Eva Bartlett | In Gaza
31 December 2009
It’s pouring rain. Farmers are collectively breathing relief, finally able to begin working on their parched land, land deprived water because Israeli bombing, tanks and bulldozers destroyed virtually all of the wells, cisterns, and rain-water collectors of farms in the border regions.
I’m breathing many sighs of relief, because the rain is fresh, brings life, brings a needed feeling of growth…
But the family of Saleh Abu Leila, with their 14 family members crammed into 1.5 tents (half the tent is occupied by a refrigerator) of poor-quality, torn fabric will be sighing with much less relief, as water seeps in through rips and breaks in the tent, floods the door, gradually streams into the tent entrance.
Their focus will be on keeping warm, particularly for their infant just over a month old, and dry, added to the daily worries about where the money for the next tine of baby milk will come from.
They have no income, are not refugees –and thus do not receive any UN aide–and have young children to raise.
I try to imagine myself as a child, living in these conditions long term –nearly a year now –and without sufficient nutrition. I try to image having children of my own subjected to this. That is the hardest, most painful thought, one any parent could identify with: the desire to provide for, nourish and bring joy to one’s children.
Despite their great poverty, their unavoidable Palestinian hospitality overrides and I am coerced into sampling some soup: a mixture of cooked greens and lentils, very tasty. I’m acutely aware that this must stretch to feed all their children and the parents themselves, but my refusal and excuse that I’ve eaten is met with insistence that I join them or leave them insulted.
Arafia, Saleh’s wife, mentions that the baby milk she is mixing to heat in a pot of water costs about 50 shekels (nearly $15) every 5 days, and that they must go to the city to buy it.
Together, Arafia and Saleh spend 600 shekels per month for their kidney and diabets medications.
They speak of their situation, which is alone hard enough, living crammed in substandard tents for a year but when considering what they had, it is unbearable.
“I worked in Israel for 14 years. I speak Hebrew fluently, traveled all over Israel for work. I earned good money and we lived well.”
He reminds us that there are many, many others like him, who used to earn a living in Israel but who now are cut off from any source of income, the borders closed and the economy in Gaza shattered by the massacre and the siege.
“We’re living on sand. Look at that mess. This is no life.”