Gaza Diary: After the party

Omar, a humanitarian aid worker, writes of his family's joy and despair.

    Palestinian children in Gaza attend the first day of school. Teachers have reported a severe
    decline in proficiency due to the Israeli blockade [GALLO/GETTY]

    My two daughters turned seven today. I had been saving for months so that I could afford to make their birthday celebrations special. There is very little children can look forward to these days, so this is important for them – and me.

    I invited as many families and friends as possible for their party. But, only a few came in the end. Some of them did not tell me why, perhaps because they did not want to admit to the sad truth – they could not afford to attend this family event or even buy presents.

    Transportation is difficult given the trickle of fuel that is being allowed into Gaza at the moment. This means that travel costs have soared and many families, including mine, do not have fuel to put into their cars or the money to pay for taxis.

    Nonetheless, we had a good time. I was pleased as it has been a long time since we have had such a happy event – there are so many problems around us and little for us to celebrate.

    My children were delighted and surprised to receive the sweets and chocolates I finally managed to find. I even bought a cake for each of them. I was pleased, as I was unsure that it would be possible. I tried to find apple juice - their favourite drink - but the shops had no stock to offer.

    Gaza's cakes

    Children in Gaza

    Children make up more than 50 per cent of the population in Gaza 

    1 in 9 children in Gaza suffer from the effects of malnourishment, including stunted growth

    70 per cent of children under one year old are anaemic

    Sources: World Health Organisation and Unicef

    The shop around the corner from our home is known in Gaza for its cakes. Every time I visit the shop, it is brimming with sweet things and bustling with people.

    When I went there today, the shelves were almost bare and I was the only customer - another reminder of what the blockade is doing to people here. I asked the shopkeeper why there was so little.

    He replied: "I have had electricity cuts in my shop which makes it difficult to bake. Anyhow, there is no need to make too many cakes, people cannot afford them and if I make too many, they will only go to waste and I will lose money."

    I searched for birthday candles but they were nowhere to be found but I managed to find some powder, which comes in a tube and sparkles as you light it. My children's faces lit up when they saw this - their smiles were priceless.

    Recycling clothes

    Usually, I buy them clothes on their birthdays but there are hardly any for sale in the markets of Gaza, not even second-hand clothes. It is not surprising that people are now recycling their own clothes out of old ones.

    As a father, I am sad to say that of late, I buy clothes for my family made from the material for sofa covers.

    Carpenters no longer have the wood needed to make furniture because the blockade has prevented most raw materials from coming in. So the textiles that were supposed to be used to make furniture are now being used to make garments.

    Party begins

    After everyone arrived, I put some music on from the small collection we have. Most of us danced around with the children, laughing and smiling as we did so. I was careful not to put the music too loud.

    I did not want to disturb the neighbours. I feared appearing insensitive to them, having a party during a time of sadness and desperation.

    It was nice, however, for an evening to forget all the misery that surrounds us. If I stop and count the days of happiness that we have experienced as a family in the last year, I can count them on one hand. It was important, therefore, that we enjoyed ourselves and we did.

    Failing school

    The next day we awoke prepared to celebrate with the children the marks they received in school last term.

    I called my children’s teacher to find out how this day would be marked; usually parents gather at the school rejoicing at their children’s achievements.

    He said: "This year we have nothing to rejoice, the marks are low and children have almost nothing to celebrate. Not surprisingly, given that they have little food, warmth and security. There are hardly any books for the new term in our schools, children and teachers are stressed by the effects of the blockade and the attacks on our people."
    People killed

    Gaza power

    Israel normally supplies 60 per cent of the electricity for Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants

    Gaza needs around 240 megawatt of electricity, but normally receives only about 200 megawatts, with 8 per cent from Egypt

    Israel is the only source of industrial fuel for Gaza's power station

    Israel stopped supplying industrial fuel supplies to Gaza on January 19

    The EU pays Israel around $10m per month for Gaza's industrial fuel

    Fortunately, my children had done well in their studies and when they awoke in morning they asked for more sweets.

    There were no sweets in the three shops close to my home nor words to break it to them that most of their friends had failed in their school studies. As Palestinians, we are proud of the level of education of our people. Now even this is being denied to us.

    Later on, on the way back to my office, I heard breaking news that people were killed near my home while they were praying. I immediately called my wife to make sure that she and the children were alright and to warn them not to go out.

    I was concerned for their safety. Our windows are made of glass and they vibrate whenever there are incursions, we always fear that they might smash and harm us.

    Another dilemma faced me. Do I keep the windows open so that the glass does not fall on them? Or, closed to try and keep them as warm as I can without electricity?

    I had to make the decision as to which would cause the least harm – these are the kind of decisions that you have to make every day living in Gaza. 

    Oxfam GB

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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