In the Gaza Strip, the main daily activity of every family is to try to secure and maximize the use of energy. Even the lives of “privileged” families — those whose houses weren’t damaged or destroyed in the recent war and who have some money to pay inflated prices and middlemen — are affected.
Power is cut up to 18 hours per day. When there is electricity, we rush to recharge all our batteries, heat water, operate the water filters, check the fuel level in the electrical generator, check the fuel level in the car and so on. Most lack these basics. When the power is out, we need to find other ways to stay warm, to cook, to work, to live.
My husband and I have been waiting for several weeks to refill our cooking-gas cylinders. Given the insecurity of life in Gaza, we’d like to have some reserves, but distributors aren’t able to respond to the demand. Israel limits the quantity of cooking gas that enters the Gaza Strip, and it’s simply not enough. We have to get on a list and wait for our turn. Even before the recent, historic winter storm hit, we couldn’t find any to refill more than one cylinder for cooking. It took effort and connections to get another one refilled so that we could keep our newborn daughter warm during the storm.
During the war, we thought things couldn’t get worse. Now we realize they can.
Thousands of families suffered from cold caused by Huda, a storm that brought historic low temperatures. In a region known for its moderate climate, the bad weather hit while thousands were displaced in the Gaza Strip, Syria and elsewhere.
On the second day of the storm, we heard the terrible news. Two-month-old Rahaf Abu Assi from Khan Younis had been in the warmest room of the family’s war-damaged home. Her mother came to check on her while the family sat in a part of the house that hardly had a roof. The baby started to turn blue and showed trouble breathing. The family rushed Rahaf to the hospital, but it was too late. The cold had blocked her bronchial tubes. At least three more infants died of cold that week. Adel Al Lahham, 1 month old, had been living in a makeshift, tin-sheet-covered home in Khan Younis. Salma Al-Massri, 3 months old, had been living in a school used as a shelter in Beit Hanoun. The last tiny victim was 18 months old. Fadi Qudeih was in temporary caravan housing provided as humanitarian assistance, but it wasn’t warm enough to sustain his life.
Israel would surely blame Hamas for these deaths. Here in Gaza, however, we blame Israel and, increasingly, governments around the world that have successfully achieved their own independence and then disregarded those still struggling for freedom.
The Gaza Strip has 1.8 million people locked into one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Israel controls the economy, natural resources and communications. It also prohibits the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza from traveling, permitting only a small number to enter. Egypt controls the other side of the Gaza Strip, also imposing restrictions due to political tensions with Hamas.
Largely a refugee population expelled from homes and private property in what is now Israel, people here have endured three Israeli aggressions in six short years. In 2008-2009, 1,391 Palestinians were killed and 5,300 were injured. In 2012, Israeli attacks resulted in the death of 167 Palestinians. The latest assault in the summer of 2014 wrought the most damage to essential infrastructure, schools and hospitals. At least 2,139 Palestinians were killed and more than 11,000 were injured. More than 500 children were killed.
The greatest damage was to our sense of hope.
The word “reconstruction” has earned a bad reputation since the International Conference on Reconstruction in Cairo back in October. For us, “reconstruction” is like a broken promise. The U.N.-brokered agreement has not changed or eased any bit of Israel’s strangulating siege on the Gaza Strip. Some people even accuse the U.N. of managing this siege rather than challenging it.
At least during the war, the international community was paying attention. Now, even though we’re a “protected” population under international humanitarian law, the Gaza Strip seems to be forgotten, and the senseless deaths of our babies scarcely register with the international community.
Najla Shawa is a humanitarian worker from Gaza
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