Eid proves hard in Gaza
The Israeli blockade mars the week of feasts and gift giving.
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2008 19:53 GMT

Israel's blockade forced banks in Gaza to close their branches for a week due to lack of cash [AFP]

In an occasional diary piece, a member of staff from the charity Oxfam writes on the situation in Gaza, where residents are celebrating Eid al-Adha with basic goods and power in short supply.

A lot can happen in a month. A lot has happened in Gaza since I was last there five weeks ago. 

Since Israel tightened the blockade on the Gaza Strip in November, bakeries have run out of gas. People are now queuing for bread. Gaza's only power plant has been shut down.

Light, water and heating are in scarce supply. Banks ran out of money. It is bad enough to think about this, but what is it like to live with?

I phoned my colleague, Nidal, who works with Oxfam in Gaza. He started by telling me that power to his home in the Bureij refugee camp has been off for the past two days. His son Tareq, a toddler, is frightened by the dark and has stopped eating properly. 

Usually when Tareq gets upset Nidal and his wife turn on a cartoon to distract him. Now they have no power.

Nidal says it is surprising how much he and his family rely on electricity; he has had to throw away food that was in his refrigerator because it is no longer safe to eat. 

He is being careful how much water they use as well because the tank on the roof does not get refilled for days on end. Either there is no water supply or there is no electricity to pump it up the six floors of his apartment building.

It is Eid al-Adha this week; the holiday culminates in a weekend of feast and gift giving. Nidal and his wife have been shopping for presents for Tareq, "something to make my baby smile" says Nidal, "maybe new clothes, and some chocolates for the guests who will come to visit". 

Eid is an expensive time, with lots of visits to see relatives and lots of entertaining at home. Last year, Nidal's bills for meat during Eid added up to $450, this year it will cost twice as much because the Israeli blockade of Gaza has driven prices up.

"I'm lucky as I have a job" Nidal said earlier this week, "and lucky because I went to the bank and took out all my salary before the banks shut because they had no bank notes left. If I had waited, I would have had no money."

Even so, Nidal expects to be borrowing from his workmates next week. 

"My money will all be gone in two days. Most of my relatives are unemployed so I have to make sure they can celebrate and their children get gifts or money", says Nidal. "I will need more next week to pay for drinking water from the tanker which comes round to my neighbourhood."

As usual in Gaza, people are able to see humour, even during such dire times.  Although some fuel is being smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels from Egypt, travelling to work in badly overcrowded taxis requires strategic thinking, as if planning a football match. 

"To get everyone in the taxi, the driver insists on a two, four, four line up in the seven-seater Gaza Taxi. If we have more than two up front, he can't steer or change gear," Nidal explains. 

Unfortunately, in reality, the situation in Gaza is no laughing matter. Over the past month, Israel has stemmed the flow of almost all goods and supplies into Gaza and has prevented international media, senior diplomats and humanitarian workers who work for international organisations, including Oxfam, from entering. 

Rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza and into Israel has reignited. The truce that has held since last summer is under threat and efforts to sustain it face serious challenges. 

Nidal says he lies awake at night worrying about what will happen. His wife tells him to trust in Allah. What else can he do?

Al Jazeera
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