Still on the edge: Regards from Gaza - Southern exposure

A year after Operation Protective Edge, four Gaza residents and three Israelis reveal some insights about daily life.

Gaza  (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We asked four Gaza residents to tell us about their lives and their new routine after the last war. They did so willingly. One of them told us: “Our speech is our last possession that is still intact.” Another chimed in: “Quickly you will find that we in Gaza and you in Israel have been left alone. Everyone else around here, our brothers and your friends, do not really care, or they cannot help.”
For Part 2 on the Israeli experience, CLICK HERE.
Hosni Najjar, Jabalya
For years I have worked for you. In the 1970s I ran a cafe in the famous Shalom department store [in Tel Aviv], downstairs next to the First International Bank. When you came in from Herzl Street, it was on your right. I was there from ’74 to ’93, until the mess began and the situation reversed.
I do not know how [those] 19 years passed, it’s like a dream. I made a good living and I enjoyed my job. I was called Ofer.... I had friends, especially the people from Sony, which had a branch next to the cafe. I knew everyone. Dror Herzikovic and his brother Lonnie, their father and mother, who would come and drink coffee here every morning.
And of course their employees. There were a lot of bank employees that came. Me and the owner, who was called Little Eliyahu, we were like brothers.
But then people from Gaza began causing trouble here, the government limited our entry. Policemen came to us at the coffee shop and asked us to go and never come back.
It was good not only for me but for all the people who worked in Israel – 120,000 people from the Gaza Strip worked in Israel. I’m a spender; everything I had was spent, but a lot of people built houses from the money they saved from working in Israel.
We have two governments today that do not take care of us. I do not know how to ask of you, but if you open the border, that will be a big help.
People here are in a bad situation. Everyone wants to make a living. Gaza does not have jobs available, and if there are, they pay NIS 30-40 a day. There are those who are dying to work even for that money, but they just can’t find work. Thousands have finished university and are sitting at home or walking along the streets.
This is a generation that is not familiar with Israel and doesn’t know Hebrew. They know only war. If there was an open gate, they would be working in Israel. But for eight years, there has been a closure.
I have five sons and seven daughters...a soccer team! The majority are married. There are only three living at home. I tell them about that time in my life. I brought them milk and honey, I bought them clothes from Tel Aviv. That was a good time, and they hope it will come back.
I ask your government to bring in workers gradually, say 20,000 in the beginning. There are excellent people here over 30 that can work. Just let them start. Everyone will want to work. It will be like an engine for the Gaza Strip. If workers work for you, money comes in, then the store owner, driver, mechanic, they all can make a living.
Unemployment here is about 60 percent or more. This is the highest in the world. If the border was open, many of them would have run away a long time ago... to Europe, Canada. This is no life.
Faiq Abdul Rauf, Jabalya
Whoever tells you that the situation is better since the war is lying. The main reason is because the Rafah crossing is closed. Before the war it was not like this; it would open four or five times a month. Today it opens once every three to four months.
The houses that were destroyed – most of them were not rebuilt. The owners of those that were completely destroyed did not receive one bag of cement. Those who received it were only those whose homes sustained minor damage... like my brother. He lives in Jabalya. His house was damaged just a bit, and he received cement and building materials. Donors paid for it.
UNRWA’s engineers came and checked every centimeter. Even after he rebuilt it, they checked what he had done. All of this so the cement would not go to Hamas.
A Palestinian lays out sacks of cement allowed into Gaza by Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)
You hear in the media that Hamas has started to rebuild the tunnels that were destroyed, started and finished. And where did the cement come from? They brought it from I don’t know where...
maybe Egypt. When you want cement you bring it from underground.
After the war, nothing changed. Salaries in Gaza were for government employees, and the government does not pay in an orderly manner. Every two months you get some of the money.
Electricity comes and goes every eight hours. Every day the same thing happens; everyone runs a generator. When you walk the streets, the noise from the generators is all you hear. They say that many Gazans are deaf.
You go to the market – they have whatever you want, but people don’t have money. The price of meat has increased, especially during Ramadan.
