Saturday, November 3, 2007

'Because They Are Hungry'

By Yasmine ∙ Gaza Gardens ∙ October 31, 2007

Omar Ibn Abu El Khatab, the prophet's uncle was taking a walk one night when he heard children crying. He followed the cries, leading him into a house where he found a woman with her children. "Why are your children crying," he asked. "Because they are hungry," the woman replied. He saw a pot on fire with the top closed, and suddenly got confused. "And what are you cooking," he inquired. She looked up at him and said, "I added rocks and water and cooking them in the pot so that they think I am cooking food, and they’ll stop crying. They'll fall asleep thinking the food is not yet ready."

There are always scraps of vegetables left over after Rafah’s daily market. Scraps of rotten tomatoes, cucumbers or just leaves and strings from onions and radishes, mixed with garbage, all in the street where the carts used to be earlier that day. By the end of the day, they’ve gotten mixed with sewage water and stepped on by over a hundred footsteps.

Today, I met a woman who has relied on those scraps to feed herself and her children. While I was sitting with her, she was making soup out of those very leaves of radishes that I have on so many occasions walked on or tiptoed around after I had purchased my vegetables from the market.

Desperate to feed her six children and break her own fast, she fries the rotten tomatoes and makes a salad out of the eggplant and cucumbers. This would be their first and only meal for the day. For her three younger children, all who want something sweet to drink, she adds sugar to water and tells them it’s colorless juice.

What drives a woman to wait until after people have left the market to walk around with a plastic bag picking up left over vegetables from the ground with puddles of sewage water and take it home to cook it for her children? Desperation. She wouldn't do it if she didn't have to, nobody would. But she doesn't have any money to buy what she needs. And to make matters worst, she ran out of the food aid she received from UNRWA in July, such as flour, oil, sugar and lentils. And she has to feed herself and her children.

UN registered refugees are eligible to receive aid every three months. They are due to receive food packages this month, in October but with the border closures, aid is slow to come in, if it does come in at all. With over 80% of the population depending on that food aid, there is simply not enough coming into Gaza to feed everyone.

The Karni and Rafah Crossings have been closed for almost five months now, so even when countries send us millions of dollars worth of food aid, its sits at the border until Israel decides to let it in. Likewise, if the outside world is to send financial assistance, Israel withholds it. As I am writing this, Gaza's banks have run out of cash. Even someone like myself, who has funds in a local bank account, am unable to withdraw cash because the banks simply run out due to Israeli banks cutting off ties with Gaza.

Dov Weisglass was certainly not joking when he said earlier this year, that "the idea is not to put Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." For the fourth day this week we have been breaking our fast with fried eggplant and tomatoes, lentil soup and a salad washed down with some tea. Vegetables are hardly getting into Gaza because of the border closures. Kerem Shalom only lets in some food, but its mostly aid packages and not fresh vegetables or fruits. Like a prison, we are fed in small portions and our guards decide when and if to allow us some food.

Even Israeli products that used to arrive into Gaza have become scarce. Also, food prices are sky-rocketing and people cannot afford basics such as flour or sugar. At least last year during this time, Gazans were able to live on bread, but now they cannot even afford the flour that does become available.

We are being confined to this space, silently imprisoned, sanctioned, completely isolated, abandoned and denied every opportunity to provide for themselves and our families. This is man-made crisis, where everything has become desperate, to an already impoverished territory. We are not starving yet, but Gaza is dying a slow death, and Israel has been brought to our knees in desperation. People's lives have been reduced to chasing after food packages, hustling in order to survive.

Our hopes lie with the conference of November to which Gaza is not even represented because Hamas is not invited.When Omar Ibn Abu Khatab saw the desperation in the woman’s eyes, and heard her children’s cries, he went out and brought back foods of all sorts and offered it to her. “Now you’re children don’t have to cry,” he uttered.

What has to happen for Gaza’s borders to open so that a woman who wouldn’t otherwise eat scraps from the ground could provide for herself and her children? What has to happen for the world to hear Gaza’s cries?


  1. What has to happen? Well, if Hamas could spontaneously or magically disappear, or be encouraged to do so with a generous application of explosives, that would help a lot. Or at least that is the dominant Bushiite view on Gaza.

    The attitude in this administration is that the suffering in Gaza is the fault of Hamas. They could stop it instantly by admitting defeat and surrendering all Hamas members to Israeli authorities. But, just like that evil Saddam, the Hamas are using "their own people" as "human shields" in their "evil terror campaign" against "innocent (Israeli) civilians".

    As long as the majority of the US executive, legislative and media estates of government continue to believe in Israel's manifest destiny in occupying Canaanite lands, there is very little anyone can do to end the suffering in Gaza.

    Interestingly, early propaganda material from Virginia, sent to Europe to coax settlers to move to the American colonies, painted America to be a promised land in Biblical terms. Is there something in that common experience - of ethnically cleansing a promised land of its seven ethnic tribes in order to settle it with G-d's people - that draws right-wing Americans to right-wing Israelis?

    Or am I just taking things out of context, again.


  2. Not at all. I perceive a sort of "noble tyranny" co-dependency going on there, myself (the kind based, genuinely or not, on those ever-pragmatic and inclusive Biblical precedents, of course). And it's all so damn incestuous, I forget to laugh.