Ramadan, another month of hardship in Gaza
Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip - Ramadan brings sad memories to Ibrahim al-Masri, whose wife, two sons and daughter, who was about to get married, were killed when their home was hit in an Israeli air strike during Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, in 2014.
“Ramadan this year is the hardest because my family is not with me anymore,” said the 50-year-old Palestinian from the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip.
Masri said his wife, 40-year-old Sahar Hamdan, was preparing a meal to break the family fast at sundown, while his daughter and two boys were helping set the table.
“When Israeli air strikes began, one missile landed in my house, destroying it completely and killing my wife, daughter and two sons, all in one go,” Masri said, his voice cracking.
“We were sitting in peace at home and we didn’t cause any danger to the Israelis,” said the former construction worker who is now unemployed and lives with a surviving son and daughter in a prefabricated home, widely known as a caravan.
Such houses were donated by Turkey, Qatar and Jordan to shelter Gazans who lost homes in the conflict.
Pointing to a pile of rubble that used to be his one-storey home, Masri said: “There, we had the dining table, where we all sat as one family to eat.” On July 8, 2014, Israel launched an air, sea and ground military operation on the coastal enclave, saying it wanted to stop rocket attacks by Gaza’s Hamas militants against Israeli cities.
Hamas’s attacks increased after Israel clamped down on the group’s adherents in the West Bank following the June 12, 2014, kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members.
Hamas fired more than 400 rockets at Israel. Its goal was to bring international pressure to lift Israel’s blockade of Gaza, force the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and overcome its political isolation following its 2007 seizure of the strip from moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel’s offensive on Gaza ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce in August 2014.
The conflict left 2,140 people dead and more than 10,000 wounded and resulted in destruction and damage to thousands of homes, mainly in the area between the northern and the eastern borders of the Gaza Strip with Israel.
The United Nations estimated that more than 7,000 homes for 10,000 families were razed, with an additional 89,000 homes damaged, of which roughly 10,000 were severely affected by the bombing. Rebuilding costs were calculated to run from $4 billion to $6 billion over 20 years.
A year has passed since the war but destruction is visible everywhere across the coastal strip. A reconstruction drive moves at a snail’s pace, partly due to insufficient funds pledged by Arab donors.
Meanwhile, Gaza’s 1.8 million people remain under a tight Israeli blockade for the eighth consecutive year, bringing unemployment to a record 46%, poverty to 55% and the fragile economy to a virtual standstill.
In Gaza City’s main marketplace, foodstuffs, including meat, poultry and fish, fruit and vegetables are in abundance during Ramadan, when people buy supplies on a daily basis. Few can afford to do so during the rest of the year.
Gaza food store owner Mustafa Zeineddine, 45, said “activity is weak” because of the high poverty and unemployment rates.
“The catastrophic outcome of the Israeli siege and the internal Palestinian split had negatively affected market trade,” said Zeineddine. He explained that many people were hesitant to spend money with the “horrible images from the war still in our minds and hearts”.
Osama Murtaja, owner of a store that sells local cheese and other dairy products, pickles and spices, said economic conditions were worsening. “After eight years of siege and internal split and a year after the Israeli war, the economic situation has been getting worse and worse,” he said.
Annas Amro, an administrative assistant in the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Welfare, has not been paid his regular salary in 14 months. Married with four children, he said Ramadan was “very difficult for me this year because I don’t have enough money”.
Since the Palestinian unity government of Rami Hamdallah was formed, “I receive 730 shekels ($190) every 63 days” said Amro. He noted that his monthly salary is supposed to be double what he is receiving. He is far from alone. In the Gaza Strip, 43,000 employees haven’t been paid regular salaries due to feuds between Fatah and Hamas
“I don’t know how one can survive with empty pockets,” Amro said.