Other things, anyone can buy. A kilo of tomatoes is sold for NIS 1. The vegetables from Israel are even cheaper. Three kilos of potatoes for NIS 10, a kilo of mangoes for NIS 5.
Why were they celebrating the victory here? Because Israel declared war where it vowed to take Hamas down.
The population here understands that if Hamas stands for 51 days against Israel, it is a victory. But as for daily life, there is no improvement. The problems have only intensified.
It was a very difficult war. All the children here were traumatized. It was difficult to see them in fear under bombardment.
When they returned to school, they received psychological therapy for a whole month. My little boy, three years old, to this day – if he hears a bang, he tells me: “Aircraft.”
But despite everything, thank God, my child in second grade is an excellent student, despite the war. I have three children, and my wife is 31 years old, but I do not want any more children. I want to give the ones I have a good education.
Our greatest desire is to live a normal life. We don’t have that. No one wants to go to war, Hamas as well. Ask them if they want war, they will say no.
People want to live, and Israel must take that into consideration. I tell you, if Israel gives us some freedom, everything will be fine. Because when a person has something to lose, he will think twice.
Israel sometimes makes war for others – to please Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi, and I do not know who. At the end we and you are in the same boat.
Mona Abdel Nasser, Khan Yunis
Gaza has everything – but in small amounts. There’s less fuel, less water, less electricity, less medication, less money. Everything is partial, and sometimes it doesn’t exist at all. But what is most disturbing to me personally is that people here are disturbed and wiped out. Your missiles are destroying us from within.
There are many poor people, and their number is increasing every day.
An entire generation has become this way only after the last war. There are those who live in trailers because their house was destroyed by the bombing. Until now nothing has been done about the reconstruction of Gaza. The government cannot manage it.
Shopping in Gaza. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas runs the show, and personally I do not trust them.
Lately, we see a greater presence of the Salafi movement, and they have an impact on the citizens. There are many young people who join them, especially following Hamas’s pressure on them. This worries Hamas, and it lashes out, sometimes with great force, especially against their jihadist wings. Those wings constitute a danger for the calm between Hamas and Israel, because they fire rockets.
The people in Gaza call these missiles “missiles davka [in spite],” because Salafis shoot them to punish Hamas. But citizens are concerned about the appearance of initial Islamic State symptoms in the Strip.
Thousands have already left since the war, and others want to leave.
Some leave legally, through the Rafah crossing, and others simply go through a tunnel. Egyptian smugglers are paid about NIS 2,000 a person, and they flee. I know a family who fled and paid NIS 11,000. Some took advantage of the desire people had to flee. They established travel agencies and took people’s money and promised to help, but did not give help or money.
We have a disagreement about the behavior of Egypt. Some say it has the right to maintain its own security, and thus closes the Rafah crossing. But some people think that Egypt is punishing an entire people by preventing us from moving. But people think the real culprit is Israel; it is the reason for everything that happens to us.
Mahmoud Daher, Gaza City
I work for the World Health Organization, and in my work I see everything.
There are many people who struggle to provide dinner for their families, and just wait for charity.
Yesterday I met people from Beit Hanun, a place that had a very difficult time during this last war – many houses were damaged. One of people there told me that he has 15 people living in his house, 10 children and wives of some of the children, everyone living in one trailer, and they live on food they get from the international relief organizations.
Imagine what it means to live in a packed trailer during the heat. Besides, they have electricity for eight hours, and then disruptions for eight hours.This happens to thousands of people.
There is also a problem with the water situation in the Gaza Strip. People do not get the normal amounts through their tap, as is customary throughout the world. Average global consumption is 100 to 150 liters per day. In Gaza the average is about 70 liters a day.
And it is poor water quality as well. Ninety-eight percent of Gaza’s water resources are not fit for human consumption. Their salinity level is very high. The taste isn’t good, you can’t drink it. So we buy water from other sources, which goes through osmotic treatment. There are few such factories in Gaza, and they go from house to house with trucks to deliver the water. For example, I buy about 500 to 1,000 liters of water every week. It costs about 10 times more than the municipality prices.
This is how we live our lives. You wait for the water truck, you wait for the electricity, and you wait for the money to come in. Most of our daily routine is taking care of these kinds of arrangements. We use batteries to get Internet. People have learned how to be electricians, water experts and even political experts.
