Saturday, March 24, 2007

Things you don't see every day

Karen Koning AbuZayd head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was recently reported saying this:

"Everybody is just in bad shape now with the whole economy going down so badly. They just don't have any opportunities," citing high unemployment and shortfalls in wage payments over the past year.

Donors have poured in more money last year than ever before "but that's because we've made everybody aid-dependant."

What does this mean:

The Twalbe family live in the Beach Refugee camp just North of Gaza City. Of the seven school aged children two don't go to school. The oldest, 13-year old Yousef has asthma and has been made fun of at school since he was young. He quit school a long time ago and stays home to help his father at the market. Abd Karim, the third oldest was recently kicked out of his school for getting in too many fights with his fellow students. Even the teachers are scared of him. The school's headmaster said if Abd Karim comes back he would give up his job.

When I asked Abd Karim to describe his surroundings he listed one incident after another of inter-clan fighting and internal political clashes in the refugee camp he lives in.

In 1948 70,000 Palestinians lived in the Gaza District, after the ‘48 war 200,000 refugees were added to the area and the regional classification “Gaza Strip” was created. The root of Abd Karim’s mental instability is a society that was never meant to take the shape it has today. The “Gaza Strip” has never been a sustainable society. When you add 200,000 farmers with their families to an urban prison you create chaos. Anarchy isn't created out of thin air.

Abu Yousef, Abd Karim’s father, sells humanitarian aid that is distributed to his family by organizations like UNRWA. This is his only form of income. At least two of his sons participate in the daily activity of selling plastic bags of flour, rice and bottles of oil at the local market just five minutes away. A shopping cart is filled with the goods in order to transport them to the market. Over five years ago Abu Yousef used to work in Israel as a laborer, like thousands of other refugees like him. Prior to the last Intifada there were 150,000 such daily laborers from Gaza. Being a refugee means, once you had land, now you no longer have land and thus must work on other’s land. In Gaza employment opportunities are extremely scarce.

I have not traveled the world, but I am certain there are other areas on this planet that suffer even more hardship, with higher unemployment, with even more human cruelty and consequently even more human suffering. But here, in this conflict, what grips me, is the fact that it is man-made, in this case there is no need to be gender neutral, because it is largely men that were the instigators, the leaders, the protagonists of this sad chapter of human history. Building one human calamity on another. I can weep over the past, but I am responsible for my activity or inactivity, my words of praise, or condemnation for the injustice of the present.

Abd Karim has epilepsy and is mentally unstable, I believe he is schizophrenic, but Gaza has no psychiatric facilities for children under the age of 15. In the evening when I return to the family’s home the boy has disappeared. Sometimes he returns at 1 or 2am. Abu Yousef worries about him and can’t get to sleep until his son is home.

Getting around Gaza

Signpost in former colonies: Firing weapons not allowed

Flowers growing in a former Israeli army guard tower