Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Few Grams of Chicken: More Than Three-Quarters of Gazans Living in Poverty

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Few Grams of Chicken: More Than Three-Quarters of Gazans Living in Poverty

Article excerpt

One o'clock, two o'clock on a cold winter night in Rafah, and the young man is huddled on the doorstep of a shack. The night gets colder; it's now 3 a.m., and he is still sitting outdoors. Is he an amateur astronomer? Or a self-appointed watchman to warn of Israeli spy drones?

No, Hani Al Najjar, 23, is awake in the small hours because his 19-year-old brother Mahmoud has the "early shift" in the bed they share. Actually, European readers wouldn't call the thin mattress on the floor a "bed," but Western-style beds are an impossible luxury for most Gaza families. When Mahmoud leaves for school, Hani will get some sleep indoors. "There's no room for both of us to lie down inside," he explains. The "house" for their family of eight originally was built long ago to shelter goats, but the Al Najjar family was grateful to rent it after their house was bulldozed by the Israeli army during an incursion in 2003.

In the same ramshackle neighborhood, Amnah Audeh, a 53-year-old housewife, says she has one simple-but perhaps impossible-goal. "The dream of my family is to taste beef or chicken. We have never had the money to buy meat, or any really good meal. We simply can't afford it," she said sadly.

Open a refrigerator in any refugee camp home: most often you will find bottles of water and little else. The lack of potable tap water means everyone in Gaza must purchase bottled water, or risk serious disease. Of course, that means less money for a nutritious diet.

Despite one border crossing now operating to Egypt under joint Egyptian and Palestinian control, Gaza is still the world's biggest prison-and one where poverty is steadily worsening, as the Israeli military continues its stranglehold on all crossing points for cargo. Building materials cannot enter; Gazan goods cannot reach market; Gazans cannot seek employment across the border. The same is true for the Palestinians trapped behind the closed borders in the West Bank, cut off in many cases from their land, jobs, and schools by Israel's illegal apartheid wall.

Right now, more than three-quarters of the 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza live below the poverty line, the United Nations announced in December. In the five years since the start of the intifada, unemployment throughout Palestine has risen from 10 percent to over 30 percent. According to the U.N. report, compiled by all its agencies working in the region, 64 percent of the entire population survives on less than $2.20 a day, and half of those fit the UN. …

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