feel [we are] in an exile, even though we are in our homeland, on our land. We sit and envy the dead. They are the ones who are at rest."


"Rebuilding Gaza's infrastructure with mud

Eva Bartlett, The Electronic Intifada

SHEIKH ZAYED, occupied Gaza Strip (IPS) - On a searing summer morning, workers are adding layers to the mud-brick police station being constructed in Sheikh Zayed, northern Gaza.

"We started building on 20 June," says Mohammed al-Sheikh Eid, a consultant engineer with Gaza's Ministry of Interior. "Since this is the first time we've built something on this scale with mud bricks, we can't estimate exactly how much longer it will take to complete. Maybe another two months or so."

He is confident, however, that they will finish before the winter rains begin.

Since the war on Gaza ended, a number of houses have been built using mud to create simple, square, two or three-room homes. The new Sheikh Zayed police station is one of the larger and more ambitious projects.

An intricate series of thick-walled, deep-arched chambers form what is on the whole a much more artistic rendition of the former square, cement police station bombed during the attacks. When finished, the station will be 550 square meters, including seven 3.5m by 3.5m office rooms and eight long, arched-roofed chambers 3m wide and 8m long.

In contrast to Gaza's basic new mud-brick homes, with their cracked-earth finish inside and rough, straw-flecked outer layer, the police station design replicates that of the elegant, traditional Palestinian stone or brick buildings: neatly-packed rows of brick frame windows and doorways in graceful arcs; with surprisingly smooth domes that top off vaulted rooms and corridors. The one-level station, with its multiple rooftop domes, resembles the architecture of Palestinian homes from Nablus to Jerusalem.

The site, just off the coastal road serving Beit Lahiya, is open and spacious, with a contrasting backdrop of cement block apartment buildings, built long before the Israeli siege on Gaza, when cement was accessible.

Engineer and site supervisor Sameh al-Khalout explains the small-scale and hand-crafted construction process.

"The mud bricks take between one and two weeks to cast and dry," he says, gesturing at the rows of bricks drying in the sun. "Each brick costs roughly one shekel [a quarter of a dollar] to make."

Al-Khalout says the clay is brought from a nearby area of Beit Lahiya, and the straw comes from local farmers. "We will put plaster on the roof, to seal it and protect it from rain."

Wood is temporarily used to buffer ceiling arches and windows until the clay mortar hardens. The wood is then removed and used elsewhere in the same manner.

Apart from these wood bracings, conventional and excessively expensive building materials are not used.

Cement smuggled in via the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza is as much as ten times the pre-siege price. A ton of cement costs 3,400 shekels ($850), compared to the 350 shekels it cost prior to June 2007.

Husam Toubil from the United Nations Development Programme says Gaza requires 50,000 tons of cement to rebuild destroyed homes, and 41,000 tons for public buildings.

Al-Khalout says problems extend beyond lack of availability of materials. "For most of our workers, this is their first experience building with mud bricks."

"Since we have to bring in clay, straw and gravel, and mix the mud cement, make the bricks and then build the actual station, we require more workers than we would using cement."

In an enclosed Strip where unemployment is near 50 percent and poverty has reached 90 percent, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCATD) report, the workers will brave the heat for the chance to earn 40 shekels a day.

Since the siege on Gaza tightened in June 2007, almost no construction materials have entered Gaza, according to the OCHA report. This is in comparison to the pre-attacks, pre-siege import levels of 7,400 trucks per month, from January to May 2007.

According to the United Nations Relief Web news, 3,900 truckloads entered Gaza from January to May 2007. Over the same period this year, six trucks were allowed in. These carried material for water projects, greatly in need and long awaiting completion.

The Israeli authorities say the ban on building materials is to prevent Hamas from using so-called "dual use" items for military activities.

Yet, non-Hamas run agencies, schools, and healthcare centers are facing the same blanket restrictions on import of cement, gravel, wood, tiles, piping, paint, glass and steel bars, notes the OCHA report.

The mud brick technique, extended beyond the simple clay ovens prevalent in Gaza to the building of houses, potentially meets some of Gaza's great construction needs.

East of Gaza city, in the al-Shejayia district, engineers have tackled the challenge of a multi-level clay-brick building: a three-story school for 600 disabled children is under construction, using a combination of mud brick and rubble from the remains of homes and buildings destroyed during the Israeli attacks.

According to a Guardian news report, engineer Maher al-Batroukh and university engineers experimented with clay to create strong bricks. When finished, the school will be roughly twice the size of the Sheikh Zayed police station, with similar domed ceilings and plaster coating.

Noting the success of clay building endeavors, the Hamas Ministry of Public Works is likewise pursuing the mud-brick alternative, with plans to build multi-story houses and re-build destroyed public buildings.

While some are finding means to get around the Israeli ban on nearly everything needed to re-build in Gaza, the on-going siege on the Strip continues to hit daily life to an extent that the latest UN report notes that closed borders and delays in allowing in goods are "devastating livelihoods" and causing gradual "de-development."

The OCHA report further cites the damage to education, including overcrowding due to destroyed or damaged schools, and denied or delayed education materials.

In an August 2009 statement, Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noted that the "deterioration and breakdown of water and sanitation facilities in Gaza is compounding an already severe and protracted denial of human dignity in the Gaza Strip."

Gaylard, along with the Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA), notes that the Israeli denial of entry of equipment and supplies needed for the construction, maintenance and operation of water and sanitation facilities since June 2007 has led to "the gradual deterioration of these essential services."

Further citing destruction from the Israeli attacks, the statement says Gaza's sanitation and water services are on the "brink of collapse," noting that the sparse supplies allowed in have been "nowhere near enough to restore a fully functioning water and sanitation system."

About 60 percent of the population does not have continuous access to water, the statement notes. Roughly 10,000 people in Gaza have no access to the water network at all. This, combined with the 50-80 million liters of untreated and partially treated wastewater that is being discharged daily since January 2008, compounds the water and sanitation crisis.

Although some resourceful individuals have built homes despite the ban on cement, these various reports highlight that the manifold problems created by the ongoing siege and Israeli attacks on Gaza are too extensive to be solved by improvisation and mud alone.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reports that 60 police stations were destroyed or damaged during the winter 2008-2009 Israeli attacks on Gaza.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) August 2009 report says more than 6,400 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, and over 52,000 suffered minor damage from bombing during Israel's winter war on Gaza.

The OCHA report notes that the continued Israeli-led siege on Gaza has prevented reconstruction or repair of 13,900 homes, including approximately 2,700 homes damaged or destroyed in earlier Israeli military operations, and of 3,000 housing units intended to replace inadequate homes in crowded refugee camps.

Over 20,000 Palestinians remain displaced in Gaza, with approximately 100 families still living in emergency tents provided by aid agencies.

PCHR also reports that 215 factories and 700 private businesses, 17 universities or colleges, 15 hospitals and 43 health care centers, and 58 mosques were destroyed or damaged during the attacks. The United Nations says that 298 schools were destroyed or damaged.

They all await reconstruction, as does Gaza's shattered economy.


Homes Demolished in Israel and Palestine