As aid dries up, Gaza fam­i­lies are pushed deeper into poverty

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - WEATHER DESK -

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Samia Has­san used to have enough money to feed her two dozen chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. Now she spends much of her time wor­ry­ing about food, scour­ing Gaza’s veg­etable mar­kets for dis­counts or walk­ing miles for a pot of free gruel from a soup kitchen.

Large num­bers of

Gaza fam­i­lies have been pushed deeper into poverty in re­cent months by Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing and the freez­ing of U.S. aid. Life is tougher than ever for most of the 2 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans locked into tiny, block­aded Gaza, where elec­tric­ity is off most hours of the day, un­em­ploy­ment ap­proaches 50 per­cent and the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group Ha­mas rules with a tight grip.

“It’s a per­fect storm,” said Hilary DuBose of the Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices, which has had to forgo emer­gency food dis­tri­bu­tions be­cause the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is with­hold­ing funds. “At the same time that the hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion in Gaza is wors­en­ing, hu­man­i­tar­ian aid is dis­ap­pear­ing.”

Grow­ing de­spair in Gaza has helped drive re­cent Ha­mas-led protests against the bor­der block­ade by Is­rael and Egypt. The clo­sure was im­posed af­ter Ha­mas, branded a ter­ror­ist group by Is­rael and the West, seized Gaza in 2007, driv­ing out forces loyal to Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas.

The es­ca­lat­ing cri­sis spot­lights the lack of a co­her­ent Gaza pol­icy by the ex­ter­nal play­ers try­ing to shape its fu­ture. Is­rael and Egypt say they need the block­ade to con­tain Ha­mas, but have not of­fered a vi­able plan for Gaza. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity wants the block­ade lifted, but hasn’t said how it would deal with Ha­mas, which re­fuses to dis­arm.

Has­san — who shares her un­fin­ished con­crete­block home with seven of her 12 adult chil­dren, three daugh­ters-in-law and 16 grand­chil­dren — said she joined the bor­der protests re­peat­edly, in­ten­tion­ally get­ting close to the fence in hopes of get­ting shot and killed by Is­raeli troops.

“Death is bet­ter than this life,” she said to her sons’ as­ton­ish­ment as the fam­ily gath­ered for the meal break­ing the dawn-to-dusk fast of the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan.

Has­san said she only pulled back be­cause she re­al­ized she could end up crip­pled rather than dead and be­come a bur­den. In the past two months, close to 3,800 Pales­tini­ans have been wounded by Is­raeli fire dur­ing the protests, with some fac­ing life­long dis­abil­i­ties.

Along with the Pales­tinian Author­ity, the U.N. has been in­stru­men­tal in prop­ping up Gaza’s frag­ile econ­omy. About twothirds of Gaza’s res­i­dents are el­i­gi­ble for health, ed­u­ca­tion or wel­fare ser­vices from UNRWA, the agency that aids de­scen­dants of Pales­tinian refugees from the 1948 war over Is­rael’s cre­ation.

Need has grown ex­po­nen­tially, with some 1 mil­lion peo­ple in Gaza now re­ceiv­ing U.N. food aid, com­pared with 80,000 two decades ago.

Mus­lim coun­tries such as Qatar, Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emi­rates have stepped up aid dur­ing Ra­madan. Qatar is dis­tribut­ing 1 mil­lion meals for the month and Iran 11,000 per day. But it’s not clear if such aid will be sus­tained.

On a re­cent evening, Samia Has­san and two dozen fam­ily mem­bers sat on the floor of their home. Vol­un­teers from a mosque sent over a tray of rice with one chicken.

“It came at the right time,” said daugh­ter-in­law Samah, hold­ing a tod­dler in her lap.

Such un­cer­tainty is tough for Samia. “Our sit­u­a­tion has never been like this,” she said.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Walid al-Hat­tab (right) dis­trib­utes free por­ridge dur­ing Ra­madan in Gaza City. Large num­bers of Gaza fam­i­lies have been pushed deeper into poverty in re­cent months by Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing and the freez­ing of U.S. aid.

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