People in Gaza don’t ask themselves the same questions Tel Avivans ask themselves, like what good movie have you seen lately. We barely watch TV, because the electricity is not always running.
Our daily life has changed. We live the life of a prisoner in a big prison. For nine years we have been closed off. We can’t go to Jerusalem to pray, no vacations, and no option to go overseas to make money. Life has become prison life.
Every year, 50,000 children are born in Gaza. Since the beginning of the closure in 2006, 400,000 children have been born. The oldest of them is nine years old.
This is a whole generation. In these nine years they have gone through three wars, financial stress and they can’t see the world.
In my opinion, this is affecting their mental health and their general awareness.
They don’t know who the “other” is; they don’t know Israel. They see their dad, who used to be a productive person and would provide for them, sitting at home frustrated. There are 1,100 schools here; 700 of them are UNRWA-operated.
The children wait for the new school year, and now it’s not even sure it will begin, because even UNRWA is not getting financial support, and the opening of the new year might be delayed.
One woman from Shejaia who lost her home was sitting in front of the ruins and told us, “You come in the UN cars and just look, but the hope we seek is in the sky.”
You look these people in the eye – these are not the same eyes I saw 10 or 15 years ago. You see the tiredness and hopelessness in them.
For the average person, it is very hard to change his situation. More than 20 years after Oslo, our situation is much harder than it was before the agreement.
We have to act fast to overcome this situation. We need to give people the feeling of a normal life. Show the younger generation that there is hope – hope for them to live a good life together with their neighbors... with you.
Translated by Maya Pelleg.
For Israeli residents of the South, the summer heat is a welcome change from last year’s rockets. The question is, when will the quiet end?
ADELE RAE MER, Kibbutz Nirim
I remember one time when there was a red alert and I thought, Will I make it to the house? I was down the path, and when you have a red alert, if you’re not some place where you can really take cover, you’re supposed to lie down flat and cover your head. But I was with my dogs and I thought I would make a run for it.
By the time I got to my porch, it had landed, and I realized that if it had landed near me, I would have been wounded. I didn’t take any chances after that. Any time I was outside I just threw myself down and covered my head.
It was a very frightening period. We didn’t realize how frightening until the last day, when two of our members were killed and a third lost his legs.
The tunnels last year were an additional dimension to the concern and the worry. The tunnel that was a five-minute jog from my house was discovered in the winter when they were working in the field, but we didn’t have any idea how many tunnels there were, and in fact they’re still looking for tunnels just outside the fence of the kibbutz.
Southern residents take part in a protest near Sderot following Operation Protective Edge calling for a long-term solution to the tunnel and rocket threat from Gaza. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Nobody takes it lightly at all; it’s still a very real threat.
Operation Protective Edge has had an ongoing effect on the kibbutz. At the beginning of last summer’s war, we were just about to open our gates for new absorption, new membership, and that sort of nipped it in the bud. But the kibbutz administration has been working very hard to build new reassurances to build community and to heal.
Most of the people that live here, that I speak to, believe that there has to be a different way to solve the problem; that violence will not solve the conflict in this region. It has to be political and it has to be regional. There has to be an agreement; there have to be talks.
Even though we had this very optimistic year, people are scared. So my expectations are that our government is going to stand up and rise to the challenge and find a way to solve this problem, because we can’t keep doing the same thing. It doesn’t work.
The reason I didn’t leave was because it was very important for me to bear witness to what was happening here and to get my voice heard, because everything that was going out was so one-sided.
People were hearing about what was going on in Gaza, which was horrible, and you can’t compare the stress, fear and danger of what we have here and what they have there; but still, it doesn’t mean that we are wrong and they are right. It’s not a football game.
We have every right to live here in peace, and we can be really good neighbors; we would be happy to be really good neighbors.
We made peace with Jordan and we made peace with Egypt. Why can’t we get this thing worked out?
AMIT CASPI, Kerem Shalom
[The war hasn’t affected] our daily behavior such as going to work, going to school. Right after the war ended, we just started to do the same things as we did before, without any difference.
