Gaza Diary: Birthday under siege

Omar writes of efforts to celebrate with his twin daughters.

    A Palestinian boy salvages toys from the damage caused to his family home after a
    nearby metal workshop was destroyed in an Israeli air strike on February 10 [GALLO/GETTY]

    It is another clear and starry night in Gaza, and cold ... as cold as it gets this time of year. 

    I woke up shivering this morning. Yesterday, my family and I spent the evening in darkness and without any warmth because of another electricity cut.

    On my way to work I found there was hardly anyone on the streets. It is bitterly cold and there are heavy winds that make your hands and face feel raw. Most people are staying indoors trying to keep warm with what little they have.

    You see, now it is even more difficult to get blankets in the market because very few goods are being allowed into or out of Gaza by the Israeli government.

    To be honest, even if blankets were available, most people would no longer be able to afford to buy them. This blockade has seen so many people lose their salaries and it has increased the price of almost every thing, even basics like bread. Yesterday, I bought a loaf for seven shekels ($1.90); today it is eight ($2.20).

    School starts again next week and so now my children are at home. It has not been much of a holiday for them. They pleaded with me earlier today to let them go outside and play but it is so cold. I do not want to risk them getting sick, so I had to say no. There is very little medicine coming in at the moment so if they do fall ill we would have little hope of doing anything about it.

    Surprise visitors

    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

    I live in the same apartment building as my brother and often after dinner I go down to see him and his family.

    This evening, when I knocked on his door I could hear he had visitors; voices that I could not quite recognise.

    To my utter surprise, when he opened the door I found my uncle and  his daughter - my cousin - who had come from Qatar.  It was such a shock because it has  been 15 years since we last saw them.

    The border between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah was forced open by people living in Gaza desperate to get out to buy the essential items that they have been denied because of the blockade.

    So, after all these years my family were able to get through to see us.

    I had half an hour with them before they went to see more family and friends, saying goodbye just after they had said hello because they feared that if they did not go back quickly they would be stuck in Gaza and be imprisoned here with the rest of us.

    Cruel choices

    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 cruel choice they faced took me back almost seven years to when my wife was about to give birth to our twin daughters.

    At the time, I was in the Netherlands studying. I hope no other father is faced with the choice I had then: Do I go back to support my wife when she brings our two children into the world and see my children open their eyes for the first time?

    Or, do I stay in the Netherlands to continue my studies and avoid being unable to exit Gaza and return to my studies?

    I chose to stay; by continuing my studies I could guarantee a better future for the children. A heart-rending choice that meant my children did not see me for the first nine months of their lives. Precious time lost but now, I have a secure income for my family and a permanent job. This is something which many fathers in Gaza long for. 

    Such choices are part of the cruel reality of living under occupation.

    Tomorrow my two daughters will celebrate their seventh birthdays. Like most children in this part of the world their idea of celebration is cakes, sweets and gifts. It breaks my heart to hear them say, "Daddy, will you go to the shop tomorrow and buy us the sweet things that we like for our birthday?"

    Although it upsets me, I had to tell them the truth - that maybe I would not be able to. It all depends on the availability of flour and sugar and if chocolate is allowed into Gaza.

    If shops have not had to close down because of the lack of electricity or things to sell. In fact these days whenever they ask for anything, I never have a good answer so I always reply "If, if, if".

    If only this blockade would end.

    Oxfam GB

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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