But I can tell you that this war, if you look from the family angle – it made a difference with getting ready for the next round, because it affected how we were living during the war.
We had to leave the kibbutz, all the families, especially children, and we had to spread around all over the country and live day by day. You had to live with other families, in houses that you don’t know, and you don’t really have anything to do all day with the kids, because there is no school, no kindergarten, no work, and I think this really affected us.
Enjoying the summer on Kibbutz Kerem Shalom near the Gaza border. (photo credit: AMIT CASPI)
For us it was a kind of trauma, a family trauma, and we just don’t know exactly what we’re going to do if or when we will have again the same experience.
I don’t know if it will take one month, one year, five years, but of course we’re sure it’s just one more round in a line of a few rounds until... I don’t know even what the solution is. I think there is no solution. So it’s a matter of time, of course.
I have a weapon in my house as a soldier, and we’re getting trained every few months. We’re trying to be ready for this kind of thing. So every day we’re trying to be ready.
But as a family, you cannot prepare, because you do not know what the situation will be, what you will be able to do, and what you must do. And you just have to wait, and then you have to decide day by day what you’re going to do on the next day.
[On] one hand, the country is trying to do the best for us, preventing terrorists from attacking us from tunnels.
They put shelters all over the kibbutz.
But from the other end, we always want them to do more. We think that they can do more to prevent and to get us ready if something will happen.
But again, this is a very, very quiet summer; everything in the kibbutz is ordinary. People are going to the swimming pool, to the kindergarten, to work, and they hope that we will have lots of quiet tunnels. I’m not sure, but we can always try to hope.
We have been here for 23 years, my husband, our three sons, and I. One [son] is a soldier, another is 17, the little one is almost 12. Our soldier wasn’t in the IDF until after Operation Protective Edge, thankfully. Kibbutz Sufa is only two kilometers from the border, but we weren’t home during the war. The day before Operation Protective Edge, we went away. You can see it [war] coming.
We returned home two months later.
We went all over the country: Eilat, Mitzpe Ramon, Sde Boker – we went everywhere. We didn’t want to go to family, because the status of our mental health was very difficult, and when you go to stay with someone else, there’s a lot of pressure that would be put on them. We tried to avoid pressure. We stayed in 11 places during those two months.
There were sirens all over Israel, and it wasn’t easy. At home we were under red alert, and all over the rest of Israel there were the sirens. We were constantly thinking, What’s going on at home? How is our house standing? Is everyone OK? Our biggest problem was the people who died in the war. Three of the people who died were our family friends.
The kids are already big; they aren’t so young that you can turn off the TV and they won’t know.
My little one suffers from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] since 2008, since he was four. It isn’t easy for him on a day-to-day basis, let alone during a time of war, so we tried as much as possible to make those two months fun. We spent a lot a lot of money. Those two months cost us over NIS 20,000, not because we had a luxurious time, but because it covered the basics. We traveled a lot, we went to the beach, and we went fishing because he loves to fish. We did things that helped him.
When you go through therapy for PTSD, they teach you to think about a safe place. He would think about a dolphin reef in Eilat, so we went there. It cost us a lot of money, but I didn’t give a damn.
The last year was the hardest one out of all the years after wars they have experienced. We are always aware; we are constantly waiting for news. We have a new thing: the tunnels. We knew about the tunnels, but we didn’t understand the reality of it. They always talked about the fact that there are tunnels, but we didn’t understand how extreme it could be. If there are only 2 km. between the kibbutz and the border, even if the tunnel leaves them with 1 km., what’s 1 km.? It’s nothing! It could have ended in a huge tragedy.
Since Operation Protective Edge, we don’t have more security, because the IDF removed the soldiers patrolling the entrances and the surroundings of the kibbutz.
No one talks to the civilians; and although we know that the IDF is there, because we can hear them and see them outside the kibbutz, we don’t feel they’re close to us. We felt safer with the soldier at guard.
We haven’t left, because this is home.
The oldest sons want to stay but the youngest doesn’t. There was a lot of pressure as soon as the summer break began. It’s been too quiet, and we’re always on guard. The smallest things can make us jump. We are always listening and feeling what’s going on. We’ve been in this situation for the last 10 or so years.